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Jazz music continually tries to outpace the long shadow cast by its past. On the one hand, it's the music of the vanguard, an art form built on a spirit of risk-taking and experimentation. On the other, the progressive spirit started with Charlie Parker and extended by Ornette Coleman (and several others) seemed to have stopped short with John Coltrane's death in 1967. But in the mid 1970s, Switzerland's hatHUT label persevered, survived and even thrived in waters markedly outside the music's mainstream by, above all, offering the decade's top free jazz talent artistic liberty and a commitment of support.
The reissue of Zaki, a 1979 performance from a concert in Willisau, Switzerland, given by the relatively short-lived Oliver Lake Trio (Lake on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, Michael Gregory Jackson on electric guitar and Pheeroan akLaff on drums), exemplifies the musical ambition and non-commerciality for which the label is today known. Without a bass to anchor the rhythm, Lake, Jackson and akLaff turn the typical musical triangle on its tip, with Lake and Jackson trading lines and ideas as equals on top of the rhythmic support supplied by the drummer. The continual hoarseness in the sound of each of Lake's horns infuses his parts with urgency, while Jackson's runs are dexterous and nimble. There is an implicit egalitarianism in this trio's spontaneity and interaction.
Without a doubt, this recording captures a special concert by a band that wasn't together for too long. But it's also true that the music was created on a night many years ago. The question reissues raise is this: should free jazz continually look to its past for its innovation, or are there musicians today making music at this level of artistry and creativity? With its new releases, hatOLOGY answers yes to the question, but reissues like Zaki guard against forgetting how we got here.
Track Listing: Zaki; Clicker; Shine; 5/1; Zaki.
Personnel: Oliver Lake: alto, tenor and soprano saxophones; Michael Gregory Jackson: electric guitar; Pheeroan akLaff: drums.