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Barry Altschul Quartet: Irina

Altschul is the common denominator on these two excellent reissues of early ’80s records, and if anyone is unconvinced that he is one of the great drummers of his generation, there’s proof on every track here. He is joined on Irina by Enrico Rava, John Surman and Mark Helias in a program ranging from originals to “Jitterbug Waltz.” It’s great to hear the two hornmen in such fine fettle. Their solos are excellent, and much of the music involves group improvs with the horns in tandem, which is even better. The interplay is reminiscent of Don Cherry with Gato. Time and again somebody plays something good and Altschul hits a perfect punctuation that inspires the music to greater heights. Helias’ big sound and big ears are evident throughout.

Lindberg is another top-notch bassist, and the trio under his leadership is just as satisfying even without the front line interplay. The original writing is perhaps superior (though with both records it’s what they do with the pieces that counts) and the group rapport approaches telepathic levels. At the time of this tour, George Lewis was unhappy that his experiments playing with various parts of his trombone as he dismantled and reassembled it were not as well received as his “straight” playing. The problem was that the process was so distracting, visually. On record you only hear how well he blends the strangest noises into the sound, and he’s great, as ever, with the whole ‘bone. This is one of the best horn/bass/percussion dates of its time.

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