By John Sharpe
If one of the major compositional decisions for an improviser is choosing your partners, then Canadian drummer Nick Fraser shows himself to be a master of the form. His selection of countrywoman pianist Kris Davis and American saxophonist Tony Malaby almost guarantees inspired music-making. Fraser himself boasts a lengthy resumé, including luminaries such as Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell and David Binney, though not one that translates readily into the currency
of album releases.
Fraser allows his collaborators free rein in a program that combines three of his charts with four cooperative creations, the borders between the two modes remaining deliciously unclear. As in his Tamarindo outfit, Malaby delights in blurring and obscuring his conceptual impulses with impetuous and unpredictable blowing. With her patented amalgam of minimalist gesture invoking the likes of Morton Feldman and the dash of Cecil Taylor, Davis brings a sense of structure to even the most off-the-wall settings. Fraser harnesses both these talents in a wonderfully edgy set packed with contrapuntal interplay.
To illustrate the trio’s strengths look no further than the title track. Initially Fraser’s supportive percussion buoys delicate piano and soprano saxophone. But the pace picks up until it’s all fast flowing piano lines, gruff tenor and clipping cymbals in an exhibition of the simultaneous arts of listening and execution. However, the narrative arc proves one of gradual withdrawal as they slowly revert to the opening gambit. A similar trajectory ensues on “I Needed It Yesterday”, which begins with unaccompanied piano devising a series of layered patterns and culminates in Malaby extending his tenor range until it resembles a deranged kazoo. Indeed Malaby parades his command of tonal variation throughout, with rarely a passage that doesn’t call on distorted pitches, overblowing, harmonics or querulous disputation.