Lotte Anker's working trio with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver is well-established on the European festival concert scene, with this release being the second live set issued in 2009. Floating Islands is quite different than their previous release Live at the Loft, in that there's a more spacious concept offered, with Taborn in particular given more room to breathe and stretch out. Anker is working with a variety of saxophones (alto, tenor, and soprano), and seems liberated to an even greater degree, always probing and exploring for new ways to express herself while avoiding going over the top. Cleaver's drumming is so subtle and under the surface, shading and paraphrasing alongside what he hears, and his editing skills are becoming something of a legend among creative improvising musicians, more in demand as time goes by. Recorded at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the Anker/Taborn/Cleaver trio prove to be a compelling musical force that always makes something new on the spot from simple concepts made whole and vital without overstating the obvious. A feeling of two-note clarion calls during "Floating" subsists through the entire piece and not just the introduction, as Cleaver's rumbling drumming under the surface buoys Taborn's softer piano moods in a very cohesive text of sound and in a certain way, meditative. That village issue continues during "Ritual," 16 minutes of dancing, kinetic phrases from Anker on a shriller soprano sax as Taborn's stripped-down one-note accents sound as if derived straight from the inspiration of Mal Waldron. "Transitory Blossom" and "Backwards River" are triptych's through even more imaginary places, one a short stint via the understated and less obvious transition between mind and space, or in the case of the latter 18-minute piece, an extended and diffuse excursion through call and response dialog, intensified only by degrees. Taborn is amazing here -- clever and thoughtful, denser, frantic, truly exploring. The foreshadowed tacit intro of "Even Today I Am Still Arriving" is more suggestive than overt in a title that says it all in regards to where Anker's lot in life lies in the present. Bleating saxophone notes drizzle over Cleaver's spare drumming, then Taborn chooses a somber mood swing as he plays the inside strings of the piano. In the case of most improvised music, freedom of self-expression to the extreme is more important that the inferences of that independence. This trio has grasped something uniquely subtle and admirably less than the sum of its parts. Not at all a critique, but in a way, admirable that three musicians can reduce their music to smaller pieces in order to expand their horizons. The proof is in the deep listening -- hear it well.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos