On Spirits Awake,
the Freedom Art Quartet immediately announces its overall dedication to groove and funky second-line beats with "In the Thick of It," as Jaribu Shahid’s ripely swinging bass gives way to Abraham Burton’s lush, confident tenor and Omar Kabir’s incisive and radiant trumpet. On "Kimbunga," Kabir switches to flugelhorn and makes it growl like a trombone without the aid of a slide or plunger mute, and guest altoist Douglas Yates solos busily before the band returns to state the theme.
Following this enticing exposition and summary of Freedom Art’s artistic ambition, the lazy swing of "Monking Around" features Shahid dead on the beat, Burton’s coherent and authoritative tenor statements, and Lloyd Haber’s drums filling and rolling in a swirl all around. These are Haber’s compositions, and though they follow the convention of in-turn solos bracketed by main themes, the music is lively and brimming with melody, and the musicians make the most of their own time, and the listener’s. Spirits Awake
reaches its climax with "Love of Illusion." As the tune begins, Kabir makes room for Burton to get aggressive, and the saxophonist ascends higher and higher with each bar, spurred on by the churning rhythm section. When the trumpet returns, it’s Latin-tinged, inspiring a brief but eclectic cutting session between the two horns. Sadly, the musicians are still trading lines as the piece fades out. I could have stood another ten minutes, easy. This musical crescendo makes the next track, "Spirits of New York," sound like a benediction, resolution presented as a melodic Aylerian elegy. Burton overblows and vibrates at a sorrowful pace before the melancholy walk transforms into a more joyful stride, like a minifuneral march, New Orleans-style.
Structured like a drama in five acts (with an added scene or two), Spirits Awake
captures the listener’s interest, holds that interest with creativity and intensity, then rewards it with excitement generated by musical variety and masterly expressiveness.