Barry Altschul: The 3dom Factor
My initial exposures to drummer Barry Altschul came about via Circle's Paris Concert (ECM, 1971) and Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds (ECM, 1972). Four decades on from those outings and more than a quarter century since his last recording as a band leader, Altschul, now seventy, has released The 3dom Factor, a comparatively less avant-garde but nonetheless satisfying set (all but one Altschul originals) featuring the drummer joined by young lion Jon Irabagon on tenor sax and Joe Fonda on double bass. Altschul, of course, brings an astonishingly rich history to the new collection, including associations with Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Steve Lacy, Sam Rivers, and multiple other seminal figures in jazz history (a comprehensive account of Altschul's career and a superb profile by Bill Shoemaker are included in TUM's deluxe physical presentation of the fifty-one-minute recording).
The title track, its feel pleasingly loose and energized, inaugurates the album with a Pied Piper-ish theme whose sing-song character oozes a bit of Ornette Coleman flavour. The tune's as much an argument for Altschul's robust, freewheeling attack—the drummer obviously not suffering from any diminishment of energy brought on by advancing age—and his partners' equally free-form approach. Playful whistles, horns, and percussion inventiveness liken “Martin's Stew” (dedicated to late drummer Stu Martin) to a prototypical Art Ensemble of Chicago piece, with Irabagon's agile playing the glue holding the wide-ranging piece together. Things turn seriously boppish for “Ictus,” an early Carla Bley tune (in which the chord changes to “I Got Rhythm” are reduced from eight bars to four) that finds the trio roaring through its changes like an out-of-control roller-coaster. Elsewhere, “Papa's Funkish Dance” brings a playfully soulful feel to the album, and if “Be Out S'Cool” sounds Monkish, it should: part of its melody was inspired by “Misterioso” (Monkish too is the title, which playfully riffs on Altschul's surname).
The trio's free-spirited attack is balanced by some affecting ballad treatments. “Irina,” which first appeared on a 1980 trio album Altschul recorded with Ray Anderson and Mark Helias, receives a well-calibrated yet still warm and heartfelt reading from Irabagon. True to its title, the ballad “Just A Simple Song” uses just three notes for its theme (the tune arose in response to a request by violinist Billy Bang that Altschul “not have too many notes” in the piece he was composing when there was little time to rehearse before a recording date). That the album is ultimately Altschul's above all else is confirmed by the choice of closer: “A Drummer's Song,” an improvised solo which Altschul stamps with the same playful personality and sense of form that informs the recording as whole. And if the word playful has been invoked repeatedly, it's no accident. The 3dom Factor is the invigorating sound of Altschul and company thoroughly enjoying themselves, looking back over the leader's career and taking pleasure in revisiting older tunes and investing new ones with energy and imagination.