Paraphrasing a comment saxophonist Paul Desmond once made about free jazz he said that it was like a house in which every room was painted red. Interesting to visit, perhaps, but might not want to live there. I don’t agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment, for I appreciate many free jazz groups and musicians. And forgive me if I am mangling the essence of his idea, but there is an element of truth to his exaggeration. Many free jazz musicians from the sixties to today declare that the conventional jazz "rules" of tension and release, rhythm, melody, and harmony don’t apply to their advanced concepts of musical liberation. Often times, their music may be great fun for the musicians themselves to play, but they curse the stone ears of the audience members that don’t "get it."
The Tone Sharks, a free jazz quintet, take pride, in the notes of the CD, that all its songs but one were spontaneously composed. The members are all talented and fluent musicians, but when you throw stuff against a wall, not all of it sticks.
The first song, "Surf Shark," finds a collective quirky groove, but lacks peaks and valleys. Just when the direction starts to shift, there’s a fade out. "Over Hill and Dale" is a rubato and melancholy meander. The subsequent tracks seem to follow one of these two schemes as well abstract ride cymbal-propelled swings or moody out-of-tempo wanderings.
Each of the musicians has an attractive instrumental tone, but the lack of strong concepts in most of the tracks leaves me wanting more structure. I wanted to find more to like in this disc because of their obvious individual talent, but I can’t imagine playing it too much because of their inability to hold my interest as a group.