Chico Freeman/Heiri Känzig

The Arrival
Intakt Records CD 251

George Freeman/Chico Freeman

All in the Family

Southport S-SSD 014

Sessions involving fathers and children or siblings are common enough in improvised music. But All in the Family is one of the few whose chief protagonists are a nephew and his uncle. Then again like the Midwestern individuality that produced figures like Saul Alinsky and Ernest Hemingway – not to mention a Blues variant and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM) – this isn’t unexpected.

Centre of the date, plus the duo disc with Swiss bassist Heiri Känzig, is Chicago-born soprano and tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman, now a Biel residence. Son of saxophone legend Von Freeman (1923-2012), the 22 [!] track Freeman and Freeman date also shows off the undiminished guitar skills of his uncle, George, now 88, known for his work with organist Groove Holms among others. An AACM member, who also played in the bands of drummer Elvin Jones and pianist McCoy Tyner, Chico Freeman was more a sound setter than a sound explorer unlike some other AACM associates. Recently he’s also turned to restrained standards interpretations. “Angel Eyes” is on the first CD, while The Arrival includes John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” and Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere”. Känzig is a wide-ranging stylist who has played in group with flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler and alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano among other modern mainstreamers.

Among the backing players on the Freeman and Freeman CD are questing improvisers like percussionist Hamid Drake and bassist Harrison Bankhead. But with his unique clipped, metallic tone the guitarist is never out of place. Like a Fernand Léger painting in a room filled with Impressionists, the elder Freeman’s playing always stands out. And it maintains its individuality when his associates here could be Pop artists or Abstract expressionists. Freeman senior demonstrates that easily on “Interlude V-10”, an unaccompanied track, where he sounds like a mixture of Charlie Christian and Jimi Hendrix. Tellingly on “Vonski” his own salute to his brother, and Chico’s “Essence of Silence”, both duos with his nephew, his brittle chording modernizes King Cole trio swing on the first; while his quickened clinks and sharp string slides appear even more contemporary than the saxophonist’s Trane-oriented double tonguing and slurs on the latter.

Otherwise, like the canny retire detective brought in to add his expertise to a difficult crime case, George fits in seamlessly among the players who are two or three decades his junior. Introduced by a walking bass line and buoyed by pianist Kirk Brown’s echoing bebop riffs, “Chico” harmonizes clangorous guitar licks and the younger Freeman’s soprano saxophone vibrations, which are extended with quotes and theme variations. Using congas as well as drums, Drake shows off his versatility on the swinging “Latin Bonita”, with the guitarist stretching his solo from mariachi suggestions to a figurative walk in outer space.

Not to be outdone, guitarist Mike Allemana, who replaces George Freeman on some tracks, moves the tunes with the same solid abandon, especially on “What In Between”. An out-and-out foot tapper it’s also notable for Chico’s solid blowing and Bankhead doing one of his humming-in-tandem-with-string-bowing Slam Stewart-like solos. The younger Freeman, who often references earlier Chicago tenors throughout, demonstrates his ability to go up against the heavyweights when he takes on “Angel Eyes”, one of Gene Ammons’ signature tunes. Individualized by Brown’s keyboard slurs, if it isn’t a knock out, it’s certainly a good try for a contender.

An invaluable record of top-drawer Chicago jazz, the only quibble would be with the nine brief interludes which separate the longer tunes. While they do demonstrate individual versatility, that doesn’t have to be confirmed, and the CD would have been more cohesive without them.

Chico Freeman’s command of older and original material is made even clearer on The Arrival. Like sole survivors of a decimated unit who still defeat the bad guys, with the interface pared down to just himself and the bassist, the two manage to produce as memorable music s the larger ensemble. What they have to guard against is torpidity since some of Freeman’s compositions have a tendency to drift past relaxation to a form of New Age-like leadenness. With Känzig’s mellow bass line providing the backup, tunes such as “The Essence of Silence” and “Will I See You in the Morning”, with their pop-music styled titles are so well modulated that they appear headed for folksy romance until reed toughness and calm string strokes provide more backbone.

Like his take on “Angel Eyes” on the other disc, “After the Rain” and “Dat Dere” get respectful and inspired readings from Freeman. The former, featuring sympathetic strumming from the bassist reaches a climax of blown air following some upturned Trane-isms from the saxophonist, while the latter’s slurs and slides make the toddler-inspired melody almost animated to the point of ADHD.

As energetic as a hike through the Swiss mountains – or a sprint through Chicago’s South Side – is “Chamber’s Room” the Känzig-composed final track honoring Paul Chambers. Sluicing along with flutter tonguing and string popping prominent, this theme and telepathic connections throughout extend and reflect the message of an earlier track: “Just Play”.

Whether interacting with a contemporary or connecting with an elder, these discs show that at 66, saxophonist Freeman is still in top form.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Family: 1. Dark Blue 2. Interlude V-2 3. Latina Bonita 4. Interlude V-6 5. My Scenery 6. Interlude V-9 7. Five Days in May 8. Vonski 9. Interlude. V-8 10. Inner Orchestrations 11. Percussion Song Two 12. Chico 13. Interlude V-5 14. What's In Between 15. Essence of Silence 16. Interlude V-4 17. A Distinction Without a Difference 18. Interlude V-10 19. Angel Eyes 20. Percussion Song One 21. Marko 22. Chico & George Introductions

Personnel: Family: Chico Freeman (tenor and soprano saxophones); Kirk Brown (piano and keyboard); George Freeman or Mike Allemana (guitar); Harrison Bankhead (bass); Joe Jenkins (drums); Hamid Drake (drums, tabla and djembe); Reto Weber (hang, guatam, tempura, djembe and balafon) and Joanie Pallatto (vocals)

Track Listing: Arrival: 1. One for Eddie Who 2 2. Early Snow 3. The Essence of Silence 4. Ancient Dancer 5. Will I See You in the Morning 6. Dat Dere 7. Song For the Sun 8. Just Play 9. Eye of the Fly 10. After the Rain 11. To Hear a Teardrop In the Rain 12. Chamber’s Room

Personnel: Arrival: Chico Freeman (tenor saxophone) and Heiri Känzig (bass)