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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Ellery Eskelin Trio – Willisau Live

Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone): Gary Versace (Hammond B3 organ): Gerry Hemingway (drums)

rec. August 2015, live at the Jazz Festival Willisau, Switzerland

HATOLOGY 741 [69:48]






On (or about)

My Melancholy Baby

Blue and Sentimental

East of the Sun

We See

I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with you


Ellery Eskelin is something of a near-regular at Switzerland’s Willisau Jazz Festival. In place of the expected Gerald Cleaver at the drums, we have Gerry Hemingway instead, a gloss on the saxophone player’s Trio New York. The notes talk of a 51-minute first track and whilst it’s true that it is indeed single-tracked and does last that long, it’s clearly subdivided into four song titles, three of them standards and one by the trio itself. The index point is there for convenience’s sake, not because the trio splurged with Rollins-like profligacy. Eskelin makes his first appearance around the five-minute mark after Hemingway’s almost subterranean drumming has generated its own level of expectancy and Gary Versace’s Hammond B3 work has lent its own very idiosyncratic sense of colour to the proceedings. The echoes, reflections and refractions this trio show are a product of mutual empathy and quickness of instinct.

Occasionally this is crabby but as often as not there’s an incipient romanticism and the way the trio eases from On (or about) into My Melancholy Baby is as distinctive as it is arresting, the music balancing warmth with rhythmic excitement and a genuine sense of playfulness. The segueing from one to another creates a suite-like structure, and allows the leader’s expansive Hawkins lineage finally to emerge in all its richness of tone and profile, his languorous breathing also evoking Ben Webster. The assimilation of these classic forefathers into a contemporary trio context works decidedly well. But this is a trio that can afford to strip its ensemble sound right down – via dynamics and leaving spaces – to allow monologues and dialogues, soliloquising paragraphs that add to the direction of the music and create a structure that is wholly admirable. The trio can therefore catch the spare ensemble of Monk’s We See, with its shifting angular lines, and in the final track, I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with you, Versace’s Hammond rumbles and yearns darkly and dankly, whilst the music’s lyric curve turns appropriately bluesy.

We are blessed with a number of high profile, independent minded trios, whether piano-led, or as here, saxophone. Eskelin’s rapport with Versace and Hemingway is powerful, indeed prodigious, and this live concert performance entertains, enlightens, and moves.

Jonathan Woolf

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