The New York Contemporary Five
Delmark DE 409
New York Art Quartet
Old Stuff: October 1965
Cuneiform Records RUNE 300
Back in the turbulent days of the early 1960s when the New Thing was really new, North American gigs for the pioneers of Free Jazz were at the same premium that they are for advanced players today. That’s when the wholesale exodus to work in Europe for longer or shorter stays began. These prime slices of birthing Energy Music capture two acclaimed, ostensible New York bands, performing to wider acclaim in Copenhagen.
Part of the reason for this location is that a member of both The New York Contemporary Five (NYC5) and the New York Art Quartet (NYAQ) was Danish-Congolese alto saxophonist John Tchicai, who spent his youth in the Danish capital and secured the club and concert engagements heard here. Both co-op bands, the NYC5 CD from 1963, features, along with Tchicai, four New Yorkers: cornetist Don Cherry, who had just left Ornette Coleman’s quartet; tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, basking in his first fame; bassist Don Moore, who would later join the NYAQ; and drummer J.C. Moses, who ended up moving to Copenhagen later in the decade. To pinpoint just how new the music was at this time, the set list is made up of originals by each of the horn men, two Coleman lines and one by Thelonious Monk.
Fast forward two years later and the only composition not written by the NYJQ’s horn men is another Monk tune. At the same time this was a new configuration of the quartet which in the interim had released one LP for ESP Disk. For a start, Tchicai, who in the time between this CD and the other had worked with Shepp and John Coltrane, had moved back to Denmark. Additionally, only NYAQ co-leader Rudd, who regularly played with saxophonists Steve Lacy and Shepp at the time made this European gig. That meant that the supposedly New York quartet was filled out by advanced Danish bassist Finn von Eyben, who is now a prominent bio-medical researcher, plus expatriate South African drummer Louis Moholo, at the beginning of a long career in Europe.
In truth with Rudd’s avant-tailgate smears and whinnies plus Tchicai’s tart flutter-tonguing and tone slithers extant, this NYAQ didn’t sound that different from the Manhattan-original. Considering that the repertoire included the distinctive themes and voicing which the two horn men had worked out for the combo, these 11 tracks are a welcome addendum to the NYAQ’s earlier work.
Tunes such as the altoist’s “Cool Eyes” and the trombonist’s “Karin’s Blues” also demonstrate the pick-up band evolving musically as it advanced the NYAQ style. Thick pedal point from von Eyben holds together the first tune, which is also notable for stutters and wide vibrations from Rudd plus shrill liquid tone expansions from Tchicai. Eventually the ostinato gives way to a dramatic finale, as the saxophonist’s quivering trills mix it up with the trombonist’s huffing and puffing grace notes. Moholo’s drum break as a coda is part-and-parcel of the sort of swinging feel of other numbers such as “Karin’s Blues”. Here walking bass and chiming cymbals serve as a backdrop to Rudd’s low-pitched grace notes and sliding slurs, followed by near-the-scroll twangs from the bassist, and finally lyrical horn counterpoint including some of the saxman’s favorite licks.
These licks get more exposure on other pieces including the title tune, Tchicai’s “Pà Tirsclag” and Rudd’s “Rosmosis”. The first two presenting opposite glimpses of the quartet. “Old Stuff” is built on expanded Dixieland harmonies expanded from contrapuntal horn work and a recapped head that includes slinky reed bites and honks plus double-and triple-stopping bass work. In contrast, “Pà Tirsclag” uses Moholo’s clip-clops and rim fidgeting to set up a series of horn vamps until the tine is deconstructed by the trombonist’s tailgate slurs and splayed parlando from the saxman. With stop-time and tempo changes “Rosmosis” is probably the NYAQ’s most characteristic piece. Tchicai accompanies Rudd’s plunger brays with a blistering obbligato while the bassist’s resonating stops and Moholo’s cymbal shakes keep the excitement mounting for more than 15 minutes.
Tchicai and the other members of the NYC5 were in an earlier state of development two years earlier, and so was recording equipment, which is boxier than it is in 1965. Moses is more in a Roach-Blakey bag than Moholo would be and Moore rarely steps forward. Shepp’s original, “The Funeral” is appropriately adagio with processional drum rolls and powerful bass slaps, but so-called avant-garde effects only appear with Cherry’s tightly stretched grace notes and the composer’s spluttered glottal punctuation and false register split tones. Similarly the performance of Tchicai’s “Mik”, is pretty straightforward. The bassist walks, the drummer pops and rebounds and the theme statement is harmonized by the horns. Tchicai’s astringent tongue flutters and peeps resemble Coleman’s work, and again it’s Cherry’s heraldic power which seems most assured.
With most of the program taken up by Coleman tunes and Cherry’s original, it’s evident that the Coleman influence can’t be escaped. At least “O.C.” is taken more staccato than Coleman would, although walking bass, over-recorded drum rolls and riffing R&B styled horn parts relate more to 1950s Hard Bop than Coleman’s harmolodics. Blustery stutters from Shepp add some taut diffidence to the performance, however. Cherry’s “Cisum” may suffer from over-enthusiastic drumming as well – complete with bomb-dropping – not to mention an expected recapped head, but the cornetist’s peeps and flutter-tongued respite plus the fortissimo serrated and glottal textures from both saxmen make it memorable.
Like early Bebop records, too few documents of Free Jazz’s foundation exist and these CDs add more glimpses into the music in its seminal stage. Both are interesting musically as well as historically and would probably be massively enjoyed by fans of the genre. Yet precisely because revolutions – sonic and otherwise – commonly move at wrap speed, the two additional years of cogitating and practicing give the NYAQ and edge on the NYC5.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Old: 1. Rosmosis 2. Sweet Smells 3. Old Stuff 4. Panonica 5. Kvintus T 6. Pà Tirsclag 7. Old Stuff 8. Cool Eyes 9. Sweet V 10. Karin’s Blues 11. Kirsten
Personnel: Old: Roswell Rudd (trombone); John Tchicai (alto saxophone); Finn von Eyben (bass) and Louis Moholo (drums)
Track Listing: New: 1. Cisum 2. Crepuscule with Nellie 3. O.C. 4. When Will The Blues Leave 5. The Funeral 6. Milk
Personnel: New: Don Cherry (cornet); John Tchicai (alto saxophone); Archie Shepp (tenor saxophone); Don Moore (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums)
December 19, 2010