Mike Allemana

May 20, 2022

ears&eyes Records EE-22-140

George Freeman
Everybody Say Yeah!
Southport S-SSD 0153

Beginning in the Bop era and continuing until today the Freemans have been the first family of modern Jazz in Chicago. Unlike better-known players, except for longer and shorter periods away, the family members stayed close to home and through club residences and jam session participation influenced a few generations of meritorious improvisers. While Bruzz Freeman (1921- 2006), and tenor saxophonist Von Freeman (1923-2012) are dead, Von’s brother guitarist George Freeman (b. 1927) and son, saxophonist Chico Freeman (b. 1949) are still active. Everybody Say Yeah! and Vonology are two widely disparate reckonings of the Freeman legacy.

Still gigging at 95 (!), Everybody Say Yeah! contains cuts from George Freeman’s leadership sessions from 1999 to 2021. The CD includes contributions from raft of players, including his relatives on different tracks. Also included are unreleased and new sessions featuring the guitarist. Vonology is more unconventional. Organized by guitarist Mike Allemana, who was a member of Von Freeman’s band for 14 years, and creates an affable, aromatic duet with George Freeman on the other CD, it replicates no tunes associated with Von Freeman or his brawny style. Instead, calling on the elder Freeman’s interest in astrology, and reflecting on a carefully cast natal horoscope of the tenorist, Allemana has composed a five-part suite that describes Von Freeman’s musical and personal attributes. Drummer Michael Raynor, who was in Von Freeman’s band for more than 20 years, and also appears on Everybody Say Yeah! is featured as are younger brass and reed players, a bassist and a seven-member vocal chorus.

With a style that fit comfortably into any contemporary post-Bop aggregation, but with additional spiky immediacy, George Freeman’s playing is as unique as it is instantly identifiable. During his disc’s 14 tracks, the situations range from Blues to Latin to funk to straight ahead, with the guitarist demonstrating his mastery of each. True to his nature it’s Von Freeman playing piano (sic) on “There Will Never Be Another You”, who provides the most advanced keyboard comping behind the guitarist. As George advances the foot-tapping theme with light-fingered romps up the scale and single note echoes, Von turns hunt-and-pecking into dynamic counterpoint with sliding glissandi and an ending where keyboard pressure is matched with string frails. Von’s unconventional biting reed tone is showcased on “Vonski”, that also features a faultless rhythmic boil from bass (Eldee Young) and drums (Phil Thomas) as the guitarist and saxophonist fragment and reconstitute the theme emphasizing both split tones and story-telling. George Freeman’s high-pitched multi-fingered frails carve a characteristic path throughout. It doesn’t matter whether it rides atop of Bo Diddley-like beat; helping meld Latin and R&B dance elements on “Cha Cha Blue”, where Billy Branch’s Blues harmonica is melded into the mix; or vying with the scat and sophisticated sound variations of vocalist Joanie Pallatto, while adapting drummer Alejo Poveda’s shuffle beat and Ruben Alvarez’s timbales’ Latin tinge for a wholly original reading of “Summertime”. Other hallmarks of the unadulterated Freeman guitar style appear on “George Burns!” and “Gorgeous George”. On the former as he soars over a shuffle beat, he interjects brief snippets of nursery rhymes and pop songs into his slurred fingering, adding a metallic tinge to link with Lou Gregory’s piano stops and clanks and Young’s walking bass line. Featuring hard pops from John Devlin’s electric bass, tremolo accordion sluices plus Luiz Ewerling’s ratcheting timbales, “Gorgeous George” has heavy funk overlay. Using outlined single notes and wide vibrations, Freeman’s timbres embellish the tune with the skill of a Motown or Curtom session player.

