It’s always tempting to tot up a musicians past achievements when reacting to their work, especially when their CV is as impressive and broad as that of Kirk Lightsey. But what is so striking about listening to this album is how it seems to emerge from nowhere, from no particular ‘genre’ or historical style. Like the classic trio meeting of Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach, the striking combination of personalities seems almost too big for the familiar idea of the ‘piano trio’. This is a big sounding, unruly mass of lines, fragments, quotations, musical questions left unanswered, ideas taken up, dropped and restarted.
Right from Kirk’s opening shrieks of laughter (familiar to those who have met him), Kenny Dorham’s rarely played ‘Escapade’ establishes the intense and intimate atmosphere, Lee Goodall’s detailed recording putting you right in the room with the rolling percussion. When the piano finally enters, it’s the peculiar angularity of Lightsey’s phrasing that impresses and immediately lifts it above comparison with Joe Henderson’s classic version. These tunes are not lovingly re-created, but are unceremoniously kicked around, and are at the same time given the respect they are due. Compare the groove of ‘Punjab’ with the achingly slow tempo of ‘Estate’ or ‘Tarde’; not since the great Betty Carter’s gloriously languorous reworkings have ballads sounded like this.
Indeed, whether tackling such giants as Keith Jarrett, Milton Nascimento, or Joe Henderson, the approach remains consistently personal. Steve Watt’s bass lines often anchor the more wayward tendencies of the other two players, yet in his solos there is that same individualism of touch and melodic turn of phrase that Lightsey lavishes throughout this set. Dave Wickins is one of the great voices of his instrument, sounding like a pointed discussion between Jo Jones and Milford Graves, both following and leading the music into a huge variety of moods. Indeed, the overriding feeling with this band is that you just never know where it’s heading, treading a path between irreverence and respect that puts it firmly in the jazz tradition perfectly summed up by the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho:
‘Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.”
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