Point of Departure review by Art Lange

cf-132John O’Gallagher Trio – Dirty Hands (CF 132)
Dirty Hands isn’t a revelatory album, but it is a remarkable one. By taking a middle path between the buoyantly rhythm-induced free phrasing of Ornette Coleman and the casually intense linear labyrinths of Lee Konitz, alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher achieves a personal approach to loose-limbed, lyrical improvisation that derives from both but sounds like neither. Setting aside his previous interest in extended compositional maneuvers (with influences ranging from Shorter to Schönberg), he and his partners (bassist Masa Kamaguchi, drummer Jeff Williams) shrewdly balance individual spontaneity and ensemble empathy; they respect each other’s space, negotiate an instinctive course of action, and subtly complement the prevailing direction – whether it involves surprising twists of melody (“Swelter”), surging rhythmic impulses (“F Line”), or sparsely etched, nearly transparent details (the first half of “Lessons of History”). The group sound is colored by Kamaguchi’s fragile, spider-web patterns and Williams’ chiaroscuric brushwork. As the primary instigator, though, O’Gallagher keeps things moving by continually adjusting the nature of the melodic line. He may begin by linking together a few angular intervals, toss in a couple of asides that comment upon but don’t develop the melody, then quicken the pace and thicken the line with embellished notes and heightened dynamics. As it gradually takes shape, he may drift into wistfulness, or stretch it taut and sinewy like a clenched muscle. He has a poet’s ear for phrasing in free verse, and alters his tone at will – biting and brittle with a cry at the top of his range (“Bed Bugs”), tart and piping (“”Borderline”), or rounded and fruity, like a ripe zinfandel (“F Line”). But it’s not a music of extremes; compact gestures and alert circumspection provide character enough.

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