Ellery Eskelin's trio with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black has enjoyed a great run over what's coming up on two great decades, but there's one date that seems to stand out as their great day. It might not be the best day for a band that has only continued to grow over its 16 subsequent years, but its one they've inscribed into their own legend. September 30, 1996, was the day the trio recorded its debut album, One Great Day, which became enough of a credo that 13 years later they titled a live album One Great Night.
The trio had been playing together for two years by the time they entered the studio, although Eskelin and Parkins had already worked together (see the wonderfully odd Green Bermudas, in which they sampled and interpreted pieces by Rodd Keith, Eskelin's absentee, songwriter-for-hire father). The session marked not only the beginning of a longstanding group but also the start of a long relationship with the Swiss label hatOLOGY; the group would go on to release ten more titles with the label.
From the outset, the band clicked. Modeled in part after the organ trios Eskelin's mother Bobbie Lee played in around his native Baltimore, the three at once respected and upended the formula. The music came from New York's "downtown" to be sure — there's a good bit of skronk and deconstruction — but like the best of that scene there's a reverence as well, and on their debut album they never lost sight of the swing. They might devolve into extended unaccompanied sax solos or wonderfully blurry accordion passages (augmented by Parkins' sampler) but they never strayed too far from the path. This in no small part is due to Black's drumming: There are moments of obtuse sparseness to be sure, but Black's drive is never far behind.
Over the ensuing years, the trio would expand its membership in different directions (including adding a vocalist) and would tackle compositions by John Coltrane, Eugene Chadbourne, Charlie Haden, John McLaughlin, Lennie Tristano and others. Black and Parkins would even play together in a trio with guitarist Nels Cline. But revisiting their starting point isn't an exercise in nascent potentiality. hatOLOGY's reissue (with no added tracks and a new cover design) provides an excuse to listen anew to one great trio, seemingly emerging fully formed from the ocean of tradition.
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