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January/February 2001

Ellery Eskelin
Ramifications
hatOLOGY

Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin's trio, with drummer Jim Black and keyboardist/sampler Andrea Parkins, has displayed remarkable resourcefulness over the course of four scrappy, thrilling albums. Despite its stripped-down instrumentation, the group maximizes Eskelin's tricky, zigzagging compositions, giving them an odd density through acute intuition and sensitive interplay. Each member has found a rare balance of flavors and textures. On Ramifications, Eskelin invites a couple of additional cooks to stir his soup-cellist Erik Friedlander and tubaist Joe Daley-and for the most part they successfully complement the careful concoction.

Ramifications grew out of a series of improvised concerts Eskelin organized at New York's Internet Cafe a few years ago, and through the workshoplike performances he heard possibilities for Friedlander and Daley in his trio. Friedlander's thick, slowly unfolding lines and Daley's solemn, low-brass puffs inject a beautiful gravity to the ensemble's sound; many of the tunes sport mournful melodic patterns and even a few somber dirges. On "Museum Piece," for example, Friedlander, Daley, Eskelin and Parkins, on accordion, play shifting roles in sculpting the gorgeously imperturbable groove; players alternate foreground and background roles while Black remains in constant motion. In fact, all of the tunes here eschew trad structures: they're episodic, with new melodies and unison riffs blooming organically out of one another, which delivers a constant flux of focal points.

Ramifications' bounty of musical information rewards attentive listening.

Originally published in January/February 2001
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