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Frank Lowe: Out Loud

John Sharpe By

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In the spring of 1974, the storied ESP label had just released the leadership debut of thirty-year old reedman Frank Lowe, and now he was considering his next move. Val Wilmer in her groundbreaking As Serious As Your Life (Quartet Books, 1977) observes about Lowe: "Everywhere you go in New York you'll run into him, working here, sitting in there, rehearsing uptown, downtown, all around." At this period Lowe was one of the most exciting saxophone players on the scene, his playing full of enraptured squawks which erupted without warning from his sturdy lines. But somehow his talents were destined to remain, perhaps not unsung, but certainly under-sung.

All the more surprising then that Triple Point Records has given him the luxury treatment with a sumptuously packaged (and priced) 2 LP set examining the reedman's Loft era stirrings. As a set, it fits snugly in the lineage of material unearthed in a series of seminal releases by the Lithuanian No Business imprint which includes Jemeel Moondoc's Muntu Recordings (2009), Commitment's Complete Recordings 1980/1983 (2010) and William Parker's Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (2012) box set, among others. As well as an unreleased live performance, the recording also presents a previously unheard recording which was intended as Lowe's first studio leadership session.

Lowe was still exploring options in his search for self expression and was particularly inspired by the influx of AACM and BAG stalwarts from the mid-West, several of whom guested in his groups at this time. The Great Black Music—Ancient to the Future credo resonated particularly. That manifest itself in the use of little instruments, and a wide range of horns including soprano saxophone and flute. On the two dates in question Lowe also experimented with vocalized enhancements to his already big tenor sound. However as they dissipated rather than increased tension, they were thankfully discarded not long after. Even at this time occasional evidence surfaces of the asymmetric phrasing which crystallized into one of the most distinctive features of his mature style in later years.

On both discs, trombonist Joseph Bowie flanks Lowe in the front line. The 21-year old younger brother of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago's trumpet scientist Lester, Bowie works in broad brush gestures. His forceful gusts come interspersed with calm musings, but he nonetheless proves an enthusiastic foil for the leader. On bass, William Parker shows why he became so in demand. He forms the nimble pulsing center of the music, but also captures the imagination with flurries of angular bow work. In his partnership with the clattering momentum of drummer Steve Reid, there are also portents of the groove switching elasticity that became such a trademark once he had teamed up with Hamid Drake.

On the studio session heads are typically brief, and indeed that's all "Logical Extensions" comprises -two short run throughs. However mostly they serve as launch pads for freeform explosions which get most interesting after the sequence of horn solos leads to group interaction. "Untitled 1," "Vivid Description" and "Untitled 2" provide fine examples of the fiery interplay which serves one of the main selling points of this collection. But somehow in spite of the strengths displayed the tapes didn't see the light of day until now. Instead Lowe's next release was to be the slightly more conservative Fresh (Arista Freedom, 1975), featuring a brace of Monk tunes.

The same band, with the addition of trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah on Side D, appears on a live recording from Sam Rivers' legendary Studio Rivbea loft, sometime in summer 1974. The freewheeling "Untitled 3" gives a good indication of what was going down at this juncture, and illustrates the oft made point that it was not all fire breathing but incorporated a fair degree of cooler reflection. Also included in the package is a digital link to online video excerpts of the gig which supplement the recorded portions and allows a tantalizing view into Studio Rivbea. It's rough cut footage which tends to focus on one person at a time, and so cannot reveal insights to the interrelationships across the whole band. But regardless, the opportunity to see Lowe in action at this time is priceless.

From this point on, Lowe issued a series of albums, distinguished by their variety, on small independent labels, of which The Flam (Black Saint, 1976) constitutes the cream, but the two albums presented here remain notable for their bravado and energy.

Track Listing

Side A: Untitled 1; Vivid Description; Side B: Listen; Untitled 2; Logical Extensions; Side C: Whew!; Side D: Untitled 3; Closing Announcement.

Personnel

Frank Lowe: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, voice, percussion, congas, balafon, whistles, harmonics, miscellaneous small instruments; Joseph Bowie: trombone, congas; William Parker: bass; Steve Reid: drums; Ahmed Abdullah: trumpet (Side D).

Album information

Title: Out Loud | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Triple Point Records

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