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Freedom & Unity by Clifford Thornton

Valve trombonist/composer Clifford Thornton is a nearly forgotten figure of 1960s free-era jazz. He’s recorded with Sun Ra and Sunny Murray, and led a fine big band for his Gardens Of Harlem record date on the JCOA label. (Somebody get this back into print!) Perhaps Thornton is not as well known as peers Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler because he wasn’t fortunate enough to land a contract with a major record label, or because he joined many American musicians in the 60s/70s flight to the somewhat more hospitable (racially and artistically) European scene. Anyway, the scarcity of his recordings makes this reissue all the more valuable. Freedom & Unity was recorded in 1967 but not released until ’69, and indie labels didn’t have an easy time of it back then - this year Atavistic rescued it from collectorland and spiffed it up with two previously unreleased tracks. This is very much in the vein of the avante/free jazz of the period: passionate, frenetic solos, urgent rhythms, pensive, impatient themes and oft-ragged but fervent ensemble work. What sets it apart and above the excesses of that era is the remarkable sense of temperance by the entire group - there’s a sense of muted minor-key sense of mystery to many of the compositions, a feeling of eye-of-the-hurricane calm in the group’s dynamics. Thornton has a tart, bristling sound that at times sounds like a cross betwixt Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet and Ornette’s alto sax; alto saxophonist Sonny King has an agitated, vocal tone that reflects an influence of Marion Brown with a touch of Benny Carter; Harold Avent is a forceful and propulsive mad-bebop drummer, perhaps the "straightest arrow" here (in the usual sense of "swing" - it’s wonderfully free-oriented but it’s THERE); and Karl Berger’s vibes crackle ‘n’ shine. The only downside to this disc is the sound quality is a bit sharp and a tad echo-y in spots (but so what). Fans and scholars of The New Thing (what they called the wild ‘n’ "noisy" jazz back-when) circa ’65-’68 will likely find this indispensable.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Clifford Thornton
  • CD Title: Freedom & Unity
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Atavistic
  • Rating: Three Stars
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