The content on the Free Music Ensemble's Underground
pays tribute to four innovators of free jazz and improvised music: saxophonist and trumpeter Joe McPhee, percussionist Paul Lytton, guitarist Joe Morris and saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. As performed by a group of musicians well-steeped in the unpredictability of free jazz, the music on Underground
is geared towards connoisseurs of such tastes and textures.
With Ken Vandermark on reeds, Nate McBride on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, the FME does a thorough analysis of its musical skills on the album's four songs. Each song is long, detailed and engrossing. The upbeat start of Part 1 (for Joe McPhee)," for example, slowly erodes to expose a more solemn center, though it somehow keeps a buoyant internal rhythm afloat that prevents it from wallowing in somber themes. The tune climbs back to its more jolly opening sequences near the end, making its final progression play out like a joke. Did you get it? You hear the punch line, but the setup is what matters here and it's the most difficult to grasp. On a first listen, the whole thing might sound out of place, unless, as stated before, you're already into this type of music and you do get "it."
For those out of the loop, do not despair. True, there is no swing or bop, as normally conceived, here. True, your toes won't tap and your head most likely won't bob. What is here, though, is beyond these landmarks of traditional jazz. The world is not flat and neither is jazz, and if you can place some faith in that, you can get into this.
Of all the tunes, "Part 2 (for Paul Lytton)" is worth this trust, as it travels the farthest from its opening theme to wonderful destinations of time and rhythm courtesy of drummer Nilssen-Love. "Part 3 (for Joe Morris)" and "Part 4 (for Peter Brötzmann)" are more minimalist pieces, requiring an appreciation of silent spaces and sudden motions. Admittedly difficult at face value, the tunes do grow in stature and palette over time, but, again, faith and an open mind are required to really see their growth.
~ Germein Linares
Personnel: Ken Vandermark- reeds; Nate McBride- bass; Paal Nilssen-Love.