Trio New York II
Laidback, low-key, unassuming—this is how tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin rolls: no small task for a sax-organ-drums trio either, for such combos have a tendency to be hard-grooving, show-offy affairs. But Eskelin’s is a different sort of organ group. The saxophonist, not the organist, is the dominant voice, and the organist, Gary Versace—well, he doesn’t play like your typical jazz organist here. No riffs. No one-bar phrases repeated ad nauseam. He’s more Larry Young than Jimmy Smith.
A half-dozen standards make up Trio New York II, recorded in early 2013 as a follow-up to the group’s 2011 effort. This one’s equally stellar. The standard “Midnight Sun,” one of the loveliest songs in jazz, commences with a sax-and-organ duet that sounds more like sax and computer. Versace picks blips and bleeps out of his keys while Eskelin improvises off the chords for nearly three minutes, before they settle into the familiar theme. Gerald Cleaver brings brushes to cymbals, and Versace switches to a church sound. Throughout, rhythm is only hinted at, never stated explicitly.
After these nine elevating minutes, Eskelin and Cleaver dive headfirst into a free improv that becomes “Just One of Those Things” only when Versace helps them out with a walking bassline. Eskelin’s tone is warm but tough, and though he respects melody he’s not afraid to break out the dissonance—an appealing compromise of accessibility and adventure. Monk’s “We See” is totally deconstructed and reassembled (this time Versace and Cleaver open it; the dueting in this group is equal-opportunity) with a Hammond B-3 that almost sounds like a Farfisa. “My Ideal” is subdued and gorgeous, with the organ fading in and out, and Versace is so mellow for so much of “After You’re Gone” that you’d be forgiven for forgetting an organ’s in the band. The finale, “Flamingo,” is sheer beauty. After a sax-and-organ intro that brings us full circle, the trio engages in an all-too-brief revelry that sounds like a lazy summer day. Now bring us Trio New York III.