FARUQ Z. BEY/NORTHWOODS IMPROVISERS

Auzar
Entropy Stereo ESR015

Uniting again for their strongest session yet, two of Michigan’s avant-jazz standard bearers prove that bedrock freeform and modal musics still flourish in the Motor City.

More to the point, AUZAR confirms the full integration of saxophonist/composer Faruq Z. Bey, founder of the seminal Detroit-based Griot Galaxy, with the less urban-oriented Northwoods Improvisers (NI) collective. Formed almost 30 years ago as totally collective electro-acoustic music makers NI banished non-acoustic instruments in 1980 and has had shifting personnel.

Over the years founding members vibraphonist/marimba player Mike Gilmore, and bassist/artist/broadcaster Mike Johnston have expanded the NI concept. Early on, the two were joined by Indianapolis-based drummer Nick Ashton. Later, tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Mike Carey, a member of several Detroit-based ensembles; and tenor saxophonist Skeeter Shelton, probably the only man to simultaneously be part of the Griot Galaxy and the 70th Division Army Reserve band, became NIers. The partnership with Bey has flourished since 2000.

Recorded live, the band’s performances get better as each subsequent track arrives – the session is probably presented in the order in which it was recorded. Climax is reached with Johnston’s almost 14½-minute “Vines” and Bey’s more than 11-minute title track.

The later is particularly descriptive since it matches Tranesque cadences from one tenor saxophonist – probably Bey – with the harder, harsher tone of another – perhaps Skelton. Gliding from freebop to free jazz with cascading triple counterpoint from the horns, Ashton’s bounces and Gilmore’s vibe color resemble one of those 1960s Archie Shepp dates with Bobby Hutcherson.

“Vines”, on the other hand, contrasts pace-quickening rhythms from the vibes and drums with echoing broken octaves from the horns. With the Latinesque percussion producing cross pulses while maintaining the beat, the horns create a do-se-do of extended harmonies. One horn sticks to straightahead cadences and obbligatos while the other squeezes out vaguely Arabic-feeling modal sounds, accompanied by scraped friction from the vibes.

Around these tunes the band keeps improvisations in parameters reminiscent of unforced free jazz. Contrapuntal braying and pitch vibrations from the saxes are inclined to turn into call-and-response patterns. Meanwhile, for his part, the bassist is able to advance the proceedings with a slithering ostinato as with double-stroking sul ponicello runs, while Ashton varies his beats from Free Jazz bounces to flams and cymbal pressure from the bop camp.

Two of the reedists also pay homage to Eric Dolphy. Bey’s squealing, flutter- tonguing on alto recalls the late reedman, as do Carey’s skulking bass clarinet runs. Another piece has a herky-jerky Ornette Coleman-style head. Still for all the Woody Woodpecker-like reed spitting and sound shard ejaculations, the band doesn’t neglect unison riffing, mellow modulations on various themes and even the odd languid exposition.

CD’s such as this one prove that Detroit’s – or should it be Michigan’s? – jazz heyday is far from over.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Gemini 2. Zychron 3. Isolation 4. Vines 5. Auzar (Osiris) 6. The call

Personnel: Faruq Z. Bey (alto and tenor saxophones); Mike Carey (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Skeeter Shelton (tenor saxophone); Mike Gilmore (vibes and marimba); Mike Johnston (bass); Nick Ashton (drums)