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Open Loose Press

Mark Helias & Open Loose
Strange Unison
[Radio Legs Music]
BBC Review by Chris Jones
20 March 2008

One thing that never gets mentioned in relation to jazz trios is the sheer NERVE involved. Piano trios are textually easier to embrace, with all that chordal warmth fleshing out the bare bones. But with a sax, bass and drums you better be sure you know what you're doing. Bassist Helias, whose track record includes sessions with Anthony Braxton, Dewey Redman, Mose Allison and Don Cherry (amongst hundreds of others) is, of course, well up to the job, as are the other two members of Open Loose: Tony Malaby (sax) and Tom Rainey (Drums). Strange Unison, their fifth album - is a fine demonstration of how to make such tricky music sound remarkably relaxed and easy
At times the free form nature of the band's blowing allows Helias to fully explore every inch of his instrument, from the bridge to the shell and all points in between, very much as another recent pioneer of the low end, Dan Berglund of E.S.T, does. On Irrational the entire ensemble really get to grips with their kit. But at other times this is a tighter-than-you-think proposition. What may start as something seemingly extemporised will morph into an amazingly tight exploration, such as the Mingus-like passages at the end of Sonic Rights. But the trio's real favoured method of expression is their beloved NY hipster swing. Time and time again they retyurn to a high hat-driven bop template that oozes slinky street style as on John And Marks, Silent Stutter or CBJ. It's a warm, emotive sound that allows Malaby to have oodles of fun while sometimes seeming a little too cosy. But this is American jazz, not European, and Wibutee this is not. It still bursts with fearsome technique. Strange Unison is, then, an accessible and finely executed piece of trio work. Not overly challenging, but still brave...

Thursday, March 6, 2008
Mark Helias' Open Loose - Strange Unison (Radio Legs, 2008)****

Mark Helias' Open Loose trio consists of himself on bass, Tom Rainey on drums and Tony Malaby on sax. And yes, what more can you ask for in jazz-land? All three musicians have an extraordinary track record and resume, and are hence much in demand, with Helias and Rainey figuring easily on more than 100 CDs, and Malaby on more than 50. And they are not just mere creative instrumentalists who fit in any musical environment, their level of artistry is high too, as was already demonstrated on the previous albums of the trio. "Strange Unison", falls perfectly within the line of expectations. This means that the musical quality is high throughout, with nice compositions, a great rhythmic drive and great soloing, free and unbound, yet all within the range of what can be called "accessible", full of emotional power and creative interplay. It also means that a little bit of the risk and the adventure are gone, but what the heck, who cares?

OPEN LOOSE [MARK HELIAS/TONY MALABY/TOM RAINEY] - Strange Unison (Radio Legs 013; USA) Featuring Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Mark Helias on double bass & compositions and Tom Rainey on drums. This is the fifth fine disc from Mark Helias' great trio, Open Loose. Except for their first disc that featured Ellery Eskelin on tenor, the personnel has pretty much remained the same. Over the past few years, whenever I've heard Mark Helias play live, he has knocked my out each time. Mark opens "Graveling" with his magical bass sound/approach. This is a most perfectly balanced trio with each member an integral part of the group sound. Tony's warm and enchanting tone is at the center of this tune with Mark's resonant bass and Tom's distinctive swirling drum style. "Blue Light Down the Line" is a fine laid-back and bluesy song with Tony's blustery, old-school tenor tone swaying slowly in the shadows. "Sonic Rights" is a hoot, a slightly twisted tune with an odd structure that is as difficult to explain as it is to play. The production here is superb with Mark's bass lusciously recorded. The opening bass intro on "CBJ" is just magnificent sonically speaking. When Tony's haunting tenor comes in, it is just too much, a big sound, a grand tone that is hard to deny. I love the way the trio jumps through dynamic hoops on "Illustrate" as they shift through a complex set of changes. Like wow! The bass and drums solo together near the end and are just incredible in the telepathic interplay. Master drummer, Tom Rainey, is another secret/special ingredient here, he constantly moves in mysterious ways, his playing has a unique, organic way of weaving his own percussive style within structure and style of each piece. Tom has a way of making the other members sound better, balancing the rhythm, melodic and composition perfectly. It seems to me that each disc by Open Loose just gets better, more focused and solid as a one force or statement. A most mature offering like expensive wine or fine cheese. Dig in, my friends, for a fine meal for ears, heart and soul. - BLG

