Ellery Eskelin
Trio New York
Prime Source

The lineup—Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Gary Versace on Hammond B3, Gerald Cleaver on drums—may lead you to think this is a groove-jazz organ trio. Not so. This band has more in common with an acoustic bebop trio than anything Jimmy Smith or Jack McDuff ever did.

On its face, Trio New York certainly looks like a groove outing. Five standards averaging 15 minutes apiece—the ingredients are there. But the organ often behaves more like a piano or even a second horn than the instrument that too often comes with a license to resort to clichés and gimmicks. You won’t find Versace playing the same lick for 16 bars, holding sustains until your ears hurt, or pulling the drawbars in and out and in and out. What you will find is a good deal of high-minded musical conversation and intent listening to one another.

Versace accents and underscores Eskelin’s soft, supple introductory phrases on “Memories of You,” and as the tune gets going the group gets in the pocket, with Cleaver’s skittering attack evolving into a breezy swing rhythm. Neither here nor on tunes like “Witchcraft” or Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor” (where the organ sounds like telephone buttons) does Eskelin state the melody entirely at the outset; he more or less improvises off the theme while offering just enough of a taste of it to give the listener (and the sidemen) a frame of reference. When Eskelin finally does state a melody strongly—as he does several minutes into “Lover Come Back to Me”—it has a powerful effect, sending the trio into high gear, as if they’re saying, “Ah, yes, that’s it!” The closing number, a tender version of “How Deep Is the Ocean,” is so beautiful you don’t want it to end, not even after 14 minutes.

Originally published in September 2011
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