01_Monica_Chapman.jpgP.S. I Love You
Monica Chapman; William Sperandei
LME Records 6 79444 20020 0 (monicachapman.net)

With P.S. I Love You, talented vocalist Monica Chapman presents an engaging collection of material that is both nostalgic and romantic, but with a discernably sensual and torrid blues sensibility. She has surrounded herself with intuitive musical collaborators, including JUNO-winning producer/pianist Bill King, whose innovative arrangements (as well as his piano work) really define this well-conceived project. Other first-call musicians include Dave Young on bass, Nathan Hiltz on guitar, Mark Kelso on drums and featured guest, William Sperandei on trumpet.

First up is Irving Berlin’s Tin Pan Alley hit, I Love a Piano, which sets the stylistic tone and is sung with the rarely performed verse, which then segues into a funky chitlin’ circuit jam, replete with a burning hot trumpet solo from Sperandei. The title track is the rarely performed Gordon Jenkins/Johnny Mercer ballad, which was most notably recorded by the incomparable Billie Holiday. In Chapman’s interpretation she has captured an appropriately ironic, bittersweet subtext while clinging to the beauty of the melodic line and lyrical intent.

Of special note is another Berlin tune, Shaking the Blues Away, which is perhaps most recognized as the four-alarm number performed by Ann Miller in MGM’s classic movie musical Easter Parade – cleverly delivered here with a spicy Louisiana roadhouse feel and lusciously languid vocals. A real treat (and slightly forward in the timeline) is Lionel Bart’s theme from the 1963 James Bond flick, From Russia with Love, which is perfectly arranged for Chapman’s luscious voice in a pure, classic jazz mode. This CD is a stunner, and a wonderful follow up to Chapman’s 2014 debut CD.

Concert Note: Monica Chapman launches P.S. I Love You at Lulu Lounge on April 24. Dinner reservations recommended.

02_Ornette_Coleman.jpgNew Vocabulary
Ornette Coleman
System Dialing SDR #009 (systemdialingrecords.com)

Maverick as he has been throughout his career, alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who personifies experimental jazz and won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2007, has released a new disc with little fanfare. Recorded in 2009, Coleman’s first CD since 2006, and first studio session since 1996, New Vocabulary doesn’t feature the acoustic two-basses-and-drums quartet with which the reedist has been touring for a decade. Instead Coleman improvises alongside trumpeter and electronic manipulator Jordan McLean, drummer Amir Ziv, and, on three of the 12 tracks, pianist Adam Holzman. Although his name is neither on the cover nor attributed on the un-credited songs, the idiosyncratic titles are classic Coleman-speak.

Just as the alto saxophonist defined free jazz in the late 1950s and jazz-funk fusion in the 1980s, he easily adapts to the centrality of processed wave forms plus chunky percussion beats. Significantly, his barbed but effervescent reed tone is as individual, staccato and pointed as ever. Accordingly, tunes such as H2O and The Idea Has No Destiny clearly demonstrate how cymbal cracks and fierce wide smacks plus disintegrating brass oscillations can lock in with reed brays. The result leads to elaborate spherical timbres that reach pressurized summits then coalesce joyously. With calculated chording, Holzman’s harmonies add another dimension. That means a track such as Value and Knowledge reaches a luminous climax that folds trumpet splats, drum corps rat-tat-tats and rubato piano lines into an infectious near dance beat. Finally, Gold is God’s Sex, the CD’s climactic last track, demonstrates how feverish keyboard tolling plus revved-up reed bites can tame washes of menacing electronics.

Since Coleman’s playing is oblique but decisively melodic, New Vocabulary is a disc that’s convivial as well as challenging. Plus it shows that Coleman’s authentic ideas can convincingly adapt to and be adopted by any number of undogmatic musicians.


Something In The Air | Unusual Formats for New Music - March 2015

“Everything old is new again” doesn’t go quite far enough in describing formats now available for disseminating music. Not only are downloads and streaming becoming preferred options, but CDs are still being pressed at the same time as musicians experiment with DVDs, vinyl variants and even tape cassettes. Happily the significance of the musical messages outweighs the media multiplicity.

