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Greenlief Trio's Improv Impresses

December 12, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD

Jazz has long had a somewhat uneasy but symbiotic relationship with the new music scene, swapping influences and vocabularies. So it made perfect sense that the fledgling Fault Lines new music series, in the accommodating 24th Street Theater, would turn to the Bay Area-based Phillip Greenlief Trio, an improvisationally geared jazz unit led by the gifted saxophonist.

Greenlief adheres to jazz tenets, though in ways distinct from, say, the more structured trio jazz across town at Catalina's, where Joshua Redman, Christian McBride and Brian Blade are holding court this week. Greenlief's is a totally interactive trio, in which a three-way dialogue, often based on the loosest of tonalities and forms--or no form at all--yields free-ranging and exploratory results.

The players stretched out on Tuesday in ways they can't in their other, better-known projects: Drummer Scott Amendola is the limber groove-tender in guitarist Charlie Hunter's group, but here showed a much looser, more texturally diverse approach to a drum kit; formidable bassist Trevor Dunn has worked in the ironic-post-prog-rock band Mr. Bungle, but here showed both command of his acoustic instrument and a perfect willingness to break rules of order, playing with the wood frame of a bow, for instance.

Center stage, Greenlief showed himself to be both well-grounded and inventive. Sometimes recalling saxophonists such as Ornette Coleman (whose angular ballad "Sadness" was among the charts on the program) and Eric Dolphy, Greenlief demonstrated a keen ability to tap into a "free jazz" aesthetic while boasting a lithe, singing sense of phrasing. The trio brought an evening of contemplation and roiling energy to this promising, genre-splitting music series. It continues on Feb. 3 with left-end reedman Vinnie Golia, with string quartet.

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