Alvin Fielder/David Dove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith

Balance Point Acoustics BPA 015

Old Free Jazzmen never die, they just keep playing. That adage could be applied to many Free Jazz pioneers, whose longevity seems top belie the intensity of their performances – or has music trumped exercise and medications as health aids? – and it certainly works for drummer Alvin Fielder. Fielder, 78, who pulls his full weight here, partners with three musicians about half his age.

Jackson, Mississippi-based Fielder, who recently recovered from a serious illness, has been part of the exploratory Jazz firmament since his affiliations with the nascent Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in the mid-1960s. He has continued sound explorations into this century with associates such as Dallas trumpeter Dennis González and New Orleans tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Of the Houston-based players here, Smith, whose nimble rhythms set the pace for the six improvisations, has over the years played with musicians as different as free-form violinist Philipp Wachsmann and punk-jazz drum smasher Weasel Walter. Trombonist David Dove and Jason Jackson, who plays alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, keep the experimental music flame stoked in Texas.

Fielder’s skill is such that without calling attention to himself, as early as “Ut. Dict.,” the first of the CD’s six enigmatically named compositions he shifts among complex rhythmic patterns without compromising the ecstatic yelps and smears propelled by the horn soloists. When he does take brief solos, as on “B,B,B’S x 6/8” they consist of restrained nerve beats and clatters, and never retard the momentum for even a second. Smith’s jagged string stretching which complement the drummer’s clip-clops on that tune are expanded on “Which Way is Out?” On that piece the introduction appears to be predicated on the percussionist loosening and tightening his kits’ lug nuts as responsive string pulls and pats set up a sequence of miscellaneous sound exploration not unlike what would be heard on Art Ensemble of Chicago records. As an AACM affiliate Fielder may have suggested these sound insinuations which also frame plunger exploration from Dove and smears from Jackson. Midway through the tune however, a pumping bass line transforms the piece into a careening finger-snapper with drums smacks briefly in the foreground.

That foray into semi-conventionality, distinguishes the piece from the more-than-20½- minute title tune. At the same time, mostly due to Smith’s unswerving patterns, “Form-to-From” maintains its links to the Jazz as well as the Free Music traditions. With the bassist holding the beat steady, Jackson and Dove are able to score with spit out tones which become more cacophonous as they spurred on by Fielder’s relentless drumming. However the saxophone sheet of sounds and the brass flutters aren’t unpleasant and even add a certain visceral good-nature to the proceedings. Despite Dove sometime excavating basement tones and Jackson whinnying altissimo lines, their parallel but never intersected portions break off to make common cause with the bassist’s shaggy scrubs for instance. Eventually too, the piece climaxes as Smith’s angled playing moves them all back to a cooperative regular rhythm, until courtroom-like Fielder’s snare raps serve as brakes, creating a satisfying conclusion.

More proof that sophisticated, exploratory improvisation exists outside the so-called major Jazz centre arises with this CD. At the same time, not only does it demonstrate that Fielder is still playing as well as before, but that are many younger players around to keep the concepts he helped pioneer popping.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Ut. Dict. 2. From-To-From 3. Which Way is Out?; 4. B,B,B’S x 6/8 5. Goodtime FFA 6. Q.D.

Personnel: David Dove (trombone); Jason Jackson (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Damon Smith (bass) and Alvin Fielder (drums and percussion)