Moving from the earthy to the ethereal, Vonology cleverly negotiates the fine line between the near-ecclesiastical harmonies from the choir and the more down-to-earth improvisations of the soloists. Among the intertwined horn-and-string motifs, and a studied narration from Bill Brickey on the concluding “The Mentor’s Benediction” the composition skirts the edge of hagiography by trying to poetically framing Von Freeman’s skills and personality related to his birth sign. However the big band era vamps that express the tenor saxophonist’s initial training, plus a sympathetic vocal chorus from alto Lindsay Weinberg intermingled among descending guitar runs and drum paradiddles provide the needed idiosyncrasy that better explains the late saxophonist’s appeal. Even more generic to the elder Jazz statesman whose melodic sense meant that he knew the lyrics of every song he played, yet was advanced enough to sit in with Sun Ra and AACM members, is the range of sounds projected by the players. With Raynor’s cymbal plops and tom-tom thumps, a steady pulse from bassist Matt Ferguson, and Allemana’s comping skills, the others can express what they feel. With the vocal chorus elaborations moving in and out of range, the introductory “Welcome. Enter” for instance is enlivened by portamento smears from trombonist Kendall Moore. Meanwhile on “Libra Channeling” tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield does a good job channeling Freeman’s Bop roots while staying true to his own vision with irregular vibrations and reed smears that alternate with twanging guitar cranks, strained sul ponticello lines from cellist Tamara Reid and riffs from the other horns. This melded horn color that encompasses half-valve effects and flattement is prominent elsewhere with riffs from trumpeter Victor Garcia and alto saxophonist Greg Ward as well as the trombonist and tenor saxophonist. Singly or in a stacked team effort, they, as well as Allemana, with his sliding riffs, extend the tracks to their furthest harmonic boundaries, while also staying true to melodies and references to the initial expositions.

As notable as an example of his own creativity as an ardent tribute to a respected mentor Vonology can stand on its own. And since titles on the other CD confirm that “George Burns” and “George Still Burns”, appreciation of the guitarist’s collected work here will probably make “Everybody Say Yeah”.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Everybody: 1. Peak (feat. Alejo Poveda & Ruben Alvarez) 2. There Will Never Be Another You 3. My Scenery (feat. Chico Freeman) 4. It’s Cha Time! (feat. Eldee Young) 5. Summertime (feat. Joanie Pallatto) 6. George Burns! 7. Gorgeous George (feat. John Devlin) 8. Vonski (feat. Von Freeman) 9. Cha Cha Blue (feat. Billy Branch) 10. Manteca 11. Perfume (feat. Mike Allemana) 12. A Mother’s Love 13. Marko (feat. Harrison Bankhead) 14. Low Funk (feat. Tatsu Aoki)

Personnel: Everybody: Chico Freeman (tenor and soprano saxophones); Von Freeman (tenor saxophone, piano); Kirk Brown, Lou Gregory (piano); George Freeman and Mike Allemana (guitar); Tatsu Aoki, Harrison Bankhead, Penny Pendleton, Eldee Young (bass); John Devlin (electric bass, accordion); Joe Jenkins, Alejo Poveda, Hamid Drake, Michael Raynor, Phil Thomas (drums); Luiz Ewerling (drums and percussion); Ruben Alvarez (congas and timbales); Billy Branch (harmonica); Joanie Pallatto (vocal)

Track Listing: Vonology: 1. Welcome. Enter 2: The Mediator 3. Communion and Renewal 4. Libra Channeling 5. The Mentor’s Benediction*

Personnel: Vonology: Victor Garcia (trumpet, flugelhorn); Kendall Moore (trombone); Greg Ward (alto saxophone); Geof Bradfield (tenor saxophone); Mike Allemana (guitar); Tomeka Reid (cello); Matt Ferguson (bass); Michael Raynor (drums); Brian Allemana (conductor, astrological texts*) Sue Demel, Gabriela Allemana, Lindsay Weinberg [+vocal melody*], Austin Burgett, Alton Smith, Angel Rodriguez, Bill Brickey [+ readings*] (voices)