Bassist Mark Helias' compositions for Open Loose, are, fittingly, loose and open. Joining the leader are two NYC/N.J. new jazz stalwarts: Jersey City tenor saxophone powerhouse Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey. The three listen intently, and work empathetically, at times edging into robust group improvisations, as on "Circling." "Blue Light Down the Line" is earthy and bluesy. Here, the warm-toned tenorman delivers an emotive story with soft, breathy notes, small evocative phrases and those more expansive and slippery. The bassist scores with simple, telling remarks via a fat, ringing tone, as Rainey taps quietly in accompaniment. After a bass solo intro, "Graveling" moves into a winsome groove. Here, Malaby ranges widely, from soft, pliant tones to brays and shouts. "CBJ" is a slow free work with impressive warmth

Newark Star Ledger
LETTING GO: "Strange Unison" Mark Helias' Open Loose (Radio Legs Music)

Helias's discography is a who's who of modern jazz and improvisation: Michael Moore, Evo Perlman, Oliver Lake, Yusef Lateef, Gerry Hemingway, Dennis Gonzalez, Marty Ehrlich, Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispellm Bobby Previte, &c, &c. Open Loose is his trio, and this is their fifth release under that name. This is incredibly creative music that shifts from tight rapid playing to beautiful ballad work using modern playing and compositional techniques. Released on Helias' own Radio Legs Music label this is an excellent set of original compositions.


Mark Helias and Open Loose

Atomic Clock (Radio Legs Music)

by Will Layman

First things first: this relatively obscure disc is one of the best jazz recordings of 2006.

Mark Helias is one of the finest acoustic bass players in the contemporary jazz avant-garde, a guy who can play inside as well as out and who stretches the boundaries in both directions.   In fact, calling him an "out" cat is too limiting and mildly inaccurate, as his groups tend to play a structured form of modern jazz that sits hard in the sweet spot of jazz tradition.   It's just that Helias also loves to exploit the possibilities of freedom in his bands as well.   Best of both worlds--melodic, harmonized and swinging, yet wide open too.

Helias's trio is called "Open Loose"--presently consisting of the leader on bass violin, Tony Malaby on tenor sax, and Tom Rainey on drums--and that's not a bad name.   You could probably add "tight" in there as well, as the band plays with the kind of togetherness that only a working band can manage.   There are only three of them, sure, and no chording instrument to hem things in too tight, but overall sound is one of casual discipline.   On "Momentum Interrupted" the melody and bassline play in easy counterpoint until they lock into a perfect unison, for example, with Rainey on them like a mouse following peanut butter.   Or there's "What Up" where the swing starts and stops on a microdot and you feel that the trio probably can finish each other's sentences.

But then this record is called Atomic Clock, so precision should not be a problem.   What about the freedom thing?   They have that covered too.   Malaby is not a classic downtown wailer--he avoids the broad vibrato and emotive plainness of Coltrane or Ayler--but he goes outside the chords and the conservatory with wit and mastery.   On "Chavez", for example, he overblows with remarkable control to get two tones at once, letting his intonation float free in carefully chosen spots.   The opener, "Subway", gets more classically "free", with the tenor blurting and foghorning at will--air scratching through the mouthpiece, squeaks repeating like machine-gun fire, cleanly articulated passages tracing chord clusters rather than the usual neat patterns.

