Barry Altschul's 3dom Factor offers the third group release in an informal trilogy that began with their self-titled album (TUM, 2012). That debut—Altschul's first leader outing in a couple dozen years—consisted of nine Altschul originals, and one from Carla Bley. A blend of post-bop and free playing, it set the stage for 2015's Tales of the Unforseen, a largely improvised set. The new trio album Live in Krakow adapts a technique closer to the debut in bringing structured and free approaches together.
Jon Irabagon, on tenor and sopranino saxophones, and bassist Joe Fonda remain Altschul's partners. Irabagon (Mostly Other People Do the Killing) is a dynamo capable of generating his own weather systems while Fonda's deep, woody bass makes for dramatic contrast with the saxophones. Combined with Altschul's intense pulsations, the trio is adept at producing a sound that is larger and more involved than its headcount would indicate.
"Martin's Stew," from 3Dom's debut album, opens with an extended drum solo joined later by Fonda's undulating bass and, finally, by Irabagon's eagerly directed lines. The sole cover is Thelonius Monk's "Ask Me Now" and it's taken at a more relaxed pace, touching the original melody intermittently. The piece features a terrific Fonda solo. "For Papa Joe, Klook, and Philly Too" and "The 3dom Factor" are more visceral, driving improvisations, not entirely without melody, they nevertheless focus more on texture and technique. "Irina" is the lone ballad in the set, albeit, one that has a consistently off-kilter feel.
With the exception of the single ballad, the music on Live in Krakow alternates between persistent energy and palliative passages. The collective improvisations are powerful and the symmetry—especially between long-time cohorts Fonda and Altschul—allows the music to shift and reshape organically. It's a highly engaging performance from three stellar artists. (KARL ACKERMANN)