Four improvisations from a recent tour of the U.S. Northeast comprise this recording. Sound on Survival is saxophonist Marco Eneidi, bass player Lisle Ellis, and drummer Peter Valsamis.
We recall other saxophone trios (the form pretty much having been discovered by the Sonny Rollins Trio some decades back and documented on the Night at the Vanguard releases) filling the ears with plenty to hang onto (hairpin turns or no) and others leaving us asking "Uh, where's the piano? Out sick?" This one is an intriguing, often arresting listen, and not always for the usual reasons.
Some improv ensembles (like Tim Hodgkinson's Konk Pack) form one entity that radiates the music; some have members that retain their individualism (say, Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton, probably the most exemplary sax trio currently working), and as a result the group's center is more diffuse and the music harder to grasp without repeated listenings.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Who but the geniuses among us got Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht the first time we heard it? Or the much-vaunted recent Cecil Taylor/Jackson Krall/Dom Duval three-headed monster? Comparisons between Taylor and Schoenberg not intended, I laughed myself sick at the New York Times's attempting that one a decade or two ago, and I'm not making the same mistake here.
I don't know if it was intentional but on Live we hear Sound on Survival's bass and drums working as a module of sorts and Eneidi forming an opposing/varying module. It's rather an even set of contrasting voices, given the sonorities of the different instruments, and it works very well most of the time.
I do come across bits like Eneidi's first serious wigout about 5:59 into "Amherst III," where the gears between Eneidi and Ellis/Valsamis click out of synch on some very subtle level, but things do not derail-they frazzle right ahead and find closer ground later on.
In improv it's not that you mustn't ever have a tussle with your fellow players, it's that the wheels can't come off the vehicle. That doesn't happen here, and it's to these guys' credit.
George Lewis points out in his liner notes how Ellis plays a walking figure as if he were running, and lauds Valsamis's careening style. That may be a form of liner note writer's Morse code for "these guys usually play fast or faster." Which is true, but Valsamis and Ellis each land where the other one is not on a very high series of occasions, and as such it's pretty wild just listening in on them alone.
But it wouldn't be the same without Eneidi, who does whirr and flutter much of the time in that DMZ between in and out that has become rather popular of late, and to good, tart effect.
I think we can do without ballad time just this once. Valsamis's lengthy intro to "Amherst II" is not revelatory but comes damn close in its use of natural performance space echo and cymbal dexterity. Somehow the tension never flags.
My only real cavil here is that "Philadelphia" at 40:10 just does not entirely make it. Large bits do, yes. Hot and coherent. And at the fourteen-minute mark Ellis stuns with a very out recitative. But nobody can keep the ideas consistently flowing at a very high level for "Philadelphia" with few exceptions.
Certainly the first ten minutes or so are also pretty thrilling, and no, there's no woodshed time or silly mistakes (well, Valsamis could have kept the sense of time signature, even if it was 1 times the square root of 2, two times the square root of 2, et cetera, going throughout his break at the sixteen-minute mark).
Sometimes silence is not a musician's friend. And at the twenty-four-minute mark, is that a VCS3 that Valsamis is dueling with for about forty bars? If so, where did he get one?
But I think any improv is a soundworld unto itself that is agreed upon by the players and then seen to its natural idiomatic if not logical conclusion. I just don't hear the long-form unity and continuity in "Philadelphia" that even the eighteen-minute "Amherst I" sports in spades. But that may only be me.
Sound On Survival's Live is a lot of fun if you're of a mood for some ear-pinning trio action in a more funky, less high European art mode, and you should be
By Ken Egbert