cd/dvd review: 
Ellery Eskelin “Ten” (hatOlogy 611) 
and “On The Road With Andrea Parkins & Jim Black”
 (Prime Source)

Ten celebrates the 10th anniversary of Eskelin’s trio with Jim Black (drums) and Andrea Parkins (accordion, sampler, piano) with a variation on the theme: Eskelin re-jigged the band into a series of alter-units by inviting three guests (Marc Ribot, guitar, Melvin Gibbs, electric bass, and Jessica Constable, voice) to participate in the recording.

Eskelin calls his new CD an “improv party” since there was no pre-composed material. There’s irony in his words, however, for to my ears Eskelin’s compositions often take on the air of instant composition. I don’t hear an essential difference in approach to music between, say, “You’ll Know When You Get There…” on the 2000 Secret Museum and “Anyone’s Guess” on the current CD. They both seem free of pre-intent, and have the resolute character of musicians whose goal is to reveal what has not been heard before.

Nevertheless Ten manifests an increase in intensity over Eskelin’s previous ten CDs on the hat label. Parallel with this intensity he appears to play less, artfully insinuating himself into the patterns woven by his longtime band mates and guests. Eskelin’s body of work keeps growing like his solos: there is always a story line counterbalanced by an air of mystery. You can never predict where he and band mates are going to end up. That makes him not an iconoclast. He rather one of the most creative and interesting of contemporary composers and tenor players.

The DVD “On the Road with..,” is a self-produced companion piece to Ten. It’s a diary-like portrait of Eskelin’s trio 2003 tour of Europe: clips of rehearsals, train stations, wondering about the next meal, and backstage tomfoolery. Its most-complete music sequences are individual improvisations by Eskelin, Parkins, and Black. Parkins’ solo is required viewing/listening. She builds layers of music from her sampling abstractions, creating dense musical statements that contain both drama and passion. This solo demonstrates why she is one of the great electronicists.

Overall, the DVD is a wild video ride composed of off-kilter angles, reflections from mirrors, and bouncing unsteadiness, a charming visual reflection of Eskelin’s idiosyncratic musical view of the world. The music’s sound quality is not high fidelity, but that does not detract from the fun of the tour. Formatting is in both NTSC and PAL, a nice touch that allows North Americans the ability to enjoy the DVD along with the rest of the world.

(For DVD ordering, see

Originally published in 2004, adapted from a review originally appearing in Coda, The Journal of Jazz and Improvised Music, March/April 2005.

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