ALAN SILVA/KIDD JORDAN/WILLIAM PARKER

Emancipation Suite #1
Boxholder 023

Dedicated to a Russian inventor/musician (Leon Theremin), an American theorist/composer (George Russell) and a Saturnian who combined these characteristics and many others (Sun Ra) this CD is a sprawling, nearly 57½ minute symphonic performance created by only three improvisers.

It can still be described as symphonic, however because Alan Silva, the American bass player, long-time European expatriate and Free Jazz pioneer, does his work on what he terms the orchestra synthesizer. That too is more than hyperbole as well. For in contrast to many other operatives — especially in rock — who employ Robert Moog’s invention for little more than beats and color, Silva takes full advantage of its polyphonic counterpoint. Not surprising for someone who worked with large scale visionaries like Ra and Cecil Taylor, he uses the instrument’s capacity for dynamics and sound separation to its utmost, conjuring up sets and subsets of percussion, horn and string sounds.

One of his partners on this set of unbroken improvisations from 1999’s Vision Festival in New York is Edward “Kidd” Jordan, a tenor saxophonist who almost single-handedly makes up the free improv scene in New Orleans. Woefully underrecorded until recently, Jordan is another stay-at-home pedagogue and sax master like Chicago’s Fred Anderson or Detroit’s Faruq Z. Bey. Someone who has introduced his own variation on the reed legacy of John Coltrane, he’s in fine fettle on the suite’s many sequences, given titles on the disc for easy reference.

Third participant is bassist William Parker, one of the chief organizers and cheerleaders for Manhattan’s Lower East Side scene, who has probably been as well documented on record, as Jordan has been ignored. His presence exposes the session’s one major drawback though.

Because the suite was recorded live, the power and volume of the synthesizer overwhelms Parker’s sound. So most of the time all that you hear is Jordan expending his ingenuity and energy to play over Silva’s orchestral accompaniment. His strengths coupled with the sonic variations that arise from Silva’s instrument often make the endproduct resemble one of those and energy-saxist-meets-big-band date from the 1970s, like Gato Barbieri with the Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Peter Brötzmann with Globe Unity or John Gilmore with the Arkestra.

Although Silva’s booming, cavernous tones sometimes appear to be even louder than that produced by a conventional band, on “Deliverance” you can still hear Jordan pressing on unperturbed, producing elongated notes, first in a moderated mid-range, then deep from resonant baritone tones, than blasting up into freak altissimo. Although the visual image you get is that of an unarmed bicyclist facing a gigantic army tank in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the interplay is a lot more benign than that. Plus, while the two often get louder and wilder, as the created colors take up more aural space, Silva is obviously commenting on what the saxophonist is playing.

The audience participates too, bursting into spontaneous applause when Jordan introduces phrases from Trane’s “Sun Ship” into his solo. Also, Silva does moderate his barrage at times, using his string setting to turn unexpectedly lyrical, and it’s then that you’re suddenly able to hear the odd plink and pluck from Parker. That should give you an ides of how powerfully the bassist plays, if he can sometimes overcome an electricity-fuelled instrument with his acoustic.

But it’s still mostly Silva and Jordan’s show. As part of an a cappella section on “Independence”, for instance, the saxophonist appears to be testing and weighing every note he creates, balancing the heft of each variation against what he’s trying to create. Later, on “Liberation”, Jordan sometimes literally appears to be vibrating sounds out of his horn’s body, then inventing booming foghorn blasts to clear the air. Finally on the same track, the reed pulses that could have been linked to “A Love Supreme” transmute into quasi-R&B phrases, straight from the Crescent City. With Silva somewhat muted, Jordan mocks or at least ignores those oh-so-earnest 1960s’ hippie-style titles and turns from supple duple note reed biting to a version of Ray Charles’ “Lonely Avenue” prodding the synth into a funky sweet organ groove.

Audience input and the excitement of the moment can sometimes make musicians overvalue live sessions. At a different part of the room Parker’s bass was much more audible that night. Yet since the mikes didn’t capture this, it unbalances what went on, it’s as if you’re only seeing two sizes of a triangle.

So while this CD is an excellent showcase for Jordan and Silva, if the suite performance faced the judges at the Winter Olympics, Jordan would earn a 6.0, Silva a 4.5 and Parker declared hors combat because of the sound. This all adds up to a silver medal — yet it could have been gold.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Introduction by Patricia Parker 2. Part I: To Free From Bondage 3. Part II: Deliverance 4. Part III: Freedom 5. Part IV: Independence 6. Part V: Liberation 7.

Coda

Personnel: Kidd Jordan (tenor saxophone); Alan Silva (orchestra synthesizer); William Parker (bass)