Barry Altschul’s first album as a leader in more than 25 years is a mischievous affair showcasing his irreverent drums, the magisterially sassy tenor saxophone of Jon Irabagon and the twangy (and occasionally bowed) bass of Joe Fonda, Altschul’s colleague from the FAB Trio, which also featured the late violinist Billy Bang. The approach on 3dom is arch, humorous and proud. Packed with whistles, flutter-tonguing and other effects spanning the ominous and the cartoonish, this album passes far too quickly. For a group of such serious chops, it’s an unapologetic blast, and a fitting way for Altschul to celebrate his 70th birthday. (He hit that milestone Jan. 6.)
The tunes are elastic, and some are impressively accessible-especially the slow ones, like the lovely ballad “Irina,” which finds the group at its most ruminative. “Papa’s Funkish Dance,” popping to Fonda’s slap bass, Altschul’s cowbell and Irabagon’s bleats, is soulful and ornery; “Natal Chart” begins like a dirge and then accelerates crazily, the three perpetrators stirring a cauldron of sound. But no matter how chaotic these Altschul originals become, the musicians always end up with their feet on the ground.
“Natal Chart,” like the similarly un-sprung “Oops,” packs the history of jazz into its changes; while Altschul’s brand of jazz is defiantly free, it’s also rooted and informed. What’s so consistently fresh about it is the way it’s layered, whether the tune is a (relatively) straightforward ballad like “Just a Simple Song” or the ridiculously urgent, unexpectedly funky “Martin’s Stew,” like “Papa’s” a tune over three decades old. The one cover is “Ictus,” a Carla Bley composition of preposterous speed that constructs itself, then deconstructs, in less than two and a half minutes. This CD, beautifully packaged and annotated, signals the recorded return of a singular jazz force.