01_Hidros.jpgIf there’s one instance of a musician having it all, then consider Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s boxed set Hidros 6 – Knockin’ (Not Two MW 915 nottwo.com). Recorded during a five-day gig in Krakow, by a specially constituted 12-member NU Ensemble,it highlights the group’s performance of the title track plus different musicians’ solo work. In total the Hidros box contains five CDs, two LPs, one DVD plus a 22-page LP-sized booklet. An addendum, the hour-plus DVD, includes a filmic record of different-sized ensembles improvising, rehearsing or performing the Knockin’ score plus interviews with many of the principals. All four sides of the LPs are given over to the large ensemble performance, which celebrates the transgressive sounds which Little Richard Penniman brought to pop music in the 1950s. Not rock ’n’ roll by any stretch of the imagination, Gustafsson’s graphic score combines the free jazz methodology of the players with samples of Little Richard’s works propelled by turntablist Dieb13, plus high-pitched repetition of certain phrases from his hits by vocalist Stine Janvind Motland. Climaxing with a call-and-response manifest the four sides of Knockin’ shove the vocal freedom engendered by Penniman into the instrumental realm. Solo and in sections, the players use extended instrumental procedures to fragment themes into in-your-face abstractions. Lyric soprano Motland has the hardest task since repeatedly vocalizing Little Richard lyrics such as “Hmm, I don’t need a show/Gimmie gimmie gimmie gimmie gimmie” or “Bama lama bama loo/Go, go, have a time” calls for intense concentration plus a sense of humour. She and the other players are better showcased on the three group CDs. Accompanied by only Dieb13 and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, Motland eschews words for bird-like falsetto titters and warbles which elongate enough to make common cause with the slashes of sound and LP tracking rumbles sourced by Dieb13. At the same time her staccato pacing and wails connect on a visceral level with Nilssen-Love’s undulating and unvarying patterning. Elsewhere, the drummer demonstrates his malleability laying down an unobtrusive beat for Nybyggarland one of the vintage Scandinavian bop classics the band Swedish Azz plays. That quintet, filled out by Per Åke Holmlander’s tuba, Gustafsson on baritone sax, Dieb13 and Kjell Nordeson on vibes and drums creates a tune that’s engaging and swinging at the same time, with Nordeson’s vibes providing the sparkling melody as the low-pitched horns push out balanced blasts. Nordeson is also an exceptional drummer, with the evidence on the more-than 29-minute duet with pianist Agustí Fernández. Aggressively acoustic, the two produce a memorable savage, free-form intensity, as does a medley of New Thing classics performed on a later disc at warp-speed velocity by The Thing – Gustafsson, Nilssen-Love, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – plus additional tenor saxophonist Joe McPhee. With Fernández smacking the side of his instrument and forcefully plucking piano strings with fish-hook sharpness, it’s sometimes hard to determine where the drummer’s dynamic clunks and metal rustles end and his begin. Crucially this blunt-beat colouration reaches an exultant climax following the pianist’s highly volatile keyboard cascades and the percussionist’s introduction of clacking metal bar abrasions from his vibes. More memorable matchups include Fernández and Gustafsson joining trumpeter Peter Evans or McPhee with bass clarinetist Christer Bothén. On the first, the pianist’s rappelling forward at player-piano velocity challenges as well as accompanies the horn men. The result is staccato and dyspeptic timbres from both: in Evans’ case moving beyond the limits of his horn to elevate notes past triplets; and in Gustafsson’s blasting honks and slurs upwards. McPhee and Bothén create a gentler duet, each man defining the American or Swedish abstractions’ elaboration, with McPhee supplying human-like cries from his horn as Bothén appears to be digging into his own stomach lining for raw expression. With so much music to choose from however, it’s likely the listener will find much to enjoy in this box of wonders.

02_Le_Passe.jpgIf Gustafsson’s package is the apex of modern sound dissemination then a couple of Montreal free improvisers go in the opposite direction with their release La Passe (Small Scale Music smallscalemusic.wordpress.com) is available only on cassette tape – though it does include a download code – which is how alto saxophonist Yves Charuest and trumpeter Ellwood Epps document their near telepathic interaction. With startlingly clear sound the five tracks capture relaxed improvisations that are often melodic and linear without ever losing a spiky edge. Merely brushing against one another as they follow parallel courses, one creates the defining narrative(s) which the other garnishes with deconstructed vamps. On Deuxième Passe for instance, tongue slaps plus bagpipe-like strains from the saxophonist foreshadow a plunger response from Epps, ensuring that the climax is polyphonic and pleasant. Similarly intersecting strategies on Quartième Passe reveal lip bubbling plus percussive bumps until separating into harsh buzzes (Charuest) and bird-like peeps (Epps). Finally as the trumpet’s airy loops bring out complementary reed timbres, the finale suggest waves lapping against a tranquil shore. A session where the message is more important than the medium, the accomplished duo deserves wider exposure in many formats.

