The instrumentation was unusual, but so was the blend of individuals. Black is one of the most distinctive percussionists playing today, with a completely original approach to the sound and function of the drum kit. He combines many different rhythms in constantly shifting patterns, utilizing all sorts of different timbres drawn from traditional drums and cymbals, kitchen utensils, and just about anything else that strikes his fancy. More important, he expands the role of the drummer, adding a strong melodic voice to the standard rhythmic function. Parkins is equally indefinable, providing both chordal and melodic support, moving her instrumental voices from background to foreground, and shifting the sounds of her instruments.
But as much as this trio is the sum of three unusual and distinctive personalities, it is also firmly guided by the musical intelligence of the leader. Eskelin, who often plays in contexts that are completely improvised, guides his group with his pen as much as with his tenor saxophone. His compositions direct their sound, providing reference points for new explorations, and a decade of collaboration has provided them with a synergy that blurs the borders between written and improvised parts of each composition. This spring they celebrate their tenth anniversary with a short tour that begins in Ann Arbor at Kerrytown Concert House on Friday, April 16.
[Originally published in April, 2004.]