Mark Helias, Open Loose: Come Ahead Back
Conceptual vigor and joie de vivre blend felicitously in Mark Helias’ music, qualities communicated to the max on Come Ahead Back... . Trio mates Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax and Tom Rainey on drums are individualists adept at thinking on their feet in sync, able to switch roles at a moment’s notice, equally comfortable in the open field or working within a lane. Helias presents a balanced six-course menu, opening with “Semaphore,” a loose high-velocity aperitif that gets the juices flowing. That segues to the lively blues-with-a-twist “Line Nine,” morphs into open-form rubato with “The Other Brother,” hurtles into free-bop with “Boppo,” decrescendos into nuanced three-way improv on “Case Sensitive,” and concludes on a deep groove with the African-inflected vamp-to-free “Last One In, First One Out.” Helias imprints his personality on the flow with light touch; secure in his virtuosity, he’s the music’s faithful liege.
Mark Helias can rock a bass line like few other jazz bassists. On Come Ahead Back (Koch), his Open Loose band excites right out of the gate in a program of tunes with tight time and plenty of leeway: it gets close to free jazz, but never loses rhythmic tautness.
Mark Helias’ Open Loose
Come Ahead Back
Open Loose is one of New York’s best live jazz groups. This trio led by Mark Helias (b) also contains Ellery Eskelin (ts) and Tom Rainey (d). I can’t say enough great things about this group, both as individuals and collectively. Mark Helias is a truly great bass player who has the capacity to use the instrument in many different ways, exploring all of its possibilities. Equally comfortable with the index finger and bow, he doesn’t leave intonation behind when extracting noisy feats or harmonics from the strings. Ellery Eskelin is the strongest of today’s horn players. Sticking exclusively to tenor saxophone, his sound is strong and vibrant. The notes he picks are beautiful and exciting, drawing the listener in with his unique combination of introversion and extroversion. Tom Rainey often threatens to steal the show, no matter with whom he plays. He is visually exciting, flailing his arms about spastically to whop everything in sight, including music stands and walls. Yet despite his “wild” physicality, there is a pervasive precision in everything that he does.
Collectively and individually, these three are some of the best listeners in the business. A lot of the trio’s synergy comes from their ability to perform astoundingly well on their own instruments while constantly responding to and supporting each other.
One of the great things about an Open Loose performance is that an audience member is never sure when compositions end and begin, and what was written beforehand and what was composed right on stage. Unfortunately, that feature of Open Loose is lost on “Come Ahead Back,” and it is clearly demarked both musically and visually in the booklet as to what was “written” and what was “improvised”, with separate tracks for each.
Though there are some hits here, including Helias’ “Boppo” and the improvised “Case Sensitive”, The trio sounds like it’s on an off night. The sterile ambiance of a studio setting may account for some of this. However, some of what is lacking in this CD may also be in the recording itself. Though the recording quality of the CD sounds fine on the surface, the microphones managed not to catch the full force of the trio. Ellery’s powerful sound is muffled. Mark’s beautiful bass sounds not as inimitable as it does in real life. And Tom Sounds restrained an distant.
If I hadn’t seen this trio live so many times, I might not be so critical of this disc. It’ s still good music. For those who may not get a chance to see the trio or who are waiting to do so, it’s a good introduction. And it allowed Helias to record some of his compositions -- I’ve been waiting for a recorded version of “Last One In, First One Out” for a while; it’s one of the trios anthems. So, .... I await a live record from Open Loose.
Ken Thomson “On Air” WKCR Radio Guide
CD Now (Internet)
``Come Ahead Back ... ,'' Open Loose (Koch Jazz). Bassist Mark Helias, saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and drummer Tom Rainey turn themselves loose on a collection of fascinating themes - some transfixingly twisted, others surprisingly straight-ahead. Intense, involving music in the post-Coltrane mode.
IAJRC Journal (Spring 1999)
Come Ahead Back... is new from bassist Mark Helias and his Open Loose trio with tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and drummer Tom Rainey. the name really describes this band’s stripped-down sound, refreshingly open and airy, whether they’re playing in tempo (the loping Helias original “Line Nine” for example) or reacting to one another out of tempo (as in the collective improvisation they call “The Other brother”). The sparse setting of this line-up is a perfect showcase for the richness of Eskelin’s tone, full-bodied or slightly pinched as the music demands. Helias has one of the sweetest bass sounds on the scene. Listen to “Last One In, First One Out” where the bass part drives the rhythm and establishes the feel for another of his altered blues. Rainey’s popping snare and emphasis on rudiments serve the music well, making this a keenly balanced trio, with a focus on “interactive collective musical creation” (Helias’ words). Definitely a trip worth taking.
Come Ahead Back
Mark Helias, a musically gifted jack-of-all-trades, always seems to be searching for new ways to express himself, from solo performance to his own quartet. Open Loose is a trio with a revolving door policy as concerns the other two members. His collaborators have included Gerry Hemmingway or Pheeroan AkLaff on drums, Chris Speed on tenor and Herb Robertson on trumpet. On this CD, we're delighted to find Ellery Eskelin on tenor, a prominent voice on the scene and someone who will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Tom Rainey, perhaps better known for his work in more conventional settings, proves himself here to be a master improviser. Listen to this CD, and particularly Case Sensitive, if you want to know what musical interaction is all about. While's there is no apparent "leader" on that tune, the effect is nonetheless one of unity and coherence. "Free" music, or as Helias might put it, open and loose? A very successful effort. [ALR]