03_SainctLaurens.jpgFollowing up on the new vinyl emphasis, another Montreal-based duo, Pierre-Yves Martel, who plays viola da gamba, objects and feedback, and soprano saxophonist/bass clarinetist Philippe Lauzier, have released an LP of Sainct Laurens Volume 2 (E-tron Records ETRC 019 e-tron.bandcamp.com), even though Volume 1 was on CD. The choice is somewhat ironic since the textures the duo creates on these eight tracks relates more closely to computerized miniaturization than direct-to-disc mechanism. For a start, Martel’s treatment of the viola da gamba is that of a hammered dulcimer, using percussive resonation to clip and clank discursive blows even as they define the themes. Lauzier’s common strategy is to pull strident, almost vibrato-less horizontal tones from his horns, creating parallel responses to Martel’s expositions. Emphasizing his instruments’ wood, metal and reed properties, Lauzier’s tone ranges from pan flute-like airiness to violent glissandi. Additionally, triggered wave forms comment below the surface, creating more sonic surfaces to explore. Volga is one instance where Martel’s steel pan-like echoes meet equally bellicose bell-like gongs that are revealed as tongue slaps. As the buzzing timbres separate into reed blowing and sul ponticello string extensions, exhilarating timbres reach a crescendo, yet are craftily and abruptly cut off. This split-second timing plus startling tone integration and partition continues throughout the disc, making the pause between LP sides off-putting, but not insurmountable.

04_Fizzles.jpgAnother profoundly in-the-moment musician who has chosen an old-school format is British bassist Barry Guy. Referring by inference to experimental as well as advanced instant compositions, Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (NoBusiness Records NBEP 2 nobusinessrecords.com) is available as a 10-inch vinyl EP. Solo and only 14-minutes long, the program is as spacious and brutal as any of the Irish writer’s creations. Double stopping while pumping and pummeling his string set, Guy has created an autonomous salute where his single double bass creates more emotional resonance than exists in the author’s laconic works. Rappelling up and down his four strings at supersonic speeds, the bassist uses rasgueado and spiccato intensification in his playing, creating more resonance by vibrating a stick placed horizontally behind his strings. Besides attractive cross tones, belfry-like bell echoes and what sounds like wood rendered splinter by splinter, are heard. Finally on Fizzle V the concluding strategies reflect back on earlier tactics. Scrubbing every part of the bass, the climax combines pressure, pain and pleasure, with the coda a series of col legno whacks. Guy honors Beckett by expressing his own (musical) language.

This is also a variant on what each of the musicians here has done: producing memorable sounds preserved on individually chosen formats.

Tab Title 1

Your text...

03_Chris_Potter.jpgImaginary Cities
Chris Potter Underground Orchestra
ECM 2387

Saxophonist Chris Potter first garnered attention as a sideman to senior masters, from 1994 figuring prominently in the bands of the late drummer Paul Motian and the bassists Dave Holland and Steve Swallow. In the past decade, he’s emerged as a leading figure in the contemporary mainstream, combining emotional power and an expansive creativity. He’s previously written for a ten-piece ensemble (Song for Anyone, 2007) and his last CD, The Sirens, was an extended suite inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. On Imaginary Cities he’s augmented his usual Underground quartet to an 11-member orchestra, adding vibraphone, two basses and a string quartet.

In the four-part, 36-minute title suite and four unconnected pieces, Potter constructs strong themes, synthesizing elements of jazz and classical music and matching them with rhythmic patterns sourced from as far afield as funk and Balinese gamelan to create complex grounds that both stimulate and merge with the improvised solos. Potter’s strengths are apparent from the opening Lament. His sound is flexible and expressive, hard, bright and capable of great nuance. On faster tempos, there’s a whiplash suddenness to his phrasing, while an ingrained nobility of line enhances the elegiac work.

Well past any traditional concept of the big band, Potter’s pieces for orchestra create a complex web of materials that feed his partners’ spontaneous impulses as well as his own. His regular band members – pianist Craig Taborn, guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Nate Smith – all stand out, as do vibraphonist Steve Nelson and violinist Mark Feldman.