Rainey is one drummer you want if controlled freedom is your goal.   Finding a clever middle ground between groove and coloration, Rainey never powers the group like a rock drummer.   He sounds more like a multi-limbed percussion section that plays with uncanny togetherness, arraying cymbals and toms into a dialogue with bandmates.   Most often Rainey is supreme when only Helias is soloing.   The two rhythm players could easily make a duet record, as their portions of the disc fascinate.

It's fair criticism to note that saxophone trio records can get tedious--with not enough harmonic color (from a guitar or piano) to shade the tracks into contrast.   Perhaps that's why Helias presents one quartet track in the middle of things: "Modern Scag" with Elery Eskelin making an appearance as a second tenor player.   This is supreme news, with Eskelin playing late night counterpoint on the ensemble section, shadowing Malaby with relaxed suspense.   It is difficult to tell when the musicians begin to improvise, as the slow and deliberate composition seems to slowly segue in and out of opportunities for freedom.   There are no traditional "solos", yet little that you'll hear this year will sound more like "jazz".

It seems odd to recommend this record as one of the finest of the year, as it appeared so unimposingly.   It was released only by Helias's own record label, and you can't seem to order if from Amazon.com or the other usual outlets.   It will resist enjoyment if you merely put it on in the other room while you cook dinner or as background while you chat with a friend.   It requires an active listening session--the kind of time too few of us have to spend any more.   But its riches are undeniable.   "Atomic Clock" is revealed as a collaged exercise in acoustic hip-hop, for example, and "Plantini" is plainly a kaleidoscope of patterns and rhythms that shifts continually and beautifully.   "Zephyr" is a ballad that seems equal parts Ellington and Ornette Coleman--a combination that hardly anyone would even bother with.

But Open Loose is no ordinary band, and Atomic Clock is no ordinary jazz record.   I'm strenuously enthusiastic about it, as will be all serious jazz fans.   Almost "classical" in its organization and technique, this sequence of improvisations on tantalizing themes is a 2006 highlight that more people need to hear.   Freedom with design, it sounds like the very definition of jazz--the very definition of America at its best.

RATING: 9 out of 10

•  11 December 2006

PopMatters Picks: The Best Music of 2006

Best Jazz of 2006

[11 December 2006]

Will Layman's list of the year's best jazz records, a hearty baker's dozen, includes iconoclasts, eccentrics, avant-gardists, and some downright swingers.

by Will LaymanJazz trios without chording instruments--here just Tony Malaby's tenor, Mark Helias's acoustic bass, and Tom Rainey's drums--risk being monotonous.   The solution has often been the inclusion of one titanic soloist such as Sonny Rollins.   Here, the answer lies in great writing--with intricate parts for all three musicians that never sound fussy--and magical interplay.   Malaby is better than you've ever heard him before--sly, rowdy, quicksilver, depending on the tune's mood or the moment.   Helias and Rainey--old partners who've conceived of 300 ways to swing and as many ways to play creatively free--are engaged in the kind of conversation that only takes place at 3:00AM between best friends.   It's not dull.   It's not exactly avant-garde yet it's definitely not mainstream.   A great place to be.

Mark Helias' Open Loose
Atomic Clock (Radio Legs 012)

Bassist Mark Helias is certainly a name known to most folks that follow this music, though like many of his generation, he is frequently taken for granted.   His discography is busting at the seams, of course, having played with scores of folks.   Arguably, his best work has been with his own projects, particularly his cooperative trio with trombonist Ray Anderson and drummer Gerry Hemingway, BassDrumBone (for well over two decades!) or his trio with saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey (with saxophonist Ellery Eskelin or drummer Gerald Cleaver sometimes participating), Open Loose.

With Open Loose, Helias writes a prescription that favors both improvised and written material, the latter of which are spacious compositions that encourage each player's improvisational skills but are peppered with enough thematic material, however subtle, to provide grounding.   Over the trio's four outings (with the most recent two released on Helias' own Radio Legs label), it has proven to be a collective force in its manner of communication and ability to provide just what is required--a propulsive vamp here, restrained tones there, or roomy deliberation the next moment, to cite a few examples.

