"Where Eagles Soar" is the latest release from the Portland based free jazz ensemble Tres Gone. It is far-reaching without being far-fetched.
Tres Gone is comprised of Scott Steele, Eric Hausmann and Mike Mahaffay. The current CD also features national and international friends.
"A Gathering of Spirits" is the appropriately named first track as it conjures images of different cultures and mindsets coming together in unity of purpose; that purpose being enlightenment. Steve Gorn on flute and clarinet creates a multifaceted and layered approach to the theme that reminds me instantly of John Coltrane’s "The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost."
Mike Mahaffay’s brush work on the drums is nuanced and balanced while Eric Hausmann and Scott Steele create a throbbing under-layment on guitar synthesizer and guitar that is fascinating.
Mike Mahaffay has learned balance and nuance from his vast musical experiences. As he says of himself, his musical journey has taken him “from burlesque to symphony halls and everywhere in between.” He has studied jazz and classical and has performed as a member of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra.
Eric Hausmann is an eclectic guitarist who has engaged in just almost every style of music conceivable. Hausmann has forayed into experimental soundscapes, jazz, electronica, and even dub.
"A Gathering of Spirits" crossed almost seamlessly into Valentine’s Day Raga. John Jensen continues on trumpet and, in fact, sets aside his more famous trombone for the entire CD.
John Jensen has performed with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and has performed with the McCoy Tyner Big Band. He was also a featured soloist with the United States Navy Band for twelve years in addition to playing for ten years with John Previti's "Mingus-Monk Tribute Band."
It is his trumpet that seizes the pulse while Scott’s guitar work is almost frenetic, except that there is no loss of control. Scott is clearly in complete mastery of what transpires and only a complete mastery allows him—and indeed all of Tres Gone—to maintain discipline where no structure exists. This is Free Jazz at its finest. The piece is then augmented by Michael Stirling’s tambura and vocals. Because of those vocals, the raga begins to emerge and carries through to the end. A brilliant fusion of Free Jazz and raga.
Scott Steele grew up on 60’s surf music and graduated to fusion and progressive rock in the 70’s. He plays fusion, rockabilly and even country in his assorted gigs and this enables him to bring a vast vocabulary into this free jazz forum.
"Burnt Whiskey Sky" begins the seven track run of studio sessions which include Fred Chalenor on bass alongside Steele, Mahaffay, Jensen and Michael Lastra who supplies the theramin and sampling.The rhythm section holds down a more classic jazz structure as the melody makers break into freetstyle. Steele’s distinguishable guitar assumes a rightful place of extension and exploration. It is not quite clear whether or not this contains real or imagined allusions to Frank Zappa’s "Burnt Weeny Sandwich" but feel free to indulge in far-flung associations.
On "String Theory," John Jensen emerges on piano and Lastra supplements the melody with warbling samples and effects. Mahaffay returns to the brushes and Chalenor’s bass provides the heartbeat beneath. The piece intentionally breaks down into separate approaches from piano, bass and drums and concludes in satisfying disassociation.
There is a humorous, if not hilarious, twisting in "Gershwin Stumbles." The song’s title is given vivid melodic and rhythmic imagery. The back-dropped nod to "Rhapsody in Blue" then moves to the forefront only to be suppressed again as Gershwin has not only apparently stumbled but has fallen and knocked himself out cold.
"Mercurial" and "Quorum" and "Jumping Out" allow the development of the Free Jazz forum and it is impossible not to be reminded of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman or Cecil Taylor at their most adventurous. While these three songs do not specifically comprise a suite, there is a logical progression from the first to the third in terms of framing and cadence.
Fred Chalenor opens the first song and closes the third and, running between those two events, are some of the most intriguing and engaging runs and riffs from Steele and Jensen. With all of that, it is sometimes difficult not to focus on the intricate drumming by Mahaffay.
The final track is "This is a Birdy Party," one of the first recordings for the current CD. Of the personnel on the rest of the recording, only Mahaffay and Jensen remain on this track joined by Mike Moss on soprano sax, Rick Wadman on vibes, Lenny Oldeboom on keyboards and vocals, and Angel Wolff on violin.
This track is reminiscent of something more progressive than free jazz. It reminds of Robert Fripp’s" Exposure" album. The experimentation remains and actually frames a fitting conclusion to the album in general.
It is a brilliant album conceived and performed by truly brilliant musicians.
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