You’re setting expectations high when your trio partners are tenor saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Linda May Han Oh, two of the jazz world’s more versatile and dynamic improvisers. Drummer Johnathan Blake certainly meets those standards on this riveting two-disc live set.
The chordless lineup results in a concentrated energy. On the surface, a nearly 17-minute take on The Police’s “Synchronicity 1” seems like overkill. But Potter’s snaking lines, Oh’s melodic solo and the charging, flexible rhythmic drive keep the listener captivated for its entirety. At one point during the group’s expansive read of Charlie Parker’s “Relaxin’ at Camarillo,” the intensity ratchets up to such a degree that it sounds like the group will fly off the bandstand. However, the proceedings cool off enough for Oh’s and Blake’s expressive and focused solos.
Intensity abounds, to be sure, but plenty of variety, as well. The R&B-inspired melody of “West Berkley St.” — an ode to the Philadelphia street on which Blake grew up — glides along Oh’s vamp and Blake’s insistent rhythm, lending the tune an air of decidedly hip 1970s nostalgia. Potter’s two compositions showcase his range: “Good Hope” rides a sprightly South African-inspired rhythm, while “Eagle”— appropriately — swoops and soars through a sinuous melody. Oh contributes “Trope,” a brooding piece propelled by her nimble, leaping phrases and Potter’s billowy tenor lines.
Blake’s drumwork is electrifying throughout, always maintaining an elastic sense of swing regardless of the context. On “Bedrum,” a nearly three-minute solo showcase, Blake delivers a concise lesson in dynamics, textures and tension building.
The title of the album isn’t just a play on the word trio. In physics, a trion refers to a particle that incorporates three separate properties: energy, charge and spin. It’s an apt metaphor to describe the artistry of Blake and company. — John Frederick Moore
Featured photo by Jonathan Blake.