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Koppel-Colley-Blade Collective - Perspective
(Cowbell Music, 2023)
Omitting the piano from a jazz combo was considered anathema until the 1950s, when several notable acts took the plunge, eliminating the harmony instrument from their performance format. Baritone saxophonist and arranger Gerry Mulligan introduced his “pianoless quartet” in the early ‘50s, featuring trumpeter Chet Baker This resulted in a string of recordings for Pacific Jazz that included Gerry Mulligan Quartet Volume 1 (1952) and Volume 2 (1953).
Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins began experimenting with a pianoless saxophone trio first on Way Out West (Contemporary, 1957), reaching a creative zenith that same year with A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note Records) and Freedom Suite (Riverside) in 1958. Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz followed with Motion (Verve Records, 1961). More recent recordings include tenor saxophonists Joe Henderson’s The State of the Tenor, Vols. 1 & 2 (Blue Note Records, 1986) and Joshua Redman’s Trios Live (Nonesuch, 2014), as well as the Koppel, Colley, Blade Collective’s KCB Collective (ArtistShare, 2015).
Alto saxophonist Benjamin Koppel, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Brian Blade have been a working trio for the past decade, following up their debut recording with Perspective, a collection of nine original compositions, ranging in mood from wistful ballads to John Coltrane-exploding Quasars. The recording’s sonic production is immediate and egalitarian, presenting all members at equal depth.
The opening piece, “Alphabet Thief” is melodic and funky with an Eastern European flavor, a faint aroma of Klezmer to it. The trio introduces the piece as a hip polka that is in constant evolution from a street scene to pastoral to a stripper vamp. The lengthy “Coconino County” follows featuring a Colley solo supported with a simple ascending-descending Koppel figure kept in line by Blade’s precise percussion. This is international jazz!
“Precipice” typifies the moody and untethered character possessed by this collection of mini-suites. All of the compositions have a center and tendrils of influence informing every note. While all songs are composed deliberately, the spin put on them by the instrumentalists is what separates them from the others.
“For Sy Johnson” raises the temperature with a simple Colley bass phrase coaxed along with Blade’s mallet-driven contrapuntal introduction. Colley sets up the internal architecture only to dismantle it with Koppel’s modal exploration. Blade accents the performance with deft cymbal work. “Don’t Rise” is a country church hymn distilled into moonshine by Colley before Koppel and Blade make a statement. This is the melodic highlight of the recording. Koppel finds his sweet tone and drives it home.
The trio closes the disc with a fast jazz waltz where the musicians leave no sonic space unattended. Koppel is militantly lyrical while his rhythm section stretches its own definitions. Completely enjoyable and provocative, Perspective provides exactly that.