Barry Altschul’s 3dom Factor – Tales of the Unforeseen [TrackList follows] – TUM CD 044, 57:47 [9/8/15] ****:
(Barry Altschul – drums, percussion, producer; Jon Irabagon – tenor, soprano and sopranino saxophone, flute; Joe Fonda – doublebass)
The essential approach to drummer Barry Altschul’s new release on the TUM label is freedom. The hour-long Tales of the Unforeseen is the sophomore studio album for his current group, Barry Altschul’s 3dom Factor. Altschul states in the liner notes that, “Nothing was planned: no charts, no specific concepts—just play.” That kind of framework can only be successful if the performers are finely and precisely attuned to each other, and that’s exactly what happens. Altschul should be known to improvisational jazz devotees. In the early 1970s, Altschul was a member of Circle, a band which also included Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Anthony Braxton, and historically is regarded by some as one of the most technically-adept free jazz ensembles. When Circle dissolved, Altschul divided his time between solo works and collaborations with Kenny Drew, Billy Bang and others. The other 3dom Factor participants have equally corresponding paths. Bassist Joe Fonda was Braxton’s go-to bassist in the ‘90s, he supported trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and Fonda has issued several wide-ranging music CDs. Fonda and Altschul have been part of the FAB Trio for 15 years. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon is a partner in the unconventional jazz assemblage, Mostly Other People Do the Killing; and also involved in the Dave Douglas Quartet. Irabagon and Altschul have performed together over a six year period. To say the least, these are three musicians who have established a telepathic communication.
The basic idea of improvising freely can be experienced on the nearly 27-minute epic opener, “As the Tale Begins.” This is effectively the CD’s first chapter, and what a whopper of a narrative it is. There is no formal structure or form. The three players are intense and respond unerringly (and sometimes unnervingly) to whatever and wherever the music takes them. That also means listeners must partake with earnest ears, ready for wherever the creativity goes. This extended track flows from gentle and subtle segments which feature Irabagon’s flute, to brasher sections headed by Irabagon’s blistering sax. The trio sometimes moves into visceral sectors where the improvisation is deep and abstract. At the rough midpoint, Altschul takes the spotlight with a forceful drum solo. Then the three progress into an even more unsettling area where they go into the outer terrain of free jazz. And as suddenly, the mood alters and Altschul utilizes supple bells and reverberating percussion, Irabagon supplies breathy sax effects via blowing air through his mouthpiece and clacking his keys, and Fonda employs his bowed bass to generate atmospheric ambiance. The other unpremeditated cuts are noticeably briefer. The four-minute “The Tale Continues” is fueled by Fonda’s commanding, two-minute introductory bass solo. “The Tale Continues” glides without pause into “Annette’s Tale of Miracles,” one of three pieces which were not instant improvisations but rather based on compositions in the 3dom Factor’s stage repertoire. In this case, “Annette’s Tale of Miracles” is a deconstruction of Annette Peacock’s “Miracles.” The 1995 original is haunting. The 3dom Factor switches “Miracles” into a post-bop excursion with up-tempo rhythm and Irabagon’s singeing soprano sax.
The other two non-originals are also captivating. There is a sense of wonder and exploration during the six-minute “A Tale of Monk: Ask Me Now,” which is loosely fashioned from Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now.” This number exploits open space, with elongated sax lines, concentrated and stretched bass lines and Altschul’s lithe cymbals and brushes. For those who think free jazz can’t be beautiful, this is a must-hear. The third cut which some Altschul followers might recognize is “A Drummer´s Tale,” Altschul’s five-minute solo performance, which comprises many facets of Altschul’s skill and prowess, from hard-hitting tom-toms to delicate cymbals. This is an organic and inspiring example of jazz drumming, a percussionist’s mini-master class. There is also an instinctive organic perception, a real dialogue, on the concluding track, the almost 11-minute “And the Tale Ends.” Irabagon’s flute is ethereal during the first half and his sax is sinuous and nearly spiritual in the tune’s final sweep; Fonda’s bass is fluid and has a tangible physicality due to engineer Jon Rosenberg’s close-mic technique; and Altschul is both approachable and spontaneously improvisational, a balancing act many younger drummers have a difficult time attaining. The packaging for Tales of the Unforeseen should also be mentioned. The TUM label’s excellent digipak includes aptly abstract artwork; in-depth and comprehensive liner notes; multiple color photographs; biographies and synopses for each tune. The recording and mixing by Rosenberg is also pristine and detailed, and brings to life the trio’s most understated components as well as the louder, bolder auditory ingredients.
TrackList: As the Tale Begins; A Tale of Monk: Ask Me Now; The Tale Continues; Annette’s Tale of Miracles; A Drummer’s Tale; And the Tale Ends.