March 22, 2000
(Black Saint 120207-2)
Let us now praise unjustly "unfamous" men.
Case in point: tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman, an emotional, gut-wrenching free blower if there ever was one, who died of colon cancer in October 1998 at the age of 51.
Spearman was a take-no-prisoners blower in the lineage of Ayler, Coleman and Coltrane. A member of one of Cecil Taylor's group, he taught at Mills College in the Bay Area and recorded in a variety of settings, most memorably with his own Double Trio (for Tzadik and Black Saint).
But, because his snaky, informed improvisations were performed in the "wrong" place (Europe and California rather than New York); and at the "wrong" time (the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s rather than the 1960s); he was much less celebrated than he should have been.
This album may do something to redress the situation.
Recorded in four different sessions in 1994 and 1995, it, for the most part, finds Spearman and a sympathetic crew of long-time collaborators working on the spiky twists and turns of his own compositions. What's most remarkable about most of them is how easily they swing, in the most elemental sense of the word. "Blare", for instance is a danceable free jazz blues jam. Meanwhile "Fields Before The Ram" is a shorter, earlier, metre-shifting run-through of "The Fields", one of his Double Trio suites, with its nearly patented descending runs.
Standout colleagues, include saxophonist Eneidi, who shadows Spearman as Robin to his Batman; trumpeter Malik who matches the saxophonist in stratospheric intensity every time he puts his horn to his lips; and the drumming of Robinson (who recorded with Spearman from 1981 onwards), whose touch is so subtle that you hardly notice that he's there at all.
Two tracks are completely different. "Raga Shamwati" blends Spearman's horn with the voices and traditional instruments of South Asian musicians creating a winning east/west fusion. And "The Skin She Bears" has the saxophonist, guitarist and drummer accompanying a poem read by producer Don Paul. The results almost succeed, with Spearman's powerful phrasing nearly making up for Paul's weak delivery.
Despite his shortcomings there, Paul must be commended for getting more prime Spearman on disc. And other un-released sessions exist elsewhere, waiting for mastering and adventurous labels.
It's just too bad that Spearman didn't have a more time and opportunities to create even more.
1) Blare [A] 2. Long Forward Pasts [B] 3. Fields Before the Ram [A] 4. Raga Shamwati [C] 5. The Skin She Bears [D] 6. Graduation [A] 7. Pipes, Spirit & Bronze [B] 8. Lyons Roar [A]
Glenn Spearman (tenor saxophone) with: [A] Raphe Malik (trumpet); Marco Eneidi (alto saxophone); J.R. Routhier (guitar); Lisle Ellis (bass); Donald Robinson (drums) [B] Paul Plimley (piano); Ellis and Robinson [C] Shafqat Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan (voice); Dhyani Dharma Mas (acoustic guitar); Tim Witter (tabla); John Baker (synthesizer) [D] Don Paul (voice); Routhier and Robinson