Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Free" is Just Another Word for "Nothing Left to Lose"

An odd development of the last twenty years or so has been the adoption of free jazz language into the vernacular of straight-ahead music, and of the adoption of a more straight-ahead approach to free music. After classics of totally free group improvisation like John Coltrane's "Ascension," free jazz musicians realized that there was no where left to go but back in as early as Charlie Haden's 1969 classic "Liberation Music Orchestra." Two recent releases, "Urban Mythology Vol. 1" by the Free Form Funky Freqs and "Door" by Fieldwork, and one reissue of a classic of 90s free jazz, Matthew Shipp's "Multiplication Table," explore the concept of structured free music at length.

"Urban Mythology" is the most fun of the three records, and ironically the band's members are the oldest; two of the three members (Jamaladeen Tacuma on bass and G. Calvin Weston on drums) have spent time in Ornette Coleman's Prime Time outfit, and the other (guitarist Vernon Reid) has worked with everyone from Ronald Shannon Jackson to Bill Frisell. "Urban Mythology" is a funky record with more in common with bluesy classic rock than free jazz, and partly for that reason something feels trivial about it. To me, at least, "free jazz party record" sounds like something of an oxymoron, and while the playing is uniformly good, tracks like "Chump Champ Chunk" and "Get Your Legs On" seem to be trying a bit too hard. That said, if booty bass, power chords, and free jazz pedigrees are your thing this one is worth checking out.

Fieldwork, something of a power trio of young musicians, including Vijay Iyer (piano), Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and Steve Lehman (alto saxophone), is free mostly in the way these compositions were created: each member came in with works of their own, which were then reworked by the trio as a whole. This concept works surprisingly well; its impossible to tell which compositions are Sorey's, Lehman's or Iyer's without looking up the credits. Like The Freqs, the playing is all around excellent, but unlike The Freqs, it never sounds forced into a groove. Tracks only last as long as they have to, some ending after three minutes while others go on for up to eight. An interesting record by an interesting trio. Recommended.

HatOlogy is reissuing a number of classics in underground improvised music (look out for reviews of Paul Bley's "12 (+60) In a Row" and John Zorn, Bill Frisell, and George Lewis's "News for Lulu" if I can get my hands on them), but the stand-out is Matthew Shipp's "Multiplication Table," a classic of post-modern 90s free jazz. Shipp violently tears apart a number of songs, both standards and originals, but the best performance on the album is his nearly five minute solo piano intro to "C Jam Blues," drastically reharmonized and battered out by Shipp as if his life depended on it. Later on in the track, as Shipp is joined by drummer Suzie Ibarra and bassist William Parker, the song is given a trio treatment. Parker's playing on "Zt 1" and "Zt 2" is also particularly notable; his extended bowing technique on upright bass creates a creepy effect.

Next time I'll post reviews of the new Gregg August record and possibly the Hank Jones and Roberta Gambarini collaboration "You Are There."

No comments: