Friday, June 15, 2018

Straight Horning: Bruce Ackley Trio - The Hearing

Bruce Ackley Trio: The Hearing (Avant)

Ackley (ss) Greg Cohen (b) Joey Baron (d) 

Bruce Ackley has very much flown under my radar. Outside of the little I've heard from ROVA, this is the first album I've heard from Ackley. And after a little digging around this appears to be his only release as a leader (are there others?). I may be late to the party, but thankfully The Hearing has been getting plenty of airtime since picking it up back in May. 

Soprano Saxophone Jazz
The album was produced by John Zorn who, not for the first time, enlisted Greg Cohen (b) and Joey Baron (d) – a Zorn house rhythm section of sorts perhaps. A couple of other Zorn produced discs in my library featuring this pairing include Misha Mengelberg's No Idea and Lee Konitz's Some New Stuff and then there's Masada (I'm sure there are others too). It's a really solid pairing – swinging, creative, supportive, interactive and flexible. You can't ask for too much more really. It's a testament to their ability that the album locks right into place – I wouldn't have picked that they hadn't played with Ackley before.
Soloistically sometimes Baron is a little bombastic for me... but it's only a minor complaint and in some ways it matches Ackley's spark - and it's not out of place on pieces like “Serf Music.” Cohen's double stops on “Clear Blue Sky” grabbed my attention. He doesn't overdo it - a couple times during melody and one phrase during his solo – plus he plays very nice walking lines and melodic solo too.

The exuberance of “Out of the Box” brought Monk to mind - when I read then liner notes (I always give the album a listen first) it mentioned Herbie Nichols was the inspiration. “1, 2 and Radical 3” has a mysterious vibe. Baron shows he is much more than bombastic with lots of subtle changes behind the more dominant bass and soprano. Solo following the melody features lots of shorts phrases, pecking and jabs and some flurries, register leaps, and melodic variation. The head of the energetic blues, “Juggernaut,” has pointed feel due to Ackley's clipped articulation. But things smooth out a bit during the blowing but the energy remains throughout. I liked Baron's shift in sound/texture as he accompanies Cohen's solo before employing some trademark Baron power during the trades. Mr Mood” is a bit more reflective/introspective. There's almost a stream of conscience type thing going on, with ideas, direction and colors changing phrase to phrase yet somehow it all ties together and is very much in fitting with the melody. I couldn't help thinking of Wayne Shorter. There's plenty of interaction between the trio and at a push it could be my favourite track on the album. On the full-throttle, busy, up-tempo burn of “JT”, Ackley moves into the outer regions via the upper range. There two sides to “Syndrome”, a buoyant march that opens the work and then a more outwardly reflective (yet still inwardly driving) for the rest of the piece. I expected that they would reprise the march at the end but they don't and it really wasn't necessary. “Serf Music” features Ackley utilizing a chanter-like effect over arco bass and drums (playing a quasi-surf feel at times... Or is that the tunes title playing on my mind?). The chanter effect contorts and distorts with the addition of multiphonics and altissimo as the piece progresses. Cohen's intense arco playing really sets up the vibe of “Actual Size”, and locks in with Baron's dry cymbal for some swinging bass lines while Ackley generates an exploratory feel while still maintaining the swing. Rounding out the album is the mid-tempo “Ivan's Bell” features an angular melody that is still somewhat lyrical, and the melodicism remains for Ackley's solo. 

Ackley is definitely coming from the Lacy realm but expresses his own personality from within that sphere. He has a full-bodied, solid, robust, flexible, bold, pure soprano sound. There's evenness across the range and a he finds a nice combination of darkness/spread and focus. Ackley plays with plenty of energy and spark (slightly manic quality at times, but appealingly so). There is a probing quality to his playing that really enjoy. I think some of it is due to his time feel and busyness of his playing - he can be quite notey at times. One word that always came to mind as I listened to this was “exploratory” - like Lacy, Ackley is an explorer. 

Fellow soprano saxophone enthusiasts/fanatics, do yourself a favor and dig into The Hearing.

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