The trio format is ideal for Bob [Ackerman’s] jazz tunes. His writing and playing combine to enrich the listener with the full melodic and harmonic spectrum of his compositions, to which Rick [Crane] and I gladly add our propulsion and gravity. The result is an ensemble playing with great freedom — playing circles around and with each other.
Working jazz musician Fred Taylor was happily ensconced in the Mukilteo, WA area, gigging here and there, recording demos, performing acoustically, especially with his jazz-fusion bands, Inquest and Sanctuary (Gary Rollins, Craig Lawrence, the late Dana Brayton). The period between 1978 to the 1990s proved formative for the Spokane, WA native. Then, he went to New York City to study in the Drummer’s Collective after the turn of the century, and became even better.
Immersing himself in his studies and gigging with New York cats set off an intensity and composure to Taylor’s play. When he met saxophonist/reedist Bob Ackerman, things really got hopping. “I first met Bob Ackerman in 2005 while I was a student at the Drummer’s Collective in New York City,” Taylor described. “He was a regular at Cecil’s Jazz Club in West Orange, N.J., which had an open jam on Tuesday nights. I had heard about him and read of his recordings and appearances for years. I also knew that he was a sought-after expert in saxophone and flute technology. We played together at Cecil’s only a couple of times before I finished my schooling and came back to Mukilteo to finish recording Processional with the Inquest quartet.”
Taylor returned to the East Coast in 2007, driving across the country in his camper to shop his new album around and keep up the friendships he made there. Inevitably, the drummer went back to Cecil’s, jamming with Ackerman on a weekly basis. The jams took on a permanent status, with Ackerman and his wife, jazz singer Pam Purvis, inviting Taylor to be a part of their trio.
When Taylor had a chance to return the favor for his own East Coast working band in 2008, he reached out to Ackerman, and then Ackerman suggested double-bassist Rick Crane. A few short rehearsals at Ackerman’s home, and a demo later, Circling arose. “Bob is a very interesting composer for ensembles of all sizes; when we started playing his originals I was thrilled with them,” Taylor detailed. “We had a couple of rehearsals at Bob’s home, then headed into Kobe Studios for what was intended to be a demo. After listening to the results, I decided to make it into our first CD.”
The cover of the trio’s 2008 album is a photo of the Devil’s Tower Taylor took in between his Seattle-to-NYC commute. While making the stop, he noticed hawks and crows circling around the summit of the natural landmark, giving him the inspiration to match that idea with what Ackerman loves to do with his progressive winds music. A year after this new album came out, the trio would record the live version from the musicians’ favorite jamming hangout, Cecil’s — by popular demand. Look for another live album this year, with young Italian, electric bassist Francesco Beccaro.
The quality of Ackerman’s quiet, intensive music is evident. But so are the contributions of Taylor and Crane. Taylor’s drumming ability became much more cohesive and refined after playing with the big boys in New York. Check out Crane and Taylor’s solo track on “Circling.” Taylor waits on Crane, without overpowering the drive, yet drives a difference. Crane himself checks in on each harmonic break, using the spaces, dips, and dives of a natural progression. When Ackerman comes in on his sax, he’s free to do his own thing in keeping with the groundwork of his drummer and bassist. Taylor slips in his solo before the fade, nice and easy, building momentum, yet never bothering with the loud, caustic fireworks of an amateur. Maturity indeed. It’s as if he’s playing around with the notes, taking his time, finding his flavor — even laughing through his beats.
In many respects, Circling is Ackerman’s album. The songs’ natural rhythms center around his reeds and saxophone. On “Inventions I & II,” the flute-and-bass interplay enters a mesmerizing mix of progressive and alternative jazz. Ackerman makes his flute converse with Crane’s bass and Taylor’s drums, as if a bird lit into the recording room and began to make its own music. Thrusting the flute and bass into the spotlight — normally background, supporting players — works well in this piece. The musicians don’t try to be more than they are, yet they do master some reinvention, able to exact stories from the lesser-known, smaller instruments.
“LTD’s Ballad” could lay side by side on measured scope to Art Garfunkel’s pop hit, “I Only Have Eyes For You.” But the trio veers off-course at the last second into a swirling, circling detour before the comparisons get too deep. Ackerman shows excellent style and grip leading on clarinet in a straight-ahead jazz piece with traces of emerging styles in folk, world music, and avant-garde. Even his squeaks speak to the artistic range and the variable human touch, giving voice to the weak, character to the nebulous and airy. In essence, referring back to Taylor’s album cover analogy of nature’s wonderful allegory to three solid working musicians’ captured connection.