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Mark Lockett: Swings & Roundabouts

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Mark Lockett: Swings & Roundabouts
The "free jazz" movement has come a long way since its introduction mid-20th century by pathfinders like Tadd Dameron, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Andrew Cyrille, Lester Bowie and their kin. The music, which favors free expression in lieu of customary chordal, rhythmic and harmonic precepts, was at times puzzling, even painful, to unscramble. Over the years, free jazz has tempered to some extent its revolutionary aspects, one example of which is New Zealand-born drummer Mark Lockett's seventh album, Swings & Roundabouts, which is basically free-form jazz in the best sense of the phrase: fresh, adventurous and nowhere near abstruse or displeasing.

Lockett traveled all the way to New York City to record, enlisting the most accomplished like-minded musicians he could find—trumpeter Duane Eubanks, alto saxophonist David Binney, bassist Matt Penman—to round out his piano-less quartet. As the instrumentation (almost) mirrors that of the celebrated Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker quartets of the early 1950s, one can't help wondering whether this is where such groups might have landed music-wise were they still around.

Lockett and his mates make themselves at home on nine of his free-wheeling compositions, navigating the harmonic shadings and rhythmic variations with ease while keeping the music as keen and accessible as free jazz can be. Playing in a chordless setting, Lockett writes, "means the music can go in any direction at any moment, which can be engaging for the audience and very stimulating for the musicians." While that may be true, it is also clear that nothing on Swings & Roundabouts is discordant, even on such an overt tribute as "Here's to Ornette" (on which Penman delivers one of several perceptive solos).

Lockett even squeezes in a blues, "Post Gig" variety, on which Binney and Eubanks shine, as they do on every number, while Lockett and Penman provide a sturdy rhythmic pulse and Penman solos earnestly (again). And some tunes, like the buoyant "Happy Go Lucky," are absolutely charming. "Level Four," which closes the session, is another winner, as everyone navigates its swift and turbulent waters with relative ease and Lockett indulges himself with a brief but forceful solo.

So what is one to make of an album whose free jazz stance is solid but whose outcome seems for all the world like purebred contemporary jazz played at a fairly high level. Is it enough to spark a fresh appraisal of free jazz as a whole, or merely an outlier that is in no way typical of the genre. That is for others to decide. As for Swings & Roundabouts, it transcends any label save jazz itself, and as such earns high marks for creativity and musicianship.

Track Listing

The Crib; Out on Parole; Rhubarb Crumble; G&T; Here’s to Ornette; Post Gig Blues; Virtual Reality; Happy Go Lucky; Level 4.

Personnel

David Binney
saxophone, alto

Album information

Title: Swings & Roundabouts | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Thick Records


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