This ten-cut performance commences and ends with the trio's freely improvised terrains on display with "Subway" and "Many Nows", both capturing the group at its most frenzied and forceful, with Malaby's tightly-wound, yet full-toned attack meshing with Helias' rubbery bass jousts and Rainey's potent expressionism.   While improv is certainly the main ingredient here, the group's talents are not closely confined.   Take Malaby's whispers on "Chavez" or the quiet meditation of "Zephyr", proving that the saxophonist can not only exude lava, but also smolder softly.   If you are after shimmering tenor work, though, Ellery Eskelin's guest appearance on "Modern Scag" is a high point.   Where one might expect a tenor blowout for this meeting, the results are quite the contrary, as the tenors conduct a muted conversation fitting for after-hours reflection.

But where this group seemingly finds its greatest pleasure is navigating Helias' knotty blueprints.   The jagged swing of "Cinematic" tells its musical story through the unison bass/tenor lines and Rainey's colorful punctuations, while the blues-shaded "Momentum Interrupted" saunters forth and Helias' elastic bass runs propel the folkish emotionalism of Malaby's musings on "Plantini".   While the aforementioned are apt representations of Helias' mind, perhaps his best example while in compositional mode is the roving "What Up", an excellent showpiece for this group's interplay, with an approach that faintly reminds of Oscar Pettiford.   Oh, and in terms of oddballs, there is a brief remix/electronically enhanced performance of "Atomic Clock", something that might not be out of place on a Tim Berne record.

Yet another outstanding program from Helias and his trio that brings the bassist's vision to life.   But really, with such a roster and Helias' pen, what's not to like?

Jay Collins 29 May 2006   One Final Note Webzine

Mark Helias' Open Loose

"Atomic Clock" (Radio Legs, 2006)

Tom Rainey-drums, percussion / Tony Malaby-tenor saxophone / Mark Helias-bass / Ellery Eskelin-tenor saxophone

Helias's discography is a who's who of modern jazz and improvisation: Michael Moore, Evo Perlman, Oliver Lake, Yusef Lateef, Gerry Hemingway, Dennis Gonzalez, Marty Ehrlich, Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, Bobby Previte, &c, &c. Open Loose is his trio, and this is their fourth release under that name. Joined by Ellery Eskelin on one track ("Modern Scag") this is incredibly creative music that shifts from tight rapid playing to beautiful ballad work using modern playing and compositional techniques. Released on Helias' own Radio Legs Music label this is an excellent set of original compositions.

By Donald Elfman            

Mark Helias--his big steady bass and organic, his compositions ever-changing--continues to set the standard for making music that bears shape and direction but also celebrates the freedom to improvise openly and... er... loosely. For ten years he and his powerful trio have refined and broadened the scope of this music so by now the players share an ethos that allows them to explore what making music in a group means. It's three individuals bonded by the passion of collaboration.

Atomic Clock was documented by the brilliant and understanding John Rosenberg at Brooklyn's Barbès--the recorded sound and the venue giving the musicians the space to dig down and then soar. Helias is in the captain's seat yet he directs the enterprise in an ego-less fashion, thereby coaxing the fullest expressions from the other players. Saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey (and original Open Loose tenorist Ellery Eskelin added for one track) explore this music and--as Helias describes it--both construct and deconstruct the compositions. Repeated listenings help reveal what at first seems like some free-form wandering--and that's as it should be.

Particularly fetching are several of the slower and more deliberate-sounding tunes. "Chavez," as some Helias-ish notes indicates, suggests a spooky transmogrification from one Chavez into the modern one. "Zephyr" is a dark and moody ballad that calls to mind Ornette and his disciple the late Dewey Redman, with whom Helias worked. The leader comes out of the opening statement with a solo that reminds us of his strong individual sound and the fact that it's so beautifully directed towards the totality of the music.

