Downbeat review by Peter Margasak

CF 271Ellery Eskelin Trio – New York II (Prime Source)
Ellery Eskelin/Susan Alcorn/Michael Formanek – Mirage (CF 271)
These recordings capture saxophonist Ellery Eskelin in wildly divergent trios: one focusing on standards, the other making things up on the fly.

The first recording by his excellent organ trio with Gary Versace and Gerald Cleaver was dedicated to his mother, Bobby Lee, a Baltimore organist. Eskelin has written that he considers this group “a free improvisation unit” that just happens to use the Great American Songbook for structure. The first few minutes of “ The Midnight Sun” find Versace playing spacey, cascading note runs while Eskelin deploys his gorgeously smoky tone to spontaneously shape melodies that sound recovered from half a century ago—the tune is almost half over by the time Cleaver enters with gentle swing prodding and Versace traces the changes. Versace sometimes lays down bass lines using his foot pedals, but he also functions more in the pianistic role à la Larry Young.

Mirage is totally improvised. Pedal steel guitar player Susan Alcorn has a slippery quality that allows her to function as a fluid glue, bridging the sometimes nubby, sometimes woody notes knotted up and the sinuous, striated lines bowed by Michael Formanek and breathy improvisation by Eskelin. The album is dominated by ruminative pieces taken at ballad speed, with the exception of the rare piece where things move rapidly, like “Saturation,” with Eskelin playing eighth-note flurries and Formanek plucking out pointillistic lines.

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