When the free jazz world lost drummer Alvin Fielder
in 2019, it lamented the passing of someone who had in many ways worked to expand the reach of avant-garde jazz, to widen its accessibility to fans and students alike. His well-known status as a founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and Black Arts Music Society, not to mention his participation on seminal recordings like Roscoe Mitchell
(Delmark, 1966), should not overshadow his presence in his native Mississippi, where he spent most of his life, and in the New Orleans community, where he was an elder statesman. A co-founder in 1995 of the still-operating Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp and a regular presence at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Fielder was dedicated to making sure that the musical freedom he always celebrated would continue to be found in the South, well outside of the usual orbits of the jazz avant-garde.
One of Fielder's partners in that endeavor, saxophonist Edward 'Kidd' Jordan, has himself been a near-constant presence in the New Orleans jazz scene since the 1950s, even after losing his home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Here he teams up with another frequent partner of Fielder's, pianist Joel Futterman
, and two other mastersbassist William Parker
and drummer Hamid Drake
for an inspired tribute to Fielder, captured at 2019's Vision Festival in Brooklyn. In one continuous, 40-minute improvisation, the four effectively capture Fielder's tireless spirit and engaging warmth, while traversing a rich range of expressive modes and emotional registers.
From the opening seconds, Futterman's crashing fusillades and Jordan's upper-register squeals indicate a take-no-prisoners approach, and there are enough moments of fiery fury here to satisfy even the most ardent aficionados of energy music. But just as important are the more restrained passages: for instance, at a moment of early calm, Jordan's sensitive evocation of "Nature Boy" (a theme he returns to at various places in the piece), and Futterman's reference to Thelonious Monk
's "Crepuscule with Nellie" a few minutes after that, during a respite following some especially impassioned thunderings. At 84 years old, Jordan still has plenty of stamina, without question. But it's his soulful side, heard to profound effect later in the performance, when the poignant strains of "Motherless Child" emerge, that best reveals his ability to draw deeply fron the well of the jazz tradition, even while challenging it in true avant-garde fashion.
Parker and Drake do not disappoint either, with their typically sympathetic camaraderie evident throughout. Their deep grooves come and go, as well as more flexible pulses, but the pair maintain steady contact with Futterman and Jordan, keeping the music moving forward with nary a dull moment to be found. On a night that clearly enraptured the Vision Festival's devoted throng, this band gave a most memorable send-off to their dear friend and fellow free-jazz warrior.
Tribute to Alvin Fielder.