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Franklin Kiermyer: Franklin Kiermyer: Further

John Kelman By

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The number of jazz musicians whose lives and music have been impacted by John Coltrane is truly legion; few, however, have extrapolated the exploratory space travelled by the late, great saxophonist in his final two years as intensely—and successfully—as Canadian expat, one-time New York resident and now Oslo-dwelling drummer Franklin Kiermyer. While his international profile has, for the past several years, been rather low, barring appearances like in Bergen's Natt Jazz in 2010, where he participated in an incendiary performance by a special edition of saxophonist Gisle Johansen's group, Element, a place in the history books has already been reserved for Kiermyer, if for no other reason than giving the career of latter- period Coltrane collaborator, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, a reboot on the drummer's stellar 1994 recording, Solomon's Daughter (Evidence). There are other reasons, of course, and Further is certainly one of them—a seamless continuation of Kiermyer's musical and spiritual journey, but taken, indeed, further than ever before.

Kiermyer's discography is small, but supports the premise that an artist's work invariably reflects who and where he/she is in life. Kiermyer may be Montreal and New York all the way, leading to a style of playing that's loaded with attitude, but it's also imbued with a deeply felt spirituality, a significant part of his life since being introduced, almost concurrently, to both Buddhism and Coltrane's mid-'60s sonic explorations. The connection was clear, and set him on a life path that has, as with any explorer, continued to reach for a goal that, while perhaps coming closer over time, can never truly be reached; but it's the joy of the journey that counts—and makes Further such a powerful and beautiful recording.

Beyond his own tumultuous yet sophisticated playing, Further's spiritual ascent comes from the decades-old chemistry of saxophonist Azar Lawrence and bassist Arthur Juini Booth 99—both two degrees of separation from Coltrane, having played with the saxophonist's longtime pianist, McCoy Tyner, on 1973's Enlightenment and 1975's Atlantis (both on Milestone). Pianist Benito Gonzalez may be the youngest member of the quartet, but with a resume not only including recent recordings by Kenny Garrett but Lawrence's own superb Mystic Journey (Furthermore, 2010), his mitochondrial connection to his band mates is clear from the opening "Between Joy and Consequence," where a two-chord motif bolsters Kiermyer's fluid maelstrom of sound and color. When Lawrence enters on tenor alongside Booth, this live recording—one of three such tracks in Further's seven-song, fifty-minute set of Kiermyer compositions—hits the stratosphere almost instantly, and continues to soar throughout its ten-plus minutes. A studio version of the same piece appears as Further's penultimate track, and its very contrast provides not just a clear window into this band's delineation of form and freedom, but also its lissome ability to seamlessly conjoin structure and spontaneity.

While Kiermyer's compositional motifs are relatively spare, they're more than enough to give this quartet a foundation upon which to expound, expand and explore. Also live, "Bilad el-Sudan" features Lawrence on soprano, and again soars high, but Further isn't all extremes and fierce probings; rubato may be a defining premise for much of the recording, but "Supplication" simmers rather than boils, and the closing "The Other Blues" positively swings—demonstrating that, as with the man who provided initial inspiration for everyone in this band, the currents of the jazz tradition run deeply beneath this music.

The music on Further may demonstrate unmistakable roots, but it's truly a 21st century release. Available in digital form only, Kiermyer is making Further available for free in compressed MP3 format; for those who want to hear it in higher resolution, it can be purchased for a contribution that's up to the buyer. In a time when CDs have sadly become high-priced business cards for many, Kiermyer's goal is to expose Further to as many people as possible, with the hopes that contributions will allow this remarkable quartet to hit the road and continue to develop its music.

Few albums wear their intentions on their sleeves as vividly as Further, an album that makes a potent case for music as a spiritual vehicle, an outpouring from the heart so direct, so palpable, that it's a truly—and unavoidably— cathartic experience. A clear reflection of the myriad emotions which comprise the human condition, if there's any justice, Further—co-produced to perfection by Kiermyer and another key jazz figure of the past half century, Michael Cuscuna—will find its way onto many year-end "best of" lists, despite being a relatively early entry into 2014.

Track Listing: Between Joy and Consequence (live); Bilad el-Sudan (live); Astrophysical; Supplication; Maftir; Between Joy and Consequence; The Other Blues (live).

Personnel: Franklin Kiermyer: drums; Azar Lawrence: tenor and soprano saxophones; Benito Gonzalez: piano; Juini Booth: bass.

Title: Franklin Kiermyer: Further | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Mobility Music


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