Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Live in Greenfield, Massachusets November 20, 1999
The first piece on this set, “Struggles of Fanny Lou Hamer”, was revelatory in its first hearing. We find passages of circular breathing that go outside of a rhythmic framework, but have a structure based on an unforced flow from one phrase to the next, as opposed to a drone structure. We also hear multiple microtonal lines playing off each other without an underlying pulse, achieving results that might make more than a few composers of “contemporary classical music” quite jealous. After about 15 minutes without a drum kit, a section of confident post-Ornette Jazz comes through sounding as clear as a church bell. The remainder of the set is just as compelling. There is an astounding variety of aesthetics at play throughout, from “sound-based” to “melody-based” to “rhythm-based”, and even “harmony-based”, all sitting happily side-by-side. In this connection, it’s worth explicitly stating that this group can swing and groove in a pretty serious way at times. All the music is highly sectional, reflecting a great deal of compositional deliberation, and there are numerous solo and duo passages that give us a chance to hear the nuances of some of the unfamiliar instruments, or simply focus in on the familiar genius of William Parker. Additionally, there are passages of ensemble interaction that achieve the uplifting quality of great Free Jazz, where all the players form an emotionally meaningful whole and you can feel your spirit floating up into the air with the reed notes.
Disc 2 contains the 48 minute “Freedom 1863: A Fable”, which is broken up into 12 relatively short sections, all of which are substantially different from each other. Cole’s first solo section finds him reaching for the heights with a skittering, dancing, and ecstatic reed exploration. There are several moments, especially in “Introduction” and “Martin Luther King, Jr”, where the drums really come through with a detailed, clean, and powerful sound. In fact, the recording quality overall is top-notch.
There are moments when the piece fails to maintain a meaningful sense of continuity, such as the lackluster percussion duet in “Marcus Garvey”, which suddenly stops and is replaced by a seemingly unrelated (but quite beautiful) solo by Cooper-Moore on his Horizontal Hoe-Handle Harp. In general, though, the individual sections carry their own weight and the transitions are frequently smooth. The final section is especially effective, using insistent repetition to achieve an energetic climax. An exciting and important document.
Track Listing: disc 1: Struggles of Fanny Lou Hamer/The Short Life of Amadou Diallo/disc 2: Freedom 1863: A Fable
Personnel: Bill Cole-Digeridoo, Sona Tibetan Trumpet, Hojok, Shenai, Nagaswarm, Bamboo Flute; Cooper-Moore-Flute and hand-made instruments: Mouth Bow, Horizontal Hoe-Handle Harp, Rim Drums, and Three-Stringed Fretless Banjo; Sam Furnace-Alto Saxophone and Flute; Joseph Daley-Tuba and Baritone Horn; William Parker-Acoustic Bass; Warren Smith-Trap Drum Set, Gongs, Marimba, Dunno Drum, and Rain Sticks; Atticus Cole-Congas, Bongos, Timbales, and Rain Sticks
Record Label: Boxholder Records
Style: Modern Jazz