Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Ataraxia Trio's "Ts'iibil Chaaltun"

Yow. Can it really have been a year since I heard Ataraxia Trio play their second show at a house/gallery up the street from me? Yep. Time sure flies these days. This Saturday, May 13, at 9pm, I'll be attending their record release party for their debut double LP, Ts'iibil Chaaltun (named after a ruined Mayan city in Yucatan), at Chateau Virago (2525 Bridal Wreath Lane, Dallas 75233). Cover is $5 and copies of the record will be available for $17, cash/check/money order/PayPal. (There's a download available, but this music really needs to be heard on vinyl if you have the means.) Strong support from Lily Taylor, Drew Chapa, and Sarah Ruth Alexander, too. So there!

Ataraxia's the trio that estimable trumpeter-composer-visual artist-educator Dennis Gonzalez formed last year when he had a gig that his sons Aaron and Stefan, who enticed him out of musical retirement back in '01 to form Yells At Eels, couldn't make. Instead, he called on veteran Denton bassist Drew Phelps and Sri Lankan percussionist Jagath Lakpriya to form a unit that would explore quieter, more ruminative musical space than YAE. Since their first couple of gigs (in a library and a gallery), they've had time to get more accustomed to playing with each other, and develop more material. In advance of the show, Dennis kindly sent me a test pressing to hear.

The three musicians stake out their territory on the traditional Sri Lankan theme "Ukusa." Over a drone provided by Phelps' tamboura app, the bassist delineates a modal field, which Gonzalez fills with well-chosen notes, leaving plenty of space for Lakpriya's percussion interjections. There's pulse here, but the music floats freely over it. On his composition "Tsantsa," Gonzalez establishes the foundation with a (looped?) repeating figure on charango (a small Andean lute), over which he plays fragmented chords on guitar. (On this recording, Gonzalez returns to the extreme multi-instrumentalism of some of his earliest recordings.) Phelps responds with the deep, mournful song of his arco bass. Gonzalez's "Yarn" opens with a dialogue between Lakpriya's tabla and Phelps' darting pizzicato, to which the composer adds a brooding melody of Monkian abstraction. The recording captures every nuance of the group's intimate sound.

Turning the first record over, the Phelps/Gonzalez collaboration "Poem" opens with a burst of atmospheric percussive mystery from all three men, and the primeval sound of the shofar. (Ataraxia's music revels in multiculturalism.) On "Issy," a dedication to Gonzalez's beloved granddaughter and the album's first extended improvisation, Lakpriya establishes a loping groove over which Gonzalez is free to wander at leisure, shadowed by Phelps like a watchful parent. All three solo expressively, without ever departing far from the tune's path.

Side three opens with "Namesake," a standard from the Gonzalez canon (most famously recorded for Silkheart back in '87). Ataraxia's version has grown in confidence and assertiveness since I heard them play it last year. Lakpriya and Phelps keep their accompaniment relatively sparse and subdued while Gonzalez weaves one of his most intricate solos here. Then Phelps uses phrasing and space to swing propulsively, followed by another brief statement from Gonzalez, this time using a harmonizer, giving way to Lakpriya before they return to the theme. Phelps lifts the curtain on the trio composition "Parable" in a Charlie Haden-ish mood, then Lakpriya takes a solo turn, his hand drums evoking the spirit of lost ages. Gonzalez is particularly plangent here as the three men intertwine their sounds.

Phelps' "Thoink" was a high point of Ataraxia's performance last year, and it's even better here, at the top of side four. Lakpriya percolates underneath the composer's throbbing pulse, while Gonzalez dances on top. The Phelps/Gonzalez composition "Unguent" closes the proceedings with the bassist playing horn-like arco lines over clattering percussion. His harmonics reverberate against the sound of bells and gongs, bringing healing catharsis.

Ts'iibil Chaaltun is a fine document of a group whose music is rich in subtle detail, reminiscent of the AACM in Europe, Don Cherry's "world music," and sounds one can imagine from the beginning of time. If you're in or near the Metromess, you're strongly encouraged to take advantage of this weekend's opportunity to hear Ataraxia play this music in a small space that's conducive to deep listening.


Blogger steve said...

Well written and thought out article! Thanks for the added anticipation for this release.

12:41 PM  

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