Those who have listened to a lot of avant-garde jazz over the years know that some of it -- not all of it, but some of it -- has favored a scorched earth policy. In the '60s, free jazz firebrands such as Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane (after 1964), Gato Barbieri (before he turned to more melodic post-bop and after that, crossover jazz) and Albert Ayler offered vicious, dense, harshly atonal music that showed listeners little or no mercy; it was brutal sensory assault long before death metal, black metal, techno, or metalcore used suffocating density to pummel the listener into submission. But not all avant-garde jazz has adhered to a take-no-prisoners agenda. There is also the kinder, gentler approach to avant-garde jazz that Chicago's AACM first unveiled in the '60s -- and after all these years, avant-garde jazzmen realize that they don't necessarily have to be confrontational or abrasive. They can be reflective instead, which is how trumpeter Stephen Haynes approaches things on Parrhesia -- an early 2010 date that finds him working in a trio setting with Warren Smith (drums, percussion, marimba) and Joe Morris (electric guitar). Parrhesia does not confront; it reflects and contemplates. And instead of emphasizing density, the trio thrives on the use of space -- which makes a huge difference and gives the listener a lot more breathing room. But make no mistake: Parrhesia is not about inside/outside improvisation. Parrhesia is outside from start to finish. Haynes (who is also heard on cornet and flügelhorn) and his two colleagues thrive on intellectual abstraction; it isn't the bombastic, hatchet-wielding abstraction of Coltrane circa 1966, but it is abstraction nonetheless. And the threesome's abstraction yields satisfying results on this 51-minute CD.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson