How cultural history impacts present practice is a part of a recurring cycle of reminders. Because those who have lived that history continually refresh it, its renewed view in coincidence with our exposure to it collapses time. And then we all become one, moving through now as we moved then but in, perhaps, different global circumstances. The questions posed by those who relate stories of the past remain the same; they address essential issues of artistic expression that can only be answered through the persistence of those who shape the culture.
Bernard Stollman resurrected the ESP label in 2007, having stopped pressing recordings in 1974. Known for its out-of-the-ordinary documentation of 1960s improvised music, ESP has begun to revamp that revolutionary era by resuming its record releasing process. One of those releases is Bloom in the Commune featuring pianist Burton Greene's quartet. The four tracks of this reissue of the original Quartet/Quintet (ESP, 1967) session are the centerpiece of the recording, the first ever for Greene's quartet. The remainder is dedicated to a pre-release interview with Greene; there is also one with Stollman.
Greene's genuinely spoken words lend an invaluable preface to listening to his music. In 1964, Greene participated in the Jazz Composer's Guild, whose prime motivation was to redefine music as expression and transcend musical categorization. Pigeonholing any kind of music puts it into a "box." The composition-less "free communications music" that Greene and his fellow comrades were committed to threw open the lid of that box and let the music flow, not from a belligerent standpoint, but with tolerance for other forms of improvisation and jazz. For Greene, all music is a part of an egoless universal scene and forms a primary method of survival for us on the planet.
The music from the quartet with alto saxophonist Marion Brown, and once from a quintet including tenor man Frank Smith, re-instills in the listener how successful improvisation sounds. It is as much a discovery process for the listener as it is for the musician who plays, provided that the listener absorbs what each player does and hears how what follows fits. However each player works within the music clearly measures his responsiveness to whatever instrument takes the lead. The group defies traditional quartet-ism.
Greene is determined to use the piano in every way that he can from charging around the keyboard with clusters to sculpting lovely melodies or plunging into what seems to be the sounding board strings. Brown's alto tonality is pure and melodic. Henry Grimes' bass can go full-tilt with the spring of his pizzicato or the artful pull of his bow. Both drummer Dave Grant and percussionist Tom Price treat the drums abstractly and percussively; overt rhythm is implied only occasionally. Frank Smith's tenor ("Taking It Out of the Ground") adds another voice to the group that is loose and extreme simultaneously.
This music comes through as though it were recorded yesterday for today's audiences. And, indeed, it was.
Personnel: Burton Greene: piano, piano harp, percussion; Marion Brown: alto saxophone; Henry Grimes: bass; Dave Grant: percussion (1, 3, 4); Frank Smith: tenor saxophone (4); Tom Price: percussion (2).