Saturday, November 04, 2017

CD Review: Barry Altschul & the 3Dom Factor - Live in Krakow

Barry Altschul & the 3Dom Factor
Live in Krakow
(Not Two)

I once decided that I would limit myself to a hyperbolic outbursts just once every six months. If I was going to foam at the mouth about a musician or a band, it had better be good, and I wanted to prove that someone that good doesn't come along more than twice a year, if at that. While that motto still stands, the need for hyperbole hasn't been used much over the last year or two. (Maybe these blog entries say otherwise.)

My main goal in getting so wound up about a particular album or artist is not merely to satisfy the hyperbole quotient, but to motivate someone to action. Rather than just reading some words and having them give the one-handed brush-off, the hope is that a person will say, "What?! Just a second, let me hear that thing." After they take a listen, hopefully the person would conclude one of the following: "Well, I wouldn't go that far with your assessment, but - yeah - it's pretty damn good." Or [taking a line from a '40s film character], "Say, this IS some pretty amazing stuff."

Either way, I made you look. Listen, that is.

Live in Krakow is the album worthy of the superlatives this time around. In truth, the previous two albums by drummer Barry Altschul's trio (with saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Joe Fonda) have all been worthy of such high praise. The reason for the kudos falls squarely on the members of the trio themselves. The interaction between these three creates a feeling and a sound that puts them in the ranks with some of the best working jazz groups around. Why this particular trio isn't heralded as one of just a few bands that will knock you on your posterior is hard to fathom. They possess the fury that drove the best bop bands, playing with the same kind of conviction that knew the music was important and that no corners were cut in the presentation. They also play free because that's where the music leads them, before it might bring them back to a structure.

Altschul has been around the musical block so many times, he should own a share in the real estate. The album opens up with a three-minute drum solo, which might alienate radio programmers but will make true listeners sit in rapt attention. Like a pianist, he uses quiet space in his solo to build the energy. Outside of the late Paul Motian, Altschul is probably the only drummer who make a statement with just a cymbal tap, letting it decay before he continues. By the time the solo concludes and Fonda begins the riff for "Martin's Stew," things are moving at a fast pace, and the group is cruising at that tempo.

There are plenty of saxophonists who have gone through the conservatory and, simultaneously, digested and memorized as much classic jazz as they could. Many of them play pretty well too. Jon Irabagon stands beyond the the pack because he plays like he's lived in the music. He knows the classics, he knows the tone but most importantly he seems to constantly be thinking about how to take all of these ideas and use them to take the music one step deeper. Irabagon's discography proves that, but without even having to binge on his back catalog, his scope can be felt here. Monk's "Ask Me Now" can be a potential minefield for any musician, with its constant chord changes and the need to maintain its slow tempo. Irabagon's phrasing in the theme takes liberties with the rhythm, but he feels right in sync with Altschul's rolls. The saxophonist only takes a brief solo on this track. When he does, he never loses site of Monk's angular personality, a crucial part in any Monk interpretation. He also plays his sopranino on a couple tracks, including the lovely "Irina" where the little horn fits right in.

The other two give Joe Fonda plenty of room. Being a modern trio, he takes a wealth of solos, from an easy going mood, punctuated by double stops in "Ask Me Now" to one that includes moments of resonance from his instrument and even a bit of low feedback in "The 3Dom Factor." In some ways, he serves as a frontline foil to Irabagon, but he never neglects his rhythm section responsibilities, prodding Altschul to take his work to greater levels of intensity. The way Fonda starts "Martin's Stew" on the path towards its theme reveals the take-charge level of his work.

There's probably a reason 3Dom Factor isn't topping polls or making headlines already. Maybe they're simply not out there playing as often as they like. But now there's no reason to bypass their albums. This is one of the year's best.

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