|Time Will Tell, the initial recorded meeting between Bley, Parker and Phillips, was unavoidably saddled with the legacy of an earlier trio, one that favored similar instrumentation and surface dynamics—the Jimmy Giuffre 3. In fact, the original project hatched by these three had as one of its admitted guiding goals the elucidation of ideas first germinated by Bley and Phillips in their earlier associations with Giuffre. Parallels can certainly be traced in the impressionistic chamber-like sonorities regularly voiced by either trio, but where the current one veers sharply into virgin territory is in the highly fertile communion that is distinctly non-derivative. Each man is an acknowledged patriarch of his instrument. In Parker's case he is regaled far and wide as the premier post-Coltrane saxophonist of the new millennium. Bley and Phillips have similar positions of prominence in the echelons of improvised music. It therefore stands to reason that none of these men have either the reason or inclination to wallow in the wings of what has come before. Sankt Gerold is an aural affidavit of their passion and resolve at mapping the undiscovered country attainable through creative interaction.
Divided into a dozen 'variations' and recorded in concert within the walls of an alpine Austrian Abbey the program features a rich diversity of combinations. Only five pieces feature full trio and the majority consist of solo improvisations based on tangential thematic referents. Parker makes extensive use of his unmistakable circular breathing style throughout and finds harmonic confluence in the form of Phillips' mercurial bow. Together they send harmonic rivulets streaking across a sonic sheet limpid as pane glass. Bley leaps from abstruse poetry to cleanly demarcated lyricism over the course of the first several "Variations" tempering Parker's inclinations toward more piercing reed rhetoric. Phillips' arco excursion, which comprises "Variation 3", is a study in somber spruce tones standing in contrast to Parker's solo soprano feature which follows immediately after in the form of "Variation 4". On the latter piece the saxophonist's stream of multiphonics creates a brief but continuous flurry broken by a reconvergence of the trio on "Variation 5". Phillips' bow sings to the heavens in a divine display of pitch control prior to a solo feature for Bley that beautifully matches rumbling left hand with the nimble digits of right. Phillips holsters his bow and flexes his fingers on "Variation 7", starting gradually with delicately plucked figures and eventually gaining complexity and speed with percussive pattering against his instrument's wooden surfaces. Several solo and trio pieces later, Parker caps off the concert with a solitary and enigmatic tenor epilogue.
One of the critiques leveled at this trio after its debut was that the overwhelming influence of Bley's lyricism had a taming effect on Parker's more tumultuous side. The argument that Parker's sound could be watered down by anyone is suspect in the extreme. While overblown shrieks and squeals are noticeably absent and his approach is appreciably different in this chamber-tinged setting, all of the immediacy and intensity of his idiosyncratic playing remains intact. If anything, working in tandem with Bley and Phillips has opened up another artery for his artistry to find egress. Bley and Phillips are similarly affected and this second offering from this trio suggests that their vibrant associations are far from finished.