Randall Colbourne / Lao Dan / Paul Flaherty / Damon Smith

February 18, 2020

Live At Willimantic Records

Family Vineyard FV 109

By Ken Waxman

They’re involved in every other form of music, so why shouldn’t Chinese musicians play improvised music? Isolation and lack of venue are drawbacks, explains Mainlander Lao Dan who is featured on this CD. Luckily Dan, who plays alto saxophone, suona and bamboo flute, was able to connect with Americans tenor saxophonist Paul Flaherty, percussionist Randall Colbourne and bassist Damon Smith to produce this US-recorded 77-minute slab of Free Jazz.

Playing saxophone on tracks such as “Noise & Light”, Dan creates call-and-response patterns encompassing snarling, triple-tongued smears and altissimo trills, and even supersedes the veteran saxophonist’s output with bloodcurdling shrieks and frog-like croaks. Oriental exoticism isn’t a factor with his other instruments, but the aural “Long Shadows” he casts on that track reveals more relaxed flute pitches mixed with a spiccato tang from Smith. Meanwhile the suona’s irregular trills and pinched multiphonics on “Winter Dawn” feature irregular surges that complement Flaherty’s sonorous saxophone split tones and eventually create a guileless theme before diminishing into atom-sized peeps.

With both horn players sometimes circular breathing and invariably shooting notes past tonal limitations, Smith’s deep woody strokes and obbligato throbs plus Colbourne’s rumbling affirmations and fluid pops function both as backing chorus and provocation, urging the others to create even more frantic blowing. Still, at one point Dan completes a ferocious, split-tone solo by vocally screaming. Whether this is the result of excitement or joy at finding simpatico partners is open to conjecture.

-for The Whole Note February 2020