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May 2001

Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black
The Secret Museum
hatOLOGY

Ellery Eskelin is a gifted tenor saxophonist whose bold, pungent tone, remarkable range and uncanny fluency on the instrument should naturally rank him right up there with the leading lights of today's jazz scene. And yet, his experimental streak often places him well beyond the walls of the jazz establishment. Hence, Eskelin is an outcast, a Herculean player with an extremely fertile imagination who remains keen on collaborating with musical upstarts who also defy convention. On the adventurous The Secret Museum he has found some real kindred spirits indeed in keyboardist Andrea Parkins and the superb drummer/percussive colorist Jim Black.

Their eccentric reading of Monk's "We See" is suitably nonconformist, with Black playing the herky-jerky head on his kit right alongside Parkins and Eskelin before launching into waves of wacky polyrhythms and bursts of off-kilter time keeping-kind of like what Monk might've sounded like playing the drums. Parkins is in that same number, comping in a dissonant/giddy manner on accordion that steers clear of the jazz orthodoxy while at the same time capturing some of Monk's irrepressible spirit. Midway through the piece, Eskelin and Black unite for an invigorating tenor-drums breakdown that is more tied to the jazz tradition than anything else on this renegade recording.

Elsewhere, Parkins plays acoustic piano on two separate sections of "Sequence/Consequence"-one minimalist, one whirling with frantic energy-that best highlights the interactive nature of this working trio. She opens with some edgy organ on Eugene Chadbourne's "Nymphaliadae," then nimbly shifts from Sun Ra to Tony Williams Lifetime on an up-tempo swing section that Black propels with his brisk ride cymbal work. Parkins is also highlighted on organ in a stirring duet with Black on "Prelude."

"You'll Know When You Get There" is the closest this trio gets to a traditional song form, and even then it's still slightly askew, cast in a Carla Bleyish mode. Eskelin's playing on Eugene's "Paris Swallowtail" builds from a whimper to a majestic howl and he responds to the drone factor of Parkins' accordion work on "Vox Organalis" with some of his most forceful playing here.

This is all extremely challenging stuff. Adventurous listeners are well advised to check it out, if only for the formidable presence of the unheralded tenor man Eskelin.

Originally published in May 2001
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