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In the spring of 2000 German bassist Peter Kowald attempted the seemingly impossible and in the process made history. He commenced on a three-month concert tour of the United States starting in Florida, ranging up the East Coast, criss-crossing the Midwest, hitting the west coast and doubling back for a final string of dates in the east. Along the way he played approximately 50 shows, most beginning with a solo set and concluding with a cooperative performance with local musicians. Numerous ad hoc aggregations resulted and the bassist’s legendary talents combined with those of American improvisers of nearly every persuasion. Taped at the termination of the tour the studio sessions that resulted in this disc are a colorful capstone.
On the surface Ali, Kowald and Tsahar may not seem like the most complimentary combination. Their music together however suggests that the teaming, while brief, was something of a stroke of genius. Each man is masterfully versed in the vernacular of free jazz, but surprisingly much of the time this date has more in common sonically with Sonny Rollins precedent setting Village Vanguard trios of 1957 than it does Ayler’s Spiritual Unity unit with Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray. The opening the “Rap” works off a thematic center comprised of tight melodic cords, which Tsahar seems to delight in unraveling. Kowald constrains himself mainly to pulse keeping and Ali’s traps are awash in coruscating rhythms. “Isotopes” opens with Kowald’s precision bow slicing ruddy streaks in a descending harmonic funnel. Tsahar’s throaty bass clarinet makes a rare and welcome appearance soon after bubbling up in a viscous show of emotion over Ali’s sparse fills before Kowald’s acerbic bow takes things out.
Ali is first up on “Freedom Train” trafficking in authoritative polyrhythms that allow slippery purchase for Tsahar’s tenacious tenor. Kowald’s speed walking pizzicato line is a little under-recorded this time out, but a tacky pulse is maintained. Confident that the rhythmic end of things is shored up Tsahar empties his lungs and lets fly with a steady stream of striated sound sheets. This is one transom that isn’t going to be rerouted from its appointed arrival at emancipation. Ali’s drums also preface the title piece, a track that serves a showcase for all three players as soloists, prior to a unison close. “Walking Shadows” flirts with Tuvan throat singing over a resonating drone pattern of Kowald’s strings.
Even though this trio had only a fleeting time together, the music created is timeless, testament to the abilities of the players both as individuals and collectively. The likelihood of a reunion is perhaps unlikely. But as improvised music continually reminds, anything is possible and there’s no doubt that these three would have volumes more to say together if given the opportunity.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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