Flow Trio

Set Theory – Live at the Stone
Ayler AYLCD 107

Willi Kellers/Thomas Borgmann/Akira Ando

Boom Box Jazz

Jazzwerkstatt JW 106

Reports of Free Jazz`s death have been greatly exaggerated. Despite the derision, rejection and outright venom that has been directed at it since that musical expression came to the fore in the early 1960s, committed improvisers continue to discover nuances for self-expression unhampered by themes, bar lines or so-called proper instrumental techniques

Consider these discs by the all-American Flow Trio of saxophonist Louie Belogonis, bassist Joe Morris and drummer Charles Downs plus the German/Japanese threesome of saxophonist Thomas Borgmann, bassist Akira Ando and percussionist Willi Kellers. Like the best players in every idiom, each ensemble tackles the challenge of Free Jazz with novel variations on the now venerable sounds.

Belogonis, whose past playing partners have included drummer Rashid Ali and trumpeter Roy Campbell, moves through the three selections on Set Theory with the confidence of someone who have found his milieu. Whether it’s puffing out swathes of dissected and disconnected slurs from his soprano saxophone or expanding flattement from his tenor saxophone, his exposition is welcoming enough to encompass others’ equally distinct contributions. Morris, who recently has become a solid bass player as well as a guitarist, varies his accompaniment among walking lines and thumping arpeggios. Meanwhile Downs, formerly known as Rashid Bakr, proves with his echoing cymbal breaks, and double-timed, ratamacues and pumps why he has been demand in bands such as Other Dimensions in Music and pianist Cecil Taylor’s units. Consisting of three live selections which in parts are as moderato and lyrical as they are violent and emotional, the CD demonstrates how perfect symmetry can enliven performances that from the beginning make no compromises.

Recorded more than a year later, Boom Back Jazz appears to be more melody-driven and even blues tinged. Perhaps it’s because, in contrast to Set Theory’s on-the-spot improvisations, each Boom Boxer composed two tunes, and their elaborations indicates the trio’s different approaches. Additionally, each participant brings a different improv variant to the disc. Münster-born Thomas Borgmann, who plays sopranino, soprano and tenor saxophones and harmonica here, has worked with, among many others, tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and pianist Borah Bergman. Kellers has composed theatre music and worked in a duo with Brötzmann; while Sapporo-born Ando worked with players such as Taylor and Parker during a 1984-1998 New York sojourn.

Certainly the drummer’s “Hey Little Bird” is a far cry from the emotions expressed on the saxophonist’s “Albert & Frank”. Temperate, restrained and almost folk-like, the first piece is built on a constant swirl of drum beats and cymbal pressures plus Ando’s low-pitched tremolo stopping which exposes all string colors. Similarly Borgmann’s output varies from mellow story-telling which could encompass a slice of “Blues in the Night” to tongue-rolling squeals and slurs.

On the other hand, multiphonic expressions are expressed in a stentorian manner on “Albert & Frank”, likely named for pioneering Free Jazz tenor saxophonists Albert Ayler and Frank Wright. Considering Borgmann plays a variant of Ayler’s “Ghosts” on tenor saxophone at the exposition and then lightens the theme with narrowed, shaking soprano flights, adds weight to that supposition. Atop popping bass strings and moderated drum beats, Borgmann runs through every variant of the theme, adding snarling glossolalia and strained reflux, until his playing finally turning legato and gentle at the finale.

A defined Jazz variant like Dixieland or Hard Bop, Free Jazz now has a history and variety of interpreters. If your preference is for Free Jazz straight up, then you’ll probably be drawn to Set Theory. If your preference is for Free Jazz leavened with references to earlier as well as other congruent styles, than Boom Box Jazz will likely be more to your tastes.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Set: 1. Set Theory 2. InfinTrinty 3. The End of Certainty

Personnel: Set: Louie Belogonis (tenor and soprano saxophones); Joe Morris (bass) and Charles Downs (drums)

Track Listing: Boom: 1. Little Birds May Fly 2. How Far Can You Fly? 3. Hey Little Bird 4 .And To Where? 5. Albert & Frank 6. Only For Dörte

Personnel: Boom: Thomas Borgmann (sopranino, soprano and tenor saxophones and harmonica); Akira Ando (bass) and Willi Kellers (drums and percussion)