Free Range Rat: Nut Club (2006)
Initially formed to explore the tone science of visionary bandleader Sun Ra, this collective ensemble orbits Herman "Sonny" Blount's world without falling into its gravitational pull. Journeying to other territories, the members of Free Range Rat explore a plethora of improvisational gambits that are ripe with energy, delivering them with aplomb.
Taking their name from former Either/Orchestra trumpet player John Carlson's quartet album of the same name (CIMP, 1998), Free Range Rat employs a similar lineup, with drummer George Schuller replacing Scott Neumann. The drummer, son of seminal Third Stream composer Gunther Schuller, provides his bandmates with experienced, conceptual focus. Sharing the front line, tenor saxophonist Eric Hipp and guest clarinetist Douglas Yates trade wicked, circuitous lines with Carlson while bassist Shawn McGloin locks proverbial horns with Schuller.
Typically, Schuller and McGloin eschew standard meters to feed the horns a pulse-driven bed from which to spiral out their torrid, polyphonic declarations. Collective soloing is the norm, with few genuinely traditional solo spots. Dynamically vacillating between dense group exhortation and nuanced, spectral passages, Free Range Rat espouses all the classic conventions of free jazz.
While loose, group-penned free meditations are the norm on this recording, a few tunes are closely tethered to stylistic traditions. "Hipp-Hopp" is a stripped down, acoustic funk trio workout for Eric Hipp's brawny tenor. Conversely, "Horn Trio #2" is a rhythm section-less excursion into neoclassical contrapuntal writing.
The ensemble's most radical statements are manifest in their choice of covers. Bob Marley's "So Much Trouble in The World" and James "Blood" Ulmer's "Non-Believer Suite" both make appearances alongside Sun Ra's "The Satellites Are Spinning." The Marley tune is languorous and atmospheric, reimagined as a glacially paced, mournful dirge. The Sun Ra tune is the inverse: a manic circus-like thrill ride of caterwauling, chattering horns and careening march rhythms driven to the edge of total collapse. Ulmer's "Non-Believer Suite" is divided in two, the first half a free meditation which builds slowly to a manic finish, the second half riding a buoyant, funky bass line which supports a resolutely harmolodic melody, invoking shades of Ornette Coleman.
Nut Club embodies all the best characteristics of today's finest avant-garde ensembles. Blending memorable covers with terse originals, Free Range Rat has staked out its own place in today's diverse scene.
Track Listing: Nut Club; Non-Believer suite - Part 1, Part 2; Below Canal; Extension; Horn Trio #2; Hipp-Hopp; So Much Trouble in the World; The Satellites Are Spinning; Bottom Feeders.
Personnel: Eric Hipp: tenor saxophone; John Carlson: trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn (except 4,7); Shawn McGloin: bass (except 6); George Schuller: drums, bells and rattly kinds of things (except 4,6); Douglas Yates: clarinet, bass clarinet (except 7).