Prehistoric Jazz – Volume 1: The Rite of Spring
Eric Hofbauer Quintet
Creative Nation Music CNM 025

Prehistoric Jazz – Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time
Eric Hofbauer Quintet
Creative Nation Music CNM 026 (erichofbauer.com)

04a_Rite_of_Spring.jpgFor most people “prehistoric jazz” means W.C. Handy or Buddy Bolden, yet Boston-based Eric Hofbauer puts a post-modern spin on the concept. Recognizing that advanced improvisation takes as much from the so-called classical tradition as jazz, he reworks two 20th-century musical milestones into separate programs for trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, clarinetist Todd Brunel, cellist Junko Fujiwara and drummer Curt Newton plus his own guitar. Each is handled differently.

The studied primitivism of Igor Stravinsky’s symphonic The Rite of Spring is miniaturized with each player standing in for a different orchestral section. The result is as rousing and romantic as the original score, but with openings for distinctive solos that rhythmically extend the composer’s ur-modernism. Originally composed for a chamber ensemble, Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps is implemented with as much joyous ecstasy as the composer intended, but stripped of its overt Christian mysticism.

In essence Hofbauer finds the link between Quatuor and the gospel music that fed into the birth of jazz. That means that, for example, Louange à l’éternité de Jésus is given a swing-Dixieland treatment that includes a harshly passionate intermezzo from Fujiwara’s cello that still cossets the theme. While Messiaen’s more overtly pastoral sequences remain intact, transforming solo passages into contrapuntal duets between string strums and bass clarinet glissandi in one instance or another matching graceful trumpet lines to the metallic clank of guitar preparations, enhances the narrative. As well the supple rhythm output by Newton and picked up by the others adds festive swing to the proceedings. With one section titled danse de la fueur… contrasting dynamics played by the five wrap up into novel expressions as song-like as the original.


The Rite of Spring presents another strategy. With sequences such as the augurs of spring rife with motion, Hofbauer adapts the locomotive-style theme so that call-and-response strums, slaps, slurs and squeaks add up to linear movement. Fujiwara often uses a walking bass line, and extended plunger trumpet tones and extended drum ruffs are frequently heard, but this doesn’t prevent the narrative from jumping from swing to smooth and back again. This melodiousness extends to a motif-like mystic circle of the young girls where a clarinet/guitar duo adds a clean blues sensibility to the line.

By the final section with its evocation and ritual action leading to the sacrificial dance, Stravinsky’s Slavic roughness gives way to buzzing reed vibrations plus trumpet obbligatos that add a jazz sensibility to the score. Melding improvised music’s rugged tunefulness with Stravinsky’s mercurial vision, the climax is more buoyant yet just as rhythmically sophisticated as the original.

01 WheelerThough Kenny Wheeler emigrated to Britain in the 1950s, few made his ongoing contribution to jazz in Canada, from teaching at the Banff Centre and recording with the Maritime Jazz Orchestra to performing in between – and no Canadian jazz musician has been a greater stylistic influence around the world – from his distinctive leaping lines and subtly expressive pitch mutations to the spacious invention of his compositions. Wheeler passed away in September 2014 but was already in ill-health in December 2013 when he recorded Songs for Quintet (ECM 2388, ecmrecords.com). It’s typical Wheeler, here surrounded by his quintet of London regulars, the powerful tenor saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, the spare and glassy toned guitarist John Parricelli and the rhythm section of Chris Laurence and Martin France, so quietly buoyant as to be almost invisible. That’s one of the special qualities of a Wheeler performance, a kind of musical intimacy that suggests a man at home composing, playing the piano or flugelhorn, looking out the window, then suddenly illuminated by an epiphany, some confluence of memory, climate and mood, some revelation that transforms the quotidian. Wheeler’s breath and embouchure may be less secure than they once were, but that rare vision is intact throughout this CD, a final gem in a brilliant discography.

02_John_Roney.jpgIf classical music and jazz have intersected in a thousand different ways, the meeting has rarely been as comfortable as John Roney’s Preludes (Effendi FND138, effendirecords.com). In an hour-long program, the pianist blurs the lines between interpretation and improvisation, stretching the contours and harmonic vocabularies of a series of classical preludes by Bach, Gershwin, Debussy, Chopin and Scriabin, with Duke Ellington’s Prelude to a Kiss included to further the range. There’s a romantic sweep to much of the music, a passion for melody that will press a piece into another idiom. An opening prelude from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier stretches to impressionism, a closing one to boogie-woogie. Debussy, Chopin and Scriabin have influenced the greatest jazz pianists (Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Bill Evans) to such an extent that it seems perfectly natural to hear them extended in such a fluid way.

03_The_Where.jpgIt’s been two years since Tell, the debut of Myriad 3, and the trio of pianist Chris Donnelly, bassist Dan Fortin and drummer Ernesto Cervini continues to develop a distinctive style onThe Where (Alma ACD61742, almarecords.com), fusing classical and pop elements in a traditional piano trio. The band’s identity hinges on the shared composing strengths of its members, each of whom brings an almost orchestral palette to the trio. The group’s sonic breadth is further enhanced by the band’s prodigious doubling: both Donnelly and Fortin employ synthesizers, while Cervini overdubs four woodwinds on his own der Trockner. There’s a distinctive direction evident from Donnelly’s First Flight, propelled by a rhythmic force that suggests art rock bands like King Crimson, and it’s just as palpable at the CD’s conclusion with Fortin’s looming, brooding Don’t You Think.

04_Tangent.jpgEric Dolphy was an essential catalyst in the free jazz revolution of the 1960s. A brilliant multi-reed player, he made vital contributions to the music of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus, among others, helping to shape a generation. 2014 was the 50th anniversary of his death and among the commemorations is Tangent (for Eric Dolphy) by Ken Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble (Trio Records TRP-020, kenaldcroft.com/triorecords.asp). True to Dolphy’s innovative spirit, guitarist Aldcroft pursues his own course (only the theme of Section VI strongly suggests Dolphy’s compositions), supplying composed materials to his band who are free to initiate and combine them, extending the freedom of improvisation while developing specific ideas. The spirit of group creation is strong and the results are consistently engaging, with complex dialogues involving all concerned, including trombonist Scott Thomson, bassist Wes Neal, drummer Joe Sorbara and new arrival Karen Ng on alto saxophone. Her finest moments arise in the cool fire of Section V.

05_See_Through_Trio.jpgKaren Ng has rapidly become a significant presence at the creative edges of Toronto jazz. In 2014 she also joined See Through Trio, a project founded in 2004 that includes pianist Tania Gill and bassist Pete Johnston. Devoted to Johnston’s angular and elusive compositions, Parallel Lights (Woods and Waters Records WW008, seethroughtrio.bandcamp.com/album/parallel-lights) evokes the music of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 circa 1961, a kind of minimalist free jazz at chamber music dynamics that featured compositions by Carla Bley. In the same spirit, See Through Trio creates quietly involving, thoughtfully deliberated music. It’s a “hear through” trio, one in which every note of Ng’s light, Lee Konitz-like alto timbre and Gill and Johnston’s sparse, linear work is in sharp relief, even on the relatively animated Never the Right Angle.

06_Nouveau_Jazz_Libre_du_Quebec.jpgMontreal’s Bronze Age Records is releasing new music on vinyl LPs, part of a widening movement convinced of the medium’s sonic superiority. One of its first releases further invokes the golden age of vinyl: En Direct du Suoni per Il Popolo (Bronze Age Records, bronzeagerecords.com) presents Nouveau Jazz Libre de Québec, a descendant of Quatuor Jazz Libre de Québec, the group that combined the liberating messages of free jazz and Quebec nationalism in the mid-60s. The original band’s sole survivor, drummer Guy Thouin, combines here with saxophonists Bryan Highbloom (tenor and soprano) and guest Raymon Torchinsky (alto) to create raw, energetic free jazz with all the emotional power that marked it in the 1960s. Thouin’s machine-gun snare and restless tom-toms drive the saxophones forward, whether it’s a distinctive take on Monk’s Bemsha Swing (here reconfigured as Bemsha Swingish) or the original Theme 25ieme Avenue

About 40 years on, so-called “free jazz” and “free music” from the late 60s, 70s and early 80s doesn’t sound so revolutionary any more. The idea of improvising without chord structures or fixed rhythm has gradually seeped into most players’ consciousness, with the genre(s) now accepted as particular methods for improvisation along with bop, Dixieland and fusion. Historical perspective also means that many sessions originally recorded during that period are now being released. Some are reissues, usually with additional music added; others are newly unearthed tapes being issued for the first time. The best discs offer formerly experimental sounds whose outstanding musicianship is more of a lure than nostalgia.

