The Missing Link. That was the title of a 1990s Fred Anderson session, but it could be applied with even greater veracity to the NYC collective Other Dimensions in Music, for this tour encompassing the talents of William Parker, Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter and Hamid Drake, subbing for regular drummer Rashid Bakr.
The quartet members have been together since the early 1980s, playing as and when their increasingly busy schedules allow. Their credo, like the AACM's Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future, is that repertory knows no limits. The difference is that they operate totally within in a framework of spontaneous, rather than preconceived, composition. And it is this openess that provides the link, missing in some people's minds, between free jazz and other styles of jazz, blues, funk, reggae and African music. During this short European tour, I heard it all and more in a dizzying kaleidoscopic melange.
The final two nights of the tour at the Sunset Club on Rues des Lombards in Paris, as part of the JVC Jazz Festival, allowed an extended view of their creative process. The long, low-ceilinged basement of the Sunset, moreover, boasts excellent acoustics, which permitted intimate communing with the music.
On the first night the band was supplemented by special guest Dick Griffin on trombone. Later the small stage became even more crowded with the addition of Rasul Siddik on trumpet and Herve Samb on electric guitar.
The three excellent and varied sets each night consisted of a single free flowing improvisation, stretching between thirty minutes and an hour. The one exception was the second set of the first night when the musicians broke into two pieces, with all the guests sitting in for the second half. The expansion meant there was less space for internal interplay, but it afforded a luxuriant horn chorus against which to pitch solos, sounding at times like an abstracted Dixieland band, a feeling accentuated by a forceful Parker fast two-step.
Everyone had a lot of fun, with testifying solos emerging from the horn cacophony, especially Griffin's slow-preaching trombone multiphonics, closing to a foot-stomping finale. But if anything the second night was even better than the first. The band, without guests, seemed more focussed and featured starker contrastsbetween loud and quiet, horns and rhythm, wild and thoughtfuland there was more space for bass/drum alchemy.
The years of playing together have resulted in an almost telepathic understanding among the band members so that the slightest gesture by one musician can be picked up by the others, causing the performance to switch track like a flock of birds turning instantaneously as one. The horns of Messrs Campbell and Carter intertwined in conversational unisons throughout, punctuating each other's solos, picking up and trading motifs and generally delighting in an aural game of tag.
The travails of international travel restricted Carter's usual arsenal of horns to alto saxophone, flute and trumpet, but it was a pleasure to hear so much of his cool unhurried alto. His playing was frequently understated and lyrical, his solos constructed in bursts with pauses as he let the rhythm assert prominence, before issuing another melancholic, keening phrase. There were more agitated sections, but with much less screaming than you might imagine from the veteran free jazzer's track record with other radical collectives, such as TEST.
Roy Campbell was a master of transformationoften hot in contrast to Carter's coolbut also boppish or bluesy. He varied the textures by switching between pocket trumpet, trumpet, flugelhorn, flute and a variety of toys, whistles and shakers, and also used an array of mutes or even just his hand to modulate his tone.
Drake and Parker represent the apogee of the free jazz rhythm section. Drake stirred momentum into the rhythmic stew but didn't have to play it all. An accent on toms here or a pattern on snare there sufficed to imply a structure or the turnaround, but in a song without bars, like a free-form Ed Blackwell. He fits well with Parker because both are comfortable with constantly-changing patterns, sliding in and out of grooves, meshing only to break up and then reform. Parker was especially inventive on his cut-off bass, deploying a panoply of upbeat rhythmic shifts to redirect the flow.