This recording, the last time visionary violinist Billy Bang and free-jazz tenor saxophone explorer Frank Lowe would record together, is a stunning document of the excitement each was able to generate when in the company of the other. Lowe was to pass away just a few scant months after this date from cancer. The CD documents a live concert in Grand Rapids, MI from the middle of an extended tour of the United States in 2003. The two fearless artists are joined by pianist Andrew Bemkey, bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Tatsuya Nakatani.
The joy of this recording, just a scant four tunes long, for a total of a little less than 70 minutes of music, is the excitement and journey the artists take the listeners on during the course of the evening’s set. These five artists are playing at the height of their inter-combinational powers with radar ears open to not just possibilities in themselves, but in the musicians they are interconnected to.
There is, blatantly, not a bad track on this recording. On "Silent Observation" Lowe’s solo, he takes the first one, is a jumble of short and marvelous motivic units he continually reweaves until, by the end of the solo, they are transfixed into retrograde blocks of terse tension. Bang’s solo, on the other hand, is all swirling ostinato figures that pile up and build into wonderfully exquisite long phrase lines. As counterpoint, Nicholson’s unaccompanied bass solo creates a respite and sea of calm from the storms Bang conjured up.
Conversely, on "Nothing But Love," Lowe’s solo is a marvel of minimal insight. Taking a single line from the tune’s melody, he repeats it in an almost singularly, and with little variation, canonic fashion until the final endpoint is reached. Lowe’s solo points out, with the use of the least amount of melodic material, the importance of the central tenant in all free jazz - ensemble interplay. By taking himself out of the equation through repetition after repetition the roles of solo and accompaniment are negated and the aggregate rules supreme. Many artists say and feel this within themselves, but few are able to do it and express it so delicately. Bemkey’s solo is full of slashing and darting lines that point to harmonic, quasi atonal freedom. But just as Strauss did in Salome, Bemkey still manages to stay within the bounds of tonality, albeit through the use of upper chordal partials and related key sets.
The final two tunes are just as riveting as those described here; Bang absolutely knocks it out of the park on "Dark Silhouette." Throughout the enter concert the ensemble is so open and free to express themselves it never sounds like it’s one musician working within a group; it’s always the group working within a musician. A must listen.