34. Rhythm machine

Eclypso, Tommy Flanagan trio, 1977

Yes, it’s Tommy Flanagan, so you get impeccable, beautifully articulated piano playing. Like Hank Jones, that’s what he did all his life. But this is also about the trio. Elvin Jones is always going to be a challenge for any piano player, but he and Flanagan go way back (both were brought up in Detroit, more or less). And George Mraz, like Dave Holland in some other trio dates with Elvin, has a perfect hook up with the drummer.

It’s a routine date in some ways – a single day in the studio in New York in the mid-1970s for a European label. But the results are sparkling, and none more so than the longest, title track.

This is the one where they really become a matchless rhythm machine*. Jones is full on in the intro – no brushes on this track – with Mraz, recorded with that slightly fuzzy sound bass players seemed to have in the ’70s, pacing him. Flanagan stabs in a few chords, using more left hand than usual and some uncharacteristic loud pedal to meet Elvin’s power. Then they’re off for another ten minutes plus, bassist and drummer falling back into more supportive work in Flanagan’s solo, though never letting the urgency drop, then reasserting themselves in turn for their own choruses.

I love every track on the record, but this is the one I always think of first. They just sound so at home with the lopsided tune, and have such fun with it. Shared history probably has something to do with it – Jones and Flanagan recorded the same piece 20 years earlier in Sweden, here for comparison.

Fascinating to hear this, from two years before Flanagan (but not Elvin) played on Giant Steps. Also great, though I prefer the later cut, which seems, what? Bouncier, I guess, and the drummer sounding more his unmistakeable self.

Flanagan’s career is too well-known, and too vast, to summarize here. I’ve not delved that deeply into it, in truth, beyond a few other trio albums and noticing his work with Ella. But this one, I love.

Why the No 34? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify.

  • Afterthought: As a friend points out, ” ‘machine’ belittles him. He may be the drummer that did most to assert the humanity of drumming. He found a way to connect emotion to percussion better than anyone.” Quite right. When I have a better metaphor, I’ll use it next time…

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