Waxman 01 Frank LoweThe most spectacular physical example of this is the Frank Lowe Quartet’s Out Loud (Triple Point Records TPR 209 triplepointrecords.com). Thoroughly old school in that the release consists of two LPs, the session is brought up to date with an LP-sized 38-page booklet that puts the music into historical context, plus an internet link to video footage of the band in action. Tenor saxophonist Lowe (1943-2003) was part of the second generation of free jazzers, following vanguard revolutionaries like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, and the quartet is his working group of the time (1974) – trombonist Joseph Bowie, bassist William Parker and drummer Steve Reid. The material consists of what was going to be Lowe’s second LP plus another LP recorded live in an East Village loft adding trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah. The fascination of Out Loud is how perfectly matched improvisers are forging a group identity. Memphis-born, Lowe mixes an R&B-influenced tone that often soars into altissimo, with extended near-human cries encompassing split tone and cacophonous glossolalia. Trombonist Bowie, who produces a distinctive hunting horn-like resonance, introduces the Midwestern idea of adding small instruments like congas, balafon, whistles and harmonica plus primeval vocalization to the program. Parker’s sul ponticello asides add taut vibrancy to the improvisations; and when his power strokes lock in with Reid’s floating rumbles, they strengthen a groove that moves the improvisations chromatically. The live tracks are more bellicose and aggressive. Paced by the drummer’s irregular ruffs and rolls, however, calming solo interludes alternate with frenetic upturned yelping. Whew! – almost the only titled track – reaches a bouncing boogie-like ending, after the trumpeter’s flutter-tongued triplets extend a plunger trombone and wheezing harmonica face off. Heart-on-sleeve emotional throughout, Lowe’s tenor saxophone joins slides and slurs into a solo that’s part Coleman Hawkins’ mellow and part John Coltrane melisma on the final track. Subsequent dot-dash flutters from Bowie extend this near-mainstream context until plunger trombone tones and vocalized squeals from Lowe’s soprano shudder and shake the tune into a joyful and jagged concluding sway.

Waxman 02 Don PullenMixing joyfulness with jagged edges also characterized the playing of pianist Don Pullen (1941-1995), who in 1975 recorded Richard’s Tune (Delmark/Sackville CD2-3008 delmark.com),his first-ever solo release, in Toronto due to the suggestion of producer Bill Smith of CODA. Known for his stint in bassist Charles Mingus’ band, Virginia-born Pullen was a keyboard anomaly. Fully conversant with the clashing dynamics of the so-called “new thing,” his grounding in blues and gospel music gave even his most advanced compositions a lilting rhythm. Case in point is Big Alice, heard in two versions – the second of which is one of the CD’s two previously unreleased tracks. Almost danceable and certainly funky, the versions demonstrate the propulsion that can arise from a single keyboard. While the original mates bravura glissandi with thrusting theme variations, the alternate encompasses a harder touch that emphasizes the blues base without weakening the distinctive theme. Kadji, the other discovery, demonstrates Pullen’s mastery of pacing as he cascades a skipping childlike theme. The kinetic Song Played Backwards spills out a multitude of notes in a headlong rush, while maintaining a directed flow. Overall, the more than 15-minute Suite (Sweet Malcolm) is a major statement that demonstrates Pullen’s duality. Slithery splatters and moderato pacing bring in inferences from gospel, stride, blues and work songs, while later sharp and percussive timbres inhabit the area between Cecil Taylor-like percussiveness and Thelonious Monk-like angular diffidence. 

Waxman 03 Lacy CyclesFree Music was appreciated in many non-American places besides Toronto. In fact the 20 selections on the two-CD set Cycles (1976-80)[Emanem 5205 emanemdisc.com] were recorded in Paris, Rome, Cologne and Switzerland. Someone who created a place for the soprano saxophone in advanced jazz, Steve Lacy (1932-2004), was a master at finding new playing situations and a pioneer of solo saxophone concerts. Some of the five-part Hedges cycle for instance was recorded in concert with a dancer, and on the happy-go-lucky Rabbit the sounds of the dancer’s footfalls are audible. Otherwise the tracks are aurally descriptive, with Fox including the replication of a hunting-horn before turning to altissimo animal cries and growls and Squirrel using reed kisses to approximate animal squeaks and scurries. Others like The Ladder are self-explanatory as Lacy chromatically ascends the scale in a series of peeps, whistles and overtones. However while the logic behind using timbre-dissecting tight aviary tones to salute Albert Ayler on The Wire may be evident, the cantering sweeps that turn from a spindly line to circular breathing to a sweet melody on Tots that honours Claude Debussy may confuse some. The underlying point, as demonstrated on Wickets where Lacy appears to be vacuuming up sound from every crevice of his horn, is that the soprano saxophonist used every type of music to forge his playing.

