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Marty Ehrlich/Peter Erskine/Michael Formanek: Relativity

Chords? They don’t need no stinkin’ chords, not when open-minded, empathetic improvisers gather on a common expressive ground. That kind of natural openness of interaction is in good supply on this inspired trio’s new recording. The spacious, coloristic side of Peter Erskine’s artistry, as heard on his ECM albums, makes for a great foil for the free-ranging assertions of Marty Ehrlich-on alto and tenor saxes and flute, in addition to clarinet-and the loose rumbling voice of bassist Michael Formanek. As much as improvisation is an important m.o. here, in terms of both individual statements and sensitive, on-the-fly interplay, the structural grids of compositions by all involved give the 10-track album a melodic grounding sometimes missing from more purely improv-driven sessions. Also included on the song list is a beautiful, languid ballad, “Taglioni,” by the late Don Grolnick, whose pop leanings never overshadowed his innate musicality. And that quality is what rises to the top here: three players, in a relaxed yet probing setting, exploring some creative spaces that are minimally predetermined, but mostly made up as they’ve gone along. That’s as good a definition of jazz practice as anything.

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