Bobby Zankel Trio: Transcend & Triumph
Judging by his predilection for philosophical and spiritual sounding song titles Philadelphia-based Bobby Zankel is man who puts deep thought into his music and outlook on life. His accompanying ‘Artist’s Notes’ for this release further corroborate the picture of the intellectual who is at once brooding and exuberant. For these reasons the nature of the actual music is something of a surprise. Viscerally grounded in the funky backbeat-laced rhythms of drummer McIver and the nimble bop-speed riffing of Iannacone the compositions belie the lofty meditative sentiments of many of their titles. They move instead straight for the muscles of listener feet and fingers, both of which will most likely be snapping and tapping with the opening number.
Improvising at length in the comparatively minimalist surroundings of guitar and drums Zankel’s saxophone has identifiable antecedents (Steve Coleman most prominently springs to mind), but these are uniformly integrated in a staunchly personal tone and approach. Bouncing from knife-edged incisiveness as on “Scrupulosity” to the feathery, almost soprano-toned temperance of the title track he shows himself to be a technician of uncommon pitch control and versatility. Iannacone is an ideal instrumental foil, playfully putting his frets through the paces and the pair regularly engages in high velocity matches of harmonic ping-pong. Measuring his moves with equal aplomb McIver’s bustling sticks break up a grid of beats that propel the trio at a fast cantering clip.
A minor complaint can be levied in the uniformity of most of the tunes; complex surface structures that never seem to stray too distant from the same palette of thematic pigments. There are sections, as on the long-winded “The Next Time I See You,” where Zankel seems to worry the same stock bag of melodic phrases to the point of garrulous excess. But it’s the ensuing improvisatory interaction between the players, rather than the perpetual compositional complexity that is the real draw of the disc. Zankel’s discography is largely the province of small independents like the Cadence family of labels, but the accessibility of his music makes the odds of greater exposure seem much more favorable. Perhaps more tellingly he denotes the truth in the old adage; never presume to judge a book by its cover.
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Track Listing: Repaying Debts of Gratitude; Scrupulosity; The World of Endurance Is the Land of Tranquil Light; Transcend & Triumph; Truth & Reconciliation; The Next Time I See You; Ndura.
Personnel: Bobby Zankel: alto saxophone; Rick Iannacone: guitar; Craig McIver: drums.