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Ellery Eskelin with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black: One Great Night...Live

Ellery Eskelin with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black: One Great Night...Live

Release Date:2009

By Lee Gardner | Posted 7/1/2009

Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Towson University before following the jazz-career game-trail north to New York and carving out a distinctive niche on the nearer fringes of avant jazz. In 1994, he formed a trio with keyboardist/accordionist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black that has constituted the core of his performing and recording life ever since, a phenomenal record of stability in a genre known for its creative promiscuity. Not that Eskelin's steady trio lacks promiscuous creativity, as evidenced by One Great Night . . . Live, a recently released recording of a December 2007 homecoming concert recorded at his alma mater's Center for the Arts.

Eskelin's burnished, straight-ahead tone puts him squarely in the vaunted jazz tenorman tradition, but for the past 15 years he's chosen to showcase that sound in a most precarious setting. There is no gratuitous comping, no unison heads on the set captured on One Great Night. Instead, Eskelin extends his often melodious lines while Parkins underpins them with, say, Phantom of the Opera organ (opener "The Decider") or bangs them into harmonic shape with bursts of plummy piano chords ("For No Good Reason"). The phenomenal Black, meanwhile, skitters around his kit, remarking on time more than marking it, though he does take something like an actual drum solo on "Split the Difference." As the disc progresses, the band blows hard and takes a scrabbling turn for the out on "Instant Counterpoint," but by "I Should Have Known" veers back toward outright ballad territory, the leader's horn searching soulfully through the middle registers while Parkins and Black stick close. By closer "Half a Chance," Eskelin is having a Big Tenor Moment, with organ chords and 4/4 bashing driving him forward, and even though this is far from your typical jazz band, you'd have to be deaf not to understand what that sound is.

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