Photo: Zach Kobrinsky / Sunnyside Records

Jazz Saxophonist Jeremy Udden Gets Back to Basics with the Visceral ‘Three in Paris’

Highly accomplished jazz saxophonist Jeremy Udden reins in his multitude of musical talents with an intimate trio recording, Three in Paris.

Three in Paris
Jeremy Udden
28 June 2019

Brooklyn-based Jeremy Udden is – like the best jazz musicians – someone who isn’t content to sit still with a particular style. Picking up the saxophone in elementary school, he went on to study at the New England Conservatory, and from there to perform and record with Either/Orchestra, the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Orchestra, a variety of bandleaders and, perhaps most notably, an acclaimed project known as Plainville (named after the Massachusetts town where he was born and raised). Plainville is a curious mix of jazz, rustic folk, rock and Americana, releasing two well-received albums (Plainville and If the Past Seems So Bright).

With all these stylistic twists and turns, it’s both jarring and refreshing to see Udden tackle a more traditional trio format on his latest album, Three in Paris. Recorded in Paris in August 2018, Udden – playing both alto and soprano saxophones – is joined by accomplished French bassist Nicolas Moreaux (Jeff Ballard, Jorge Rossy, Tigran Hamasyan) and legendary drummer John Betsch (Dewey Redman, Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp).

The main influence behind Three in Paris is Steve Lacy, the prolific soprano saxophonist with whom Udden studied at the New England Conservatory. Lacy – who passed away in 2004 – embraced a loose, instinctive, and highly improvisational style which had a lasting effect on Udden. After collaborating with Moreaux on the album Bellville Project in 2015, Udden recruited the American-born Betsch (long since expatriated to Paris), and a trio was formed. Not surprisingly, four of the ten tracks are Lacy compositions.

These four tracks form the looser, more experimental core of the album. “Who Needs It” is four minutes of bass-free interplay between Udden and Betsch. It begins softly and lyrically before descending into wild chaos, only a few notches below John Coltrane and Rashied Ali’s genre-busting Interstellar Space. Likewise, Lacy compositions like “Prayer” and “The Crust” move deliberately, allowing the three musicians to weave in and out of each other’s sonic spaces with little regard for conventional structure. The final Lacy tune, “Bone”, is a somewhat different animal in that it jumps around more playfully, with a bona fide melody for the trio to hang their soloing onto (in addition to some vocalizing from Betsch at the end of the song, signifying a musician ecstatically lost in the moment).

The trio also pays tribute to other legendary composers such as Don Cherry, whose song “Roland Alphonso” (a tribute to the Jamaican saxophonist) opens Three in Paris with a gentle simmer that transitions into some truly inspired soloing from Udden. The Duke Ellington composition “Azure” is also tackled here. As the title suggests, it bops along on a gentle, quasi-Latin beat that evokes a cloudless day at the beach, with Udden’s soprano sax flying off in all directions.

There are original compositions here as well, including the low-key yet majestic “Hope”, the gentle ballad “Folk Song 2”, and “One For Us”, a track that closes Three in Paris and is credited to all three musicians. The latter song bounces around formlessly and shows all three musicians at the peak of their powers, spooling out runs and fills over a run time just shy of three minutes. It’s interesting to note that on this album of jazz improvisation, the tracks rarely go over five minutes. Udden, Betsch, and Moreaux all dazzle on this wonderful album that offers up a simple yet refreshing take the improvisational jazz trio format. Let’s hope this isn’t a one-off project – this trio likely has much more to offer.

RATING 8 / 10