DUSTED MAGAZINE

Dusted Reviews

Fly Trio - Year of the Snake

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist



Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted


email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews


Artist: Fly Trio

Album: Year of the Snake

Label: ECM

Review date: Jul. 2, 2012


Fly - "The Western Lands I" (Year of the Snake)


Supplanting surname specifics with a single-word distillation of their collective sound, the members of Fly confidently embrace an instrumental format increasingly at odds with originality. Trios comprised of saxophone, double-bass and drums are a linchpin of the jazz genre, but that prominence presents a mountain of precedence. Saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard succeed in subverting it by tailoring the now-quotidian ensemble design to their collective and singular talents.

Patience and purpose play out both in the music and the circumstances surrounding its creation. Sky & Country, their debut on ECM, came out in 2009. It’s been nearly a three-year wait for their second effort, Year of the Snake and here as there the trio trades not in a futile pursuit of innovation, but instead in an exploration of the inner space between their idiosyncrasies with pieces that undulate and unfold in logical fashion. In that respect, the lucid acoustics of ECM production also seems like a custom fit with all the aural elements of the instruments detailed and immediate in the mix.

Turner’s long been something of anomaly amongst his peer group for the measured phrasing and dry tone at the heart of his tenor sound, a cerebral method that has much more in common with Warne Marsh than Coltrane. Similarly, Ballard’s percussive precedents include the aerated, gliding attack of a Paul Motian or a Connie Kay rather than the flagrant muscle and power of an Art Blakey or an Elvin Jones. Grenadier’s elasticity and agility are equally suited to pieces where time signatures are written in watercolors rather than India ink. Ensemble energy abounds in their interplay, but it’s often the sort than simmers rather than boils and unfurls rather than explodes.

Five improvised pieces parceled as “The Western Lands” serve as interstitial glue for the program. Several of them directly reference the sort of extended, texture-based techniques that are common to European free forms of the idiom and it’s interesting to hear the three players stitch them into the fabric of the set. The highlight to these ears is the sectionally-structured “Kingston,” a piece that perfectly puts into music the state of aerodynamic freedom intimated by the trio’s name. Grenadier’s coruscating arco patterns almost take on the sound properties of a second reed in their close twining with Turner as Ballard adds pattering accents and colorations. A vibrant ostinato-powered middle section primes things for the real fireworks that ignite in the final third of the piece, with Turner lifting off completely in a fluttering deluge of spiraling, dervish-like progressions that scrape the upper register reaches of his horn.

On the other side of the ledger is the groove-grounded “Benj,” which comes across like a 21st century descendent of the sort of thing Art Pepper was doing back in the ’70s with vamp-based tunes like “Red Car,” though ramped up and tricked out with several magnitudes of metric complexity. The three are breathlessly in-the-pocket as always, but measured against the breadth of contemplative interplay on display elsewhere the piece ends up feeling a bit too bluntly “on-the-nose”. Throughout, Fly helpfully reminds us that ultimately it’s not the instruments or combination thereof that yields original, innervating music. Of paramount importance instead is the players and their particular chemistry, the latter of which Turner, Grenadier and Ballard possess in abundance.

By Derek Taylor

Read More

View all articles by Derek Taylor

Find out more about ECM

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.