Live at the Knitting Factory Volume 1
Lou Grassi - drums
Marshall Allen - alto sax, flute
Paul Smoker - trumpet
Steve Swell - trombone
Perry Robinson - clarinet
Wilber Morris - double bass
Porter Records 2010
recorded at Knitting Factory on September 26, 2000
While some of the most active avant-garde / free-jazz musicians release a handfull of records each year other remain criminally underrecorded which makes each available cd/lp even more precious. Bill Dixon comes to mind - an extraordinary artist of immense vision whose almost entire recorded output fits comfortably into one small box ("Complete Recordings on Soul Note and Black Saint" box set). What makes the recording presented here worthwile is obviously the music, but the fact that You get to hear such musicians like Perry Robinson, Paul Smoker or Marshall Allen (whose recordings outside of the Sun Ra Arkestra are extremely rare) makes it also one of a considerable historic value for jazz maniacs like You and me (or maybe just me). This is also somehow of an archival set since the concert presented took place a decade ago.
This if free-jazz at its best, with wild soloing, passionate boiling ensemble completely out-there simultanous playing as well as close interplay and some silent sections too (listen to the almost lushfull harmonies appearing unexpectedly in the middle of "Marshalling Our Spirits" and returning constantly in the 2nd half of the improvisation). With enough space for each of the musician to shine (hey, You've got to feed the four soloists on horns with some time!), the three tracks are quite long and demand a lot of focus, but the journey is rewarding. Just check the Marshall's or Steve's solo over completely mad, all-over-the-place playing of drums and bass in "LouRa" (3rd, final track of the disc). And it only gets better when all four horns join the party around 18th minute into the track (which is 23:17 overall). This is the only composed track (by Paul Smoker) but it is generally just a short, if extremely powefull two-chords progression (and the sound of this line-up is huge with complete palette of four brass and woodwinds instruments) that is a just a starting point of a massive improvisation. Within just the first 3 and 1/2 mins of "Marshalling Our Spirits" there is enough action, instrumental exchanges, duos, trios, quartets appearing that it could easily take 7 minutes to describe it (and the whole track is 23:26).
This band can move at will between light (like flute sound in generally delicate "RePoZest" that features also a great Paul Smoker's solo ) and heavy, inside and outside, between small sound of a trio up to full hard-blowing sextet, between focus and complete abondonment. Somewhere on the road and in all of those You will find a lot to treasure. Those musicians can deliver and they prove it without a doubt as they are at the top of their game (Smoker is absolutely fantastic throughout but so are all the others, Lou Grassi is not only one of the most original drummers but indenialby a great band leader too).
While it's not groundbreaking in any sense, nor it's trying to be, it's emotional, raw power and absolute class of the musicians involved make this cd a very welcomed addition into the collection of any free-jazz fan.
ps.1 the sound quality may not be up to modern standards, especially the bass sounds a bit muddy, but it shouldn't stop You from enjoying this
ps.2 with the cd title finishing: "...Volume 1" I surely hope to hear more soon :)