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Freedance: Freedance Live (2006)

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Freedance: Freedance Live How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

This new set by bassist/composer Dave Phillips' Freedance band documents a 2004 performance at the annual Radio France Festival in Montpellier, France. The longstanding quartet of Phillips, alto player John O'Gallagher, guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer Tony Moreno doesn't break any new ground here; no one's trying to invent any new forms.

With the kind of near-telepathic sensitivity and interplay that only veteran bands attain (and with Phillips' refreshingly openhearted compositions), Freedance doesn't need to reinvent jazz. The six pieces that make up Freedance Live are vitally dynamic, endlessly melodic and rhythmically thrilling to the point that one envies the audience that got to witness the set in person. But then, a good audience fuels a performance. The bracing, live electricity here is made especially palpable by a crisp, dry recording that sonically puts the listener right on drummer Moreno's stool—not at all a bad place to be, as he's in impeccable form.

There's a sweetness to Phillips' composition; it's almost vocal in its optimistic melodicism. The theme to the opening "Source could sound saccharine and cloying in lesser hands. There's nothing wimpy about the tune here, though—not once Phillips and Moreno go into a sometimes halted, sometimes explosive no-man's-land of blurred tempo under O'Gallagher's pregnant, rest-filled solo (his creamy, soprano sax-like tone particularly evident). Moreno's drumming is somehow decoratively expressionistic, yet adamantly bludgeoning at the same time.

"Chorale is built around a flawlessly executed Bach-like theme beautifully stated by O'Gallagher, who's then joined by Abbasi on the seldom-heard sitar guitar over a bass ostinato and Moreno's cymbals. O'Gallagher's alto solo is neatly thematic throughout his high-register, rapid-note runs, and Abbasi's solo—taking full advantage of the hard, brittle tone achievable on the sitar guitar—might be even better, if only because of the way Phillips' stubborn bass digs in against its note clusters. This band's capable of achieving great surging climaxes, but it won't force them—live show or not, Freedance lets the music come to it, and the music surges organically, naturally.

The finest moment here is the sunny "Kaleidoscope, a seven-count jig that's reminiscent of some of Keith Jarrett's older compositions in its open-field lyricism and outright joy. Moreno's hand-clapped count and Phillips' arco bass in the tune's intro are delicious—but, really, no better than the drummer's rippling cymbals and cresting rolls and the bassist's one-note pulse during O'Gallagher's darting, tart solo break later on.

It's easy to talk about solos, and O'Gallagher and Abbasi play their share of terrific ones here. But there's not one moment on Freedance Live where it's not just as fun to listen to what Moreno and Phillips are doing alongside the alto and guitar—whether they're finding their own autonomous rhythmic space or goosing the other players onward (or, for that matter, sideways). It's really the dancing, vibrant quality of this rhythm section that keeps such melodically accessible material enjoyable through repeated listens.

Download "Source" at the AAJ Download Center.

Visit Dave Phillips on the web.

Track Listing: Source; Chorale; Window; Kaleidoscope; Ma Cloche; Scramble From the White House.

Personnel: Dave Phillips: bass; John O'Gallagher: alto sax; Tony Moreno: drums; Rez Abbasi: guitar.

Record Label: Street Sound Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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