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October 2008

Trio 3: Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille
Live at the Sunset
Marge

There’s an acerbic edge to both Oliver Lake’s alto sax tone and the melodic themes of many of these compositions that might, in others’ hands, seem ill humored. But percussionist Andrew Cyrille’s relentless yet unobtrusive propulsiveness and bassist Reggie Workman’s sinuous bass stylings provide a supple and optimistic context for Lake’s leads, and the altoist himself betrays a playful, even whimsical spirit in the way he fractures and then reconstructs harmonic, tonal and rhythmic continuities. The obvious frame of reference is Eric Dolphy (whose “Gazzelloni” opens the set); even at his most focused and intense, Lake imbues his lines with a trickster’s antic eloquence.

Not that everything here is an exercise in sweet delight: There’s a dark undercurrent to Curtis Clark’s “Amreen” that’s chillingly accentuated by Workman’s deep rumblings and Lake’s dancing-on-knife-edges meditations; Cyrille’s “Striation” juxtaposes rhythmic and melodic shards with mad-scientist precision, and all three musicians explore the daunting nooks and crannies between those shards with steadfast fearlessness; Leroy Jenkins’ “Come On Home, Baby” is not a bluesy lament but a wracked testimonial to what sounds like psychic dissolution, and again the trio rises to the occasion with their take-no-prisoners emotional and musical explorations.

As liner-note writer Yves Citton reminds us, this kind of music is “a collective move towards emancipation”—rectifying contradictions, making it possible for individual freedom and group cohesiveness to thrive side-by-side instead of canceling each other out. Like the juxtaposition of the joy and vitriol that characterizes Lake’s musical attack, like the spiritual uplift that the trio mines from even the harshest, most dark-hued material, this unity between group and individual spirit portends a way of seeing and hearing that manifests harmony from discord, hope from despair and order from chaos.

Originally published in October 2008
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