The finest free jazz, that which is played at the highest levels, is actually quite tuneful. Not that the musicians rely on riffs or licks, or traditional themes. It is simply that the music, like an Abstract Expressionist painting, converges to form a whole. Just as a novice art student or someone without any art history background might not appreciate a painting by Willem de Kooning or Franz Kline, it's interesting to observe that both schooled artists and little children recognize the virtuosity instantly. The same is true for free jazz musicians, who often preach to the converted listeners (and should also do so to school children).
A case-in-point is the trio Neuköllner Modelle, made up of saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, bassist Joel Grip and legendary jazz drummer Sven-Åke Johansson. Sektion 1-2
is the first part of a seven Sektion
(section) series of live recordings from Berlin in 2015. Self-described as two seemingly disparate strategies, "Constructive Free Jazz" or "Non- Expressive Free Jazz," the two sides of their LP (yes, this is vinyl) will sound either assembled or deconstructed, depending on your orientation.
If you're lucky, both.
Pairing Denzler, a musician with an astute approach to minimalist saxophone (check out Tenor
(Potlatch, 2012)), with Grip, a collocating musician who ties many disparate European improvisational forms together, and Johansson, the Swiss army knife (although he is Swedish) of drummers, is a genius amalgam of musicians.
"Sektion 1" opens almost lazily with trudging bass and the rattle accents of Johansson warming up his snare, bass drum, and cymbals. Denzler puts lips to horn, honoring the footslog. Where another trio might have pushed and pulled each other to force, maybe squeeze, a performance out, these three never seem to play the provocation card. They build intensity as a unit, constructing both pieces here as if they were nurturing the music as an ecosystem. Highly recommended music.