All sorts of jazz, free jazz and improv. Never for money, always for love.
Ode to a Dying Planet (Ayler Records aylDL 084)
Star Flakes! (Alpha Phonics APCD-R3)
12 Votes! (Alpha Phonics APCD-R2)
Described as a profound, evolving sonic or an irritant that refuses to go away, Free Jazz continues to flourish on the margins of the improvised music world despite the efforts of some to label it a short-term, out-of-date aberration.
New York, which arguably birthed the style in the mid-1960s, remains one of its hotbeds, with frequent out-of-way or unknown sessions taking place throughout the city. Each of the CDs by drummer Marc Edwards and his Slipstream Time Travel ensemble is representative of the emotional and experimental gestalt that continues to burble in Gotham, with the main difference between the self-produced Alpha Phonics discs and the Ayler download sessions, a higher standard of mixing and mastering on the latter.
Edwards, still best-known for his tenure with Cecil Taylor in
the 1970s, leas an ever-shifting ensemble, whose CDs here encompass
music taken from gigs recorded over approximately a year’s time. The
core band includes Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut playing percussive piano,
although he’s usually a guitarist specializing in Etuning or
Environmental Tuning, designed to reflect the everyday sounds of New
York. Joining these two on the Ayler disc are guitarists Tor Snyder and
Ernest Anderson III, who usually move in similar circles.
Added to this quartet on Star Flakes! is tenor saxophonist Sabir Mateen, veteran of a variety of Free Jazz bands, often in the company of with trombonist Steve Swell or bassist William Parker. Mateen is absent on 12 Votes! but added to the band are alto saxophonist Blaise Siwula, organizer of the C.O.M.A. improv series; French bassist Francois Grillot, who often works with more mainstream aggregations, and ex-Torontonian, trumpeter James Duncan.
Duncan’s smeary, triple-tonguing and fire-drill-like screeches place him in the role of Donald Ayler to Siwula’s Albert Ayler, and the reed man responds with squawking trills, intense overblowing and reed bites. However nowhere on the four live tracks of 12 Votes! is there a suggestion that this septet is attempting to be an ESP-Disk revival band. For a start Edwards’ outward-directed pounding, flams and rebounds are spectacularly distinctive – probably the most individual of his percussion strategies on the three discs – and sometimes rely on conga-drum-like skin smoothing rather than stick attacks. Plus reverberating guitar licks and fuzz-tone distortions adds punk-rock-like velocity to the proceedings.
Although there are points where guitar flails are almost indistinguishable from saxophone vibrations, Snyder and Anderson never seem to miss an opportunity to twist their guitar body’s knobs or introduce multi-effects. Whining, wiggling and sluicing, with hiccupping lines and buzzing flanges more prominent than the few oases of finger-style lyricism exhibited, the power of the two playing in tandem appears to resurrect licks that moves backwards from punk-rock to Heavy Metal to reconnect with Jimi Hendrix vamping at Woodstock. Overall the collaborations move from polyrhythmic crescendos to stilled diminuendos, even though most timbres heard are fortissimo, agitato and nearly endless.
With only Mateen as the fifth participant, Star Flakes! is more of the same; however the lo-fi and muddy recording quality means that the rumble of audience conversation and the odd bandstand discussion is sporadically as sonically evident as the solos. Vibrating with high frequency jabs Shurdut’s pianism is more prominent here, while conversely, Edwards clunking, clinking and subtle drags are more in the background then elsewhere.
Wailing and vibrating note distortions and overall crunching intersection from Snyder and Edwards moves their playing into Rhys Chatham or Glenn Branca-like multi guitar strumming, with sound metaphorically as thick as the Berlin Wall. There is sophistication here too, however, with the guitarists spluttering and oscillating lines at one another or crackling and intersecting traverse tones. Unfazed by dense guitar crunches, Mateen reed-bites and trills a series of flutter-tongued notes in-between, around, above and below the guitar textures. Altissimo, Mateen’s widely spaced multiphonics sometimes muscle the guitarists away from slurred fingering and clanking into performing recognizable blues or country-styled runs.
On Ode, Shurdut’s high frequency chording is even more upfront, chromatically and contrapuntally gliding from concert hall-like legato flourishes to open-handed key fanning and clipping. Edwards’ response is equally varied, encompassing shuffle rhythms plus individual cymbal, snare and bass drum patterns. There’s even a point where one of the tune’s heads is recapped in proper jazz fashion. As for the guitarists, shaking licks and washboard-like scraped rasgueado predominate, leading to kinetic face-offs with the pianist’s tremolo runs. As the drummer keeps the tempo solid and supple, Edwards and Snyder sometimes swerve to the side, allowing Shurdut to barrel ahead with concentrated arpeggios jumps and cadenzas. Palm-slapped string rhythms and distorted fills and drones are then used to decorate the keyboardist’s thematic exuberance.
Precisely because the Ayler CD is the most cleanly recorded of the three, it also provides the most complete picture of the work of Edwards and ensemble. But any one of the three discs could transport listener to Free Jazz Heaven, where emotion and commitment reign paramount.
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