Malachi Thompson

Freebop Now!

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Freebop Now! is designed both as a manifesto for Malachi Thompson's aesthetic principles and a 20th anniversary celebration of his Freebop Band concept. But it's a rather disjointed disc jamming together two sextet sessions with different goals, one commemorating a 1998 trip to play in Senegal featuring Billy Harper as Thompson's front-line foil, and the second centered around a science-fiction short story by Thompson with Oliver Lake replacing Harper. But "Cancerian Moon" is a 1993 track featuring Thompson's old Carter Jefferson/Joe Ford sax tandem that only muddies the waters even more. Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile" is a solid opener, while Mae Koen's voice joins the horns to give "Flight to Senegal" a Brazilian tinge à la Flora Purim as Harper turns in a blazing tenor solo. The title track features vocal scatting and strong solos from Steve Berry on trombone and Harper over James Cammack's free-ranging bass foundation. Thompson's trumpet solo explores "'Round Midnight" using a spare, Monk-like approach to the melody over Cammack's anchor, and while "Just a Look" and "Cancerian Moon" are well-crafted and delivered pieces, they're also nothing particularly special. But the sci-fi pieces with Lake are spottier and much less cohesive. "Jammin' at the Point" is ruled by a loping Caribbean-flavored groove fueled by Hamid Drake's percussion, while "Worm Hole" leans to the free side of freebop with drummer Dana Hall ripping underneath the horn harmonies. But the brief "Ancient African Horns" sounds like mouthpiece solos, "Black Hole" incorporates a spoken word reflection on black-on-black youth violence, and "Heathens and Space/Time Projection" is built around recitations by Amiri Baraka and Larry Smith. The final four tracks are pretty scattered, and while that doesn't derail Freebop Now!, it's not the strongest disc in Thompson's consistently interesting catalog. And some of his liner note rhetoric here makes you wonder if Thompson should attach so much conceptual baggage to what is the essential quest for any jazz musician -- a commitment to creating inventive music without being limited to prior models.

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