A relative newcomer to the New York avant scene, the Freedom Art Quintet seems to fit in historically somewhere in between the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the funky Cannonball Adderley Quintet.
The opener, “In the Thick of It,” suggests the avant-garde while keeping things in time and relatively harmonically tame. The writing is interesting enough to catch your attention, while the bridge is abrupt, too short, and extremely corny. Thickness is followed by sparseness on “Kimbunga,” a little more open with a great post-modern solo statement by trumpeter Omar Kabir and then a Dolphy-esque alto solo from Doug Yates. The only bothersome thing to the music is that it seems to not know where its going, lacking climaxes and the necessary devices of build-up and release. And while the abundance of space is artful to a degree, this lack of direction shows through.
Tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton’s emotive solo on “Monking Around” redeems the session. Bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Lloyd Haber work hand-in-hand at times, while at other times they are intentionally disjoint, promoting a free suspended-in-space feel. “Sweet Tooth” has a haunting jaunty melody that is equally as expressive as the previous track; it's well complemented by another tasty solo from Kabir.
Soul-jazz fans: get ready for the Freedom Art to take you back to the 1960s on “Love of Illusion,” with sounds and writing reminiscent of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, with a Joe Henderson-like solo statement from Burton and trumpet a la Lee Morgan – and then some – from Kabir. Illusion leads into introspective free-time melody and improvisation on “Spirits of New York,” which despite no sound effects or reverb achieves a spiritual invocation of sorts.
The closer, “Time Share,” brings back Yates on alto and is surely the gem of the set. It opens with staccato hits from the horns complemented by tasteful stickwork by Haber, building on a bass pedal tone with driving drums, leading to a free improv section with alto and trumpet starting off the cacophony and the tenor bringing the group back to harmonic reason (ie. the blues). Then the tune reverts to its original staccato feel and closes, building off the funky pedal tone of the bass.
Spirits Awake has something to offer the avant-garde-savvy, in-the-pocket blues lovers, and straight-a-‘heads.’
Personnel: Abraham Burton - tenor saxophone;
Douglas Yates - alto saxophone (tracks 1,2,7);
Omar Kabir - trumpet and flugelhorn;
Jaribu Shahid - bass;
Lloyd Haber - drums.