Sunday, September 28, 2008

Not Exactly A Free Jazz Round-Up

I know; I promised a round up of new free jazz recordings, and that was what I was initially planning on writing about. But then I heard Joel Harrison's "The Wheel," one of those albums that I've put off listening to forever; it's good, and it wasn't what I was expecting. Generally, when I hear "jazz with strings" without the words "Bill Frisell" and/or "Jenny Scheinman" (or, I suppose, "Anat Cohen") nearby, I cower away and put on "Esperanza" or "The Bird and the Bee" or whatever other catchy, unpretentious album I have nearby that I don't have to feel bad about listening to. Of course, "The Wheel" has nothing in common with the other album I'd like to talk about, "Beyond Quantum," which is a collaboration between saxophonist Anthony Braxton, drummer Milford Graves and bassist William Parker.

Joel Harrison's "The Wheel" is a collaboration between Harrison's jazz quintet (Harrison on guitar, David Binney on alto, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Lindsey Horner on bass and Dan Weiss on drums) and a string quartet (Todd Reynolds and Christian Howes on violin, Caleb Burns on viola and Wendy Sutter on cello). It is not, however, a series of songs written for jazz quintet with string arrangements; the quartet is fully integrated in the band. Like Jenny Scheinman's recent "Crossing the Field" and Bill Frisell's "History Mystery," the feel is more rural-jazz than third-stream, as the strings improvise along with the rest of the band and the proceedings are given over to music reminiscent of Copland and folk melodies. The final track, "In Memorium: Dana Breyton," features Harrison's guitar, and his solo is characterized by long-held tones and beautiful phrasing. Recommended.

It's almost hard to believe that Anthony Braxton, William Parker and Milford Graves have never played together in a trio before "Beyond Quantum." In addition to the fact of both Braxton and Parker's prolificness, the album simply sounds like it was made by people who have been playing together forever. Braxton's snaky, staccato attack creates a polar contrast to Parker's melodic approach to his bass playing, and Graves serves as the level headed one; a moderator for the arguments that the other two carry out. Braxton plays four separate saxophones (I know the four types that you're thinking of- you've probably only got one right), and his approach to each instrument is slightly different, but equally violent. His bass saxophone plods, crushing everything around it, while his sopranino attacks like one of the namesakes of Hitchcock's "The Birds." Recommended for those who like a little bit of psychotic energy with their free jazz.

Next time I will probably post a conversation with Terri Lyne Carrington, who I will be interviewing for the Berklee Groove tomorrow morning. You can expect a more sanitized version of that published in the next issue of The Groove. Also, tomorrow night I will be doing the first of what will be a bi-weekly segment for my friend James Krivchenia's show "Switch it Up" at 12 AM (as in, at night) on the Berklee Internet Radio Network

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