Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CD Review: Barry Altschul - The 3dom Factor

Barry Altschul
The 3dom Factor
(TUM) www.tumrecords.com

Robert Wyatt once said that every time he hears a new record, he wants to hear an old one. It was his personal reworking of some author's observation that every time he reads a new book, he then wants to read an old one. That happens a lot with new albums: After hearing a new work by someone, I want to hunt down everything else they've done. Otherwise I feel like I'm missing something.

That feeling occurred while listening to The 3dom Factor, drummer Barry Altschul's first recording as a leader in over 25 years. Altschul earned his stripes for his work in Circle (the co-op group with Dave Holland, Anthony Braxton and Chick Corea) and the trios of Paul Bley and Sam Rivers. He's an ingenious percussionist who can play freely or swing viciously. In the past couple of years, he resurfaced, on the reunion disc with Rivers and Holland, and on Jon Irabagon's lengthy spontaneous disc Foxy. But between his name-establishing work and his resurgence, the drummer proved himself to be an excellent composer too, releasing albums which, on the basis of these performances, I feel compelled to track down.

The 3dom Factor revisits several of those compositions, with Irabagon (on tenor) and Joe Fonda (bass) along for the ride. Carla Bley's "Ictus" is also included, a tune Altschul played in Paul Bley's trio. Three new songs appear on the disc as well, to prove this isn't just a reflection of the past. Far from it - this is a vital album that is exuberant throughout the whole set.

From the moment the title track kicks off this album, the trio operates on a high level of communication. The theme here is vaguely reminiscent of an Ornette/folk style melody, which moves into solos marked by Irabagon doing some rapid slap-tonguing. When things drift apart freely, Fonda brings it back with some authoritative slides up the neck.

Altschul incorporated all sorts of percussion into his playing, and "Martin's Stew" exemplifies this. Over Fonda's bowed ostinato, the drummer blows whistles and never fully moving to the trap kit until Irabagon's solo later in the piece. The tenor player has appeared in different situations in his own sessions that span straight ahead jazz and blistering free improv, not to mention the nothing-is-sacred approach of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. In "Martin's Stew" he draws on all those experiences with astounding ease, going from growling overtones to convoluted lines of bop in a matter of breaths. His depth serves as a reminder that this guy is one of the most creative younger saxophonist out there.

When the group plays the two ballads, a little bit of wildness lies below the surface but it never shatters the mood. "Irina" uses space really well, moving a couple phrases at a time with punctuation coming from Altschul. Fonda plays a solo with a contrast of drawn-out notes and fast phrases. Irabagon feels like he wants to go wild but never does, using that energy instead to add color to the piece. He does something similar in "Just a Simple Song," starting subdued and gradually moving to a high shout. Fonda's double-stops in the melody make this one compelling too.

In the mid-'80s, Altschul wrote a tune called "For Papa Jo, Klook and Philly Too," paying tribute to his heroes Papa Jo Jones, Kenny "Klook" Clarke and Philly Joe Jones. Here the trio adds a little funk to the tune, transforming it into "Papa's Funkish Dance," and his rhythmic punctuation is electrifying. Another surprise comes in "Natal Chart," which is based on the idea that each of our solar system's planets have their own tone, and each is represented in the song. While things start wild, the planets align and the group eventually shifts in a Dixieland groove. That might sound crazy, but it works thanks to more bowing from Fonda and some machine gun-style fluttering tonguing from Irabagon.

The folks at TUM Records (which is based in Finland) know how to put together a package. The 3dom Factor's nearly 30-page booklet rivals AllMusic.com for detailed notes on the session, the musicians and the compositions, to the point where there's a bit of overlap. Nevertheless all the info is useful and it serves as the icing on a birthday cake for Mr. Altschul, who just turned 70 in early January.

May his seventh decade bring him more recognition not just for his past triumphs but for what's capable of doing right now. And believe me, he can still do a lot. It was tempting to expound on nearly every track.

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