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Conrad Herwig, Richie Beirach, Jack DeJohnette: The Tip of the Sword

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Much of trombonist Conrad Herwig’s activity in recent years has been focused on exploring the so-called Latin side of jazz giants like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Though not without their charms, those albums’ central concept, by its very nature, tends to limit inventiveness; they exist in a box enforced by a demanding gimmick.

Whether or not Herwig has begun to chafe at those restrictions, The Tip of the Sword takes off in a wholly opposite direction, driven largely by freedom and openness. Though all seven compositions are credited to Herwig, the material is defined by the interactions between the trombonist and his heavyweight counterparts, pianist Richie Beirach and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

All three play with a predictably impressive vigor, and a certain hectic momentum propels most of the tracks. That’s certainly true of the tense, antic opener, “Where the Tip of the Sword Settles,” during which Herwig’s bluster is met by Beirach’s caffeinated urgency and DeJohnette’s all-over-the-kit hyperactivity.

“Mastery of the Mind” builds at a much more patient pace, Herwig wailing with breathiness and the occasional stuttering catch while DeJohnette dances around his cymbals and Beirach muses. But it’s “The Void,” the album’s literal centerpiece, that finds the trio reining itself in to its starkest point, beginning with a lengthy solo piano turn that basks in the instrument’s resonance. “Inner Sincerity” restores the brisk pace with DeJohnette’s ebullient rhythms, which bear traces of his globetrotting influences without suggesting any particular culture or style.

Originally Published