Free Base consists of three of the most experienced and distinctive creative improvising musicians. Despite the fact that they have now been together as a trio for over a decade, this is their first CD release, although they can also be heard on one track of Freedom of the City 2003: Small Groups
. In contrast to that live performance, they chose to make this CD as a studio recording. As Alan Wilkinson observes, "In performance, the inclination is to play continuous sets of about 45 minutes, inside which a tension is created... In a studio that is largely taken away because it is easier to play much shorter pieces and develop ideas from scratch each time.
Live, Wilkinson is renowned for his high energy playing and his brutal tone; here, although he shows that side of his playing often enough (try the full-on "Kissing the Shuttle to get your pulse racing), he is frequently in more reflective mood as the trio plays at a tempo aimed more at generating an atmosphere than raising the adrenalin level, as on the sedately paced "Sea Frett." Don't be lulled into a false sense of security, though; the opening "Trepid begins at a subdued stroll and slowly builds power and volume, before coming to a tumultuous climax.
Marcio Mattos' contribution is immense throughout. The overwhelming sound of Free Base, the sound that remains in one's head when the music stops, is of a deep, rich bottom-heaviness. Often playing arco, he provides a huge full sound that fills out the three-piece into something seemingly much bigger, grander, and very satisfying to experience. Steve Noble adds plenty of punctuation and colouration but is also happy to eschew freedom and play the classic jazz drummer role when needed, keeping a polyrhythmic pulse going on his cymbals.
With improvised music, it is intriguing to ponder whether the artists have played together regularly... and if so, whether that is a good thing. The freshness of a brand new combination can lead to high levels of creativity and discovery (as demonstrated repeatedly at this year's Freedom of the City festival), while established groupings can fall into well-trodden, familiar footsteps. Currently, Free Base seems to be getting it just right; these musicians know each other's playing well enough to have that psi thing that happens somehow, but they do not sound overexposed to each other. No sign of well-trodden pathways here, just freshness in abundance.
Personnel: Alan Wilkinson: alto and baritone saxophones, voice; Marcio Mattos: double bass and
electronics; Steve Noble: percussion.