Not Living in Fear is the second album by the international female string trio Hear in Now. Since being brought together for Italy's Womajazz Festival in 2009, they have collaborated whenever possible -- including a stint as half of Roscoe Mitchell's sextet during his To John Coltrane concert tour in Europe. Each member has a busy solo career: Cellist Tomeka Reid leads her own quartet with bassist Jason Roebke, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara; she is also a member of Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble. Violinist/vocalist Mazz Swift is a member of Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber and William Parker's double sextet and spends time in the big league hip-hop world working with Common and Kanye West. Bassist Silvia Bolognesi is a veteran of the international avant-jazz scene, having co-led dates with Sabir Mateen and her own Open Combo.
The range Hear in Now displays is tremendous. While the album opens with the collective, muscularly angular "Impro 3," each of its members composes. With its folk themes, the sonorous, song-like "Leaving Livorno" offers another side of this ensemble's multi-voiced diversity, while "Requiem for Charlie Haden" delivers a fitting tribute to the late bassist and his lifelong obsession with Spanish themes and modalities. By contrast, the title track walks a tightrope between contemporary chamber music, improv, and folk music in its first half before Chicago vocal legend Dee Alexander joins the trio and stretches its boundaries toward bluesy jazz-pop. It's arguably the album's loveliest selection. After another improvisation, "Terrotama" offers a syncopated, percussive chamber blues that serves as an intro to "Prayer for Wadud," an homage to the great jazz cellist who worked with everyone from Michael Franks to Julius Hemphill. It commences as a deep-toned, droning dirge between arco bass and cello, then shifts gears to become a dance-like modal number with Swift's violin delivering a gorgeous Eastern-tinged melody. "Cantiere Orlando" offers humor as well as adventure, commencing as a stately classical work before delivering a funky bassline and transforming itself into a burning modern jazz number. (One can't help but think of Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando with its seamless yet jarring transformations and canny fluidity.) As evidenced by Not Living in Fear, Hear in Now are onto something, not only as a group of players but as composers whose approach to the string trio is bracing, engaging, and has no boundaries.