March 21, 2017
Dependent on talent not fashion, the generation gap has never been as pronounced in Jazz and improvised music as it is in other fields. Like herds of animals whose direction is determined by skill, sociability and strength of some members, democracy prevails in most musical situations. That’s the basis for the flow of Flow on this CD, which also highlights cross-generational cooperation.
Centre of the band are Americans, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, 66, and bassist Joe Fonda, 61, who have been partners for three decades in their own bands and others such as Conference Call. Generations’ veteran is alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, 74, a leader or member of innumerable groups, including the World Saxophone Quartet, since his work in the early 1970s as part of St. Louis’ Black Artists Group. Many years later, versatile Vienna-based drummer Emil Gross, who is still in his twenties, was born. His presence not only adds credence to the generations tag, but showcases an adapt tyro, who also gigs as a guitarist and has worked with other American such as singer/pianist Mike Kindred and trumpeter Herb Robertson,
Lake’s down-home reed shading with its R&B roots sets the stage for this seven-track live session, aided by Fonda’s strident walking bass power and percussive timbral execution from both Stevens and Gross. But like craftspeople equally proficient in painting and sculpture the four easily navigate the rocky shores of Free Jazz as well as more common rhythmic forms. Conversant with his status as elder statesman, the others often cluster around Lake’s lead as if he’s in hostile territory, circling a wagon train to fend off outside forces that may attack. In truth the most protracted attack comes from inside, via the saxophonist’s stiletto sharp tones. On pieces such as Stevens’ “Mantra #2” and his own “Flow”, Lake’s dramatic narratives are ornamented with beeping, weeping and peeing tones which relate as much to Bostic as to Bird. On “Flow” he yanks the exposition as far into the reed stratosphere as he can without fracturing it. Om contrast, his stance on “Mantra #2” is that of a suitor caressing his beloved with fine words, but like a romantic comedy, equal emotion arrives from Stevens’ sunshiny piano strokes and tinkles. This accelerating passion is then illustrated by Stevens’ subsequent galloping glissandi and sweeping cascades that lines up against bugle-like cries and sibilant split tones from Lake. Set up more like a descriptive recital piece than a threnody, Stevens’ “La Dirge de la Fleuer” arrives at melodic distinction when his piano cascades and a pumping bass line flow over Lake’s thick reed texture that is smooth enough to be peanut butter, but the performance has enough stops and irregularities to musically replicate the crunchy variety.
Fonda’s most prolonged and profound showcase is his own almost 17½-minute “Me without Bella”. No narcissistic turn with American Idol excess, instead his concentrated excursion into splayed tones and deep echoing thumps soon settles into a perambulating groove with a semi-march beat. Intensifying the others’ contributions as when a locket added to a costume turns out to be valuable as well as stylish, the bassist’s slipping sizzling top tones and unique detuned guitar-like twangs join with Lake’s ability to break apart and reconstruct a theme, with the rooted foundation always provided by repeated piano chords.
As the drummer’s contributions fit perfectly in place with the three elder players’ contributions throughout, this CD can be lauded for its crack musicianship as well as a prime refutation of musical age-fissure.
Track Listing: 1. Rollin’ 2. Me without Bella 3. Mantra #2 4. Flow 5. La Dirge de la Fleuer 6. Read This 7. Coda
Personnel: Oliver Lake (alto saxophone) Michael Jefry Stevens (piano); Joe Fonda (bass) and Emil Gross (drums)