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Verve's Free America Series, Part 2-3

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Anthony Braxton
Saxophone Improvisations Series F
Verve/Free America
2005

One week after his first America session Anthony Braxton ventured back to Studio Decca in Paris. The fruits of that visit took shape as a follow-up to his seminal For Alto released by Delmark in '68. A double album like that solo debut, Saxophone Improvisations Series F also limits the multireedist's tool chest to alto saxophone. The borders between improvisation and composition blur across the nine tracks. Each one carries a dedicatory tag to an influential person in Braxton's creative cosmology. Chess genius Bobby Fisher, philosopher-inventor Buckminster Fuller and fellow AACMer Maurice McIntyre are among the honorees. Track widths vary widely from side-long monuments like "26B and "26F to the miniature "26D. Each one seeks to address specific series of questions in direct relation to extemporaneous musical creation. Though they suggest the appearance of academic exercises in everything from titles to overarching temperament, the pieces end up anything but sterile or pedantic. Braxton sketches a myriad of methodically wrought patterns from the lucid liquid melody at the crux of "26J, a piece that owes conscious debt to idols Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, to the clench-jawed overblowing of "26B his real-time variations and interpolations uncover copious content to ponder. Its counterpart "26F is less successful, foundering in call-and-response redundancies that snowball over the track's long-winded incline. "26C and "26I illustrate the polarities at Braxton's command. The former piece revels in a robust profusion of notes for its entire duration while the latter scales back in scrupulous volume-dampened increments. Levied against his first solo record, a significant improvement in recording quality preserves the nuances of Braxton's reed cleanly. Even the clack of his keypads is audible in the quieter passages. The sum total is a mouth-gaping, eye-popping protracted display of chops wedded to intellect.

Dave Burrell
After Love
Verve/Free America
2005

Dave Burrell delivers one of the most ambitiously-conceived efforts in the America archive with After Love. Relying on a septet pool of Roscoe Mitchell's reeds, a trio of string players and two drummers, the pianist devises a set that straddles both free jazz and modern classical camps. The title track stretches across both sides of the LP into two commodious parts. The first limns on a relatively narrow canvas of hard thrumming strings, cyclic chugging drums, keening reeds and rippling distant piano for much of its duration. Amidst these hectic environs Alan Silva slots his usual maverick role, his amplified razor-wire cello ripping demonically at the harmonic pinions of the piece and presaging the sort of antics players like Fred Lonberg-Holm would employ decades later. Ron Miller's mandolin manifests another alien voice, his tightly wound strings mimicking the hypnotic sonorities of a Chinese zither with fast-plucking figures. Despite a web of engrossing patterns crafted and conjoined by the players the relentless cascade and limited dynamics begins to tax over the extended length. Burrell's decision to recoup some of the ground allotted the strings on the second part proves a sound one. His resilient chords float atop a background of buzzing bass, bass saxophone and tidal drums. "My March occupies as much sprawling temporal space as the opener, but is far less portentous conception. An extended Burrell improvisation segues into solo segments for Mitchell's clarinet and Silva's violin before locking on a boisterous martial vamp fueled by drummer Don Moye. Despite its tendency to flag in places this album's pleasures still outweigh its flaws.

