Paul Motian’s death in late 2011 was a big loss, to be certain, but the still-vibrant 70-year-old Barry Altschul has for four decades demonstrated mastery over the finer points of jazz drumming, using its full range not just as a time keeping device but as a richly tonal instrument. First gaining notice in Paul Bley’s combo in the mid-sixties, Altschul’s work with Chick Corea in the late 60s/early 70s cemented his legacy and grew further with memorable stints in the Sam Rivers Trio and the Anthony Braxton Quartet. Eventually, Altschul would cut his own records in the late 70s and much of the 80s. Though Altschul has stayed active since then, the upcoming The 3dom Factor is Altschul’s first album solely under his name for more than a quarter century.
For this long overdue return as a leader, Altschul brought in former FAB Trio (which included the late Billy Bang) bassist Joe Fonda and the ever-ubiquitous Jon Irabagon on tenor sax. Looking at this lineup on the CD cover convinced me this album was going to be Foxy, Part 2, but Altschul didn’t follow Irabagon’s formula of performing one big, long entirely improvisational performance. Instead, Altschul opted for a succinct approach, with distinct songs mostly running in the 4-6 minute range. And while Foxy was on fire for seventy-eight minutes straight, The 3dom Factor is decidedly looser. A closer reference point might even be Branford Marsalis’ Trio Jeepy.
Altschul’s trio handles almost entirely Altschul compositions, and though only three were written for this album, all were arranged with broad parameters set, ideal for fun, carefree expression. That plays right into the strengths of Irabagon and Fonda, and both stretch out to the fullest while the master drummer manages to be commanding without getting in the way of the other two.
Irabagon is his frisky self, applying smears, raspberries, and residing high up in the registers for long period of time, so much so, that it’s easy to forget he’s playing a tenor, not an alto. He serves notice that the fun, mischievous side of himself has come out to play especially with the first two tracks, “The 3dom Factor,” and “Martin’s Stew,” and again on “Natal Chart,” where Dixieland jazz erupts out of nowhere and Irabagon sounding as if he’s leading a New Orleans street parade. For the blues-y “Just A Simple Song,” he bends and stretches elastic notes as he frolics in the upper reaches of his instrument.
Though that’s Irabagon’s personality, Altschul’s character isn’t too far removed from it at all. He can be heard raining down cymbals and snare on “The 3dom Factor,” making odd percussion sounds on “Martin’s Stew,” deftly playing the creases in between the beats on “Papa’s Funkish Dance,” and displaying great telepathy with Fonda on “Just A Simple Song.” His most sublime moment might be “Oops”, a calypso groove all mangled up, where Altschul might be busy but never overpowering, HIs drum solo is so full of rich timbres, too, an almost lost art.
“Ictus” is an old tune by Carla Bley, and Altschul most likely first played that as a member of Paul Bley’s group. This version is aught, tense and vibrant, over a rapid bass walk, Irabagon is very much in control of the impossible bop lines while Altschul is both forceful and crisp.
Barry Altschul doesn’t step outside his persona and try anything new on The 3dom Factor, he’s just reminding everybody why he’s been such a highly respected and demanded drummer for so long, especially by those in avant garde jazz circles. This is the kind of record expected from jazz legends, and one hopes Altschul will keep the comeback going over several more releases like this one.
The 3dom Factor will be released on February 19, by TUM Records.