Verbs of Will (Radio Legs 011)

There is a real art to making convincing, compelling small group music. Throughout his career, despite a lack of much -deserved critical attention, Mark Helias has practiced this art admirably. Along with a select handful of bassists--John Lindberg, Dave Holland and Joe Fonda come to mind-- he’s consistently led memorable combos. Though his groups have often featured his compositions. Open Loose generally trades in unfettered improvisation in a manner similar to Tim Berne’s Paraphrase. Featuring drummer Tom Rainey, tenor player Tony Malaby and Helias, this trio has lived up to its name in a series of splendid recordings. This one, on Helias’ own label, is the most focused I’ve heard, Many of the pieces incorporate compositional nuggets--unison lines, rhythmic patterns and so forth-- but these are generally springboards for freewheeling playing. There’s plenty of muscle but it’s only used in special circumstances; restraint and crystal-clear focus are more common. Each player occupies one of several roles on his instrument, adept at but not limited to the expected modes of performance. Rainey’s linear drumming might almost be melodic, while Helias can attack his bass with percussive force. And Malaby’s strong tenor sound gives him great range and flexibility, most notably on the nasty blues “How Bout it” or the heartfelt “Mistral Angel.” All across, there’s a beautiful integration of form into freedom, telepathic interplay between all three, and a real sense of the trio as an expansive entity--either starting as three distinct parts and coalescing or the reverse. Open Loose is one of those groups who sound as if they just don’t care where they’re pigeon-holed: mainstream/outside, tight/loose, flowing /disruptive, whatever--these guys play it all and it rocks. Jason Bivins Signal To Noise

MARK HELIAS' OPEN LOOSE - Verbs of Will (Radio Legs 011)
Featuring Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Tom Rainey on drums and Mr. Helias on contrabass and compositions. Longtime downtown bassist supreme, Mark Helias, has continually juggled a variety of bands as a leader as well as a collaborator. Open Loose is his ongoing trio which have evolved through the participation of Ellery Eskelin in the past to currently with another fine tenor sax player - Tony Malaby. Their drummer is also an integral part of this great trio, the remarkable Tom Rainey. This trio seems to be very aptly titled since they balance between looseness and tightness, they play around and have fun with the structure of each piece. Often Tony will play the central written theme while Mark and Tom swirl around each other maintaining perfect balance, occasional these roles switch midstream as different connections interact. "How 'Bout It" is a sort of deconstructed blues with Tony's great greasy tone swirling like smoke over the top of the swaggering rhythm team below. "King Judas" starts with one of organic hands-on-drums intros that Rainey does so well, before a few strong solo sections take place and the trio finally take off for some hearty freer terrain, yet peppered still with some written bits. I dig the way "AKA" starts slowly and lyrically, but soon speeds up and dances more robustly. "Anagram" shows that even with a minimum of notes, an elegant spirit still flows in a song-like way. "Mistral Angel" soars high, the rhythm team spinning furious as Tony's tenor sails atop the flurry of activity, which glides back down to earth with Mark's superb bass solo. "Let's Roll One" begins freely and tentatively, but builds to quicker, denser conclusion. There is a wonderful balance of all three players here, with a certain spaciousness due to close listening, often with a calm center, yet restless at times.
Bruce Gallanter DTMG 7/03/03

Verbs of Will
Mark Helias’ Open Loose

Helias has a long-standing relationship on records with Hemingway and Anderson, and the open frameworks and quick pulsation that characterized their music is present with Helias’ trio on Verbs of Will. The bass player links with the tenor saxophonist Malaby and drummer Rainey to form a trio playing spirited music with a bounce in its step. The band acts mainly as a cooperative; they bond as a unit and soar skyward on a dozen selections that become a collective experience. Still, there is plenty of room for individual expression. Helias develops very personalized solos. he combines a sense of melody with complex rhythms while making his bass sing out in hearty voice. Helias’ thrusting style produces volumes of congealing progressions to encase the trio sound in armor. On “Mistral Angel” he generates a compelling solo that merges deftly into the trio context, and this approach appears regularly on the set..........Helias, Malaby and Rainey cook on this set. They punch out a multiplicity of counter currents to keep the pot boiling through numerous changes in tempo and mood. The program rolls on in unified fashion resulting in improvised music that is consistently satisfying.
Frank Rubolino, Cadence Magazine

