Tim Armacost ‘Time Being’ (Whirlwind) 5/5

Acclaimed Los Angeles born tenor saxophonist Tim Armacost describes this session as being ‘playful, wild and serious’; concise words that actually sum up perfectly what this album is all about. With double bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, “Time Being” is a largely jazz trio outing, with the occasional morphing into quartet with the addition of pianist David Kikoski dipping in and out of selected tunes.
The first notable thing about this recording is the sound. By that I mean this; when I first listened to the album it was immediately apparent to me that Armacost had used his vast experience well, recording the album in such a way that the ‘live’ feel of a trio really comes through as it should do. It’s as if the listener can put themselves right at the heart of the music, as if sitting in the middle of the performance and watching the intelligent interplay between the musicians develop and unfold. Armacost elaborates; “I pictured myself playing Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” in the studio with a trio. Tain was, in terms of time signature, out on his own, and Bob and I were communicating with each other independently of what he was playing. But what Tain was doing was so incredibly attractive- so fiery and so beautiful- that we both really wanted to go over and be part of that. The whole idea of people relating to each other in time, but in a non traditional way, and creating tension which would eventually be resolved by them going over to play together, was something I’d never tried before, and the concept was really exciting. To achieve this, technology might have been the answer. But in the end we decided to record in Tain’s studio, in an intimate live environment with no separation. I needed to imagine the ideas happening in real time, and fortunately with Tain and Bob on board- some of the most swinging musicians on the planet- there was a great, combined willingness for exploration, to make it happen.” And make it happen they most certainly did.

The music here is incredibly organic, purposeful and sumptuously evocative and swinging. The recording features ten tracks, with every one of them bringing reward. There are three tunes entitled “Sculptures” on the album, each one with its own feel and originality, but all focussed on an engaging expression of structured experimentation. Pianist David Kikoski adds elegant, enchanting colour and texture to the core trio. His playing is sublime, and on the tracks “The Next 20” and “One and Four” in particular, his graceful, intelligent playing sparkles, breathing out golden hues that envelop the trio without ever seeming in any way to intrude or take over. The threesome become a foursome with a collective ease that is beautiful to hear. “Lonely Woman”- the seed of this album which germinated so many possibilities- features a call-and-response between tenor and bass (with each saying ‘Check out the way I’m playing the melody’), initiating their own improvisations until the drums home in on the bassist. The differing musical tensions are intentionally part of the unplanned dialogue present throughout this album. In the title track “Time Being”, the trio divides when the tenor moves to a different tempo, with Hurst following, and Watts reaching them later. The pay-off on moments like this is delicious. The performances throughout the entire album are irresistible; so many moments of quiet brilliance and fiery expressiveness.

Relaxed and thoughtful, yet spellbindingly exciting at given times, this is one of the most richly rewarding albums I’ve heard this year. Repeated listening just adds to the enjoyment. Individually and collectively the four musicians involved have created a wonderful feel of genuine warmth, love and passion for the music they are making together.

Mike Gates