Drummer Barry Altschul Opens Ars Nova’s winter-spring 2013 season with a storming set at Philadelphia Art Alliance.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen drummer Barry Altschul live. In the 70s and 80s he came through Philadelphia all the time, powering bleeding edge improvisations with the Sam Rivers Trio, The Anthony Braxton Quartet and others. I first heard him on Paul Bley’s Scorpio, fueling Bley’s synthesizer improvisations with deft subtlety.
None of that power has been lost in the intervening 30 odd years. Coming into the Philadelphia with his 3Dom Factor Trio, you would’ve thought you were back in the basement of the Empty Foxhole Café in West Philadelphia. Even though this was in the 3rd floor loft of the more gentile Philadelphia Art Alliance, the music was no less powerful.
Joined by tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Joe Fonda, they essayed a handful of tunes, stretching them out in extended improvisations and solo showcases. Despite his avant-garde lineage, Altschul was always a musically inclusive drummer and he brought his trio through storming freefalls like “Be Out S’Cool” with Ibragon’s muscular tenor bursting with overtone squeels and belches. But they just as easily slipped into the slow ballad “Irina” with Fonda plucking a slow blues.
It was a relatively short set at one hour, but it felt perfect, especially with their rousing closer. Halfway through Carla Bley’s “Ictus” with Fonda’s sprinting bass line and Irabagon’s increasingly impassioned tenor run I thought, “This has to be the closer. You can’t come back with anything after this.” And they didn’t.
Altschul turned 70 on January 6 and he’s just put out his first album in over 25 years as a leader, The 3Dom Factor, on the Finnish TUM Records. It’s a strong set of Altshul originals and Bley’ “Ictus,” and it shows this trio to good effect, especially Joe Fonda whose double bass got a bit lost in the unamplified performance at PAA. On the album however, he’s a counter-weight to Altschul’s shifting rhythmic pivots and rim-shot flourishes as they rotate like a carnival Scrambler.
This was a strong opener as the first concert of Ars Nova Workshop’s Winter-Spring season, providing yet another link to the jazz experiments of the 1960s and 70s.
~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))
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