Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker’s tour through New York in December was one of the highlights of the year and was the crescendo to four performances that she did, each with a different band, over the course of ten days. Her unique approach to her instrument pairs perfectly with the equally exploratory American pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Anker, who first appeared on record in 1989, has released a series of innovative records, including three with this band: Triptych (Leo, 2005), Floating Islands (ILK, 2009), and Live at the Loft (ILK, 2009).
Cleaver and Taborn opened with Cleaver manipulating the higher pitches of his kit while Taborn plucked strings from the top of the grand piano. Anker then inserted sensitively constructed alto lines, wavering and nimble. Then, as the music evolved, Cleaver began his signature rhythmic undercurrents that kept the whole ensemble delightfully off-kilter such that the music remained multi-dimensional and constantly moving. As Taborn shifted to playing the keys, the music began to really move, while giving more form to the sound. Anker’s vocal-like vibrato qualities did back flips over the rhythms. At one point, Anker cut out and Taborn and Cleaver broke into a kind of three-legged groove.
There is so much energy in this trio. Anker and Taborn took turns at the lead, with Cleaver always churning things from underneath and creating space, buoyancy, and vitality like no other drummer ever has. Rather quickly into this piece, the music felt like one organism, with the different members of the band acting like limbs of that central sonic being, one with three sides, three perspectives, three legs, three arms, moving and contracting, expanding and shifting in multiple directions all at once. At different times, each of the players took magnificent solos. Taborn’s solo exploded with energy, Anker flew as high as possible, and Cleaver countered with a deeper, avant minimalism. Never throughout the entire set did any of these master musicians ever over-play, a rare thing in a music where there is a compulsion to fill space constantly.
At one particularly exquisite moment, Taborn weaved delicate piano lines, dancing tip-toe over Cleaver’s rumble, while Anker followed him in equally intricate footsteps. Anker’s work on soprano allowed her to push even higher in these moments than alto would accommodate, though at other points, she explored the lower register of the instrument, another rarity. As the band reached its highest peaks, they began to move vertically, descents and ascents in the highest places of the music, letting it glow and burn until the sun finally set. After holding the music there for a while, before descending rather rapidly down to just Cleaver’s cymbal work.
This concert, part of a new series curated by Eric Stern, was sold out to a rapt audience.