Harriet Tubman is: Brandon Ross guitar; Melvin Gibbs bass and J.T. Lewis drums. Titled: “I Am A Man”, this reviewer will deviate from researching any hidden agenda or subliminal message; however, I can ascertain without reservation that these three “NYC Downtown Scene” veterans have produced an enthusiastic outing which traverses many frontiers.
“Freedom of Expression” is an applied concept put forth within the infamous NYC Downtown Scene. In many instances infusions of punk rock-jazz-chamber-world music and so forth materialize in somewhat unconventional fashion. Needless to say the payoffs are generally captivating and/or peculiar but by and large exciting ! Over the years, New York City’s “Knitting Factory” club (and record label) has served as the principal launching pad for artistic freedom and spawned an era of articulate musical voices who merit widespread recognition. “Harriet Tubman” represents one of three fine new releases from the Knitting Factory record label.
Musically, “I Am A Man” defines the concept of a power trio exploring free jazz but maintaining structure and cohesiveness augmented by a clear sense of a depth. The opener “Savannah” is a powerhouse commencing with Ross delicately tinkering with harmonics and thematic development. Ross consequently picks up steam while vaulting into Hendrix-like crescendos of crunching chords and climactic declarations of atmospheric tone poems. Lewis and Gibbs provide sweeping, throbbing rhythmic textures, aiding and abetting Ross’ “dead on” approach. Melvin Gibbs is one of the finest electric bass players on the planet. He “plays” the bass as opposed to slapping or employing any extensive use of trickery. Gibbs skillfully operates the lower register of his instrument providing an incomparable rock solid groove. “Hards Dry” indicates traces of the 1980’s band “Power Tools” of which Melvin Gibbs was a member. Here, Lewis and Gibbs provide a furious attack, reminiscent of the equally high-octane charge of Gibbs and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. Power Tools was a startlingly inventive unit lead by renowned guitarist Bill Frisell. Loud, unabashed and monumental for its time, Harriet Tubman conveys a similar approach. Improvisation is abundant yet the tunes are song orientated and sustaining. “Adapted” is an all out burner. Ross is lyrical and exploits the high register with clever angularity and poise. On “Adapted” J.T. Lewis stretches out behind the kit but never overshadows his bandmates. Gibbs and Lewis are a potent rhythm section behind Ross’ articulations. “Two Man Army” is a forum for Lewis and Gibbs. Lewis’ polyrhythmic drumming supported by Gibbs pumping bass is invigorating and executed in striking precision. Ross, in turn gently caresses the guitar to accentuate meter and pulse. There is a good dose of dialogue and interplay among this band. Clever improvisation combined with raw power and rhythmically charged compositions equates to a multi-dimensional, vivacious affair. Very compelling and highly recommended.