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Michael Marcus Trio - Ithem

Kurt Gottschalk, AllAboutJazz

It's dizzying to think about the number of unreleased recordings that must exist in this town. Tapes rolling at the soundboard and, controversially, microphones in the audience, are how the history of the music is preserved and, every once in a while, returned to the public. They're little time machines taking us back to when free improv wasn't as widely appreciated - or documented - as it is today, allowing listeners to remember or hear for the first time the greats as they were or, sometimes, the greats that we've lost.

Saxophonist Michael Marcus' trio with bassist William Parker and the late drummer Denis Charles went into the studio in February 1993 and played at the old Knitting Factory four months later, and the tapes from those two days of playing comprise Ithem, a five-track CD capturing a solid and flexible trio at a time when such a record would have been much more difficult to get on record store shelves (credit Sweden's Ayler recordings for, along with archival releases by Jimmy Lyons, John Stevens and, of course, Albert Ayler himself, putting out such discs).

Ithem falls chronologically after Marcus' first release as a leader (Under The Wire, Enja), and finds him in a confidently post pop mode, playing melodically, occasionally furiously, calling upon the post Trane tenor of the alto (doubling here on bass clarinet) and pitting nice, angular lines against an ever shifting rhythm section.

Charles - who died in 1998 - is an under appreciated, if not under documented drummer, and his herky-jerky style here is a nice match for Parker's slow bowing and fast walking.
The bassist, for his part, was hardly the noted bandleader he is today at the time of the recording, and it's interesting to hear him playing someone else's charts a decade ago.

There's something sweetly reminiscent about the disc, although that something might be more a product of reading the liner notes than listen to the music. Either way, Ithem captures a strong trio that, ten years later, can only be heard on record.