Ellery Eskelin’s Trio New York

This looks wonderful, but I’m not sure it’s the most efficient way to promote a concert:

By Niklaus Troxler, a 2007 promo for the Ellery Eskelin Trio

That’s a 2007 poster by Niklaus Troxler, then the organizer of concerts in Willisau, Switzerland. You’ve seen Willisau namechecked on countless albums; the small town has been a mainspring for European-style improvised music and jazz.

Connect the dots, and you’ll see the poster is advertising a concert by the Ellery Eskelin Trio.

As Eskelin wrote in an October blog post, he’s a frequent visitor to Willisau, and his most recent visit resulted in a recording for his Trio New York, his standards-influenced band featuring Gary Versace on organ. The plan is to parlay that session into a CD on hatOLOGY in the spring.

eskelin-3ny-crop.jpgTrio New York is an interesting proposition, an organ-sax-drums combo that improvises freely but does so in the context of traditional jazz. Tracks on the band’s two CDs are even named after standards. I’m thinking the tunes are actually in there somewhere, but I’m not trying very hard to find them; it’s more enjoyable to just let the music drift by, like a bank of clouds on a lazy day.

The band’s concept is close to Eskelin’s heart, partly because his mother was a professional organist, playing under the name Bobbie Lee. No wonder that Eskelin lets a romantic, nostalgic tone pervade the music, although he’s still quite adventurous within those boundaries, and Versace is willing to wrest some spacey sounds from the organ for the occasional effect.

It was a pleasant surprise to watch this band germinating at a 2010 restaurant show in Times Square — a very unexpected venue for Eskelin — and it’s been good to see that Eskelin has kept the concept rolling.

Go Home Comes Home, ROVA Spins 33-1/3

I’m on the SFJazz mailing list — the snail-mail list that is, where they send out the catalog of each season’s events.

It’s a a sanitized and corporate kind of selection (lots of world-music acts, for instance) but the organization is sincere in providing a stage for jazz, including venerated masters who’d otherwise never come this far west.

They’ve also been good about supporting local acts, young but partly established musicians, and the occasional avant-garde trip. So, I get the catalog. I always thumb through it. And I always find something I like.

* Go Home is playing on March 18, 2011.  This is really exciting, considering it’s a band I didn’t expect would play many live dates — and yet I’ve managed to see them twice and might get a third chance. They’re the combination of Charlie Hunter‘s bluesy, funky guitar; Ben Goldberg‘s sinewy clarinet melodies; and Scott Amendola‘s hard-snap drumming.

There’s one personnel change: Trumpeter Ron Miles, from Colorado won’t be along. But as a substitute, they’ve brought in — and this is mind-blowing, really it is — Ellery Eskelin on saxophone. Eskelin is a key free-jazz figure in New York, capable of a wide range of styles. He can really cut a groove, too; a longtime favorite of mine is the 9/8 funk of “Rhyme or Reason,” with his longstanding trio with Andrea Parkins (keys/sampler) and Jim Black (drums).

Anyway. This should be really good.

* ROVA Saxophone Quartet has a concert with DJ Olive and DJ P-Love on Saturday, June 4, at the Swedish American Music Hall (upstairs from Cafe Du Nord). There’s an accompanying gimmick: At some point soon, it’s the 33-1/3rd anniversary of ROVA’s first performance, so they’re putting out a vinyl album. It’s a 45.  (No, it’s not, but that would be funny.)

That album will apparently be a recording of their 2009 concert with John Zorn.  For the June show, the turntablists continue the “33-1/3” theme. I’ve heard DJ Olive before, on albums with the likes of William Hooker and Uri Caine, and he adds more of a noise element than an enforced groove (although the latter would be an interesting constraint).

I don’t see ROVA as often as I should, and that’s a shame. Many of their shows are one-off happenings, because of the number of directions they’re working on and the relative dearth of gigs. Every show is compelling. It might sound like they’re going for a pop angle, but it’s safe to bet this show ends up being as challenging and rewarding as any.

Ellery Eskelin in Times Square

Monday night was a rare chance for me: some downtime in New York City. The choices for music shows are overwhelming. But once I discovered there was some actual free jazz in a Times Square venue, I had to show up, just to show some support.

Well, that, and to see Ellery Eskelin for the first time in about a decade.

It was the debut of a new series, whereby Roberto’s Winds will be bringing jazz to the Limerick Bar, the upstairs room at Rosey O’Grady’s 46th-Street restaurant. Most of the music will be on the straighter side, but they took a nice chance by kicking off the series with Eskelin. Or, maybe it wasn’t such a chance — Eskelin is a well known name by now (heck, it brought me to the place, didn’t it?). He brought in a new trio with Gary Versace on organ and Tyshawn Sorey on drums.

