Renku – the kindred-spirit New York trio of saxophonist Michaël Attias, bassist John Hébert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi – was named after a collaborative, improvised form of Japanese poetry that balances freedom and precision. The trio makes music like its name: searching and empathetic, thoroughly in the moment, resonant with meaning. Renku played a two-night stand at Manhattan’s Greenwich House in early 2014 to launch a second decade together, recording the shows for the band’s third album following Renku (Playscape, 2005) and Renku in Coimbra (Clean Feed, 2009). The resultant Live in Greenwich Village features new pieces by each member, fresh takes on vintage numbers and an absorbing interpretation of Paul Motian’s “The Sunflower.” A serpentine feel is set from the start by Attias’s “Tapstone,” the album coursing with melodies fit to charm snakes; the trio’s performances flow with kinetic energy, the vibe sensual like a New York night.
For Renku, harmony lies in the personalities. Takeishi is an improviser of depth, with a singular time feel and sense of drama. Hébert possesses one of today’s most alluring sounds on double-bass. His three-minute soliloquy on Takeishi’s brooding “Soledad” serves as an intro to Attias’s “Lions of Cayuga,” the latter’s ricochet of melody characteristic of its composer. Throughout Live in Greenwich Village, Attias taps into the sound of surprise. Such noirish highlights as Hébert’s “ ’70s & ’80s Remix” see the saxophonist’s lines swoop and sing, keen and cry, while his squalls in the bassist’s tune “Lurch” are richly expressive. The trio reprises signature Attias pieces “Dark Net” and “Renku” from their debut album, and Live in Greenwich Village closes with his new “Goodbye Rumination.” About Renku, critic Jim Macnie said in the Village Voice: “Michael Attias’ beguilingly mercurial trio is one of those bands that give delicacy a good name. Like Air, this reeds-bass-drums outfit dedicates as much room to extended hushes as they do knotty expressionism, giving their sound an almost ghostly vibe. As it gracefully insinuates itself, the music gathers more and more depth.”