Sunday, 22 July 2007

Collective 4-tet...

In the last of this little weekend mini-series of reviews of CDs I haven't enjoyed, this one is posted to show that my credentials for objectivity are fully intact.

Anybody who knows me will be aware of how much I admire the music of William Parker. You only have to go back to the recent posting of my review of Luc's Lantern to see just how much that is true. This album, however, was a different matter altogether. Do I pretend it is a contemporary classic, or do I call it as I hear it?

I've read too many fawning and uncritical reviews to do anything other than speak up when I feel that something doesn't punch its weight. This, I believe, can be said for Jazz Review's team of writers in general. On the whole I'm a pretty generous reviewer, so back to more positive things next week, I hope...!!

Moving Along

Drawing From The Pool; Moving Along; Si En Si.

Jeff Hoyer (tb); Mark Hennen (p); William Parker (b); Heinz Geiser (d)
Recorded November 2002.

The presence of the mighty William Parker on a recording always produces high expectations in this particular listener. Although cutting his teeth at the sharp edge of free-jazz in the 1970s, recent projects have been increasingly structured and rhythmically orthodox, reflecting a new desire to mine the groove more often at this particular stage of his career. A tireless organiser and a generous spirit, it’s not surprising that he sometimes spreads himself too thinly.

The Collective 4-tet illustrate this perfectly. This US-European co-operative now have five recordings in the Leo catalogue, blending free-jazz sonorities with the process-driven approach of non-idiomatic collective improvisation. Whilst all four members of the group are extremely talented musicians on an individual level, it soon becomes evident that the decision to adopt non-hierarchical instrumental relationships is the group’s Achilles Heel.

Each of the three pieces on Moving Along starts with a quiet, almost impressionistic pool of calm. Once these agreed starting points are left behind, an air of inevitability to the trajectory of each improvisation takes over. Instead of serving as gateways to higher creative plains, an all-consuming percussive maelstrom, lacking any real tension and release, is unleashed each time.

What we’re left with are three unwieldy sound masses that drift towards no particular destination. Walking such precarious musical tightropes demands qualities that both Parker and the increasingly impressive trombonist Jeff Hoyer possess. Knowing when not to play is as important as actually making a statement in this type of setting – the realisation that not everything can be left to chance.

Hoyer largely favours conventional technique, and his close-knit interplay with Parker provides at least a glimpse of something more transcendent. Hennen and Geiser play their parts with great passion but to my ears fail to establish any wider musical rapport. At its best, this risky form of music can certainly deliver the results to back the claims made in Art Lange’s typically oblique sleeve-notes that the kinetic aspects of collective improvisation are what make it so exciting and infinitely renewable. Sadly, this somewhat formulaic session has too little of the ‘wow’ factor required to prevent it from merely treading water.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2005)

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