East Village Free Jazz Pioneers Celebrate the Cutting Edge on Their Home Turf
Francisco Mela has been a prime mover in the New York free jazz scene for decades. And free improvisation remains one of the East Village’s most durably entrenched musical demimondes. So it only makes sense that he would be part of this year’s LUNGS festival. He’s playing with a killer trio including tenor saxophonists Steve Wirts and George Garzone at 3 PM on Sept 25 at the 11BC Garden on 11th St between Ave. B and C.
Mela’s latest release in a career that only gets more and more prolific is Music Frees Our Souls, a trio set with two longtime collaborators, bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp, dedicated to the late, great McCoy Tyner and streaming at Bandcamp.
Mela and Parker quickly build a floating swing for Shipp to color in the epic, twenty-minute first track, Light of Mind, opening with insistent variations around a center. The conversationality of the trio immediately makes itself known when Shipp hits his first big, stabbing peak, and the bass and drums are right there with him. From there the variations range from stern and insistent to scrambles in the upper registers. Shipp limits his emulation of Tyner to frequent stormy lower lefthand intensity. When Mela gets the pot boiling, the other two guys punch in hard with a modal bristle, a feeling that persists in the lulls. Shipp’s stygian, regal exit is spot-on beyond words.
Track two, Dark Light, is much briefer and has more spacious, lingering moments and judicious chordal work from Parker. This being Mela’s session, he opens the last number with an amusing solo that hints at oldschool disco before he expands outward. Who would have expected a salsa woodblock beat over Shipp’s flurries and Parker’s stabbing polyrhythms? The triangulation is a little looser here, everybody on a longer rhythmic leash, although Mela and Parker seemed to be joined closer to the hip. The point where the bass signals a creepily twinkling Twilight Zone transmission from Shipp will give you goosebumps.
Who needs jazz clubs with owners too cowardly and shortsighted to stand up to apartheid orders from the Mayor’s office when we have musicians of this caliber playing outdoors? No doubt somewhere McCoy Tyner is smiling.