CliffPools is the merging of two different trios, Cliff (Driff CD1803), and Pools (Driff CD1802). This tantalizing, never-used instrumentation of two basses, two drum sets, and one piano offers a rich and exciting sound texture into which a shared language of improvisation blooms. This recording features original pieces by Pandelis Karayorgis, as well as improvised tracks based on prepared sketches and ideas.
Actually the synergy on the 10 selections here is that both rhythm duos played in combos with the pianist. Bassist Damon Smith and drummer Eric Rosenthal, who singly and together have worked with improvisers such as Taylor Ho Bynum and Alvin Fielder made up the other two-thirds of the Cliff trio; while bassist Nate McBride and drummer Luther Gray, who have histories with the likes of Joe Morris and Ken Vandermark, made up the Pools trio with Karayorgis Here however while the drummers often work providing tandem percussion energy throughout, the bassists as frequently divide contrapuntal output between pizzicato and arco accompaniment and enhancement.
Assiduously creative on his own, the vigor needed in this double trio context often brings out Karayorgis’ relationship to Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Nichols. On “Weft”, for instance, keeping the chromatic theme moving alongside vamping, slapping woody clatters from Rosenthal and Gary, the pianist first rolls out Monkish pumps and soundboard echoes before shifting powerfully up the scale with Tyner-like rolling glissandi. Slippery cantering with Nichols-like reflections informs his solo on “Scale the Firmament”, as his moderato keyboard swirls backed by press rolls slow down later on to give McBride’s wide strumming a focus. At the same time Karayorgis’ ability to create a story telling exposition and swing lightly while urging the theme forward is a virtue thoroughly his own.
The extended “Formed Shed” gives the bassists ample space to create a dialogue of sul tasto swills encompassing string pulls that judder backwards, forwards and sideways. Still Karayorgis’ collection of rolling arpeggios and locked hand variation give that narrative intent and purpose. However it’s on Undertow” that allows the pianist to display commanding directions rather than being dragged down with distractions. Multi-fingered sweeps and lower-pitched pedal power corral exploding drum pops and rolls plus clipping and scratching string work from the bassists into a properly balanced coda.
Tyner, Monk and Nichols helped define advanced trio improvisations. Karayorgis creates a similar definition of how to play facing uniquely inflated accompaniment.
Ken Waxman, Jazz World, June 2020 (direct link)
The common denominator between Cutout and CliffPools is the Karayorgis/McBride/Gray trio, which performs under the name of Pools. Karayorgis’s other piano trio with bassist Damon Smith and drummer Eric Rosenthal goes by Cliff. Put both trios together to create a five-piece and we get: CliffPools.
The personnel is not the only constant between these two albums, as the double trio shares Cutout’s attention to detail, a broad dynamic range, deep interaction, and a common vocabulary. “Weft” opens the album with a churning maelstrom of basses and drums with Karayorgis scrambling across the keyboard, creating angular shapes in the process. Gray takes most of the cymbal work while Rosenthal works on the lower end of the kit. The pair are so in synch that they literally finish each other’s phrases, as drum figures pan across the stereo field from one drummer to the other. “Scale the Firmament” is another burner, with Gray laying down an uptempo – but not quite bebop – ride pattern while Rosenthal adds color and texture. Here, Karayorgis teeter-totters between left and right hand while working out a couple musical puzzles. He has a percussive touch and is as comfortable dropping anvil-heavy block chords as he is quiet reflection, jaunty zig zags, or having each hand engage in a game of tag with the other.
The instrumentation might suggest it’s a wall of sound all the time – which could get tedious – but the group spends equal time in calmer waters. “Warp” is one of the standout softer tracks on which Karayorgis seems to be testing the limit of just how little he can play. The bassists, who rarely play at the same time, and the drummers, who are both on mallets, seem to be playing half of what they might on their own in a trio setting, resulting in the sound of a trio that just happens to have five guys.
One of the pleasures of listening to this sort of ensemble comes from focusing on one or two players at a time both in and out of context of what the rest of the band is doing. The music’s many layers reward close attention to the interpersonal dynamics. How are the drummers working together? How are the basses working together? Who is Karayorgis playing with or against at any given moment? And when he is accompanied by only one bassist and one drummer, which of the four possible piano trio lineups is playing?
Given how deeply the ensemble listens and how unified its members are, their communication creates a lot of information to take in, so CliffPools is not something to just put on casually. It isn’t possible to decode it all in one or two listens, and with the myriad ways to approach it as a listener, it can become a slightly different album each time. It might not go into high rotation in my collection, but it will occupy an important space.
Chris Robinson, Point Of Departure, June 2020 (link)
The music consists of three Karayorgis compositions and seven improvised pieces. Without knowledge of which is which, all the tracks could be described as freely improvised or to the same extent, composed. The interplay between these dogs is that instinctual. Credit also must be given to recording and mixing engineers Eric Kilburn and Antonio Oliart for separating the musician's sound, Smith and Gray (left), Rosenthal and McBride (right), and Karayorgis on top. That separation allows listeners to parse out Smith's bow work against McBride's plucked notes or Gray's cymbals against Rosenthal's snare.
A rousing opener, "Weft," is indeed that, an energizing wake up of thunderous bass and roiling drums. The pianist jumps (or is he pushed?) at the energy music, battering keys as he surfs horizontally. With like instruments paired for a bit of back-and-forth across channels, "Warp" develops slowly and quietly. Same equation for "Formed Shed," except it broils before tapering off with the two drummers exhausting the pulse. Pandelis Karayorgis, who has always had a connection to the music of Thelonious Monk, can free himself of structure "Catapult" much like another Monk devotee, Alexander von Schlippenbach. He does though, always retain this internal groove with capable assistance from his two trios.
Mark Corroto, All About Jazz, March 20 2020 (link)
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