Drummer Barry Altschul wasn't simply crafting a clever play on words when he christened his latest trio The 3Dom Factor. There's a deeper meaning in that name, the implication of a particular kind of freedom to be found only in the interaction of three improvising musicians. It takes on an even greater significance when the musicians in question are Altschul, bassist Joe Fonda, and saxophonist Jon Irabagon - three artists who share a wide-ranging but piercingly focused vision, who are able to draw on the entire history of jazz and improvised music while pushing relentlessly forward into new areas of discovery.
The idea that good things come in threes is doubly true of Live in Kraków, out now on the Not Two label. The blistering date, recorded at the Alchemia Club in the waning days of 2016, on the last date of a European tour, is the trio's third release and concludes a loose trilogy. The 3Dom Factor's self-titled 2012 debut brought the three together to explore several of Altschul's original tunes; their 2015 follow-up, Tales of the Unforeseen, was almost entirely improvised save for a pair of deftly chosen covers (one of which is reprised here).
Completing the cycle, Live in Kraków moves out of the studio and onto the stage for a date that combines the best of those two approaches: it revisits several of the pieces the band had earlier attacked in the studio in freer, more expansive form, bringing to bear the full force of five years' worth of collaboration. "Our music is built on trust," Altschul says. "We're all able to be in the same space at the moment musically - and even if we're not, conflict can work too."
Altschul and Fonda have been playing together for nearly a decade and a half. An accomplished and much respected bassist, Fonda has worked with a long list of jazz greats including Archie Shepp, Ken McIntyre, Lou Donaldson, Bill and Kenny Barron, Wadada Leo Smith, Dave Douglas, Curtis Fuller, Bill Dixon, Han Bennink, Randy Weston, and Carla Bley. Both he and Altschul had enjoyed fruitful tenures working with Anthony Braxton, albeit in different decades, before they joined the late violinist Billy Bang to form the FAB Trio in 2003. "We have a certain chemistry together," Altschul says of Fonda. "We've played together so much that we can not just anticipate but really feel where we are. We're pretty tight as a rhythm section; we move in the same direction, stimulated by what's going on around us in a very close way."
Irabagon and Altschul were first introduced during a gig at John Zorn's The Stone organized by bassist Moppa Elliott, whose band Mostly Other People Do the Killing has featured Irabagon since its founding. The winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition, Irabagon has since garnered a reputation as one of the most inventive and versatile saxophonists of his generation, working with the Mary Halvorson Quintet and Dave Douglas Quintet as well as his own diverse bands. Though separated by more than 35 years in age, he and Altschul found common ground in their mutual enthusiasm for drawing on the vast tradition of jazz in their work. Altschul remembers, "When we first started to hang out together, Jon mentioned to me that he was very influenced by me and the era that I came up in. He really wanted to be able to play in a fairly traditional way as well as playing free, while addressing where bop is in this generation."
Altschul has long championed a similar approach, one that he's termed, borrowing drummer Beaver Harris' phrase, "From ragtime to no time." As he explains, "I feel that playing free is like writing books or having a discussion. The more vocabulary you have the freer you can be and the more choices you have. That to me is what freedom is - freedom of choice."
The choices that the trio makes throughout Live in Kraków find them pushing each other into wildly disparate areas and feelings, making each piece, and even successive moments within a single piece, exhilaratingly different. The leader's expressive percussion opens "Martin's Stew," which then bristles with propulsive power as Fonda's muscular bass and Irabagon's wildly veering tenor burst forth. The familiar melody of Monk's "Ask Me Now" seems to drift in and out of the trio's free interpretation, while "For Papa Joe, Klook, and Philly Too" pays explicit homage to three of Altschul's formative influences in a vigorous round of 21st-century bebop.
Irbagon and Fonda wring beautiful variations from the alluring, supple melody of "Irina," lulled into an enticing trance by Altschul's insinuating brushwork. The set closes with the taut but aggressive explosions of the band's title tune, exemplifying the way that an unceasing flow of inspiration can pour forth from these three creative masterminds without slowing for more than 13 minutes.
Since forming the 3Dom Factor, Altschul, Fonda and Irabagon have formed a profoundly intuitive bond and a distinctive sound, one built on a unique convergence of personalities and voices. "All three of us share the same attitude towards playing the music," Altschul sums up. "We've spent the last several years growing together and just having a good time playing."
A renowned drummer whose tastes and abilities run the gamut from hard bop to free jazz and beyond, Barry Altschul gained fame in the late 1960s alongside such pioneering artists as Paul Bley and Chick Corea. In 1969 he joined Corea, bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Anthony Braxton to form the group Circle, and went on to work extensively with Braxton as well as Sam Rivers throughout the 1970s. He also recorded with such greats as Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, Dave Liebman and Julius Hemphill. Never one to stick to one style of playing, Altschul's groundbreaking work in the avant-garde was paralleled by his straight ahead work with the likes of Lee Konitz and Art Pepper. After spending much of the '80s and '90s in Europe, he returned to greater prominence in the early 2000s, forming the FAB Trio with Joe Fonda and Billy Bang, working with peers like Roswell Rudd and Steve Swell, collaborating with a new generation of forward-looking musicians including Jon Irabagon, both in the saxophonist's explosive trio and The 3Dom Factor.
The Boston Phoenix has called bassist, interdisciplinary performer, producer and educator Joe Fonda "a serious seeker of new musical horizons." From 1984 to 1999, he was the bassist with composer-improviser and NEA Jazz Master Anthony Braxton and has been an integral member of several cooperative bands, including the Fonda-Stevens Group with Michael Jefry Stevens, Herb Robertson, and Harvey Sorgen; Conference Call, with Gebhard Ullmann, Stevens, and George Schuller; the FAB Trio with Barry Altschul and Billy Bang; and the Nu Band with Mark Whitecage, Roy Campbell, and Lou Grassi. He has also collaborated and performed with such artists as Archie Shepp, Ken McIntyre, Lou Donaldson, Bill and Kenny Barron, Wadada Leo Smith, Randy Weston, and Carla Bley. Fonda's own ensembles have included From the Source, which features four instrumentalists, a tap dancer, and a body healer/vocalist; the Off Road Quartet, with musicians from four different countries; and Bottoms Out, a sextet with Gerry Hemingway, Joe Daley, Michael Rabinowitz, Claire Daly, and Gebhard Ullmann.
Winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition, Jon Irabagon has become known as one of the most inventive and diverse saxophonists of his generation, called a "subverter of the jazz form" by the New York City Jazz Record. He's been named a Rising Star in both the alto and tenor saxophone categories in DownBeat Magazine and was named one of New York City's Jazz Icons by Time Out New York. He is currently an integral member of the Mary Halvorson Quintet and Septet, Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor, Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys, the Dave Douglas Quintet and Perpetual Motion: The Music of Moondog ensemble. His imprint, Irabbagast Records, has now released five of his own recordings.