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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tributes and Homages (II of III)

 By Lee Rice Epstein

Tropos - Axioms // 75AB (Biophilia, 2020) ****½


In a similar vein, the quintet Tropos divides their debut album Axioms // 75 AB neatly in half, with “side A” featuring a set of originals, and “side B” given over to inspired takes on ’70s-era Anthony Braxton. Tropos augments a traditional sax quartet lineup—Raef Sengupta on alto sax, Phillip Golub on piano and percussion, Zachary Levine on bass, and Mario Layne Fabrizio on drums and percussion—with Laila Smith on vocals. The voicing is not dissimilar to some Braxton has toyed with, and truly, the Tropos Braxtons are splendid interpretations. Yet, Sengupta, Golub, and Fabrizio’s compositions stand compellingly alongside them, like Douglas’s set, the inspiration isn’t directly present in the construction of the pieces as much as it provides a schema for interpretation. A key ingredient in the album is Ted Reichman, who serves as producer. He burnishes the mix with a warmth that references classics like Fall 1974 and Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds. Of course, the title Axioms // 75 AB references the maestro’s 75th birthday, an occasion that’s been sadly atrophied by the cancellation of performances due to COVID-19. And so, the primary artifacts of 2020 remain this and Thumbscrew’s The Anthony Braxton Project albums.

In the case of Axioms // 75 AB, the set highlights a set of compositions that are likely well known to readers, “23 C,” “23 E,” “40 (O),” “40 B,” “23 H,” and “6 I.” And, as Reichman points out in the notes, these compositions ought to be included in the Real Book, for all their avant-garde-ness, “[t]hey fit on one page. You can improvise on them in ways that aren’t totally foreign to mainstream jazz practice.” And, like the Real Book, these compositions are always ready for new takes. The freshness of these Tropos readings is to be celebrated and rewarded.

Edward "Kidd" Jordan, Joel Futterman, William Parker, Hamid Drake - A Tribute to Alvin Fielder, Live at Vision Festival XXIV (Mahalaka Music, 2020) ****


When drummer and percussionist Alvin Fielder died in 2019, there must have been a sense among many of us that his spiritual and artistic partners Kidd Jordan and Joel Futterman were going to do something special in his memory. In fact, this special, improvised performance was recorded at the Vision Festival just months after Fielder’s passing. The lineup is a reunion (of sorts) of a recording featuring Jordan, Futterman, Fielder, and William Parker live at the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival. Of course, for this rousing tribute, Hamid Drake fills the role of drummer, subtly hinting at Fielder’s rhythmic idioms. Jordan and Futterman have crafted a dynamic musical language that enables them to synchronize improvisatory motifs, moving in parallel lines. There are moments reminiscent of their 1997 trio album with Fielder, Spirits, and Parker and Drake pull off a brilliantly inspired conjuring of the group’s New Orleanian/Southern-tinged sound. So much of improvisation depends on the specificity of the players, there’s no strict set of notes or inflections defining any so-called jazz. Jordan, Futterman, and Fielder were always fascinating because of the personal influences they drew on and molded into their particular sound, merging Louisiana, Illinois, and Mississippi, bringing into their improvisations deep roots and shades of blues, Dixieland, folk, and yes, of course, jazz. This tribute is a glorious celebration of everything they’ve done and keeps the spirit alive for the torch to be passed along.