MONGEZI FEZA

Free Jam
Ayler aylCD-048/049

Historically more striking than they are sonically or musically, the two 60-minute CDs that make up FREE JAM capture a certain time in Stockholm when the advances of Free Jazz had become common musical currency.

Featuring five local improvisers who made up saxophonist Bernt Rosengren’s avant-garde quartet — and who have since returned to more mainstream pursuits — the discs from 1972 not only show off the Swedes’ talents, but those of two distinguished visitors. While the five Stockholm residents were adapting variations of the New Thing to local modern jazz and folkloric influences, authentic Third World sensibilities mixed with swing came from the other two.

Trumpeter Mongezi Feza (1945-1975) was a South African exile based in England. His experience gradually expanded from working in an African jazz context with pianist Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, to freebop with altoist Mike Osborne, rock with singer Robert Wyatt and a World Music trio with South African bassist Johnny Dyani and Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz.

Istanbul-born, but then based in Stockholm, Temiz played a mixture of jazz and Turkish music with American trumpeter Don Cherry, a precursor of his combo with Feza and Dyani. He and Cherry had played with Rosengren’s band, which is how the two foreigners ended up regularly jamming with the saxman’s quartet in a local abandoned factory space. FREE JAM is the result, but the key words are “jam” and “factory”. Sound is acceptable, if a bit muddy in spots, and a look at the titles shows that no compositions were played, just variations on themes.

A bopper in the 1950s, Rosengren, who plays alto, tenor, flute and piano here -also worked with American composer/pianist George Russell and made six LPs with this band. Now in small or larger groupings he — like Archie Shepp in the U.S. — concentrates on jazz classics. Also still active, Tommy Koverhult who plays tenor saxophone, flute and euphonium, was a flat out John Coltrane follower in 1972. Formerly house drummer at Stockholm’s Golden Circle club in the 1960s, Leif Wennerström was part of pianist Per-Henrik Wallin’s trio. Bassist Torbjörn Hultcrantz, who died in 1994, was not only a member of Wallin’s trio, but also backed American saxophonist Albert Ayler on the later’s first LP in 1962.

Ayler was two years dead when these tunes were recorded. However, neither his convention-exploding later work, the theoretical basis of Russell’s compositions nor the skewed themes of Ornette Coleman — probably the most famous jazzman to record at the Golden Circle — seem to have influenced these musicians to any extent.

Instead the 10 jams that run from barely four to almost 39½ minutes stick to the parameters of freebop, with odd echoes of effluent group expressions that could be related to Trane’s “Ascension”. Except for a couple of instances of offbeat percussion, there are no non-Western rhythms audible, while Feza’s soloing lacks any African references. Taped with two mikes in a large space, many endings often lapse into indecorous silences. Hultcrantz usually can’t be heard, save for walking lines complementing Wennerström’s cymbal work, and if there are flute flights they vanish into the ceiling.

Instead percussion and horns are upfront. Overly busy in this context, Wennerström is also over-recorded and masks some of the others’ work. “Group Notes II”, for instance finds a heavy-footed over-reliance on the bass drum pedal. That’s too bad, because Koverhult appears to be adopting a mellow Stan Getz motion to his shattering blasts that owe as much to Pharoah Sanders as Trane here, Feza twitters some rubato slides and Rosengren cuts through the texture with a coarse, pinched buzz that’s almost oboe-like. On the tune preceding it, the trumpeter’s bubbly chromatic explosion and the screams and honks from the two saxes have to deal with Bop era percussion bomb dropping. For his part, Temiz adds color from chimes, bells and ratchets to advance Feza’s mid-range playful trumpet solo elsewhere.

Among the freeboppers, the trumpeter stands out on “Group Notes IV”, the final track. Here his slurs, glottal stops and flutter tonguing happen so quickly that you could imagine a quote from the William Tell Overture chromatically sneaking into his solo. Backed only by cymbal and clave rhythms, he comes up with centre tones that appear to echo back from the studio rafters. Answering split tones and squeals arise from the reeds, it sounds as if someone is playing bongo drums and Wennerström’s accents are more inventive.

This inventiveness extends to the second-longest tune, the 21-minutes-plus “Group Notes III”. It features half-valve bugle calls, spit out triple tonguing and slurred chromatic runs from the trumpet and a detour into dog whistle territory. There also could be a rubato reference to “Pop Goes The Weasel” here. Raucously bumping and press rolling the percussionists follow alone, while one tenor man introduces sibilant broken chords and the other — Koverhult? — darker and heavier notes that flutter tongue their way to shredded Pharoahesque cries and shrills. By the finale Feza’s trilling and swooping broken cadences get fiercer so that the two percussionists vary their technique and add more and different bells and beats to the backup.

Unbroken in its fervor is the almost 39½ minute first track, which begins as if the six were replicating the middle section of “Ascension”, with its yells and trills contrapuntal themes and unattached slurs. With Rosengren on piano, shouts of encouragement turn to freebop riffing from the horns and irregularly vibrated smears from Koverhult. Back on sax, Rosengren tosses arpeggios back-and-forth with the other reedist, avoiding the cymbal smashes and cross-sticking drums barrage until Feza joins in. At triple strength and a higher pitch, descending echoes of “Bags Groove” develop into an almost Amerindian theme.

What follows is an episode of drawn-out noodling from the horns — as if all are waiting for someone to return to A. Finally Feza brassily trumpets a line and with a steady intensity vibrato from one reedist, and a serpentine line from another, the tune is twisted polytonally and polyharmonically. Different broken countermelodies plus harder and louder slams and bounces from the percussionists suggest another loss of focus, until the horns unite again, explode out of the polyphonic miasma and flow into a final development. Here, Temiz’s tambourine molds a timbre that’s as much Polonaise as Middle Eastern; it’s dance-type music that’s gentler than free jazz. The poppy ending reminds you that Sweden is the home of ABBA, and despite overlay of flutter tonguing the heavier percussion backbeat pushes the tune towards rock’n’roll.

Valuable for those who can’t get enough of Feza and those familiar with Temiz and Rosengren’s other work, FREE JAM can’t be overvalued. More thematic development on the tunes would be needed to make it a standout session.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Theme of the Day I 2. Group Notes I 3. Group Notes II Disc 2 4. Theme of the Day II 5. Mong’s Research I 6. Group Notes III 7. Mong’s Research II 8. Mong’s Research III 9. Mong’s Research IV 10. Group Notes IV

Personnel: Mongezi Feza (trumpet); Tommy Koverhult (tenor saxophone, flute, euphonium); Bernt Rosengren (alto and tenor saxophones, flute, piano); Torbjörn Hultcrantz (bass); Leif Wennerström (drums); Okay Temiz (percussion)