The best free improvisation ensembles generally carry three characteristics: tremendous mastery by the individual instrumentalists, sympathetic listening, and instinctual timing. This quartet displays all three on this fantastic recording released by Relative Pitch. The group is comprised of Brandon Lopez (Brandon Lopez Trio, Xivaros, The Mess, Nate Wooley Quartet) on Contrabass, Matt Nelson (Battle Trance, GRID, tUnE-yArDs) on Tenor Saxophone, Andria Nicodemou (Leap of Faith, London Improvisers Orchestra, Royal Improvisers Orchestra, Joe Morris) on Vibraphone, and Gerald Cleaver (Farmers By Nature, Subtle Degrees, William Parker, Roscoe Mitchell) on Percussion.
‘Not’ finds the group beginning slowly, with Nelson creating aural knots via slow multi-phonic trilling while the rest of the group rustles and comes to life underneath. Lopez and Cleaver provide a busy linear pulse over which the increasingly intense sax passages and ringing vibe tones hover. The album’s centerpiece is the excellent ‘Now’ which builds from a near whisper. Cleaver’s percussive rustling and chimes engage in dialogue with Nicodemou’s vibes until Nelson and Lopez enter into the fray simultaneously with flat sax tones and arco glissandos. All of this gradually increases in intensity with Cleaver building layers of percussion around Lopez’s sturdy bass thrum whilst Nicodemou lays down fantastically sympathetic patterns that linger somewhere between percussion and melody, opting for neither exclusively but filling in the open spaces in the music as necessitated. Nelson plays with a very muscular Evan Parker-esque character on this recording, producing his phrases in a variety of timbres. At around the 14 minute mark he discharges a roar that sends the dynamic of the group into another direction. The rhythm quickens and the playing increases in intensity. Nicodemou’s vibes take on a pointillistic quality, racing with the drums as Cleaver goes into full octopus mode and Lopez keeps the monstrosity grounded with his gradually evolving repetition. The track winds down in intensity over the last several minutes before reducing down to a simmer, again driven by the Lopez’s grunting bass bow. ‘Again’ is an understated affair of low intensity aural potpourri. The quartet is fantastic here, listening and responding to each other’s playing, like a conversation where everyone is heard without anyone raising their voice. ‘Yet’ begins with a thumping pizzicato bass line accompanied by Lopez’s barely audible vocalizations which give the piece a dark ambience before the rest of the quartet joins in. Again, a fantastically understated piece that rewards close listening as the engagement and interplay between the performers is as good as it gets.
In an interview with the publication Jazz Right Now, Brandon Lopez stated that he is an admirer of the artist Paul Klee. Listening to this music the influence becomes apparent, as when looking at Klee’s work, the subject is generally easy to decipher however the lines are rough and the arrangement is abstract and distorted as if giving into the relentless pull of time and gravity. And that is really what free jazz is, an industry of entropy, music that has suffered the sea change.
The Quartet at Manhattan Inn 7-14-16: