October 2012: Fresh Cut from the Vine, Re: Trio
Tenor saxophonist Ben Schachtera Philadelphia native who has spent the last four years living on the west coast, reunited his last hometown-based working trio for two sets at Philadelphia's Greenline Café. Other than a small handful of performances, Re: Trioalso including bassist Leon Boykins and drummer Matt Scaranohas been on hiatus since 2008, and was Schachter's final working trio before moving west: first to Tucson, Arizona, and then San Diego, California. Though highly respected amongst Philadelphia's best musicians, Schachter is rarely talked about outside of the city, perhaps due to the fact that he chose to remain in Philadelphia for an extended period of time rather than move to New York.
Despite his somewhat underground reputation, Schachter has peaked the interest of some of the best jazz musicians in the world. He has performed with saxophonist George Garzone, and can also be heard on trombonist Conrad Herwig's Land of Shadow (Criss Cross, 2003). The record featured trumpeter Tim Hagans, pianist David Kikoski, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, and one listen proves that Schachter is more than comfortable performing amongst the highest level of talent. His recent performance at the Greenline Cafe was no exception. The trio's opening arrangement of pianist Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy" was particularly interesting. The tune was uniquely arranged in 13/8, adding new depth to the rhythmic sophistication associated with Monk's writing. The main theme was stated clearly, but rather than continuing to the written bridge of the tune, the band broke down into a lengthy free improvisation full of African-inspired grooves and telepathic interaction. Schachter's style of free improvisation is marked by aggression, yet his melodic ideas never seem forced or uninspired. There is a clear logic as to where Schachter pushes the music, and his ability to develop continuously interesting ideas further exemplifies his skills as an improviser.
Another highlight of the performance was saxophonist John Coltrane's "Countdown." Schachter has been exploring odd meter arrangements for years and here, the trio played in 7/4 time, but with a reversed clave, from 4+3 to 3+4 every two bars. The tune provided an excellent example of drummer Matt Scarano's ability to remain loose and creative in a musical environment that would leave most drummers sounding stiff and uncomfortable. Bassist Leon Boykins defined the time with unshakable conviction, providing the necessary harmonic bed following Scarano's solo introduction. A noticeable aspect of the music throughout was the clarity of Schachter's lines. Even with the added variable of an odd meter over an already haphazard harmonic framework, it was never difficult to feel the pulse or follow along with the form. Contrary to some modern jazz musicians, Schachter's odd-meter experiments seem more rooted in true melodic exploration rather than superficial complexity.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the performance was the easily Identifiable, one-of-a-kind nature of the trio's overall sound. The band has developed a style which effectively combines introspective sensibilities with quiet aggression. There is a certain meditative quality to the music; while Schachter is a highly skilled saxophonist technician, he never lets his playing become overly bombastic. Memorable trio performances are often said to be marked by a conversational approach to improvisation. Re: Trio's style, however, could more accurately be described as collective rather than reactive. Rather than simply responding to each other's ideas, the band seems to develop them all at the same time, providing a narrative quality to the improvisational sections of each piece.
With Schachter having relocated to San Diego, hopefully his talent will become more recognized in a city with a far more vibrant music scene. In the mean time, Philadelphia will have to wait for another reunion.