Waxman 04 Ted DanielNot everyone had given up on New York however. Trumpeter Ted Daniel’s Energy Modules recorded Innerconnection (NoBusiness Records NBCD 72/73 nobusinessrecords.com) there in 1975. With 40 years of hindsight it’s apparent that Daniels’ quintet was not only creating its own variation of Energy Music, but was so comfortable with the idiom that it was almost a repertory band. Considering that the compositions in the repertory were by Sunny Murray, Dewey Redman, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, there’s little chance Wynton Marsalis will ever follow suit. Daniel crafted sophisticated arrangements so the originals fit seamlessly with the other tunes. For instance Murray’s sing-song Jiblet serves as an appropriate introduction to Redman’s Innerconnection, which is given such a furious workout by Daniel Carter’s nephritic sounding tenor sax work and drummer Tatsuya Nakamura’s vigorous slapping that the track could define energy music. While the other horns honk and cry, the trumpeter’s tone is smoother and graceful. That’s most obvious when his mellow composition Pagan Spain is performed with muted grace notes joining a reading of Coleman’s Congeniality. Cunningly Congeniality is the concluding theme following an introduction of thickened stops from bassist Richard Pierce plus Nakamura’s splatters. Unbridled buoyancy is maintained, while in the background Oliver Lake creates a seething call and response, alternating between cowbell and piccolo. The true magnum opus on the two-CD set however is Ghosts. Turing Ayler’s march-tempo dirge into an extended collective improvisation, the band emphasizes the tune’s gospel roots. Swelling in tandem, Carter’s squeaking melisma becomes the preacher as the other instruments’ sway congregation-like around his literal speaking-in-tongues solo. Crucially though, the trumpeter’s erudition is such that though the tune coarsens, space remains for his controlled comments.

Waxman 05 DunoisEuropean players had almost become avant-garde masters by this time – but with a distinctive non-Yank style. Case in point is 28 rue Dunois juillet 1982 (Fou Records FR-CD 06 fou.records.free.fr), two extended never-before-released performances by American trombonist George Lewis, guitarist Derek Bailey and saxophonist Evan Parker from the United Kingdom, and French bassist Joëlle Léandre. Like Lacy, each developed a matchless playing method that’s apparent from the first tones: Bailey outputting irregular string clanks, Parker circular breathing and Léandre warbling as she bows. To appreciate Dunois 1982’s 78 minutes of music imagine it’s an aural feature film with close-up inserts. Volcanic crescendos and whispering minimalist textures arise from the polyphony created when the slurs, smacks and scrubs brush up against one another. But also focus on each of the players, noting how individualistic patterns stay consistent as they improvise in a parallel fashion. For instance on 1ère partie/1b what would be out-of-tune licks from another guitarist are used by Bailey to angle into a duet between Parker and Lewis, where the reedist’s tones slide upwards as the trombonist blows downwards. Eventually Léandre’s taunt extrusions push the others into a mini climax of ferocious percussiveness surmounted by Lewis’ buttery tone. Almost immediately though, each player sabotages the near swing with distinctive tone substitutions leading to the improvisation creatively dissipating. By the extended 2éme partie/1 the contrapuntal improvising becomes as stimulating as a Dixieland jam, but framed more sophisticatedly. While the bassist often sardonically mocks the others by injecting high-European classical phrases, Lewis’ lowing blurts are close cousins to tailgate slurs and Bailey could be abrasively pounding banjo strings. Only Parker’s staccato tongue-shattering tones resist the comparison, but when he triggers a cascade of notes, contemporary skills and imagination are confirmed. Raucous excitement is there, but in a more minimalist fashion than in earlier music.

Many listeners may have missed out on the flowering of free music first time out. With these releases, they have a chance to catch up in an organized fashion.

Back to top