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Johnathan Blake: Trion (Giant Step Arts)

A review of the drummer's two-disc set featuring Chris Potter and Linda May Han Oh

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Trion by Johnathan Blake
The cover of Trion by Johnathan Blake

Trion is frequently torrential, and aggressively virtuosic. A significant chunk of this magnanimous offering—nearly two hours of music, recorded live at the Jazz Gallery in New York, spread over 13 songs on two discs—is taken up with solo spots for Blake on drums, Linda May Han Oh on bass, and Chris Potter on tenor saxophone. The project is the second release from Giant Step Arts, the nonprofit founded by photographers Jimmy and Dena Katz, who choose artists for whom they wish to stage and record premiere performances, then provide them with CDs and digital downloads of the gigs and ownership of the masters.

Those extraordinarily generous terms enabled Blake to create an intensely personal recording. “High School Daze” and “West Berkeley St.,” for example, are direct homages to his Philadelphia upbringing. Yet Oh and Potter are more than sidepeople. Oh’s “Trope” is the most circumspect, ensemble-oriented original here. And Potter’s clarion horn relentlessly scours the scale for buoyant asides. His 17-minute arrangement of the Police’s “Synchronicity I” and his 11-and-a-half-minute original “Good Hope” emblazon a Trion template of raucous but rigorous jazz thrash that fans of woolly David Ware and David Murray sax carousing will appreciate.

The cool reveal is an unplanned rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Relaxin’ at Camarillo.” The trio hems its bursting seams to better conform to this iconic bebop standard—even as Oh’s bent notes sing, Blake gets martial on the snare, and Potter’s sound morphs into Sonny Rollins territory. It’s yet another facet of Trion, named after a term in physics where a singlet state is formed from three atoms of different colors. Blake, who continues to anchor ace ensembles led by Tom Harrell and Kenny Barron, decided to share the wealth on his own star turn, and we’re all richer for the kaleidoscope of colors that ensued.

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Originally Published