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Three3 by Michael Vlatkovich

The West Coast trombone genius continues his odyssey of exploring the trombone/bass/drums format, with delightful results. This time the tritet is filled out with Chris Lee on drums and Ken McLagen on drums, and between the three of them, the listening is really incredible. Three3 was recorded live in Denver in 2007, although any crowd noise has been edited out. As with any trio, of paramount importance is variety of texture, which the tritet achieves with seemingly no effort. Vlatkovich gives his comrades plenty of space, and while everything stays essentially tonal and lyrical, even when they actually head into swing territory, like on "Neighborhood Beasts Let Their Hair Down," the approach is pretty free.

Perhaps the most stunning thing is that Vlatkovich is as nimble on the instrument as he is. Trombone, of course, has some famous jazz exponents, but for some reason retains the reputation of a somewhat clunky beast to improvise on. Vlatkovich puts those issues to rest in a very conclusive way. Not that he's trying to be Dizzy Gillespie, but you get the sense that he could blaze up the scales if he wanted to. His muse leads him into more reserved music, however, and he writes tunes that mirror his improvisational goals, frequently building off ostinatos before opening up into spacious improv sections.

McLagen and Lee are simultaneously supportive of the leader's thought processes as well as pushing their own ideas out into the music. Truly, they are the rhythm section everyone wishes they could have, with their elasticity, sense of dynamics and playfulness. They reflect Vlatkovich's good vibe: Three3 could definitely be defined as feel-good music, and how often can you say that about music from the so-called creative music community?

Ever since he formed ThankYou records in 1982, Vlatkovich has consistently pursued whatever project inspired him at the time, ranging from large ensembles to a duo with tuba to a myriad of trombone-poetry dialogues. Lately, however, the pattern of his interest in the tritet has become more clear, and if you compare this recording to his others in this format, it becomes apparent how different each recording is. Aside from the fact that he employs different rhythm sections on each outing, he also seems to focus on an over-arching theme for the tritet to elaborate on, even if it's hard to articulate exactly what that is. Despite even repeating a track from his Origin tritet disc Queen Dynamo ("The Length of the Tail..."), the feeling is quite different.

Vlatkovich is one of those guys who's been around a long time, and yet flies under the radar of most jazz heads. It's unconscionable! This is easily one of the best albums this year.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Michael Vlatkovich
  • CD Title: Three3
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Thank You
  • Rating: Five Stars
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