Barry Altschul first came to prominence in the mid sixties as a member of the Paul Bley trio, and then in the early 70s, playing drums alongside Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton in Circle. Joe Fonda was Anthony Braxton’s go-to bassist from 1993 and 2003, while also co-leading the Fonda/Stevens Group. He then co-led the FAB trio with Altschul and violinist Billy Bang from 2003 until Bang’s death in 2011. The 3dom Factor trio is a new chapter, Fonda and Altschul now playing with young blood saxophonist Jon Irabagon, a bandleader in his own right—Altschul was a “special guest” on the Jon Irabagon Trio’s Foxy (Hot Cup, 2010)—and a member of irreverent post-hardbop quartet Mostly Other People do the Killing since 2003.
The 3dom Trio recorded its self-titled debut for TUM in 2013, a punchy session on which the drummer claimed the lion’s share of the spotlight. Tales of the Unforeseen (TUM) is a more expansive affair, for which Altschul took charge of post-production, mixing and edited hours of studio recordings. The trio played freely (Altschul says: “Nothing was planned: no charts, no specific concepts”), then Altschul created a suite of sorts, with the intention to “preserve (the music’s) energy, flow and tension.”
The flow and tension is at its deepest on the album’s first cut, “As the Tale Begins”, which runs for 26:30. It begins with Fonda and Altschul testing the ply in a free rhythm while Irabagon sketches a Coltrane-esque melody. The 3dom Factor sound is less stiff-backed and centripetal than Coltrane’s Classic Quartet, but it thrums just as vividly, and has a similar sense of innate swing.
This long opening piece has many movements. The trio early slips into spacious, good-humoured interplay, then draws energy and impetus from Altschul’s busy, kinetic patterning of skin-bombs and cymbal-skims. Fonda is solid, pliant and propulsive throughout, Irabagon the loquacious frontman. The trio come back into shared time for a dip into Monkish bebop, then ease apart again ahead of a rolling, dynamically intense drum solo. In a later, darker swell of trioism, Irabagon plays sour soprano, or perhaps sopranino, which colours the next, more caustic breakdown, where Fonda plays at his most trenchant and Altschul marks insistent time with metronome rim taps. A subsequent near-silence of reed flutters, glinting glissandi and percussive abstraction is all channelled into new tensions, and a muscular pulling together with Irabagon’s penetrating tenor in the vanguard.
The next four pieces, including two covers, are all succinct at just 4-5 minutes long. “A Tale of Monk: Ask Me Now” pays oblique, rhythmically loose-limbed homage to Thelonious Monk’s original. The gravid, patinated tonality of Irabagon’s tenor is perfectly suited to such relaxed, nouveau old-school exegesis. He’s masterfully, selectively syncretic in the manner of David Murray, drawing from past masters but forging his own distinctive sound.
“The Tale Continues” begins with a superb, compact and energetic contrabass solo by Fonda, sparking a combustible but tightly-focused trio improvisation with Irabagon out front on alto. It segues straight into “Annette´s Tale of Miracles”, an exploration of the open melodic framework of a composition by Annette Peacock: Altschul used to play it alongside the composer and Paul Bley back in the 60s (he would also, incidentally, play in the early 70s Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show).
“A Drummer´s Tale” is Altschul playing solo, a richly detailed, subtly studio-enhanced companion piece to the more virtuosic “A Drummer´s Song” from the last album. This leaves only the last piece, “And the Tale Ends”, which runs two sections of a continuous improvisation together. The opening movement is light and airy, with Irabagon on flute and Altschul playing with brushes against Fonda’s open pulse. The second movement is a collective rumination taken at walking pace, with Irabagon on tenor sax salt-licking a buoyant, unhurried rhythm. Altschul takes it down on a smart fade at the end, making a curiously muted finale to such a free-flowing sequence of music.
Barry Altschul drums and percussion; Jon Irabagon tenor, soprano and sopranino saxophones and flute; Joe Fonda double bass.
Buy Tales of the Unforeseen direct from TUM Records.