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Generations Quartet: Oliver Lake/Joe Fonda/Michael Jefrys Stevens/Emil Gross: Flow

Karl Ackermann By

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Generations Quartet: Oliver Lake/Joe Fonda/Michael Jefrys Stevens/Emil Gross: Flow As the name would imply, the Generations Quartet spans the ages of its personnel. An off-shoot (of sorts) from the Trio Generations group, it's a semantic difference as saxophone legend Oliver Lake was a guest in the lineup that performed in 2015. From that same tour, we get Flow, a festive exercise of freedom and comradery that could only be realized by a team with the wealth of experience and talent gathered here. Recorded live (but non-sequentially) in Germany, it captures a spontaneity and energy that is rare in improvised music.

If there is a de facto leader of the Generations Quartet, research (and liner notes) would point to pianist/composer Michael Jefry Stevens, though there is no evidence of iron-fisted demagoguery here. It's somewhat irrelevant when you have, in Joe Fonda, one of the undisputedly best bassists in modern creative music. He and Stevens have been long-time collaborators under many guises over three decades. An exceptionally gifted, but often under-recognized artist, Stevens has been as influential in Fonda's musical choices as have been the bassist's early associations with Anthony Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith.

Lake is an enigma wrapped in a mystery to paraphrase Churchill. A founding member of the prestigious World Saxophone Quartet, along with David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett, a poet, a Guggenheim fellow and a visual artist (counting the cover graphics of this album), the saxophonist needs no one to validate his contribution to modern culture. He has worked with Bjork, Lou Reed and A Tribe Called Quest and has spent a lifetime following a distinctive creative muse. Finally, Austrian drummer Emil Gross represents the younger end of the "generations" spectrum, with cross-genre affinities, and his intricate shading and pulsing momentum, all making him a perfectly responsive member of the group.

The brief but somewhat menacing intro to "Rollin" gets things off to an energetic start as Stevens and Lake trade often disjointed leads creating a palpable and unresolved tension. The seventeen-plus minute "Me Without Bella" is a small masterpiece. Fonda's bowed bass signaling an ominous atmosphere, Stevens and Lake, later cascading down notes. Fonda remains the glue holding the piece together as the piano and saxophone break into contrasting free improvisations. At its extended length the piece provides numerous occasions for fragments of melody and unison playing to work their way in.

"Mantra #2" opens more reflectively but builds with like a patient theatrical work, Stevens and Lake contributing more understated improvisations. Stevens especially shines here with a sophistication that doesn't impede a distinctive edginess. "Read This" is the polar opposite with Lake taking the roof off and Stevens channeling Cecil Taylor; to reinforce that comparison, the closing "Coda" is all Stevens, mixing finesse, complexity and restraint in a clear and compelling conclusion.

Of Flow's seven pieces, three are by Stevens and two each by Lake and Fonda. It's easy to imagine that this group, collectively and individually, will be considered in the discussion of the evolution of creative music as these composers and musicians encompass the best of genres, tradition, structure and free jazz. They have built, and continue to build, on years of experimentation and practice. This album feels—and sounds—like a labor of love.

Track Listing: Rollin’; Me Without Bella; Mantra #2; Flow; La Dirge de la Fleuer; Read This; Coda.

Personnel: Joe Fonda: bass; Michael Jefry Stevens; piano; Emil Gross: drums; Oliver Lake: saxophone.

Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Not Two Records


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