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May 2009

Ellery Eskelin, Sylvie Courvoisier
Every So Often
Prime Source

Ellery Eskelin’s determination to do his own thing at all costs might not have made him a household name, but it’s made him one of the most consistently interesting tenor saxophonists in jazz, which is undoubtedly what he set out to do anyway. He’s joined here not by his superb long-running group with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black, but by the pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, with whom he’s had a shorter but nonetheless fruitful musical partnership. Every So Often is an hour of free improvisation divided into nine episodes. The musicians offer contrasting styles.

Courvoisier’s approach owes almost nothing to jazz and everything to contemporary classical music. Eskelin’s playing, on the other hand, reveals a more-than-casual familiarity with strands of “new music,” yet his phrasing and rhythms are drenched in jazz. The two musicians find common ground in their shared devotion to careful listening and ego-less creation.

There’s a naked purity to this music. Broken harmonies, tangled skeins of melody, garbled cries and transparent emotionalism are products of an extraordinary musicality made explicit by artists who don’t let their considerable (individual and collective) virtuosity get in the way of direct expression. Honest and uncompromising, and all the more beautiful for it.

Originally published in May 2009
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