Ellery Eskelin

Kulak, 29 & 30

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Kulak 29 & 30 is the third CD by the trio of tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, keyboardist/accordionist Andrea Parkins, and percussionist Jim Black, a group that tests the limits of jazz in a number of ways. This tendency is most obvious, of course, in their non-standard instrumentation, but also shows in their willingness to draw on non-jazz elements -- from rock rhythms and electronica breakbeats to Stereolab-ish neo-lounge touches -- as well as in Eskelin's rather non-traditional composing style. From either a straight-ahead or free jazz standpoint, his pieces are structured in (and develop in) unusual ways, often to the point of seeming purposefully anticlimactic or, at the very least, counterintuitive. In other words, the music levels off when you expect it to build and turns left when you expect it to keep going straight. Take "Fifty Nine," for example, which starts off with Parkins' soupy, Sun Ra-evoking keyboards before heading into the main accordion/saxophone theme, detouring into a percussion solo by Black (which actually manages to keep the theme melody going), and finally descending into an uneasy accordion drone, over which Eskelin quietly improvises. Or "Rhyme or Reason," which mainly features Eskelin soloing along with a lopsided keyboard/drum groove, but also collapses into (and then emerges back out of) a couple of spacy, keyboard-centered free improv sections along the way. The shortest tune, the four-and-a-half-minute "Expubidence," feels like deconstructed organ trio jazz, as the group toys with a would-be funky theme but doesn't quite get around to playing it totally straight until the very end. The album's production and sound quality are superb, bringing the organic percussion and saxophone tones together with Parkins' more modern keyboards in a way that, despite sounding a little unusual at first, is ultimately coherent and tastefully done. All in all, Kulak 29 & 20 is an excellent album from one of the more groundbreaking jazz trios of the late '90s.

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