Sonic Liberation Front

Meets Sunny Murray
High Two HT 027

A throwback in a good way to the time when the New Thing really was a New Thing, this new collaboration between legendary drummer Sunny Murray, now a Paris resident, and the Philadelphia-based Sonic Liberation Front (SLF) give reminiscences and fusion a good name.

At the same time, because the 13 players aren’t interested in recreating anyone’s idea of the 1960s, and whose idea of fusion mixes in Afro-Cuban and Native American rhythms, the CD unfolds more differently than a retrospective created by any of Jazz’s rapidly aging neo-Cons.

A chance wrong number lead to the accidental meeting of Murray, known for playing with everyone from saxophonists Albert Ayler to Tony Bevan, with SLF’s main man, percussionist Kevin Diehl. Murray was so impressed with the horns-and-drums outfit that he not only recorded with them – the most recent examples of which are this CD’s first five tracks – but played live gigs with it, including one at New York’s Vision Festival, which is captured on tracks 6 to 8 here.

Guided on both sessions by the rhythmic patterns of Diehl and Chuck Joseph, SLF’s chief exponent of the West African via Cuba batá drum, the beats never get hackneyed. That because, with four percussionists plus Murray, the batáists duel and duet among themselves, varying the rhythm as they maintain the bottom. On top of this sturdy yet balanced beat, the horns are able to play as freely as they wish. That means that cornetist Todd Margasak, who has recorded with saxophonist Matt Bauder, often brings a Donald Ayler-like upwards cry to his playing, especially on “Init”, while his brassy flutter tonguing exhibited on “Ochun Libre” suggests what may have resulted if Don Cherry gigged with Perez Prado. Meantime tenor saxophonist Terry Lawson, also a member of saxophonist Odean Pope’s Sax Choir, throughout and alto saxophonist Adam Jenkins on the live date, output enough split tones, glossolalia, tongue spits, reed squeals and stutters plus plain overblowing to reference Albert Ayler. At junctures it appears as if the bugling connective tissue is from a reed man, not the brass player.

Additional beats courtesy of congas, bongos and two sizes of batás, the large iya and mid-sized itotele, keep constant hand and drum stick ruffs, clatters and rebounds going. Murray contributes some tom-tom references that he likely remembered from his boyhood on an Oklahoma reservation. More to the point, the presence of so many rhythm makers frees Murray from having to play the role of solo percussion innovator. Instead he fits in comfortably as part of the ensemble. If there’s any place that he moves to the forefront, it’s on the final “Under the Wave of Kanagawa”. Following agitated note clusters from Lawson and Jenkins’ surprisingly melodic chromatic lines, the drummer surmounts trumpeter Kimbal Brown’s high-pitched tremolo squeals to lead the 10-piece strong SLF through a vocalized chant. More Sun Ra space music than “Siboney”, he sums up the joyous proceedings with mid-range percussion pops and drags.

As exciting harmonically as it is rhythmically this CD allows you to tap your feet without abandoning an intelligent appreciation for the subtle sounds of legitimate fusion music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Init 2. Knowledge of the Sun 3. Meaningless Kisses 4. Casa de Grupo 5. Ochun Libre 6. Some Other Times* 7. Nomingo* 8. Under the Wave of Kanagawa*

Personnel: 2008: Todd Margasak (cornet); Terry Lawson (tenor saxophone); Matt Engle (bass); Sunny Murray (drums); Kevin Diehl (drums and bata) and Chuck Joseph, Okomfo Adwoa Tacheampong and Shawn Hennessy (bata) 2002*: Kimbal Brown (trumpet); Adam Jenkins (alto saxophone); Lawson; Fahir Kendall (bass); Murray; Diehl; Joseph (iya); Nichola Rivera (itotele and conga) and Joey Toledo-Okonkolo (percussion)