M Vlatkovich / C Lee / K McLagen
Succulence of Abstraction
THANKYOU RECORDS MV015 CD (2013)
Last time I reviewed Michael Vlatkovich my ears were tuned to his ‘Pershing Woman’ – a live recording of his ‘Tryyo’. It seemed to find the group careening up staircase and down in search of a ticking bomb in the building: apt behaviour for an area known as ‘Grand Rapids’. For all its drive and virtuosity though, I did feel the performance suffered from a smidge too much emotional detachment, further expressed in its lengthy track titles, which oddly enough evoked word-playful west coast jazzmen such as Graham Connah. Well, Vlatkovich still favours titular verbosity, but here he exudes more of that west coast whimsy – not least in his decision to work through his set list in alphabetical order – even with his group stationed in Albuquerque for the occasion.
The south-western city certainly seems more spacious than Michigan: no longer do the musicians sound as if they’re playing cheek by jowl, and the resulting sound is open and leisurely. For the most part, Vlatkovich parps along jovially at Saturday morning pace, with occasionally plangent, reflective turns of mind, as on the anomalously short-of-title ‘Know I’. He is accompanied on his stroll by the warm, resonant walking/jogging bass of Kent McLagen and the sparing, almost ornamental cymbal taps and snare rolls of drummer Chris Lee. These fairweather companions exude a positive, ‘day off’ nonchalance in remarking on the generous dimensions of their surroundings, even as they compliment their leader’s oft-elongated notes with impressive rhythmic and tonal precision. And in spite of the novelty ordering of the compositions – something of a posterity effort for Vlatkovich, who doesn’t go in for multiple recorded versions it seems – there is a very natural arc to the performance.
In his notes, Vlatkovich remarks on the trio as his favoured format, offering equal measures of challenge, flexibility and concision: ‘the music dictates a certain path; it is the trio that brings the path into focus’ he explains. And though ‘Succulence of Abstraction’ only constitutes the present trio’s second recording together, the discipline and restraint they demonstrate suggests a more familiar, intuitive and longer-term grouping than one so ‘recent’ in its establishment. A bonus of sorts is the fidelity of the recording (an improvement on my last experience), sounding more like a studio effort than one captured on stage. It was evidently a fruitful endeavour for Vlatkovich, so let us hope he sees fit to keep McLagen and Lee in steady employment for the foreseeable future.