Mark Helias & Open Loose New School (Enja)
The trio's name "Open Loose" refers not only to its musical style, but also to it personnel, which has seen frequent changes. Mark Helias' compositions are written with plenty of space in them, and are designed to be interpreted openly and loosely. They allow for seamless transitions between composed passages and improvisation, never easy to achieve. This threesome fully exploits the creative possibilities of the compositions, never opting for a clichéd theme-solos-theme format. The group has the knack of starting with a rather loose - sometimes even ramshackle - piece and slowly allowing it to evolve until it emerges as a tight theme; for example, "Mapa" has a rather impressionistic opening and builds to a tightly syncopated ensemble finale.
Last time out, on the fine album Come Ahead Back, Open Loose featured Ellery Eskelin on tenor, plus Helias and Rainey. In this incarnation, now together for some two years, Malaby replaces Eskelin. Malaby's star has been rising in recent years, thanks to workwith Marty Ehrlich, Tim Berne, Mark Dresser, and his own quartet. His playing here will further advance that rise. In freely improvised passages, he displays a penchant for melody and structure that gives them a sense of order. The trio's time and experiencetogether is clearly evident from their interactions; they know and understand each other's playing. No-one dominates because no-one needs to; the three players seem to know and trust each other. They play with great economy throughout - there are no grandstanding gestures here, despite this being a live recording - and produce a dynamic balance between written and improvised music. Reviewer: John Eyles BBC

Festival keeps jazz close to the edge
Saturday was a crisper, cleaner day, beginning with Mark Helias” Open Loose trio. In contrast to the thick frantic sounds of the night before, Helias’ approach sought the space between notes, even as he raced his fingers along the neck of his acoustic bass and led the trio through compositions recalling Ornette Coleman. Tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby was the dominant voice, breathing an easy, restrained tone from his horn. His use of overtones - a common “avant” strategy - was subtle and delightful, massaging the melody with heavy fingers. Drummer Tom rainey kept the beat oustside the time, never overstating or overpowering. Rarely does a trio jell as well as Open Loose.
Edgefest, Ann Arbor

Concert Review
Jazz Composers Collective Concert Series: Mark Helias’s Open Loose
New School Jazz Performance Space New York City September 2000
There are few jazz ensembles more aptly named than Mark Helias’s Open Loose. The master bassist kicked off a new Jazz Composers Collective concert series with the help of Tony Malaby on tenor sax and Tom Rainey on drums. Dissolving all traditional jazz-trio boundaries, each player helped bring about a combustible stew of sound in which any instrument could take the lead, or recede into the background, at any time. Rainey’s gangly, physical attack was as riveting as ever. Often staring straight ahead as if to visualize the infinite possibilities arrayed before him, the drummer grabbed alternately for the sticks, brushes, and other implements that best expressed the moment. Malaby played complex, ardent solos and effortlessly launched into unpredictable unison passages on cue. Helias piloted the group with an authority, wisdom, and selflessness that brought Dave Holland to mind. His pizzicato and arco playing were equally strong, and his rigorous compositions ("Startle," "Dominoes," "Mapa," "Gentle Ben," and "Pick and Roll") walked a tightrope between stirring cacophony and wily precision.
By David R. Adler

Downbeat Magazine
March 1999
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. Ted Pankin

Request Magazine
September 1998

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. Ben Ratliff

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 wounds 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, as I await another studio record of Jacky Terrasson(see above), 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.

Open Loose
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]Magic at Coutances Jazz Festival, France
One must, in the end, cite the trio Open Loose of Mark Helias, music with a beauty, all in all, abrupt and tender, impacting on the listener with serenity or unbridled energy.
Jazz Magazine en Direct.

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