Saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Larry Grenadier recently appeared on Italian trumpet great Enrico Rava's New York Days (see our review here) and are two of the young lions on the NYC jazz scene. The two have been playing as a trio with drummer Jeff Ballard as Fly for several years. Sky and Country is their second recording and first for ECM.
Piano/guitar-less trios are risky, but as with Donny McCaslin's recent Recommended Tools, the strength of the musicianship here overcomes the lack of a chordal instrument to center things. Grenadier and Ballard have been playing together since their teens and there is trust and connection between them that allows them to create a delicious musical tapestry. Ballard, no mere colorist, but an equal participant, combines world music influences with Joe Morello cool, while Grenadier - who is becoming the bassist of choice for many artists these days - suggests a Dave Holland-esque feel in his playing (certainly not a bad choice for emulation). Meanwhile, the much-lauded Turner plays it cool as well, in almost direct opposition to the shredding style of McCaslin or Chris Potter. Not that he doesn't shred at times, but there is a certain relaxed smooth sweetness and lightness inherent in his sound on both tenor and soprano.
The equality in the sound, in which all three members intertwine, spreads to the songwriting, where all three contribute songs. Ballard's "Lady B" starts things off nicely, displaying the compelling balance of freedom and structure (sky and country) that exists in the trios' content. Turner burns like dry ice, Grenadier churns and Ballard is at his propulsive best. But it is the haunting title track that follows that really grabs the listener, as it initially moves Fly closer to the ECM sound with a spacious soundscape opening that morphs into an almost Miles 70-ish vamp. Turner's soprano floats gently over the undulating and intriguing rhythms. Later in the program, the drummer's "Perla Morena" swings so hard at times it almost rocks and is a hidden gem you won't want to miss.
Turner adds some great compositions, such as the catchy "Elena Berenjena," a new version of his "Dharma Days" and two lengthy pieces ("Ananada Nanda" and the powerful "Super Sister" which ends the recording), while Grenadier brings the ballad "CJ" and the spiritual-flavored "Transfigured" (complete with arco bass). Sky and Country is a fine release featuring three exceptional musicians who have played together and have a nice musical relationship going. It is also nice to see ECM looking stateside a bit more on their recent releases.