Throughout his long career, Ornette Coleman was second to none when it came to thinking out of the box. Case in point, his 1961 recording Free Jazz signaled the introduction of a novel instrumental format, the 'Double Band'. No one until then had hinged a musical project around two basses and two drum sets while also dispensing with the piano completely, something Coleman had already done away with before that date. But the concept never really flew at the time, as if it were just a little too off-the-wall. In fact, it took decades before such bands became a reality.
Those that have come into existence since stick pretty close to that model of dual piano-less rhythm sections and horns, or, alternatively, a single one manning the frontline. Far more infrequent, however, are piano trios that bolster their lineup with a second bassist and drummer. CliffPools is exactly that. Its moniker stems from the names of two trios lead by pianist Pandelis Karayorgis. In the liners, this musician states the present unit arose out of two recordings he did in 2018, one with Damon Smith and Eric Rosenthal (Cliff), the other (Pools) with Nate McBride and Luther Gray (both issued on the same label as this offering).
But a double lineup can be a tricky proposition: a single drum set, as we all know, can get pretty loud on its own, so the risks of things getting out of hand do increase when adding another one. One bass certainly provides a welcome low rumble in any situation, but a second one can muddle the whole sound. And what then about the piano amidst all of this? If poorly mic'ed, as in a live setting, it can be easily drowned out.
But no need to worry here, and on two accounts as well. Firstly, the studio environment is a definite asset, one that allows for a better balance in sound and a more reliable instrument for the pianist. The bassists on this date are to be commended, especially when they match their moves nicely and create a real surging pulse on the more energetic numbers. Conversely, they can adopt different playing strategies, such as when one goes to the bow and the other plucks. Equally successful in their chores, the drummers provide a seamless rhythmic interplay that make you forget that there are two of them, a fact that may well be attributable to the way their tracks have been mixed.
As for the music, it is very much in keeping with a certain contemporary jazz aesthetic espoused by the pianist. Anyone familiar with Karayorgis's work knows him to be well versed in the jazz tradition but willing to explore more open terrains, harmonic, melodic and formal. Of the ten middle-length cuts on this hour-plus side, the leader reprises three previous-recorded works (not specified in the notes) while providing some loose sketches for the remainder. The first two cuts "Weft" and "Blue Shadow") showcase the range of this band, the first a free-wheeling romp that stays focused throughout, the latter a study of quiet intensity of quasi-Webernian sparseness. In the ensuing tracks, the dynamics tend more towards the upper part of the scale ("Warp" being the exception), but some ("Cocoon", track 3) go from one to the other. A particularly fine moment happens at the end of the aforementioned "Warp" that winds down ever so quietly on a single plucked bass note, only to dovetail into the next cut ("Formed Shed") that opens on a bass duo with the piano entering along the way and the drummers egging things on to the end. One of the many reasons that contribute to the success of a recording is to bring players together who know each other well, and another is to allow them to document their endeavors under the best possible conditions. This album definitely meets those criteria.
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