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)
Car c’est un joueur de piano incroyable. Surprenant, même si l’on pensait le connaître par cœur. Sa rapidité d’exécution dans l’intense « Scale The Firmament », sa capacité à se nourrir - comme s’il savait se scinder en deux discours distincts - de chaque canal sans se perdre mais en unifiant, est assez incroyable. Ce qui pourrait être verbeux et fouillis est tortueux mais implacable. Il ne met pas au pas Cliff et Pools, il leur offre une absolue liberté qu’il se charge seul d’ordonner. Mieux, d’aiguiller comme on le fait dans les espaces aériens surchargés. Il est bien aidé en cela par les deux contrebassistes, au jeu relativement similaire, à l’inverse de l’hétérogénéité des batteurs, savamment distillée. Damon Smith, qui a travaillé - tiens donc - avec Cecil Taylor, est remarquable à l’archet, où il structure, voire contient les vagues furieuses de Gray. Nate McBride est plus discret, mais aussi saignant lorsqu’il s’agit de donner du relief et de l’ombre au jeu fort coloriste de Rosenthal… Mais Pools est plus sage que Cliff, moins sauvage en tout cas ; c’est le pianiste qui en détient la secrète alchimie.
Elle est des plus fragiles, mais parvient à ne jamais se briser, par l’attention que lui porte le pianiste. Il y a ses compositions, bien sûr, comme « Cocoon » , où c’est lui qui dessine la route et propose aux quatre autres de s’y engouffrer. Et puis il y a les improvisations libres, où chacun découvre et construit instantanément, en veillant à ce que l’équilibre soit idéal. Ainsi de « Blue Shadow », certainement le trésor de cette belle rencontre. C’est à pas de loup que progressent les orchestres. Luther Gray, un proche de Joe Morris, fait ronfler sa caisse claire, le pianiste égrène çà et là quelques accords, comme pour s’assurer de la route, pendant qu’en face on se charge d’éclairer les pas de chacun. Tout cela est d’une simplicité rare, et c’est ce qui rend l’exercice aussi intéressant. Il y a de l’écoute mutuelle et une volonté de rejoindre le même point, en ligne droite, fût-ce par des chemins de traverse. Un grand album.
Franpi Barriaux, citizen jazz, 28 juin 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.
Throughout his long career, Ornette Coleman was second to none when it came to thinking out of the box. Case in point, his 1961 recording Free Jazz signaled the introduction of a novel instrumental format, the 'Double Band'. No one until then had hinged a musical project around two basses and two drum sets while also dispensing with the piano completely, something Coleman had already done away with before that date. But the concept never really flew at the time, as if it were just a little too off-the-wall. In fact, it took decades before such bands became a reality.
Those that have come into existence since stick pretty close to that model of dual piano-less rhythm sections and horns, or, alternatively, a single one manning the frontline. Far more infrequent, however, are piano trios that bolster their lineup with a second bassist and drummer. CliffPools is exactly that. Its moniker stems from the names of two trios lead by pianist Pandelis Karayorgis. In the liners, this musician states the present unit arose out of two recordings he did in 2018, one with Damon Smith and Eric Rosenthal (Cliff), the other (Pools) with Nate McBride and Luther Gray (both issued on the same label as this offering).
But a double lineup can be a tricky proposition: a single drum set, as we all know, can get pretty loud on its own, so the risks of things getting out of hand do increase when adding another one. One bass certainly provides a welcome low rumble in any situation, but a second one can muddle the whole sound. And what then about the piano amidst all of this? If poorly mic'ed, as in a live setting, it can be easily drowned out.
But no need to worry here, and on two accounts as well. Firstly, the studio environment is a definite asset, one that allows for a better balance in sound and a more reliable instrument for the pianist. The bassists on this date are to be commended, especially when they match their moves nicely and create a real surging pulse on the more energetic numbers. Conversely, they can adopt different playing strategies, such as when one goes to the bow and the other plucks. Equally successful in their chores, the drummers provide a seamless rhythmic interplay that make you forget that there are two of them, a fact that may well be attributable to the way their tracks have been mixed.
As for the music, it is very much in keeping with a certain contemporary jazz aesthetic espoused by the pianist. Anyone familiar with Karayorgis's work knows him to be well versed in the jazz tradition but willing to explore more open terrains, harmonic, melodic and formal. Of the ten middle-length cuts on this hour-plus side, the leader reprises three previous-recorded works (not specified in the notes) while providing some loose sketches for the remainder. The first two cuts "Weft" and "Blue Shadow") showcase the range of this band, the first a free-wheeling romp that stays focused throughout, the latter a study of quiet intensity of quasi-Webernian sparseness. In the ensuing tracks, the dynamics tend more towards the upper part of the scale ("Warp" being the exception), but some ("Cocoon", track 3) go from one to the other. A particularly fine moment happens at the end of the aforementioned "Warp" that winds down ever so quietly on a single plucked bass note, only to dovetail into the next cut ("Formed Shed") that opens on a bass duo with the piano entering along the way and the drummers egging things on to the end. One of the many reasons that contribute to the success of a recording is to bring players together who know each other well, and another is to allow them to document their endeavors under the best possible conditions. This album definitely meets those criteria.
Marc Chénard, The Squid's Ear, July 9, 2020, link
A fronte dell'organico e dei lunghi studi dedicati dal pianista a Thelonious Monk e Lennie Tristano, non stupisce che l'album sia fondamentalmente percussivo, dissonante e obliquo, tale che risulta difficile distinguere tra i dieci brani quali siano i sette totalmente improvvisati e quali i tre composti dallo stesso Karayorgis. Infatti, in ogni sua parte il disco vive della forte interazione tra i musicisti, tutti accomunati da una lunga serie di collaborazioni, ed è caratterizzato da una libertà talmente ampia che raramente vi si trovano frammenti lirici, nonostante che il filo del discorso processuale sia sempre ben presente.
Volendo identificare una struttura ricorrente potremmo menzionare la tessitura ritmico-coloristica sviluppata dalla doppia ritmica, che varia a ondate, ora presentando una più forte intensità datale dalle batterie, ora incentrandosi sul suono dei contrabbassi, occasionalmente archettati. Su quest'ordito si muove libero il piano di Karayorgis, l'approccio del quale si differenzia di brano in brano, fornendo la cifra ai vari momenti: ora più intensamente percussivo, a là Cecil Taylor, come in "Weft" e "Catapult"; ora più quieto e sospeso, come in "Blue Shadow" e "Self-Headed"; ora più frammentato e sofisticato, come in "Undertow" e "Scale the Firmament." E quando le situazioni si alternano e intrecciano, come in "Plateau"—uno degli apici del lavoro—, si toccano momenti davvero entusiasmanti.
Lavoro di grande interesse, che ripropone in forma riveduta, corretta e metabolizzata una messe di suggestioni storiche—nei rarefatti "Cocoon" e "Warp," per esempio, si percepiscono eco dei Tethered Moon, lo storico trio di Masabumi Kikuchi, Gary Peacock e Paul Motian—arricchendola con il suono quasi unico della singolare strumentazione.
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