The Free Session presents Basque saxophonist Gorka Benitez in a dizzying variety of stylistic approaches. These mostly short performances focus more on the leader as a composer than as an improviser. And while some of the music may indeed by characterized as free jazz, some of the pieces are through-composed, and some are urgently swinging post-bop.
Benitez offers a glimpse of himself as a tenor saxophone soloist on "Diatonicism," which sounds like it could be a swinging but very abstract version of "I Got Rhythm," perhaps as revisited by Ornette Coleman. Here Benitez unfurls a highly creative solo with curling phrases and a smoky sound. Ornette's influence also appears on the joyous but too-short romp "Bill Sketch #2." There is a powerful piano solo by Waltzer on "Alboka Sketch Band," and most of the remaining improvising is contrapuntal. McHenry and Benitez are heard improvising together on several pieces, and Perez adds his spiky guitar as yet another voice, most notably on "GDK." As for the alboka, it's a Basque instrument, a double-reed clarinet that sounds something like bagpipes. Benitez plays it on two tracks.
With so much emphasis on composition on The Free Session, there isn't much stretching out, save the previously mentioned Benitez and Waltzer solos. The compositions vary widely in form and style, from the pretty bossa "Octubre 22" to the ruminative "Sketch #3." Benitez's through-composed pieces offer much surprise and wit, and plenty of variety. Yet somehow, the whole is a bit less than the sum of the parts. Although The Free Session presents many aspects of Benitez's formidable talents, the overall effect is one of lack of focus. Thus, despite some excellent music, the album is too diffuse to have much impact.
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