Forward Energy

The Awakening
Edgetone EDT 4127

Bulletins from the West Coast confirm that along with all the other sonic innovations taking place there, Free Jazz is still alive and well. As a matter of fact, the 10 tracks on The Awakening – dig that Energy Music-styled title – show that a new generation of experimenters have become proficient in the style.

Titular leader Jim Ryan, who adds flute and trumpet to his usual improvising on alto and tenor saxophones, is old enough to have played with Steve Lacy in Paris in the 1970s and in the Bay area with the likes of trumpeter Eddie Gale. Rent Romus, who plays alto, soprano and C-melody saxophones, has worked with many local musicians, while pianist Scott R. Looney has a long-time working relationship with bassist Damon Smith as well as playing with outsiders like bass saxophonist Tony Bevan. Bassist Eric Marshall is in Gale’s groups, while percussionist Timothy Orr plays everything from Zydeco to all sorts of Jazz.

Because of the multiplicity of influences this isn’t your father’s Free Jazz either. Unlike the cacophonous glossolalia which characterized similar session in years past, the 10 tracks on The Awakening are raucous enough in spots, but include pauses and near inaudible minimalist passages as well. There are even echoes of earlier Jazz. When he’s not plucking and probing the prepared internal strings of his instrument, Looney’s outpouring encompass tremolo Bop-like cascades or at pounding sequences that could have snuck in from a Boogie-Woogie recital. Emphasizing the antique C-melody sax, Romus’ gobbling tongue slaps and shoulder-wide vibratos recall 1920s’ Jazz’s grab bag of freak effects. Meanwhile it’s obvious ROMs has listened to Rudy Wiedoeft as well as Ornette Coleman. Meanwhile Marshall’s time-keeping is sometimes spelled by intense arco scrubs; and Orr’s output includes clatters, pops and smacks.

With rooster-like crowing and slap-tonguing as well jittery split tones Wiedoeft’s influence appears to be paramount on some tracks. But Ryan and Romus most notable instance of reed unity – albeit of an unconventional sort – appear on “Carpenter Shop” and “Freestyle”. On the former, Ryan’s brassy reflux as well as enervated flute peeps serve as counterpoints to Romus’ vibrato-slurring C-melody, until the second reedist lets loose, allowing multiphonic timbres to swell from two horns simultaneously. Positioning this outburst are staccato clicks from Looney’s keyboard and Marshall’s low-pitched vibrations.

“Freestyle” on the other hand is almost 13 minutes of prepared piano string plucks, kinetic keyboard hammering and hocketing, slurping, wriggling, irregular vibrations and glottal punctuation from both saxophonists. With Ryan reed-biting and Romus erupting into searing screams, all it takes is clatter and ruffs from Orr to push the exposition to explosive dissonance. Looney’s staccato chording brings back the theme after Romus’ and Ryan’s dual vamping, with a cymbal smash signaling the conclusion.

Despite those pre-modern echoes and enough structure throughout for designed solo space, the five nonetheless never lose touch with freer sounds. The final “WhataBout Thablues” for example may start off seemingly straight-ahead with a galloping piano line, a slurred tenor saxophone head and scrubbed bass line, but as Romus’ C-melody glisses enter the mix, the result is contrapuntal split tone puffs from each reedist that work up to police-whistle shrilling, plus bass string scratching and a frenetic tremolo piano chording as the finale.

Cognizant of more than the Free Jazz tradition, the Forward Energy five tweak the concept enough to prove that unbridled improvising remains a viable musical option.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Opening 2. Awakening 3. Float & Jolt 4. Lost Leprechaun 5. Freestyle

6. Carpenter Shop 7. Wishful Thinking 8. Talk-Talk 9. Late Nite Show 10. WhataBout Thablues?

Personnel: Jim Ryan (alto and tenor saxophones, flute and trumpet); Rent Romus (alto, soprano and C-melody saxophones); Scott R. Looney(piano and prepared pianist); Eric Marshall (bass) and Timothy Orr (drums and percussion)