Fly: Perla Morena
Sky & Country (ECM 12669)
Recorded: New York, February 28-29, 2008
Rating: 93/100 (learn more)
The jazz tradition of pianoless sax trios mostly derives from the example of a few hard-edged and gritty tenor-driven albums, most notably Sonny Rollins's Way Out West and Joe Henderson's State of the Tenor projects. Yet there is another, less visible tradition, perhaps best exemplified by the avant-garde trio (whose very name seems to suggest an affinity with Fly) Air, an ensemble that cut through the noise of '70s-era jazz with a sound built on shifting textures and a delight in the flexibility provided by a chord-free environment.
In other words, the piano's absence forces the other players to take one of two paths: either they expand their own sound to fill the place of the missing harmony instrument, or else they welcome the gap in the music and luxuriate in the clarity and spaciousness of a less cluttered setting. The collective trio Fly follows the second of these paths, and with a freedom and freshness that makes their music a joy to hear. How rare these days, when so many albums testify to a heroic and macho conception of jazz, to encounter three musicians who are so attuned to supporting each other rather than projecting a grand pose to the audience. This piece, which glides on a sweet and shifting 6/8, shows both strength and delicacy, and each player adapts in real time to the evolving moods of the performance. The interaction between the bass and sax lines is especially fine, and Ballard deftly matches the ebb and flow of the music with percussion work that whispers or prods as the occasion warrants.
Listeners may need to adjust their ears to the dimensions of this performance, for this is a band that does not aim to dominate the soundspace, but instead invites the audience inside it. Perhaps that will limit Fly's commercial appeal. Then again, this band might just find a different kind of audience, one that is refreshed by a less heroic conception of jazz.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia
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