This, the fourth in a series of live 2008 recordings by the free jazz trio Fab Trio, finds the group in Amsterdam. The one thing you can be sure of with these musicians is that the results will be startling, original and many times culminate in unexpected moments of finesse and elegance.
The Fab Trio includes one of the true stars and leaders of free jazz, violinist Billy Bang. Growing up in South Bronx, Bang joined the Loft scene following a stint in Vietnam. His ground-breaking work with like-minded artists such as Sun Ra, Don Cherry and Marilyn Crispell, still yields results. Bassist Joe Fonda has worked with a wide array of artists including Archie Shepp, Ken McIntyre, Lou Donaldson, Bill and Kenny Barron, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Perry Robinson, Dave Douglas, Curtis Fuller, Marion Brown and Bill Dixon. Drummer Barry Altschul made a wide name for himself in his work with Chick Corea’s Circle. Rare for a drummer, Altschul is at home in both free and structured environments. His later work with Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton is still deserving of wider attention.
Differing from the free jazz as approached by Evan Parker, these three musicians tend to stay away from dynamic extremes in the forte range. Relying more on subtle tonal changes, the group interplay is still no less formidable. Of the three, Bang’s playing tends to be much more oriented and greatly geared towards the rhythmically un-metric. Still in his work one hears elements of the American folk song. It’s Bang’s ability to morph the history of the American experience into his own style, and then interweave the resultant phrases among and with his co-collaborators, that makes his work the most startling. In "Go East," for example, his long opening lines are both poignant and crisp; no easy feat. When accompanied by Fonda’s following of the harmonic implications supplied by Bang, and Altschul’s own coloristic drumset effects, one can’t help but think in terms of classical programmatic music. While the tune may be listed as composed by Fonda, the joy of free jazz is how any melodic line or harmonic sequence is open to interpretation at the moment of performance. If Bang isn’t trying to say something philosophical within the sadness of his lines then this reviewer missed the boat entirely. As if to underscore this sentiment, Bang’s solo cadenza, six minutes in, only reaffirms the questing desire for completeness in ways words will never be able to express.
Categorizing three musicians who have made it their imperative desire to explore the interactions that working together night after night can create is difficult at best. Take a listen to "Spirits Entering" and see if you don’t hear exuberance mixed with smiles, all the while they listen and respond to each other’s cues with radar ears. Meaning, in the end, is up to the listener.
This will be a difficult recording for many to traverse. It’s not that Bang, Fonda and Altschul use extended techniques, because these three, at least on this recording, tend to stay away from such easy-to-go-to idiomatic traditions; instead they work within the confines of tradition, but in a free manner. Sometimes they are successful, and at other times perhaps not so much. Regardless, there is much to mine here, but prepared to work for your supper.