December 24, 2019

Garden Party
Mahakala Music MAHA19-01

While The South will Rise Again may be a rallying cry for those following the lost Confederate cause, it could as logically be applied to this session. It’s an instance of fundamental Free Jazz by a group of mature improvisers, five-sixth of whom hail from the South, an area not known for consistent Jazz innovations since Louis Armstrong left for Chicago in the early 1920s. The exemplary CD also comes with a bitter-sweet resolution as well though, since it was the final date recorded by drummer Alvin Fielder, who died at 83 in January 2019.

Fielder was from Meridian, Mississippi. While Kidd Jordan, 84, who plays tenor saxophone on the date is from New Orleans, and both, who often collaborated, were some of the few advanced players who stayed south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Younger players featured here are pianist Chris Parker from Little Rock, Arkansas; Chad Fowler, who plays alto saxophone, saxello, and besides running the label is a high technology expert is from Hot Springs in the same state, while vocalist Kelley Hunt is from Memphis. Representing the Union forces is New York bassist William Parker, who over the years has probably collaborated with enough other musicians to fill out a battalion.

Easily able to negotiate in-the-moment creativity that searches and revels in the unknown, the six never lose sight of bedrock Blues as well. This is especially apparent in the playing of the pianist, which is well-modulated yet funky, and the sax players’ ability to couple high-energy advanced techniques with down-home wailing. One instance of this is on the title tune which abruptly veers from near-traditional harmonized gospel phrasing from the pianist’s arpeggios and the vocalist’s vowel emphasis to expansive reed soaring and earth-bound drum clunks. As Fielder’s playing becomes freer, so does Chris Parker’s, whose fantasia of spiraling and spinning timbres makes a perfect foil for Hunt’s angelically lyrical speaking in tongue and contrasts ironically with the saxophonists’ harsh glossolalia, spetrofluctuation and nephritic runs.

The drummer gives a further demonstration of his skills on “Guilty Happy 6’, which manages to take the idea of a classic New Thing free-for-all so that it is melodic as well. Even as Hunt harmonizes with pumping rhythms, Fielder clatters cymbals and designs press tolls for added torque. At the same time Jordan snarls, smears and stutters with an altissimo stop-time solo that miraculously appears to lock in with Hunt’s warbling. By the finale, as the rhythm section recaps the Free Jazz-like intro, child-like simplicity and technical complexity via Aylerian reed wails and vocal fluidity conflate.

Equally capable of near-Bop allusions in pieces that can feature key clipping plus soundboard vibrations from the pianist, string pumps from the bassist and a collection of split-second quotes from the horn players who confirm their inside and outside credentials in this way, the only time-marking is when the vocalist introduces a tinge of sentimentality with the lyrics to one song.

Other than that, this Garden Party is one many will want to attend. Plus it affirms the creative viability of exploratory musicians living in the South. Sadly as Fielder’s swan song it can’t be repeated with the same creators.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. C Melody 2. Dopolaria 3. Father Dies, Son Dies 4. Garden Party 5. Guilty Happy 6. Impromptu

Personnel: Chad Fowler (alto saxophone, saxello); Kidd Jordan (tenor saxophone); Chris Parker (piano); William Parker (bass); Alvin Fielder (percussion) and Kelley Hunt (voice)