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Thursday, May 18, 2023

Joe Rigby and Chris Capers – Revelations / Impressions (Homeboy Music, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

There’s a lot of music around, right now, being mythologized in order to obtain good sale status. Many of them were neglected, forgotten or even ostracized during their time. One of the small labels, working off the radar, doing exactly the opposite, meaning putting out the music without promotion tricks, is Homeboy Music.

Homeboy Music, run by Roy Morris, is dedicated in presenting the work of Joe Rigby, a saxophonist who worked with greats like Milford Graves, Steve Reid and Andrew Cyrille among others. The music of Joe Rigby might be the focus of the label, but also other almost neglected great artists like Arthur Doyle (a must buy from the label: Nature Boy, an early 70’s recording by the Arthur Doyle Trio) and Earl Cross.

It seems funny and a bit contradictory with the above, but definitely the music on the two CDs is material for mythologizing…On both CDs, Joe Rigby is accompanied by trumpeter Chris Capers, making them an homage to his music too. But do not get me wrong. Both CDs are burning free music, free jazz at its best by musicians who have been immersed in the great black tradition of jazz musics and came out with revelations of their own.

Revelations is the second, chronologically, CD of the two. Recorded in the late 1970’s, on January 1979, while the Loft period in New York city was coming to an end, it features Rigby on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax while Capers plays the trumpet. Adding to the mythos of all this, the electric bassist is unknown and on the drums could be Rashied Sinan or Jerome Hunter or someone else, unknown. Does it matter? I don’t know, but there are certain people and organizations that are very good in selling speculations.

But what about the music itself? Well, to be honest this must be and will be, at least in my lists, one of the best archival recordings of the year, since it came out very late in 2022. Burning free jazz, full pathos, energy and agony to be heard, this is what this music is all about on both tracks that clock around in half an hour. Rigby feels like the sax player you would wish to have caught live at some point. His playing is agitated by its sheer power and the will to be heard. We must always remember that back then, many of those artists, had very few opportunities to be heard. Capers is the best companion to Rigby but has a voice of his own. Even though the music they soldiered was very often the music of soloists they come out in unison, struggling and willing to be heard this way. The backbone of drums and bass is flexible, endlessly energetic and powerful. They tend to stay on the background, in terms of audio, even though that might be an issue of the sound quality. In any case the play and, man, they play hard.

Almost a decade before the Revelations CD, as the speculation says it was recorded in the late 60’s, Impressions captures the two players in top form, giving their own version of John Coltrane’s masterpiece. It must be noted that Coltrane had passed away just a couple of years before this recording and it took a lot of guts (and nerve…) to compete on his material –especially those tracks coming from his free period. Again the piano player and the bassist are totally unknown, while the drummer could be Steve Reid. We don’t know.

The quintet starts a bit low key and they ascend as they go. Having no more information on which they were, if they knew each other well and what was their relationship with the original material, one has to guess that the slow start was their way of getting to know each other. At some point –and many other- on this one long track of, around forty minutes, the go off blowing hard. What a cliché, I admit it, but this is what happens. Again the sound quality provides with some grey zones in listening but everything find its right place if you just absorb the energy of their playing, the highs and lows of their interpretations on the music. Both CDs come in transparent slim sleeves with very passionate liner notes, leaving room for the music to speak for itself. Don’t be mislead by any words or labels. This music must be heard by anyone interested in the unknown history of free jazz, of great black music in general. Both CDs are unmistakably on the best archival releases list of the year.

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Christian said...

So thankful I picked these up when I could. What a fascinating commitment (devotion) by Homeboy Music to literally will these further into existence. In the age of the archive, the life in these recordings still burns brightly, undeterred by the many layers of dust and time.