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The Free-Bop Movement by Jafar Barron

Jafar Barron's The Free-Bop movement is yet another attempt to create a hybrid of jazz and rap. If I sound a touch cynical, it is because I am. Jazz musicians like the late Lester Bowie, Don Byron, and Ron Carter as well as hip-hop acts like De La Soul, Digable Planets, and US 3 have all gone down this path before with a variety of results. In short, the design of the music on this disc is not intrinsically impressive even if the promotional package accompanying the disc does include clipped articles calling it a "new sound" amongst other things. At the same time, this laudatory material -which I have to assume Barron and/or his label largely approve of as otherwise they wouldn't de distributing it- and in the booklet notes by poet Oskar Castro didactically say that this search for a synthesis shouldn't surprise anyone because these styles are both rooted in African American experience and are, according to Castro, a "message of musical rebellion." You won't get any refutation of the latter point from me although I do sometimes wonder if assuming that there are connections between all forms denoted as "black music" is in fact incorrectly corralling the musical contributions of African Americans. I don't hear that many people trying to argue that John Cage and Hank Williams were coming from the same place although it can be said without question that their whiteness influenced the music that each created. So why the need to compare (and contrast) folks like Louis Armstrong and Public Enemy? Whatever one's feelings on this matter, it should be clear that performers like Barron can't have it both ways. They can either claim that they are doing something radically new or say that they are simply following what tradition suggests doing.

This problem -which possibly doesn't even rise above the realm of terminology- shouldn't impeach the actual music as this disc does contain some quite enjoyable sounds when Barron gets hot on his trumpet and the rest of the band kicks in. Cuts like "Old Happy, Happy Buddha" and "onthedownlowinvisiblemaincognegro" are fine mixes are bop and funk. Bassist Michael Boone stands out in particular with his expressive playing on tracks such as "Jewels & Baby Yaz." Unfortunately too many of the compositions on The Free-Bop movement don't give the players any room to stretch out and so listeners get epetitive funk patterns that don't sound like they would be any more exciting even if I didn't have the strange feeling of having heard them before. Barron sounds like he has spent far too much time listening to Miles Davis records from the 1970s.

These faults become particularly apparent when Castro recites verse over the music that could be looped non-stop with no greater amount of internal repetition. Castro's work here also serves as a case study on why most fusions of jazz and poetry produce meager results. He creates some interesting images but there is little back and forth interaction between Castro and the band and so the poetry would be better served if music wasn't there to distract listeners.

A final note about this disc is that the title is a bit misleading. "Free bop" has generally come to be accepted as meaning the style that Ornette Coleman perfected in the late 1950s on records like The Shape of Jazz to Come and Something Else! It was not "soul jazz" like what is heard here but rather, as the moniker suggests, an expansion on bop ideas. Considering how Barron wants to root his sounds in the history of black music, it would seem reasonable that he would understand the meaning of this terminology and avoid what at least appears to be the arrogance associated with using "free bop" to describe this music. Given that he does use the phrase and the flawed music, Barron and The Free-Bop movement both come across as, to put it kindly, mediocre.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jafar Barron
  • CD Title: The Free-Bop Movement
  • Genre: Soul / Funk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Q Records
  • Musicians: Rodney Green (drums and cymbals), Farid Baron (Rhodes electric piano), Michael Boone (acoustic bass), Lamont Caldwell (saxophone), Tim Motzer (guitar), Jafar Barron (trumpet), Oskar Castro (vocals, spoken word)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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