Emergency
Homage to Peace
Verve/Free America
2005

The proliferation of free jazz players in Paris at the close of the 60s spawned a host of short-lived ensembles. Comprised of a multi-national contingent of improvisers, Emergency was one such assemblage. Homage to Peace represented their only commercially released record, a concert taped in the capital French city in 1970. Four tracks, among them a contemplative cover of the Art Ensemble's title tune, show a band at ease with their nascency and well-versed in their community. Saxophonist Glenn Spearman (in his recording debut) fronts the band with brio to burn. Boulou Ferret's electric guitar acts like gasoline on already smoldering tinder. His abstract string torquing largely eschews rock bombastry, accessing a far greater tonal complexity through frequent enveloping swathes. Elsewhere he fires off arpeggio volleys that perforate ears like hallucinogenic-tipped darts. What's most inspiring is the way the band balances its ecstatic energy leanings with an emphasis on melody, structure and even restraint (the elegant "Kako's Tune where electric keys come into play offers one emblematic example). Pianist Takashi Kako is most effective in this pursuit, his rich, rippling chords and right hand forays matching the gravitas of Spearman's ecstatic horns, in a copasetic union akin to the momentous Trane-Tyner pairing. Drummer Sabu Toyozumi works as an oceanic force, propelling and coloring with swirling shadings and beats. His liquid rhythms pour into the cracks and augment the band's underlying emotional sincerity and warmth. Bassist Bob Reid completes the circle, his bubbling pizzicato subsumed in the more exuberant sections, but never lapsing in the charge to anchor the action.

Steve Lacy
The Gap
Verve/Free America
2005

Steve Lacy's The Gap marked the first of two May '72 sessions by the soprano saxophonist for America. On the album's title track Lacy and his reed confrere Steve Potts capitulate to the eponymous divide, their respective solos separated by a brief, but canny rhythmic episode from drummer Noel McGhie. "Esteem explores a fabric of piercing pitch clusters, the horns tracing a progression vaguely similar to Coltrane's "Giant Steps, but slowed down to dirge speed. "The Thing devours an entire LP side, its gargantuan maw rowed with sharp saxophone and string sonorities. Cellist Irene Aebi (no vocals here) is especially impressive, slicing a pointillistic danse macabre against Kent Carter's lean but no less nettlesome bass patterns during several interludes. Lacy and Potts erase their earlier distance, tangling in a ferocious fracas of twining multiphonics and straining the tonal capabilities of their instruments. The results are some of the most raucous and astringent Lacy on record, but temperately tuneful turns surface too. McGhie glues it all together with assiduous attention to texture and dynamics. The sum beautifully juggles the fervor of free jazz with the structured logic of chamber music. "La Motte-Picquet, a playful ditty penned in honor of Lacy's favorite Parisian subway stop, clocks at mere three plus minutes. An alternate take, one of only three uncovered in the entire Free America series, presents a slightly altered aural perspective on the populous thoroughfare. The quintet was less than a year old at the time of taping, but this album stands easily as one of their best.

Roswell Rudd
Roswell Rudd
Verve/Free America
2005

Roswell Rudd's self-titled record represents one of the earliest recording session in the America archive. Taped in Hilversum, Netherlands in early 1965 it personifies the culmination of a previous year's worth of intense activity. The trombonist had made memorable contributions to the bands of Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp and in the process earned an estimable reputation that hasn't diminished since. Assembling a multi-national quartet comprised of Danish altoist John Tchicai, an old compatriot, Dutch bassist Finn Von Eyben and South African expatriate Louis Moholo on drums, Rudd guides the band through a program of original compositions capped by a brief, but gorgeous rendering of Monk's "Pannonica. The bootleg fidelity is a bit washed out, but careful remastering chisels out reasonably clear space for each player. Moholo's liquid rhythms morph from Spartan to dense on the opening "Respects, bracketing the action with patterns that resist registering a strict meter until a spate of tousled syncopations in the final minutes. Rudd brings up the rear after solos from Tchicai and Von Eyben, singing through his mouthpiece and working his slide with well-oiled aplomb. "Old Stuff, a fine slice of free-bop, offers up more undiluted antics from the leader in a protracted spray of vacillating smears and slurs. Tchicai's "Jabulani echoes African allegiances with Moholo carving a choppy cadence and the horns cavorting atop. "Sweet Smells, an extended colloquy for the horns crammed with a fakebook's worth of colorful counterpoint, completes the set. While loose and roughshod in spots, this album packs in equal parts charm and skill and ranks as an early laurel in Rudd's still unfolding career.

Continue: Part 3

Discuss Verve's Free America Series at the AAJ Bulletin Board.


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