(Whirlwind Recordings)

John O'Gallagher - alto sax
Samuel Gapp - piano
Zé Almeida - bass
João Lencastre- drums

John O'Gallagher Trio - Live In Brooklyn
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4697)

John O'Gallagher - alto sax
Johannes Weidenmueller - bass
Mark Ferber - drums

As New York-based saxophonist & composer John O’Gallagher would emphatically relate, there is nothing quite like the concept and energy of a live performance to provide both artist and listener with the affecting, visceral tingle which is at the heart of great music – and especially true when it comes to the spontaneity of improvised jazz. So the opportunity to offer up these riches to a wider audience, through a live album, has always been an aspiration for the acclaimed altoist and his longtime colleagues Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums).

Live in Brooklyn captures the spirit of the chordless trio’s appearance as part of Seeds Brooklyn’s intimate, weekly concert series – a popular venue for many leading contemporary artists – with realism and verve. And having forged a close, intuitive working relationship over several years, this became the perfect environment in which to unveil new material alongside interpretations of two tracks from their studio album 'The Honeycomb' (the saxophonist has also previously released on Whirlwind, with 2013’s The Anton Webern Project). The realization and “stretch and pull” of the original compositions in this conducive setting, during the gig and in playback, confirmed to O’Gallagher that this was ‘the one’ – and now the wider public have the fortuity to focus on this rich seam of in-the-moment creativity.

One of the most compelling saxophone improvisers on the New York scene, John O’Gallagher’s many collaborators have included Jeff Williams, Ben Monder, Maria Schneider and Kenny Wheeler – and all the years of experience cascade from his alto bell with a seemingly inexhaustible and colorfully individual vocabulary, supported prominently by the high-level, malleable responses of Weidenmueller and Ferber. The saxophonist explains that the blurred lines of composition and conversational improvisation are key to the challenge: “That’s the beauty of playing with these two guys – they’re masters of form and structure, yet don’t always have to mark it.”

Oblique five-against-seven-meter experiment ‘Prime’ sets up an increasingly turbulent dialogue, O’Gallagher’s forceful, rippling lines prompting heavyweight, percussive reactions from bassist and drummer; and ‘Blood Ties’ alludes to the band’s prowess in intertwining the number’s purely rhythmic beginnings with various pitch collections. The broad landscape of ‘Credulous’ prompts extreme displays, especially from saxophonist and drummer; and furtive ‘Nothing To It’ finds its animation through the close connection between Weidenmueller and Ferber.

‘Extralogical Railman’ – an anagram in both composition and title – turns Charlie Parker’s ‘Relaxin’ at Camarillo’ upside down, O’Gallagher carefully spinning the rhythmic content on its axis, then reassembling re-pitched melodics against it… and it swings with glorious abandon, the saxophonist’s lines incessantly searching, screeching and tumbling through “a number you know, but can’t put your finger on.” Finally, ‘The Honeycomb’, specifically originating from common links and patterns between tones, lets rip for an appreciative audience.

Describing the elevated, exposed nature of this three-way partnership, O’Gallagher concludes: “We are constantly listening and taking risks, creating an atmosphere which is exciting to play in – there is no ‘wrong’, and we all know the paths back. A shared trust provides the confidence to pretty much explore any avenue and be assured that everything will be OK. That transformative, on-the-edge excitement – not knowing what’s gonna happen – is what I’ve always wanted.”

The Honeycomb - John O'Gallagher Trio
(Fresh Sound New Talent 462)

John O'Gallagher - alto sax
Johannes Weidenmueller - bass
Mark Ferber - drums

On his new trio recording, The Honeycomb, the alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher fully demonstrates his skills as an adroit improviser, an incisive composer and a canny bandleader in a spare, yet potent, setting. Working in tandem with two longtime associates, the bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and the drummer Mark Ferber, O’Gallagher presents eight original pieces that exhibit his melodic and structural ingenuity while also providing fertile terrain for lively group interplay. Simultaneously spotlighting O’Gallagher’s multidimensional talents as well as the exceptional musicianship of his duo mates, The Honeycomb reveals yet another stimulating facet of the leader’s far-ranging vision. If listening to the album immediately alerts us that O’Gallagher has evolved into a virtuosic improviser with a compelling sound that demands attention, it also informs us that here is a true jazz trio –- as inventive as it is united.  

While O’Gallagher has released trio recordings before, The Honeycomb differs from those previous albums in that its emphasis lies as much in composition as it does in collective improvisation. In that respect the new album, though compact in instrumentation, is closer in spirit to O’Gallagher’s recent celebrated septet recording, The Anton Webern Project, an ambitious outing that reimagined the Viennese modernists’ work for a 21st century jazz context.  “These are tuneful songs, but they don’t rely on traditional song forms,” O’Gallager says of Honeycomb’s material, “I wanted to create forms that would provide room for each of us to elaborate on. By avoiding AABA and other set conventions, the tunes could retain an elusive quality.”
On such trio pieces as “Uroboros”, “Kerberos,” “Petulant Snoot,” and “Turdeken,” O’Gallagher, Weidenmueller and Mark Ferber respect the structural contours of the well crafted compositions, yet seek out – and discover - bountiful space for their imaginative playing to find full expression.  “I wanted to write tunes with multiple layers for the bass and drums to draw on, things they could contribute their own personalities to.” O’Gallagher says. ” I’ve worked with Johannes and Mark for many years now. They have great chemistry together and as a trio we achieve something special and rare. There are no straitjackets on anyone, it’s all about each of us expressing ourselves while respecting the group dynamic. That way we can achieve the spontaneous counterpoint that adds so much to the performances.” 

Exhibiting the extensive resources that the best contemporary jazz improvisers have at their disposal, O’Gallagher and his cohort specifically nod to tradition at times. “Extralogical Railman” (an anagram for “Relaxin’ At Camarillo,” the iconic 1947 Charlie Parker composition) alters the original melodic line, adds rhythmic displacements and a novel bass line to slyly transform the Parker tune, yet still offers homage to the bebop avatar by way of an exuberant performance. Whether charging (“The Honeycomb,” “Turducken”), loping (“Eve Day”) or languid (“Go Where You Are Going”), each of the album’s performances offer impressively individualized playing from three experienced band mates who respond as one.