Blue Buddha

Blue Buddha
Tzadik TZ 4010

By Ken Waxman

Some musicians are so comfortable with free jazz that they work through its challenges as effortlessly as they breathe. Case in point is tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis who as part of the Prima Materia group during the ‘90s partnered drum master Rashied Ali. But Blue Buddha is more than Belogenis demonstrating his command of the idiom. Instead, the seven spiritually infused tracks establish a group identity among the saxophonist and three other players who are anything but hard-core free jazzers.

Although he has played with atonal conceptualits like saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, bassist Bill Laswell is identified with a blend of ethnic, industrial and rock sounds; and drummer Tyshawn Sorey mixes mainstream and advanced concepts. Trumpeter Dave Douglas was the founding brass player in Masada, but recent CDs under his leadership have been oriented towards interpretations of the Great American Songbook and Appalachian ballads. Yet like four punks from Liverpool who moulded themselves into a crack rock’n’roll band, the Blue Buddha four together create stand-out unfettered improvisation.

Laswell’s, Douglas’ and Sorey’s varied background confirms that free-jazz improvising can adapt to changeable variants, with the best instance of this “Wrathful Compassion”. This galloping creation is as open to other influences as a truly liberal political movement is to new thoughts. Belogenis’ altissimo cries and stratospheric glissandi may arise from John Coltrane-Albert Ayler, but he brings a personal precision to them. Meanwhile high-pressure euphoria is advanced as Douglas mixes Woody Shaw-like lyricism with sour Don Ayler-like wails. Laswell’s sluicing bass rhythms emphasize pure power, and are assertive as they would be a rock setting.

As momentum is maintained throughout by coupling creative styles, heat from tonal exploration outdistances hybrid incapability. On “Renunciation” for example, the trumpeter’s skittering counterpoint adds brightness to the tenor saxophonist’s renal tones. The sparkling “Diamond Vehicle” is driven by a bass line that could fit on an R&B session, as Douglas’ aviary peeps and Belogenis’ banshee wails couple as logically as wine and cheese. Instructively, the final “Lineage”, featuring only drummer and saxophonist, moves through all variations of shaking and screeching reed tones plus irregular and unanticipated percussion feints without every becoming intimidating. As Sorey’s pops and claps move the theme back to systematic textures, Blue Buddha’s ability to challenge without alienating is highlighted.

Track Listing: Purification; Double Dorje; Renunciation; Truth of Cessation; Wrathful Compassion; Diamond Vehicle; Lineage

Personnel: Dave Douglas: trumpet; Louie Belogenis: tenor saxophone; Bill Laswell: electric bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record February 2016