It would be easy to overlook Trio 3′s Open Ideas, since there’s no tipoff in the group’s name as to who they are. But alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reginald Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille are all major figures in post-’50s jazz, and their coming together represents a sort of eminence grise summit meeting. Don’t expect fireworks. These players are too experienced and too invested in using an extensive preexisting vocabulary to try to bowl you over. They’ve worked hard to become the musicians they are, and the assumption is that their audience will take time to engage with them on Open Ideas.
If there’s a tonal antecedent for Trio 3, it’s probably Ornette Coleman’s 1960s trio with bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett. One significant difference is that, where Ornette’s group was autocratic (the rhythm section playing very much in service to the saxophonist), Trio 3 is entirely democratic, and both bass and drums are given an unusual amount of solo time. The format is to swing very hard (and it’s striking how much Cyrille’s drumming resembles Moffett’s) under a starkly uncompromising front line. Lake’s tone on alto is hard edged and relatively opaque, offset by Workman’s warmly hospitable one.
This balance (with Cyrille serving a mediator) serves well in both ballads like the title track and the more aggressive pieces like “Hooray for Herbie.” Some of the strongest tracks are the ones where the deepest pockets are established — “Y2 Chaos,” with Cyrille’s nearly tonal drum solo preceding Lake’s bluesy exchange with the drummer, or the pulsating “Prophet’s Path,” with its vocalized alto solo (notably reminiscent of the late period playing of Sonny Simmons). But the measured “Valley Sketch” is persuasive too, as Workman sticks to Lake very closely (and Cyrille, in turn, shadows both of them). “5-4-3-2″ is more like an intimate three-way conversation, and it’s a piece that can only be accomplished by mature musicians with a lot of seasoning, players who understand that they have nothing to prove. Open Ideas requires some quiet attention to be fully appreciated, but giving it will provide you with a lot of very powerful music.