Monday, August 04, 2008

The Chris McGregor Septet - Up to Earth (Fledg'ling, 2008)

Composer, arranger and pianist Chris McGregor and colleagues in his Blue Notes band left apartheid wrecked South Africa for the relative freedom of London in the late 1960's. The musicians were eagerly accepted into the progressive jazz community that was beginning to flourish, and McGregor began to lead his own small groups and form his big band, The Brotherhood of Breath. On this previously unreleased album, he is joined by regular collaborators like Mongezi Feza on trumpet, Dudu Pukwana on alto saxophone and Louis Moholo on drums. They are also accompanied by some heavy hitting members of the English improv scene: Evan Parker on tenor saxophone, John Surman on saxophones and clarinets, and Barre Phillips and Danny Thompson on bass. The music consists of four lengthy tracks of high energy open ended improvisation. There is a melodic framework, but the music is very open and free. "Moonlight Aloe" opens the album with a lengthy performance of raw saxophone over a skeletal framework of piano. Things get even wilder during the medley of "Yickytickee/Union Special" with unfettered improvisation giving way to a marching band coda which comes on like a free folk improvisation Albert Ayler would play. "Up to Earth" and "Years Ago Now" meld the freewheeling improvisation with shifts of melody and tempo. I found this to be a very rewarding album, and I am surprised that it wasn't released at the time. The musicians are obviously thrilled with the music that gives them a chance to explore open ended themes and make the most of it.

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