Monday, March 18, 2019

Zach Rowden, Jarrett Gilgore & Ian McColm - First Lapse (Raw Tonk Records, 2019) ****


Raw Tonk’s releases offer a hard to beat two-way deal: the recycled cardboard card-pak cases are aesthetically flawless while the music (from a catalogue of around forty releases) offers some of the most passionate, energized free jazz and improvisational recordings of this decade closing to its end. While the latter is the core of everything of course, the former offer to all of us fetishists more reasons to buy the CDs (and LP’s lately) and support this totally independent label.

First Lapse presents us a trio of young musicians who have already been grinding their teeth among some of the greats like, among others, Paul Flaherty, Tony Malaby, Tyshawn Shorey and Tashi Dorji. Here they present themselves in the classic jazz trio line-up with Zach Rowden on double bass, Jarrett Gilgore on alto saxophone and Ian McColm on drums and percussion. Raw Tonk has created an international circle of likeminded improvisers but, correct me if I’m wrong, this is the first release by musicians exclusively from the US. This circle, seems to me, is constantly growing only to include more and more artists eager to explore.

This ethos directly goes back to the early days of European improvisation (the label still holds London as its center point) with legendary labels like ICP, Incus and FMP. It’s not like they are creating something that has never been achieved before. Raw Tonk’s multinational rotation of musicians encapsulates the simple basic need of people getting together, forming bonds and expressing themselves freely without mediators.

Certainly the way the three musicians battle with their instruments is atypical of the standard drums-sax-bass trio. Thankfully I would comment. First Lapse is not a free jazz album, but more of non idiomatic improvisational recording, if you want to pin down the music. I really really enjoyed their lack of egos and the way they play more as a trio and less as individuals. First Lapse gives me the chance to believe that the three of them have left, already, the free jazz blow outs (now a tradition for jazz coming from the States) behind them for a more organic, focused egalitarian sound.

I think the key word here is focus. At any point they seem to have ears only for their fellow musicians so to act and react accordingly but without preconceived ideas. The three instruments seem so intensely close to each other that you could say all were performed from the same person. Their level of interaction kept me to my toes (as they were if I should make a guess) throughout the thirty minute something duration of the CD. Less is more seems to be the way they deal with their need to express themselves.

Raw Tonk’s catalogue is growing not so fast, but that’s not the issue. There’s not even one release below a certain standard (always considering our personal tastes), which makes it one of the leading labels in the free jazz and improvised world at the moment.







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