I got there early enough to eavesdrop on Eskelin talking strategy with the band. “If you hear a tune, just go with it,” and “So, this is basically an improv gig.”  I wasn’t trying to listen in, but it’s a small and cozy area, and very few people had arrived at the time.

As expected, then, the show stuck mostly to jazzy motifs but coloring outside the lines quite a bit.  Eskelin opened things by soloing himself, going a few minutes before Sorey joined tentatively. Versace really got things going by pulsing out some bass notes on the organ, setting up a kind of rhythmless groove that the group could ride for a good long time.

With the parameters set, the trio locked in for the rest of the show. That first long piece hit some energetic highs and turned out very successfully. They started a second piece in a mellower tone, veering into a kind of improvised ballad that built up in intensity and volume. Sorey went absolutely nuts for one long stretch, snapping at the drums and cymbals with impossibly fast arms. He can be an inferno when he wants to.

The crowd was sympathetic, but you didn’t get many outbursts of applause or whooping, even though many, many moments deserved it. Chalk it up to the venue — friendly place, but plush. With people eating dinner, it seemed more polite to save the applause for the ends of pieces. The one exception was during the closing piece, a straight-jazz improvisation where Eskelin turned in a crowd-pleasing, crescendoing solo. Big applause there, some of it pent up from not applauding at key points of other pieces, I’d think.

Eskelin will be appearing with Sorey and guitarist Mary Halvorson at The Stone on June 17. That should be a treat.

As for Rosie O’Grady’s itself, the food is the usual Irish/British fare you’d expect, in a serious restaurant setting. You can get fish and chips, of course, but it’s mostly a traditional meat-and-potatoes place: shepherd’s pie, beef stew, and the like. Hardy food for absorbing those Guinesses you’ve been knocking down.

The night had a second set, with saxophonist Hayes Greenfield, but I didn’t stick around.  The chance to catch something more “outside” on the Lower East Side beckoned.  I’ll be writing that up separately.

Playlist: May 1, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, May 1, 3:00 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.

The final set starts with Kyle Bruckmann‘s Wrack, which has a tough, aggressive middle but an overall slow aesthetic, and then gets into droney tones up through the Ellery Eskelin, which starts out with long accordion tones before getting into choppy, dynamic territory. That was a fun set to put together.

The Donald “Duck” Bailey recording is a modern one, in a quintet with Charles Tolliver (trombone) and Odean Pope (tenor sax). It’s got a progressive mainstream sound, if that makes sense — I’m not sure you’d call it free jazz, but it’s plenty creative with some compelling writing behind it, and of course some longtime ace musicians in the band.

Opened the show with some old, old Ken Vandermark stuff from 1993.

Continue reading “Playlist: May 1, 2009”

Every So Often

Ellery Eskelin and Sylvie Courvoisier — Every So Often (Prime Source, 2008 )

Source: home.earthlink.net/~eskelinWhile I wouldn’t call it pastoral or romantic, I get a relaxed vibe from much of this sax/piano duo album. Even on the spiky, aggressive pieces, there’s a warmth to the flow of Ellery Eskelin‘s sax. It’s a pillowy quality, especially when he’s bobbing and weaving in a low-middle register. He’s capable of getting shrill with higher notes but usually does so with a less acid/abrasive feel than John Zorn or Tim Berne. It’s part of what I liked so much about his early solo album, Premonition.

Not that the music is all warm and glowy. Sylvie Courvoisier, alternates between a thoughtful chamber mode and avant-garde abandon, painting some nicely dark moods along the way. The opener, “Moderato Cantabile,” patiently marches forward with a dusky, weighted sound, later getting into tense classical undertones with piano becoming more of the lead voice, with Eskelin’s sax adding color scribbles to a stormy sky.

That’s followed by pointillistic flittering and some sour-toned sax on “Architectural,” which winds up with a quick-river flow and some jagged piano. “Processing” features tense sax over a rattly prepared-piano drone. “A Distant Place,” the longest track at nine minutes, ends up in a stark and abstract, uh, place.

Still, there’s an intimate feel even to the darker tracks — like the cautiously building intensity of “Open Channel,” with Courvoisier rattling away on prepared piano. Or “Accidentals,” which has the feel of a flowing conversation, maybe with a strident air to the piano.

Eskelin and Courvoisier also have a trio album out, with cellist Vincent Courtois, called As Soon As Possible. It came out, on Cam Jazz, at around the same time this one did, so maybe the temporal theme to the titles was intentional.