This transatlantic trio brings together three masters of the art of the moment – American trombonist Steve Swell (who occasionally also plays the flute and pocket trumpet), Ukrainian double bass player Mark Tokar and German drummer Klaus Kugel. Tokar and Kugel worked together with reeds players Ken Vandermark, Sabir Mateen and Mikołaj Trzaska, and Kuhel played in Swell’s Slammin’ The Infinite quintet. This trio is unfortunately a working band, though it feels like it. The album was recorded at the Evinger Schloss in Dortmund in February 2020, days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, and before Tokar was enlisted into the Ukrainian army and swapped his double bass for a rifle for the duration of the war with Russia.
Swell’s beautiful poem captures the essence of this excellent performance: «This music // It rolls uphill, startling / Cutting a searing presence / Swirling through the thickets of / an untrodden wilderness // It surprises astonishes amazes bewilders overwhelms // It moves moves moves // It ignores gravity…». You get the feeling that only poetic words may describe the immediate, organic and emphatic rapport of Swell, Tokar and Kugel or the free spirit of the music and how it flows and keeps reshaping itself with great creative power, energetic momentum and sonic imagination. The trio sounds like a strong collective that has been playing together forever. The free improvised music, except for one piece composed by Swell («Child’s Play»), develops in a slow-burning, conversational manner and suggests clear logic and structures. Once the trio exhausts developing and exploring a piece, it begins working on a new one, with no sense of attachment.
For Rhina P. Espaillat is Swell’s solo album, inspired by Dominican-American poet Rhina P. Espaillat’s poem «Why Publish?» that imagines how her poetry could touch someone one hundred years from now (1998, «Dusty and brown on some forgotten shelf / a century hence—or two, let dreams be grand!—…»). Swell wanted to investigate what his music may mean for someone who picks up this album in the future and connects with it in a way he may not have imagined. «It might inspire a future listener to risk creating or doing something not done before. Or be comforted somehow knowing someone was feeling what they are feeling», Swell wrote. The focus here is on a methodic and highly inventive exploration of the infinite sonic breadth of the trombone – and the pocket trumpet – with an array of personal, extended breathing – and even percussive – techniques that push the instrument into extremely noisy terrains. But this sonic journey has its poetic logic and affirms Swell’s position as one of the most articulate and resourceful masters of trombone.
Steve Swell (trombone, flute, pocket trumpet), Mark Tokar (double bass), Klaus Kugel (drums)