Old Stuff

New York Art Quartet

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Old Stuff Review

by James Allen

In the mid-‘60s golden age of free jazz, a group of sonic adventurers came together under the name of the New York Art Quartet, and though they didn't stick around long enough to burn their names into history to the same extent as peers like Ornette Coleman, or even the more "underground" stalwarts like Bill Dixon, the few artifacts they left behind are as bold and inspiring as nearly anything else from that era. Dixon, in fact, was the common connection for trombonist Roswell Rudd and alto sax man John Tchicai, who had both played with the trumpeter before forming the Art Quartet in 1964 with bassist Don Moore and drummer J.C. Moses. The rhythm section would go through a couple of changes during the group's brief lifespan, but Tchicai and Rudd were at the helm for both of the quartet's studio recordings. In 1965, Danish expat Tchicai went back to Copenhagen, soon summoning Rudd to reassemble the group for a couple of concerts. This time around, they tapped Danish bassist Finn von Eyben and nabbed South African émigré Louis Moholo on drums. Finally seeing legitimate release 45 years later, the band's two Copenhagen gigs find them firing on all cylinders. Only a couple of tunes (Rudd's barnburner "Rosmosis" and his more lyrical "Sweet V") are reprised from the studio albums, but Rudd and Tchicai brought a hot batch of new pieces with them, as well as an artful deconstruction of Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica." Rudd's forceful, searching lines move in and around the darting, visceral sax stings of Tchicai in a dance that's both elegant and explosive, suggesting how much more they could have done if they had remained a team. Moholo and von Eyben bring a new feeling to the group, with the latter alternating between perky walking lines and in-your-face flurries of frenzied notes as the moment demands, and Moholo displaying the coloristic skills that would make him a legend of U.K. jazz in the years to come. Barring a one-off reunion decades later, these would be the New York Art Quartet's last recordings, as they went their separate ways shortly after the Denmark stint, but Old Stuff illuminates a whole new chapter in the Art Quartet's story, a chapter most folks never knew existed.

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