It's hard to imagine 45 years, hence that one of the things that was so controversial about Ornette Coleman's emergence was that he gave up on employing a pianist. The sax/trumpet/bass/drum quartet has become commonplace in the modern jazz world since that time (Other Dimensions in Music and Masada leap to mind as two of today's standard bearers), and the lineup freed of the tonal anchors of the piano has become central to the growth of the free improvisation language.
Most jazz groups rely on a strong rhythm section, but the pianoless quartet needs a strong simpatico in the front line as well. Trumpeter Raphe Malik shared such a relationship with the late saxophonist Glenn Spearman, who died from cancer in 1998 at the age of 51. This remarkable set was recorded at the Vision Festival five months before his death, with William Parker on bass and Paul Murphy behind the drums.
It's surprising that Companions
hasn't come out sooner, if not immediately after the set then at least sooner in the wake of his death, with the inevitable post-mortem interest in his playing. The four tracks here (all composed by the leader) are, in short, as good as it gets. Spearman's solos are energetic and propelling. Parker rumbles, keeping a locomotive bottom and is matched well by Murphy.
But the real star here is the leader. Malik's playing is crystalline and uplifting. For 40 minutes, they create a celebration, a fast-pitched rollick of uplifting music. That Spearman was in his final days doesn't weigh the set down. This is life lived fast and pure.
This review originally appeared in All About Jazz-New York
Personnel: William Parker - bass,
Raphe Malik - trumpet,
Paul Murphy - drums,
Glenn Spearman - tenor saxophone.