Trumpeter Malachi Thompson's new Delmark release marks the 20th anniversary of his Chicago-based Free-bop Band. As two decades have passed since its inception, it would seem a proper time to pose the question, what exactly is Free-bop? If one assumes that the "free" in Free-bop denotes music that is unstructured or inharmonious, such a premise is not supported by the evidence presented here. Thompson states in his liner notes that Free-bop "takes the most exciting elements of bop and combines [them] with the exploratory aspects of avant-garde jazz," which seems a more accurate description of his band's purpose. Thus Free-bop strives to broaden the parameters of Jazz without abandoning the music's customary precepts of order and discipline. It is "free" only in the sense that Thompson and his colleagues seek to rearrange the basic building blocks of bop and upraise them to a new and more exciting plane. In fact, the Free-bop Band sounds for the most part much like many other bop-based groups who try as best they can to communicate within the vernacular, complementing eleven well-designed compositions by Thompson with a pair of venerable Jazz standards, Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile" and Monk's "Round Midnight." On the other hand, the group veers emphatically off-course on tracks 10 through 12 which encompass various guttural sounds, poetry and recitation whose mission, apparently, is to deliver a sobering "message" before the session closes with a brief reprise of the rhythmically robust "Jammin' at the Point." Thompson, who as a young musician was influenced by Lee Morgan, still displays some of Morgan's stylistic touches. His longtime partner, Harper, plays a rough-hewn tenor in the manner of a David Murray or John Stubblefield, while Lake, who replaces Harper on half a dozen tracks, usually skates on the edge with a manner of expression that, while drawn from a number of sources, is definitely his own. The rhythm section is first-class, with pianist Brown consistently bright and swinging in his solo appearances. Of Thompson's compositions, the most pleasing to these ears are the fast-paced "Flight to Senegal," the easygoing "Just a Look" and the richly textured "Cancerian Moon." Except for a few minor bumps in the road, this is high-caliber bop, Free or otherwise.
Black Nile; Goree Island; Flight to Senegal; Freebop Now!; Just a Look; 'Round Midnight; Cancerian Moon; Jammin' at the Point; Worm Hole; Ancient African Horns; Black Hole; Heathens and Space/Time Projection; Jammin' at the Point--reprise.
Malachi Thompson, trumpet; Billy Harper, tenor sax; Steve Berry, trombone; Kirk Brown, piano; James Cammack, bass; Dana Hall, drums. Oliver Lake, alto sax, replaces Harper, Harrison Bankhead replaces Cammack (5, 8, 9, 11-13); Amiri Baraka, recitation (12); Hamid Drake, percussion (8, 13); Sonny Seals, tenor sax (3); Mae Koern, voice (3); Tony Carpenter, percussion (2, 3); Richard "Drahseer" Smith, drums (6); Larry Smith, spoken word (12); Sharese Locke, Malachi Thompson, recitation (11). On Cancerian Moon: Thompson, trumpet; Joe Ford, soprano sax; Carter Jefferson, tenor sax; Berry, trombone; Brown, piano; John Whitfield, bass; Nasar Abadey, drums.
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