Bassist Mark Helias leads a nice crew through 10 of his compositions on "Loopin' the Cool," an Enja reissue, including violinist Regina Carter. But the real standout is tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. He excels at the largely avant-garde menu, heavy on the improvising, with an interesting sound centered on the higher registers and resembling Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders or Archie Shepp here and there. Helias and two percussionists (Tom Rainey, mainly a drummer, and Epizo Bangoura, who plays djembe) fill out the somewhat unusual lineup.
Carter does something nifty on "Loop the Cool" and "Thumbs Up," making her violin sound like a horn in her exchanges with Eskelin, who then rips off excellent solos in both cases. Meanwhile, "One Time Only" sounds like it could have been written by Mingus, "Seventh Sign" moves from chamber jazz to free, "Penta Houve" has a strong Afro-Caribbean feel and "Hung Over Easy" is a soulful blues. The musical variety and fine playing make for a CD well worth getting.