Avant-garde jazz groups can sometimes sound too remote or off-the-wall, even to a hard-core jazz fan. When free jazz musicians play without bass, piano or drums, the music can have a tendency to lose its sense of structure when it comes to harmony and rhythm.
Although the Brooklyn Sax Quartet can be labeled as a free jazz group without a rhythm section, the group plays the "new thing" (as it was called in the early '60s by pioneers like Ornette Coleman) while keeping its feet grounded in traditional modern jazz on Far Side of Here.
Saxophonists David Bindman, Sam Furnace, Fred Ho, and John O'Gallagher play classics from the modern American jazz catalogue, but also draw from the folk music of Africa and the Far East. Whether the BSQ is running down a classic by the Jazz Messengers or reinventing a black spiritual, they have a knack for combinding elements of structure and tradition with abstract improvisation.
BSQ co-founder Fred Ho's composition "Fishing Song of the East China Sea" is a Chinese folk song with a heavy bottom bass end provided by Ho's baritone sax. Ho lays a bass foundation that is often missing from the group, giving BSQ's abstract sound some structure.
Far Side of Here includes a remake of Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia." Chaotic and free-form like the original, the cover offers blazing solos by tenor saxophonist David Bindman and the late alto saxophonist Sam Furnace. The BSQ's call-and-response techniques on "A Night In Tunisia" are well thought out, providing rich textures of blue notes throughout the song.
"The Black Nation Suite," a cornucopia of spirituals like "O'Fredom" and American folk music like Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome," is a gem. All of this piece features organic, blues solos, sounding like the raw emotion of Coltrane's ventures into African music. The rest of the album offers Bindman originals like "Spinning," a circular song that is made up of a number of vamps that creates a musical blanket for the rest of the group to solo on.
Personnel: David Bindman: tenor saxophone; Fred Ho: baritone saxophone; Sam Furnace: alto saxophone; John O'Gallagher: soprano saxophone.