Free improvisation has a special place in a polarized world. It accepts and rejects jazz culture in an ebb and flow of unprompted ideas. On the album Cool With That we get the essence of the music's history from the inside, out. The quartet East Axis is new in name but the unit has been in place for several years and its members are well-known. Pianist Matthew Shipp, saxophonist Allen Lowe, bassist Kevin Ray and drummer Gerald Cleaver are at the top of the elite in creative music.
In August 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic experienced a relative lull between peaks in the NYC area. The quartet went into a Brooklyn studio with little in the way of preparation. They came out with an excellent finished product. A lot is going on inside Cool With That, much of it simultaneously. These extended improvisations require elastic thinking and focused attention to keep the music from going off the rails. "A Side" shows a command of endurance and timing as the twelve-minute journey avoids crossing the same ground more than once. Shipp and Ray open the topical "Social Distance" with slow blues, soon joined by Lowe's empathetic deep tenor. The moody, serpentine sax owns much of this piece and serves as a calling card for the under-recognized Lowe. At almost a half-hour, "One" is an expedition and primer in spur-of-the-moment interaction. Approaching frenetic at times, Shipp seamlessly guides the music with his abundant penchant for blending accessibility and freedom. His interactions with Ray and Cleaver are constantly setting new ideas in motion.
East Axis is a formidable quartet in every way; they encompass a universe, or two, of experience and creativity. On most of Cool With That, they create massive but loosely constructed structures without obscuring the music. It is a worthy addition to each member's considerable catalog of acclaimed albums.
A Side; Oh Hell I Forgot About That; Social Distance; I'm Cool with That; One.
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