Freebop Now 20th Anniversary Of The Freebop Band
Freebop Now! is designed both as a manifesto for Malachi Thompson's aesthetic principles and a 20th anniversary celebration of his Freebop Band concept. But it's a rather disjointed disc jamming together two sextet sessions with different goals, one commemorating a 1998 trip to play in Senegal featuring Billy Harper as Thompson's front-line foil, and the second centered around a science-fiction short story by Thompson with Oliver Lake replacing Harper. But "Cancerian Moon" is a 1993 track featuring Thompson's old Carter Jefferson/Joe Ford sax tandem that only muddies the waters even more. Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile" is a solid opener, while Mae Koen's voice joins the horns to give "Flight to Senegal" a Brazilian tinge a' la Flora Purim as Harper turns in a blazing tenor solo. The title track features vocal scatting and strong solos from Steve Berry on trombone and Harper over James Cammack's free-ranging bass foundation. Thompson's trumpet solo explores "'Round Midnight" using a spare, Monk-like approach to the melody over Cammack's anchor, and while "Just a Look" and "Cancerian Moon" are well-crafted and delivered pieces, they're also nothing particularly special. But the sci-fi pieces with Lake are spottier and much less cohesive. "Jammin' at the Point" is ruled by a loping Caribbean-flavored groove fueled by Hamid Drake's percussion, while "Worm Hole" leans to the free side of freebop with drummer Dana Hall ripping underneath the horn harmonies. But the brief "Ancient African Horns" sounds like mouthpiece solos, "Black Hole" incorporates a spoken word reflection on black-on-black youth violence, and "Heathens and Space/Time Projection" is built around recitations by Amiri Baraka and Larry Smith. The final four tracks are pretty scattered, and while that doesn't derail Freebop Now!, it's not the strongest disc in Thompson's consistently interesting catalog. And some of his liner note rhetoric here makes you wonder if Thompson should attach so much conceptual baggage to what is the essential quest for any jazz musician - a commitment to creating inventive music without being limited to prior models.
All Music Guide
Trumpeter Malachi Thompson's new Delmark release marks the 20th anniversary of his Chicago-based Free-bop Band. As two decades have passed since its inception, it would seem a proper time to pose the question, what exactly is Free-bop? If one assumes that the "free" in Free-bop denotes music that is unstructured or inharmonious, such a premise is not supported by the evidence presented here. Thompson states in his liner notes that Free-bop "takes the most exciting elements of bop and combines [them] with the exploratory aspects of avant-garde jazz," which seems a more accurate description of his band's purpose. Thus Free-bop strives to broaden the parameters of Jazz without abandoning the music's customary precepts of order and discipline. It is "free" only in the sense that Thompson and his colleagues seek to rearrange the basic building blocks of bop and upraise them to a new and more exciting plane. In fact, the Free-bop Band sounds for the most part much like many other bop-based groups who try as best they can to communicate within the vernacular, complementing eleven well-designed compositions by Thompson with a pair of venerable Jazz standards, Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile" and Monk's "Round Midnight." On the other hand, the group veers emphatically off-course on tracks 10 through 12 which encompass various guttural sounds, poetry and recitation whose mission, apparently, is to deliver a sobering "message" before the session closes with a brief reprise of the rhythmically robust "Jammin' at the Point." Thompson, who as a young musician was influenced by Lee Morgan, still displays some of Morgan's stylistic touches. His longtime partner, Harper, plays a rough-hewn tenor in the manner of a David Murray or John Stubblefield, while Lake, who replaces Harper on half a dozen tracks, usually skates on the edge with a manner of expression that, while drawn from a number of sources, is definitely his own. The rhythm section is first-class, with pianist Brown consistently bright and swinging in his solo appearances. Of Thompson's compositions, the most pleasing to these ears are the fast-paced "Flight to Senegal," the easygoing "Just a Look" and the richly textured "Cancerian Moon." Except for a few minor bumps in the road, this is high-caliber bop.