Ellery Eskelin Trio | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ellery Eskelin Trio

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ELLERY ESKELIN TRIO

Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin has worked in a variety of cool contexts over the years--alone, in the quartet Joint Venture with trumpeter Paul Smoker, in a trio with guitarist Marc Ribot that paid homage to Gene Ammons, in another trio with tubaist Joe Daley--but clearly his four-year-old trio with keyboardist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black is closest to his heart. The group's forthcoming third album, Kulak 29 & 30 (Hatology), builds on last year's One Great Day..., where styles, objectives, and methods shifted freely but meaningfully from tune to tune. Eskelin can pull off full-throttle R & B honking, shadowy tiptoeing, convulsive screeching, and tender balladeering with equal skill, and this trio can match him blow for blow. Parkins provides sumptuous accordion drones, gritty organ riffs, piano splatters, and unidentifiable samples, and Black's just as happy pounding out some funky backbeat as he is bowing a cymbal or dragging a string of seashells over his skins. The group's method can be tough to follow; it's hard to know who's got the ball at any given moment, particularly with Eskelin's ability to blur the line between improvisation and composition. What's most impressive about the trio's newest stuff is that the shifts are almost imperceptible if you surrender to the overall sound; as Parkins leans on one long tone after another, Eskelin and Black will signal changes with the subtlest of gestures--a dropout or inverse inflection--and the listener is often well into the next movement before he notices what's different. Few groups working today are as exciting to observe. Wednesday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Ashley Thayer.

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