“Up Down Down Up”, Coat Cooke Trio Cellarlive 050605

This CD is a stellar example of a saxophones-bass-drums trio. The musicianship, the dynamic range of sound, tempo, and creativity is aesthetically satisfying. The playing has a flint-sharp edge that comes from repeated live performances. The trio’s rhythm feel has the elastic quality of jazz swing that just cannot be defined by words; it has to be heard and felt. The recording, made in Vancouver’s “The Cellar”, is studio quality.

 The bassist is Clyde Reed. He is one of those musical souls who is excellent in his needle-point exact timing in any tempo. He tops that quality off with a full wood bass sound. Reed initiates the opening cut, “Tender Hooks” with an open-end solo that saxophonist Coat Cooke and drummer Kenton Loewen segue into. The band plays at a medium swing tempo until minute two and a half when, as if on cue, Reed changes the tempo to fast, and then again as if on cue, the band downshifts into a slow tempo, a short interlude preparing the ears for a faster section. Loewen plays a fast, well-executed solo that kind of refrains the riffs of the previous section. The tune ends on shifting sands, with each instrument playing in different directions but ending united.

Cooke is a tall, muscular, intense-eyed, shaved-head dude who is also the leader and main composer of the NOW Orchestra, one of the jazz world’s longer-standing and regularly performing large ensemble improvisation bands.  On this CD, Cooke’s saxophone playing projects strength and confidence, a musician in top-form who floats through music-making with aplomb.

What this commentator initially heard in the music is a set of well-rehearsed compositions, each containing the structural flexibility for the musicians to change direction at will. I was wrong. None of the music was rehearsed and there were no charts. Each song is a spontaneous composition with no pre-thought given to what music the individuals of the trio would authorize at any given moment. There are times when the musicians use extended sound-scape techniques but mainly they play within the nominal limits of the their instruments.

There is a word that marketers have usurped to describe a vapid music. When I say that the Coat Cooke Trio plays smoothly, I’m not referring to that marketing term. What I refer to is the flexible way they slip in and out of moods, feelings, rhythms, and textures. The band’s music making is natural and there is no artifice about it, and if you spend time watching small children organize themselves into games with no pre-conceptions about the end result, then you know what I’m talking about. The difference between children’s’ play and jazz music-making is that these musicians are well-schooled by experience, study, and disciplined insight into the history and practice of the music. Cooke-Reed-Loewen have the rare ability to make unconsciously-conscious individual and relational decisions about where to go from moment to moment without losing the overall feel of the composition they are creating. Superior musicians always have surprises in store.

Published on www.misterioso.org January 2007

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