Trio 3 featuring Jason Moran
Thursday, July 19
Better than: Bidness as usual.
In theory, last night’s gig by a piano-augmented version of Trio 3 had its share of conventions. For starters, Oliver Lake stood out front on the bandstand at Birdland with an alto saxophone, the presumptive lead voice in a quartet, a hornplayer pushed by a rhythm section. The immaculate cut of his suit (convention number two) focused the audience’s attention as surely as the mic tricks he employed at climactic intervals to alter his tone’s dynamics. (Incidentally, he was the only musician onstage who chose business attire.) As Lake slowly waved the alto from the left to right across the mic, approximating the sound of that car you’ve spied in the rearview that passes you and then disappears in the distance, it hit home that the St. Louis-bred veteran, 69, is of that generation that turned the solo saxophone recital into an art. He also cofounded the famously rhythm-sectionless World Saxophone Quartet, an ensemble of reedists quite comfortable keeping its own time.
Last night’s music, however, went a quite a ways toward explaining why Trio 3 is a collective rather than a dance between a leader and accompanists. The other core members, drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist Reggie Workman, have made tons of history backing up everyone from Art Blakey and John Coltrane (Workman) to David Murray and Cecil Taylor (Cyrille), but they’ve also led their own celebrated groups for several decades. The ensemble was expanded by peripatetic piano star Jason Moran, who at 37 hadn’t been born when either member of Trio 3 began leading groups. For several years now Trio 3 has enlisted Geri Allen for piano duties, but I’m told that this week’s engagement with Moran, which runs through Saturday, is the run-up to a recording session next week for the German indie Intakt.
To his credit, Moran was particularly diverting while aiding the group in crashing conventions. He’s a player who builds on the eclectic expressionism of his late mentor Jaki Byard, so he can coat the proceedings in clusters as well as apply sensitive pointillism. The set opener, “Lake’s Jump,” found the band launching an off-kilter take on a characteristic jazz stomp, while the second piece, “Amreen,” began in balladic fashion before its boppish intervals were pushed by Lake’s sprints and a gorgeous solo by Workman. It was possible to hear each member of the band take Lake’s entreaties in a different rhythmic direction—Cyrille in a trenchant dialogue between cymbal and snare, Workman in prismatic runs both plucked and bowed—while the center held firm.
It’d be tempting to posit Moran’s youth as a catalyst for the evening’s forays into danceability, especially since he brought in the most unabashedly funky piece of the night, “Refraction 2”. One thing that undermines that logic, however, is the fact that Lake superimposed Breaking Glass, his own gripping blues monologue/poem, over Moran’s new-jack groove. An allegory about recycling that recounted how its Zora Neale Hurston-era protagonist came by his work ethic, it simultaneously took the colors in Moran’s accompaniment way back in time while holding a torch for futurism. The other piece with a pulse (as well as a tinier poem), Cyrille’s “High Priest,” revealed a more gospelized approach to soul-searching that may have been chronologically less contemporary, but had no trouble keeping the house rocking. Of course, with Lake spitting abstractionist fire all over it, the pulse turned out to be the most conventional thing in earshot.
Critical bias: There should be much more collaborating between jazz’s various youth movements and its vets.
Random notebook dump: Who knew “High Priest” was written for firebreathing saxist (and former Cyrille sideman) David S. Ware’s fashion sense? Cyrille: “Look at his shoes, look at his clothes and the apogee of his superpose.”