Burton Greene/Damon Smith/Ra-Kalam Bob Moses

Life's Intense Mystery
Astral Spirits MF 193/AS 090

A glorious throwback to the unbridled Free Jazz of the 1960s and 1970s, the six tracks on Life's Intense Mystery also confirm the continued improvisational smarts of two of the music’s elder statesman. Recorded live in a Cambridge, Mass. club, the CD is based around the percussion prestidigitation of Kalam Bob Moses, 71, and the roguish invention of 82-year-old Burton Greene’s approach to the piano. Holding his own with effusive and highly rhythmic bass work is Damon Smith, 46.

Someone who has worked in bands with everyone from Dave Liebman to Larry Coryell, Moses hasn’t let his long tenure teaching at the New England Conservatory blunt his skills as a percussionist. As for Greene, one of the original free players who worked with Sunny Murray, and the like, his half-century residency in the Netherlands means that collaborators have been numerous from both side of the Atlantic. Youngster in the band, but no tyro, over the years Smith’s performed with improvisers as different as Alvin Fielder and Weasel Walter.

The equivalent of a club set, the trio seques from one track to the other almost without pause, with intermezzos of dexterous invention from each along the way. Beginning and ending with variation on “Life's Intense Mystery”, the three move supplely from low-pitched, low frequency politeness to harder propelled and elevated improvisations. Greene’s spirited key crunches and darkened low-pitch discursions are easily matched by Moses’ precise plops and reverberations, often accompanied by vocal exhortations. Smith’s rhythmic plucks remain constantly supportive, even as the pieces turn busier. Expressive in his keyboard and coiled-string freedom that includes sequences of inside piano string plucks, stops and slides, Greene doesn’t neglect story telling or humor. His offer chipper squirming and serpentine key shading reflect honky-tonk-like looniness before jumping to defining key clicks on “Anything that Ain't Yes, Get Rid of It”, while the self-explanatory “Kid Play” weaves numerous chants, ditties and play-party songs together with key-fanning vigor. Exploratory in his playing, but never neglecting harmonic interconnections, the pianist’s slapping cascades are matched by drum sequences taking in tom-tom coloration, bell ringing and bass drum reaction plus speedy, jagged pushes and pulls from Smith.

Finally the trio ends as it began, with euphonious waves of selected timbres whose kinetic properties confirm the excitement engendered throughout.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Life's Intense Mystery Pt. I 2. Life's Intense Mystery Pt. II 3. Anything that Ain't Yes, Get Rid of It 4. Perc-Waves (or Percussion Waves) 5. Kid Play 6. Life's Intense Mystery Pt. III

Personnel: Burton Greene (piano); Damon Smith (bass) and Ra Kalam Bob Moses (drums and percussion)