Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Dive Into One of the Most Lyrical, Vivid Free Jazz Albums of the Last Few Years

More about that weeklong celebration of Studio Rivbea, which was a focal point in the loft jazz scene in the 70s and 80s. The series of shows in the 24 Bond St. space where Sam Rivers threw one rent party jam after another – now the Gene Frankel Theater – continues through this weekend. The next really tempting lineup is Jan 6 at 7 PM, beginning with saxophonist Isaiah Barr leading a trio, followed at 8:30 by poet Anne Waldman with Devin Waldman on sax and at 9 ubiquitous bassist William Parker with his dancer wife Patricia Nicholson, Ellen Christi on vocals and Jason Kao Hwang on violin. You can get in for a reasonable $25 in advance

The central figure here is Parker, who may have played on more free jazz albums than anybody else. Here’s one of the best of the recent batch: Sparks, with Eri Yamamoto on piano, Chad Fowler on stritch and saxello and Steve Hirsh on drums, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is not a record for people with short attention spans, but if you free your mind, your ears will follow and thank you. Yamamoto edges toward a sagacious, bluesy ballad to introduce the title track, Fowler hanging in retrograde shadow with his blue notes. A lull signals a long, vivid, contented Pharaoh Sanders-ish interlude from Fowler over Yamamoto’s spacious chords, which she gets to take by herself into more insistent terrain before they wind it out with a warm wee-hours vibe.

Fowler works variations on a cheery calypso riff in the second number, In the Garden, the rest of the band building a turbulent whirlpool and eventually pulling him in. Parker’s wary bowed solo is over too soon; Yamamoto’s decision to take a shadowy exit rather than let good cop Fowler take the reins again pays off quietly but mightily. Ultimately, sunshiney energy wins out.

Likewise, the quartet conjure a swing tune out of nowhere, Sam Rivers style in Bob’s Pink Cadillac, Parker taking it doublespeed for a light-fingered but incisively rhythmic Yamamoto solo. Fowler puts a light disguise on an iconic Gershwin quote and then shifts it around as the band flurry and pounce. As is often the case here, the group let a lot more space in and engage in fleeting moments of jousting. As the title indicates, it’s the album’s most playful (i.e. goofiest) number.

Fowler pulls the rest of the group to echo his initial somber oldtime blues riff to get Taiko, the next track, off the ground. Yamamoto’s icy accents linger above Parker’s wounded slow-walk and the two build a cumulo-nimbus intensity while Hirsh stirs up a vortex below. Fowler follows with melismatic gloom as his bandmates team up for muted pointillisms, Parker fueling a more phantasmagorical atmosphere. Yamamoto takes her time getting out, but Hirsh pulls her up and the mood lifts a little. Lots happening on this record!

She introduces the final number, Real World with a plaintive, expectant riff, Fowler reaching for a balmy ballad before shifting to more brooding territory as Parker builds out a back alley lot with his bow. Wry quotes and paraphrases juxtapose with a dark modal simmer; Yamamoto gets a racewalking swing going behind Fowler’s squawks and glissandos, then takes a glistening, neoromantically-tinged solo as Hirsh rattles and ices the windows with his cymbals. Fowler returns to balladeer role, taking the music into a spacious stillness and finally a sly, pianissimo rimshot solo from Hirsh. Yamamoto ushers in a graceful exit. Free jazz doesn’t get any better than this.

It’s also worth mentioning Yamamoto’s poignant album from last year, A Woman With a Purple Wig, where she makes her recorded debut on vocals in response to a vicious anti-Asian attack in the early days of the Covid scam.

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January 4, 2023 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , ,

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