Music as Art / Music as Metaphysics

One of the more intriguing concepts of music that of an alternate, parallel language more ancient and more starkly emotional than the spoken word apples to those who play avant garde and free forms of music. The musician who plays "free" jazz, music free from, though not especially devoid of, conventional boundaries of harmony, melody and rhythmic form, is perhaps more tuned into the concept of alternate language than others. These are the players who think in terms of growing the music, stretching it and taking it to a new reality. Musical linguists. The lineage of free form jazz is well documented. Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano came first, though it is Ornette Coleman who is most frequently credited as being the father of the movement. His 1959 The Shape of Jazz To Come rattled every precept in music to their core. John Coltrane’s Om and Ascensionalbums were signposts. Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Roswell Rudd, Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor and Eric Dolphy are legendary for their process as well as for their groundbreaking work. These 1960s pioneers trail blazed for larger ensembles like the AACM, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and BAG in the 1970s. These groups would serve as inspirational catalysts for like minded/spirited groups working the international musical landscape. The music didn’t, of course, stop there. Most of those visionaries performing this music in 2004 toil in relative obscurity, but there continue to be forward thinking artists who draw outside the lines. The free/avant movement continues to grow and to bring new converts to this art-for-art’s-sake musical form along with them.

Vinny Golia and Mike Khoury, the driving forces of two adventurous recording companies -- Nine Winds and Entropy Stereo are two of those important musician/entrepreneurs who work tirelessly to record and disseminate this creative music. Though the recordings they make have similarities, just as the size of their catalogs are distinctly different, so too are their musical directions.

Mike Khoury, a brilliant violinist, has a small, yet very significant record company that has among its catalog music unique to its Detroit-Ann Arbor base, though with some notable exceptions. Griot Galaxy’s Live at the DIA 1983 offers the most recognizable of the Detroit scene’s free jazz groups in an unusual setting. Recorded at the Detroit Institute of the Arts at the height of the group’s popularity, this is an organic and emotionally electric set that mesmerizes. Featuring Faruk Z. Bey, Anthony Holland and David McMurray (yes that David McMurray) on saxophones, along with the amazing rhythm team of Tani Tabbal (drums) and Jeribu Shahid (bass), the ensemble would perform in African garb and white face, combining elements of modal transitions and Sun Ra’s spacey explorations. They were one of the most exciting bands on the international jazz scene. Having experienced the group a number of times, I can attest to their brilliance in person. This double disc captures the band in all their magnificent envelope crunching glory. Faruk Z. Bey has recorded a couple for the label, giving fans of Griot Galaxy cause for excitement. The latest is the very exciting Ashirai Pattern, cut with the Northwoods Improvisers. The Improvisers have recorded a couple of discs for the label as well, and recorded with Bey previously. This one is particularly interesting for its furtherance of the harmonic concepts first explored 20 years previously with Griot Galaxy. Mike Carey (tenor), Mike Gilmore (vibes), Mike Johnson (bass) and Nick Ashton (drums) play widely varied stylistic foils to Bey. Khoury’s violin is among those instruments that add to the magic, as is Len Bukowski’s contra alto clarinet. Maybe the most intriguing release on Entropy Stereo is The Moment by Kalaparush and the Light. The 70-plus year old saxophone genius was an original member of the AACM and had been inactive for a decade before resurfacing in the 1990s. This would be one of the first recordings marking that return. It is a fascinating and a powerful recording that matches his tenor with tuba and bass. That he would visit the small Michigan label to document this speaks glowingly of Entropy.

Vinny Golia is a multi-instrumentalist who has recorded on a wide array of instruments in an equally wide ranging diversity of settings, from contemporary classical to music for film. He’s also performed with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Horace Tapscott and the Rova Saxophone Quartet. Golia formed 9 Winds in 1977 and has released better than 120 recordings in the ensuing years, primarily of West Coast-based players. The latest offerings from the catalogue speak of the broad diversity inherent in the label. These are "free" in the broadest sense.

Sonu’s Sounds From the Source features woodwinds and electronics performing compositions from Golia, Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell in an unlikely, yet wholly enchanting, mix. Subvenire showcases the compositional and performance genius of bassist Ken Filiano who plays skillfully and inventively from the first to last note. This is one of the most exquisite bass performances this writer has ever heard. Less of Five, a piano, bass, drums and alto quartet, paints musical landscapes of torrential swirling sound storms that frequently remind of Cecil Taylor. Pianist Giorgio Occhipinti, soprano and alto saxophonist Olivia Bignardi, and Giuseppe Guarrella and Antonio Moncada on double bass and drums respectively are magnificently talented on their Acrobati Follie Innamorati.

Nancy and Bert Turetzky’s Music for Flute and Contrabass is one of the most recent releases from the label as well as one of its most captivating. The Turetzkys have been together for 44 years, both as a married and a performing couple. Their delight is conspicuous in this joyous and exploratory collection of music from a group of distinguished modern composers. The duet performances from two of the most important musicians of free/avant garde music on the contemporary landscape are breathtaking. Pexo A Soundpainting Symphony, from the Walter Thompson Orchestra is as complex in its description as it is enjoyable in its presentation. Suffice to say, the music that Thompson composed for this extended improvised symphony is visual, always moving, and sometimes quite amazing. The big band assembled is fluent and intense.

Vinny Golia, in addition to being the driving force of the label, is its most recorded artist. His diversity of approaches and instrumental combinations speak to his unquenched desire to explore further afield. Feeding Frenzyjuxtaposes woodwinds and a string quartet in a most interesting manner. Golia is driven by the possibilities of different voicings, and on this wonderful recording he works with two violins, cello and bass, working in conjunction and in opposition to his saxophones, flutes and clarinets. On Music for Like Instruments -- The Eb Saxophoneshe bring contrabass, soprano and baritone saxophones to the session and proves himself one of the few players since Rahsaan Roland Kirk to master the stritch. This 14-song dialogue between Golia and three alto players (Beth Schenck, Jason Mears and Nathan Herrera) on an all Golia program is intelligently performed and casts the composer in a particularly unique light. His most recent outing, A Gift for the Unusual Music for Contrabass Saxophone, highlights the interplay between tubax, a "new version of the contrabass saxophone," and trombone, contrabass, all manner of keyboards, cello, and even chromatic harmonica, as well as in solo performance. This is not merely the introduction of a new instrument, but the creation of a new language. The results are stunning.

Additionally, superb 9 Winds offerings have been released over the past few years by The Rob Blakeslee Quartet (Brass, woodwinds and rhythm), Paul Smoker (brass and percussion), Johnnie Valentino (guitar with Wadada Leo Smith and a host of others), Christopher Adler Trio (woodwinds, piano, drums), John Rapson (trombone with Billy Higgins and others), and a spectacular duo set of Mike Wofford and Bert Turetzky.

With labels like 9 Winds (www.ninewinds.com) and Entropy Stereo (www.entropystereo.com) working so diligently for the art and the artists, the future of adventurous, non-predictable, free jazz is joyfully assured.

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