From a purely financial perspective choosing improvised music as a profession has to rank among the most foolhardy and frustrating. Along with other artistic gigs like acting and writing improvised music is not widely regarded as a viable means of making ends meet. To take the argument further and generalize it a little, in the logical scheme of things, being an artist in America simply doesn’t pay. This is a sad certainty of life that saxophonist Chris Kelsey is intimately familiar with. After years of pounding both the figurative and factual pavement promoting his music he finally did what a select number of his peers and predecessors have done. He took complete control, threw caution to the dogs and started his own label. Some might view such an action as adding a fueling agent to the flames of financial ruin, others, as a self-empowering fresh start. The reality is that factoring in the current comparatively diminutive market for the music such drastic measures are frequently necessary in order for a musician to have his or her music be heard.
Kelsey’s entrepreneurial act has precedents: Sun Ra’s Saturn label, Rashied Ali’s Survival series, and more recently Vinny Golia’s Nine Winds, Anthony Braxton’s Braxton House and the Zaabway imprint founded by Paul Flaherty and Randall Colbourne among them. The longevity rate for such endeavors is admittedly problematic, but Kelsey has kicked things off to an auspicious start with the release of not one, but three titles. Situational Music is the second.
Recorded at the Knitting Factory in the midst of the 1998 Texaco New York Jazz Festival the disc presents a hard-charging quartet with none other than the indomitable Joe McPhee sharing the front-line with Kelsey. As might be expected this is high-octane energy music that erupts from the opening seconds of “Forensic Musicology” and refuses to relent in terms of ear-anointing immediacy for the duration. On the opener a bursting with whinnying, chortling oratory between the horns prefaces a string-sharpening solo from Duval that no doubt set the horsehairs of his bow to smoldering. The oxymoronic “Some Things Matter, But They Aren’t Important” is anything but in terms of execution starting out relatively tame, but quickly building velocity into a furious barrage of multifarious voicings. Ware’s drums match the speed and tack of the twining horns precisely and Duval gets into the act with some electronically enhanced bumblebee bow work.
McPhee’s languid tenor signals the start of “The Strength of Indolence” prior to Kelsey’s own acrobatic entrance. Later sections of the piece stutter and stop above a prickly pulse paved by Duval and Ware. “Probable Probity” fans the fires even further and is filled with rousing statements, especially from Kelsey who sounds positively possessed during points of the piece. Taking their unspoken cue at the close the audience responds by bursting into howls and hoots of gratitude. The band absorbs the energy and moves directly into “Here and Now and Later,” which when compared to the unbridled vulcanism of its predecessor, is something of a letdown. But the nakedly emotive lyricism of the piece still works as a fitting coda ripe with the promise of more. Kelsey may not yet be a household name even among the ranks of free jazz aficionados, but if this disc is any indication of what he has in store for future outings, that is a situation that will no doubt soon be remedied.
Personnel: Chris Kelsey- soprano saxophone; Joe McPhee- tenor saxophone; Dominic Duval- bass; Edward Ware- drums.