AMN Reviews: Mazzarella / Håker Flaten / Ra – What You Seek is Seeking You (2021; Astral Spirits)

Chicagoans Nick Mazzarella and Avreeayl Ra are joined by Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (who is now residing in Norway but had settled in Chicago for years) on this sophomore release. Recorded live at Constellation Chicago in late August 2019, this diverse trio provides a rock-solid take on modern creative jazz.

The academically-trained Mazzarella plays his sax in a style that gives more than a few nods to Coltrane, Dolphy, Coleman, and other pioneers. But rather than follow strictly in their footsteps, he builds on their innovations. While controlled and focused on melodic statements, he can also be unpredictable without going far outside or employing much in the way of extended techniques.

Drummer Ra has the ability to switch between relaxed and frantic approaches, and even combine them in various ways. At almost twice Mazzarella’s age, Ra brings a lifetime of experience to the group as a member of the AACM as well as someone who has toured the world. As a result, his contributions are exploratory and dovetail nicely with those of the saxophonist.

Håker Flaten, who has performed free improv with virtually everyone of note in North America and Europe, is perhaps the most overtly experimental of the three. He provides what initially appears to be walls of sound on his acoustic, until closer listening reveals that these structures are full of notes. Additionally, he switches between bowing and plucking to mix up textural aspects.

As an example of what this trio is about, Latter Day Protest Song begins with a pointed and disjoint theme from Mazzarella over subtle rolling lines from Ra and Håker Flaten. An interlude approaches being lyrical, as straighter playing from Mazzarella is paired with busy improv from Ra. This evolves into a repeating motif that gives Ra and Håker Flaten the opportunity to stretch out and ramp up the tempo. The track ends with Ra generating driving yet atypically-structured beat patterns that support energetic and plaintive expression from his bandmates.

Stradling and moving back and forth between the inside, the outside, and various points in history, What You Seek Is Seeking You will be released on October 22 by Astral Spirits.

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