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Barry Altschul’s 3Dom Factor: Tales of the Unforeseen

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Barry Altschul’s The 3Dom Factor was one of the strongest and most underrated albums of 2013. Released as the master drummer turned 70, it features compositions he had written throughout his career, revealing a talent that’s not as celebrated as his tenures with Anthony Braxton, Paul Bley and Sam Rivers. Rather than merely reflecting on his achievements, Altschul-together with saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Joe Fonda-kept the music sounding new with an animated blend of freethinking and hard-swinging.

For Tales of the Unforeseen, the trio went into the studio with no preparation and cut loose. (Altschul did this with Irabagon on the latter’s spontaneous Foxy album in 2010.) Part of this album comprises two songs from the band’s repertoire, a slow, sensual reading of Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now” and a buoyant take on Annette Peacock’s “Miracles.” But by and large this is high-caliber free improvisation. The 26-minute “As the Tale Begins” starts off sounding like the trio is working from a theme. Fonda begins by laying down a pedal-point foundation for Irabagon’s explorative tenor. A breakdown gives way to a joyous racket of growls, plucks and percussive cracks. When things start to flow again, Irabagon unleashes aggressive squawks on sopranino.

“A Drummer’s Tale” lets the leader go it alone, proving why Altschul is a highly esteemed percussionist, deftly utilizing his whole kit while never digressing into showmanship. The closing track, “And the Tale Ends,” is a bit of a misnomer, since it doesn’t end so much as fade out. They probably had more to say, but it’s better to exit on a high note.

Originally Published