Free as They Want to Be
Impulse! Records' recent free-jazz reissue series gathers together albums by some of the most prominent free players of the Sixties, though not all of the music on them is free. It should be kept in mind that because of their limited knowledge, the improvisation of some so-called free jazzmen wasn't free some of the time, but modal; they'd simply improvise on one chord or scale for long stretches, maybe not even knowing they were doing it.
Cecil Tayloris a very well-schooled pianist influenced by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and Arnold Schoenberg. His first few albums, though experimental, weren't free, but he was nevertheless one of the first cats to get into it. He's on three tracks of Mixed, which he shares with trombonist Roswell Rudd. Taylor leads a quintet including altoist Jimmy Lyons and tenorman Archie Shepp, while Rudd and trumpeter Ted Curson augment the group on one cut, and these are among Taylor's finest recorded selections. The angular solos by him, Lyons, and Shepp crackle with energy, flashing across the aural landscape like streaks of lightning. Rudd's group includes altoman Robin Kenyatta and Giusseppi Logan on flute and bass clarinet, and features the trombonist using smears, blasts, and heavy vibrato to summon echoes of New Orleans tailgate stylists and Woody Herman star Bill Harris. There's a lot of impassioned yet controlled collective improvising here, with bassists Charlie Haden and Lewis Worrell and drummer Sonny Murray playing an active role.
Pharoah Sanders appears on soprano sax in a front line featuring alto sax player Gary Bartz and trumpeter Woody Shaw. The band includes three percussionists, with other members doubling on percussion. There are two selections on Summum Bukmun Umyun, both influenced by John Coltrane's concepts. The first features improv laced with an African quality, while the second is a "spiritual," contemplative piece. Neither gets off the ground and a lot of talent is wasted.
Albert Ayler took certain tendencies in free jazz about as far as they could go. There wasn't any point in trying to play higher or faster than Ayler, although it was possible to play cleaner. On Live in Greenwich, a 2-CD set cut from 1965-'67, we hear Ayler and his trumpet-playing brother Donald joined on various tracks by violinist Michel Sampson, cellist Joel Freedman, several bassists, Murray or Beaver Harris on drums, and pianist Call Cobbs. Ayler plays tenor sax, but switches to alto on "For John Coltrane." While he had a tendency to play repetitively, this is mitigated to an extent by his reacting to other band members; Ayler is thinking as well as blowing here, and when he did that, he was very creative. When he gets into the upper register with the string players he sounds like one himself. And as usual, he flat-out lays himself bare when improvising. Note, too, Albert's strange, seemingly archaic but really original compositions, which seem to combine military, religious, and country music. He could be viewed as a folk musician; certainly his music has a homemade quality.
Alto saxman Marion Brown is joined by pianists Dave Burrell and Stanley Cowell, bassist Sirone, and drummers Harris or Bobby Capp on Three for Shepp. Their music is relatively cerebral, with Brown turning in thin-toned, sometimes lyrical solos, and it's only a step or two behind tenorman Dewey Redman's The Ear of the Behearer. Replaced by Don Cherry in the quartet of his old high school mate Ornette Coleman, Redman did some distinguished work with Keith Jarrett. Here, he appears with trumpeter Ted Daniel and cellist Jane Robertson. There's a nice variety of moods and tempos on his CD, ranging from rousing to pensive. Redman, who's drawn his style mainly from Coleman and Coltrane, acquits himself quite well everywhere. He's a solid, creative player, and deserves far more recognition than his reactionary, if technically impressive, son Joshua.
A Monastic Trio finds pianist/harpist Alice Coltrane playing unaccompanied, with a trio, and with a quartet featuring Pharoah Sanders. Alice was an accomplished post-bop player, and here she displays the influence of her husband John, as well as his long-time pianist McCoy Tyner; there's a lot of spirituality in her work. She's an inspired, inventive soloist and a technically solid pianist, although she's not as innovative as the other leaders on these CDs.
CECIL TAYLOR/ROSWELL RUDD
The Way Ahead (Impulse!)
Summum Bukmun Umyun (Impulse!)
Live in Greenwich (Impulse!)
Three for Shepp (Impulse!)
The Ear of the Behearer (Impulse!)
Trio Live (Impulse!)
A Monastic Trio (Impulse!)