Frequency

Frequency
Thrill Jockey thrill 164

Encompassing distinctive compositions, and high quality improvisational flights plus World and Native American sonic echoes, this debut CD confirms both the talents of the band Frequency and the continued adaptability of Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM) members.

Besides the ACCM-link, each participant in this Chicago-based quartet brings different sensibilities to the session. Reedist Ed Wilkerson is best-known as the leader of the Eight Bold Souls, the band in which bassist Harrison Bankhead also plays. Flautist Nicole Mitchell leads her own groups as well as working as an educator, while veteran percussionist Avreeayl Ra’s AACM involvement goes back almost to the cooperative’s founding.

That said, except for a reliance on percussive colors, not much on Frequency, resembles the work of older AACM members like Fred Anderson or Roscoe Mitchell. Although walking bass and percussion punctuation come to the fore on numbers such as “Pitiful James”, the jazz and blues base of the four is taken for granted and often de-emphasized.

Instead the compositions centre in on certain mystical properties and are, more often than not, driven by unique, complementary colors. There are the creations centered on the sonorous timbres of Mitchell’s bass flute; with the polyphony available in harmonizing Mitchell’s flutes and Wilkerson’s clarinet or tenor saxophone; and the primordial memories that arise from some of the compositions. This strain of mysticism exhibited goes back as far as some of Joseph Jarman’s Africanized pieces for the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Additionally, this mixture of the spiritual and the aboriginal is also present in some of the saxophonist’s solo passages, which consciously or not reference Jim Pepper. A Native American saxophonist, Pepper heritage often figured into jazz improvisations.

Tellingly, the CD’s most involved showpiece – at nearly 19 minutes – is Ra’s composition, “Satya” with pacific, sub-continental overtones in both the title and the playing. Built initially around the percussionist’s cymbal smacks and patterning, plus rolls and double sticking on snares, as it evolves rattles and friction from bells, so-called “little instruments” and kalimba give it more then appear from one player’s vertical flute – all four play the instrument – Mitchell’s shimmering legato lines, mellow interjections from Wilkerson’s tenor and Ra’s wordless vocalese. With thumb piano tick-tocking and slow burning horn advances, only the steady ostinato of Bankhead’s bass keeps the piece from losing its rhythmic moorings.

“From The Other Side”, a group composition, continues in this vein. On top of the gamelan-like clapping and resonating from the bell-wielders, wooden flute chirps and taunt cello lines vie for foreground space Meanwhile Mitchell demonstrates what can be done by vocalizing and blowing simultaneously through the bass flute.

Other titles are just as spiritually inclined, yet most are more rhythmically upfront. The group-composed “Fertility Dance” for instance, contrasts piping piccolo riffs with sul ponticello string asides, thumps and bounces from Ra and pedal-point from the bassist. Mitchell’s slinky “The Tortoise” features pitch-sliding, double-tongued runs from the composer, cascading rebounds and flams from Ra and restrained honking from the tenor saxophonist.

A total package, Frequency, the band, proves with this CD that as individual member’s visions evolve, a new, just as memorable and as legitimate variation of AACM sounds appear with impressive results.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Pitiful James 2. Take Refuge 3. Satya 4. Portrait of Light 5. Fertility Dance 6. From the Other Side 7. The Tortoise 8. Optimystic 9. Serenity

Personnel: Nicole Mitchell (C, alto and bass flutes, piccolo, melodica, Egyptian harp, plastic bag and vocals); Ed Wilkerson (tenor saxophone, clarinet, wood flute and bells); Harrison Bankhead (bass, cello, wood flute and bells) and Avreeayl Ra (percussion, kalmiba, Native American flute and vocals)