City of Asylum (clean feed)
The bassist Eric Revis anchors two of the best small groups in contemporary jazz, namely the quartets of Branford Marsalis and Kurt Rosenwinkel. These are splendid, hard-hitting ensembles that frequently deal with the rigors of elegantly structured compositions and the thrilling intersections of melody and harmony.
But as the leader of his trio on City Asylum, Revis takes his own music into the zone where notes and musical gestures roam more freely. As Ethan Iverson relates in his liner notes, Revis had a hunch that there would be some strong musical empathy between himself, the young outward bound pianist (and expatriate Canadian) Kris Davis and free-jazz drumming elder Andrew Cyrille. The three of them met one day in April 2012 in a New York studio and set to recording what would become City Of Asylum.
Seven of the disc’s 10 tracks are collective improvisations. The trio leaps into the unknown, connecting musical gestures from the very large to the very small, from rumbling swirls of sound, skittering lines or arcane chords, visceral plucked bass declarations and harsh bowing. In other cases, the music is clearly built on a proposition, such as the short arco ostinato that begins Sot Avast or the prolonged interplay of gentle piano and bass that makes up the title track. In other cases, the musicians are playing more in parallel, or they’re equally at the forefront of the proceedings.
Above all, for all its abstraction, the music is immediate, bracing, taut and spirited. Two clips from a January 2013 gig by Revis’ trio reflect its creativity and focus:
Three tracks on the CD are more formal compositions, but they’re interpreted very loosely. Gallop’s Gallop, a lesser-known but engaging Thelonious Monk tune, is expertly teased at and deconstructed. Question is a slow, open, swinging theme by Revis that features as much interaction as the free material. The spare rendition of the Keith Jarrett ballad Prayer is one of the disc’s still points, along with its disc-closing title track.
For jazz listeners who know Revis best from his sideman work, these more conventionally structured tracks might be good places to start. But they lead surely to an appreciation of the more unfettered and ceasely invigorating playing that makes up the rest of
City Of Asylum.