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Sunday, December 11, 2022

Rachel Musson, N O Moore, Olie Brice, Eddie Prévost - Under the Sun (Matchless, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

“The spiky unabashed electric eclecticism of the guitar, and my own skew-whiff, bomb-dropping bashing, will defuse any neo-bebop comparisons. But it is there; the spirit of jazz invades, pervades, infects and delineates. It might not be what the purists want. But purists of all persuasions (aesthetic or political) inevitably opt for the ‘all-or-nothing’ option. And although content (and complacent) in their pose, they reject possibility.”

So writes Eddie Prévost in the trenchant liner essay accompanying Under the Sun, a text that so effectively describes the current musical circumstance and its historical relations (and vice versa) that I would rather quote it than struggle to summarize so acute a vision, so well expressed. It might well be argued that urgency is the defining quality of much great jazz, holding together though pitched at the point of flying apart, whether it’s Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane (there’s also a corresponding calm that speaks to the dream world, a kind of expansive meditation, in Prévost’s case, the music of AMM for which he‘s best known).

Here, in concert at Iklectik in September 2021, he is solidly on the jazz side of his musical activity, behind a standard kit, kicking the music forward with (upright) bass drum bombs , in superb company conventionally arranged around a bass (Olie Brice’s), a chordal (or, rather, poly-vocal) instrument (N.O. Moore’s guitar) and a horn (Rachel Musson’s tenor saxophone). There are two pieces here, each an extended free dialogue, the opening “Stealing the Final Arrow” (23:37) and the expansive “Scaring the Sun-eaters Away (alluding to ancient Chinese sun myths)” (45:12).

Musson is a central presence, a forceful tenor player in a grand tradition who can focus attention with passages that might consist largely of shifting multiphonic blasts or cascading, hard-edged lines. Brice is sufficiently adept that he can give the appearance of securing a line in a field in which security is sometimes illusory. Moore has a quicksilver musical imagination, enlarging whatever musical space he finds himself in. Here his presence contributes mightily to these four-way conversations, further knitting together all the parts in the ensemble, particularly close in his role to the similarly polyphonic Prévost. Everyone in the quartet is clearly there, even when only one or two musicians are playing audibly.

“Stealing the Final Arrow” begins with every voice, Musson’s big-toned tenor constructing continuity with a series of assertive blasts and micro phrases, with Brice contributing some of the spikiest pizzicato this listener has ever heard. Phases arise conversationally, with an underlying momentum—a lyrical duet of tenor and bass, a free jazz quartet passage of galvanizing intensity, a storm of drums, a rapid guitar solo that turns into a duet with bass…shifts and evolutions range from organic to startling, sually arise naturally, with full quartet passages possessing enough form – Musson’s melodic and motivic aspects often the source – to feel (just momentarily) composed before the fully collective distribution of invention arises.

“Scaring the Sun-Eaters Away” begins with extreme delicacy, Musson playing alone, sometimes touching on sounds that are sublimely close to silence. Moore enters on the cusp of inaudibility, his notes pitched somehow between string harmonics and glassy electronica as Musson exits; then Brice makes it a string duet before Prevost’s tumultuous entry, then the voices drop away to leave Moore weaving a complex line of his own, until Musson and Brice re-enter and Moore suddenly accelerates to a rapid electronic burble. That’s roughly the first nine minutes and the piece maintains interest for the next 36’.

There may still be musicians who approach the free jazz idiom from the right, gingerly loosening a stale-dated idiom. With Prévost and company, the approach is from the left (also from below, above, before and after). The questions asked might be formed as, “How do we grow our idiom, how do we assure the simultaneity of free association, complementarity and forward movement?” A speculative response? By individually alternating elements as quickly as possible; by suspending empathy, curious if it grows with inattention; by posing elements not noticed in the other three players’ lines; or by doing all of these things at once, inattentively arguing forward to the possibility of presence. The goal, its form unknown, might be just beyond the next passage.