Charles Rumback – Threes (Ears & Eyes)
From free improvisation to rock to electronic music, versatile drummer Charles Rumback has applied his skills to a variety of musical contexts. But his recent release, Threes, marks the first time on record that the Chicago-based musician has led a piano trio. Working with pianist Jim Baker and bassist John Tate, Rumback brings a brooding melodicism to the format, and his focus on mood and tonal color are deeply engaging from the start.
The opener, “Salt Lines,” is a tour de force, with Baker establishing a gorgeous, gliding melody that carries the entirety of the track’s 10 minutes. Rumback uses the ride cymbal to propel the action, occasionally dropping in quick snare rolls for punctuation. “Too Toney” explores a similar modernist melodicism. Baker, another Chicago musician who usually works in a free-improv context, displays a gentle, lyrical touch, wringing all he can out of Rumback’s bittersweet harmonies. Tate, meanwhile, propels and slackens the pace — or creates his own space — as fits the occasion.
At 21 minutes, the medley “Three Storey Birdhouse/Right Reasons” takes up nearly half of the record’s running time, but there’s hardly a wasted moment. The first section falls more in line with the free-improv abstractions for which Rumback and company are known, with the drummer’s stuttering patterns underpinning Baker’s dissonant explorations. As a bridge between the two sections, Tate delivers a ruminative solo, which segues into a mysterious-sounding vamp that drives the rest of the piece. The trio’s reading of Andrew Hill’s ballad “Erato” retains all of the angular beauty of the original, putting Baker’s shimmering phrases front and center while Rumback’s snare work mirrors Tate’s melodic lines.
Rumback may not enjoy the brand recognition of some of his peers, but he’s steadily proving to be a creative force worth following.
—John Frederick Moore