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Music Review Some troubadours burn brightest together

CHRIS SEARLE reviews Barry Altschul & The 3Dom Factor’s Live in Krakow

Barry Altschul and The 3Dom Factor
Live in Krakow 
(NotTwo MW960-2)

BORN in the Bronx, New York City, in 1943 and self-taught in his teenage years and later by the celebrated drummer Charlie Persip, Barry Altschul is one of the great surviving drummers whose achievement goes back to the 1960s, when he was part of an outstanding trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Gary Peacock.

In the early ’70s he joined Wolverhampton-born bassist Dave Holland, pianist Chick Corea and saxophonist Anthony Braxton in the Circle quartet and was the drummer on Holland’s brilliant 1972 ECM album with Braxton and fellow saxophonist Sam Rivers, Conference of the Birds.

Altschul was always a powerful free drummer, yet within his eclectic technique is the entirety of jazz percussive history, which made him partner for bop, post-bop, avant-garde and blues players from reedman like Sonny Criss and Gato Barbieri, pianists Hampton Hawes and Andrew Hill, and blues guitarist Buddy Guy.

His long association with bassist Joe Fonda (born in Amsterdam, New York, in 1954) goes back 15 years when they first played in the marvellous FAB Trio with violinist Billy Bang — hear them on Transforming the Space (CIMP 2005) and A Night in Paris (Marge 2008). The 3Dom Trio is completed by another powerful New York presence, saxophonist Jon Irabagon — 35 years younger than Altschul, who also plays regularly in bands led by guitarist Mary Halvorson and trumpeter Dave Douglas.

Altschul said of the 3Dom Factor: “Our music is built on trust. We’re all able to be in the same space at the moment musically. And even if we’re not, conflict can work too. I feel that playing free is like the writing of books or having a discussion. The more vocabulary you have, the freer you can be and the more choices you have. That to me is what freedom is.”

The Live in Krakow album was recorded in December 2016 at the city’s Alchemia Club, and opens with Martin’s Stew and a drums and cymbal blaze from the ageless Altschul superbly recorded, as if you were in Krakow too, sitting next to the drum set.

Fonda comes plucking in and Irabagon’s tenor picks up an astonishing pace, blowing out a host of notes as if breath were an irrelevance. Fonda’s bass solo is bowed with defiance and imploring fused into the same sounds. Altschul’s final drums rally and the way in which he coheres with his two confreres expresses the apex of jazz unity.

The Thelonious Monk tune Ask Me Now has 60 groovy years inside its every note, and illustrates what brought the younger Irabagon together with his two much older bandmates. Altschul recalls: “Jon mentioned to me that he was very influenced by me and the era that I came up in. He really wanted to be able to play in a fairly traditional way as well as playing free.”

The beautiful melodic foundation of Ask Me Now is played by the saxophonist as if he were discovering it for the very first time, so fresh is his phraseology and Fonda’s dark, delving and dancing notes cause the listener to exclaim joyously: “Monk lives! In the heart of Poland, too!”

Altschul’s piece For Papa Joe, Klook, and Philly Too remembers Count Basie’s great swing drummer Jo Jones, and the two bop drum masters Kenny Clarke and Philly Joe Jones, thus acknowledging his own protean jazz devotion.

It’s a wild, free blow by Irabagon; Fonda’s pulse technique is in every sound, every era, every moment, every genre, every strike and roll, every narrative and sub-text of his drums.

For the ballad Irina, Irabagon turn to his soprano saxophone and then to his tenor, for a lyrical and serene outing on both horns. It becomes a calming preface to the storm that follows, called simply The 3Dom Factor.

Irabagon is tempestuous, his incendiary tenor burning bright as his two senior troubadours lay down an intense and moveable undergrowth of irrepressible rhythm.

Fonda’s solo jumps and bounces with huge sonic verve before Altschul’s extraordinary drums artistry signals a denouement of powerful unity. The rest is applause from the lucky Poles who were there to hear it.

As for the septuagenarian Altschul, he is performing, touring and recording again with everything about his technique and uniqueness as intact and superb as it ever was.

Fonda reminded me: “I grew up listening to Barry, so playing with him is like I have been playing with him for a million years,” and all those long-gone sessions with the giants are instilled into his sound and percussive fluency. As for the Live in Krakow album, he added: “It is full of that very special Altschul energy and flow. It’s fluid like water.”

Amen to that.

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