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Calendar dates and the inceptions of musical styles don’t always mix. When was the actual birth of bebop? When was the definitive beginning of fusion? Specific dates are not readily applicable to these historic milestones mainly because musical revolutions rarely transpire in strictly linear progressions. In the absence of absolute dates recordings are often assigned the distinction of denoting when styles surfaced. The work of the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble (FFIE) gathered on this disc is widely regarded among those that have actually heard it as the first instances of a completely spontaneous composition. Ornette Coleman is often cited as one of the earliest pioneers of free improvisation in jazz, but even his late 50s experiments contained elements of preconceived structure. By comparison the FFIE’s entire rubric revolved around converging together without any kind of premeditated consensus as to where their music would take them.
Whether the FFIE is indeed the first free form composing ensemble is debatable. Definitive firsts in music are always tenuous and subject to revision. What matters most about the FFIE is not whether they were the first group to delve into a particular approach to music, but the music they created itself. Fortunately for those of us who weren’t around to experience the dozen or so performances that comprised their career as a unit this disc provides an excellent snapshot of both their sound and vision. Silva and Greene are perhaps the most recognizable names in the group, but the self-professed purpose of the ensemble is collective communication over individual voicing and each man serves as an isonomic cog in the organic machine.
The recording clarity of “Eat Eat” suggests a studio environment. Unfolding across nearly half an hour length the piece is a beautiful encapsulation of the FFIE’s esthetic. The players roam across a startling array of spontaneously devised rhythmic and harmonic structures merging modern classical structures with jazz-based improvisation. The effect is so smoothly rendered that the piece’s lengthy duration dissipates rapidly without any feeling that the players are being too verbose in their creations. The final three tracks were garnered from a live concert performance at Judson Hall- a venue renowned for hosting performances by many of the guiding lights in free jazz during the 60s. The clarity of sound is again stunning considering the recordings’ origins and vintage. “Composition 1” works off an enlivening series of duets first between Winter and Silva and later between Silva and Greene. Greene’s piano harp is featured prominently and gives the music a dark, metallic edge in tandem with Silva’s mercurial bow. On “Composition 2” Friedman’s ravenous, wailing alto conjures a more jazz-grounded mood atop crashing drums and agitated piano. Sharp jagged tonalities are the opening focus on the ominous “Composition 3.” Alto and then flute act as catalyzing agents across a transfiguring undercurrent of dense rhythms generated by Greene, Silva and Walker.
As a document preserving this nearly forgotten group this disc succeeds immeasurably. Hints are made in the extensive liner notes of over forty hours of recordings made by the FFIE during the same time span as those presented here. If we’re lucky portions of these tapes will be unearthed soon and made available providing listeners with an even more complete picture of the important work these five men were forging.
Track Listing: Eat Eat/ Free Form Composition 1/ Free Form Composition 2/ Free Form Composition 3.
Recorded: April 3, 1964 NYC and December 30, 1964, Judson Hall, NYC.
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Personnel: Burton Greene- piano, piano harp; Gary William Friedman- alto saxophone; Jon Winter- flutes; Alan Silva- bass; Clarence Walker- drums.