Phantom Ear Music (CD)
Andrew Barker (drums, compositions)
Michael Foster (tenor & soprano saxophones)
Tim Dahl (bass)
- You Are a Real _____
- Scarface Pajamas
- Failed States
- A Teeming Portal
- Inner Vortex
- New Wolves, Old Bones
- Invalid Request
Barker Trio’s gripping yet subtle self-titled debut record is one of the more thought-provoking records to be released in 2015. The band has developed and evolved over the past two and a half years, putting on a string of riveting performances in clubs around New York City, while showing a great amount of versatility and flexibility in how they have presented their music. Led by vastly under-appreciated percussionist Andrew Barker, the record features an interesting synthesis of sounds, styles, and influences brought together adeptly by the trio. Barker, a mainstay on the Brooklyn/NYC free jazz, avant rock, and experimental music scenes since the late 1990s, he is perhaps best known for his work with the Gold Sparkle Band, ensembles led by William Parker, and many collaborations with Charles Waters, Daniel Carter, and other musicians. The Barker Trio also includes up-and-coming saxophonist Michael Foster and bassist Tim Dahl, the latter best known for his noise-rock group Child Abuse. Each of the three brings a tenacity and daring that elevates the visceral experience of the music.
The sounds of the record range from subtle strands and tidbits of sound that gradually form a rising coherence all the way to fierce burning free jazz reminiscent of some of the great tenor-led groups from earlier decades. The emotional range of Foster’s playing–from his subtlest moments to the most powerful climaxes–helps shape much of the music. Unlike so many saxophonists, Foster does not overplay, nor does he get caught up in advertising technique just for the sake of it. Instead, he does a lot with subtle sounds, short licks, and plays with space in a way that achieves aesthetic unity with the other band members. He also takes center stage at key moments, surging from the dark edges of the pieces to burn across the canvas and then recede. Dahl has an interesting resonance on bass and creates space of his own, at times, while connecting throughout the record with Barker’s multi-faceted drum work. Barker is also an amazingly subtle player, though also bold when he wishes to be so. He manages to create intricate webs of percussive sound that fall tightly upon the contributions of the other players. Both rhythm players have a way of shifting about on either side of the saxophone, sometimes propelling from within, while at other times adding all manner of accents in front of, beside, and behind the lead voice. Through this, the trio achieves a rare balance of voices.
“You are a Real _____” is a nice introduction to what the band is capable of and presents each player–as is often the case throughout the record–in even proportions. Barker’s beats fall like a multitude of raindrops, individual in their impact but part of the grander storm. “Scarface Pajamas” begins with Foster stretching his tenor sound like a piece of hide over the face of a drum with rhythms soon springing up and then Foster surging ahead with rhythms propelling on all sides. “Failed States” saunters along with Dahl and Barker taking turns in dictating its off-kilter pace with Foster’s sax exclaiming over the top. “A Teeming Portal” is the most conceptually complex piece on the record with all three players beginning with small sounds like the pulsing yet unpredictable gathering of nighttime fireflies building in number towards a great apex. The piece evolves quickly, like most of the tracks, keeping the music riveting. “Inner Vortex” is the emotional climax of the record with burning tenor and bass. “New Wolves, Old Bones” shows off Foster’s abilities on soprano over buoyant rhythms. “Invalid Request” then distills all of the best parts of the record into a fitting and uplifting conclusion.
This band is a must-see for anyone who has the opportunity to witness them play live. Catch them if you can and be prepared to wear this record out–I keep discovering a new layer to it with each spin.
–Cisco Bradley, November 7, 2015