By Paul Acquaro
Friends and Neighbors work in the spirit of 'classic' free jazz. The free jazz that can be traced directly to the likes of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Sam Rivers - influences displayed proudly right in the group's name: Friends and Neighbors ('Live from Prince Street') was a recording from Coleman released in 1970, documenting some of the activity from Coleman's loft (which has been credited as a catalyst in the loft scene of 70s NYC) in SOHO.
So, at a different loft in the Lower East Side in 2016, these Friends and Neighbors delivered exciting melodic arrangements that left plenty of room for full-throated fiery solos, each musician delivering a knock out performance. When pianist Oscar Grönberg and bassist Jon Rune Strøm locked in with drummer Tollef Østvang, time became elastic and when André Roligheten's tenor saxophone and clarinet went toe-to-toe with Thomas Johansson's trumpet, it seemed to speed up!
This magic carries over to their latest release, What's Wrong. The opening title track begins with unison modal melody between the trumpet and sax before it's handed over to the piano. Mixing in hints of 'jazz' with sharp dissonant voicing, Grönberg has a light touch but know when to let loose. 'Fool Pay''s melody is a delight - playing off volume and instrumentation, it is a lithe and playful affair, and leads to a passage by Grönberg, again showing a mix of classic jazz feel and uber-Monk phrasings. Roligheten segues into a sax solo that quickly turns out a few excited phrases before hooking up with Johansson'a trumpet for some deft interplay. One other track that's a great exemplar of the well planned exhuberance of Friends and Neighbors is 'Friends', where a long horn driven free sections leads to an avant-funky solo bass passage by Rune Strøm leading to a drum and piano dominated passage that pays respect to Cecil Taylor. Utterly captivating. Finally (at least for this review) is the track 'Melting Snow', a ballad of sorts, that starts with a charming melody delivered in harmony on trumpet and sax, it again features the bass out front backed by a counter melody from the horns. As Østvang enters, his splashes of percussive color add another dimension.
So, here's my recommendation: buy the album and when Friends and Neighbors (or Cortex) are in town, go. What you hear on the records is mouthwatering, what you'll hear in concert is mind blowing.