The general idea behind Asian Improv Records is Asian musicians playing experimental jazz, most of it on the avant-garde side and most of it with a definite AACM influence. But having a general idea and having firm, unbreakable rules are two different things. While Asian Improv is an Asian-run company, it doesn't exclude white, black, or Latino improvisers -- being Asian-friendly isn't the same as being Asian-only. On Purple Gums, only one of the three participants is Asian: tenor saxman/flutist Francis Wong. The other two -- veteran cornetist Bobby Bradford and tuba player/percussionist William Roper -- are black. Together, the three jazzmen emphasize wind instruments; piano and bass are excluded, and the only percussion comes when Roper puts down his tuba. Purple Gums documents a live set at San Francisco State University in 2002, where the trio exclusively performs original material. And like a lot of Asian Improv releases, Purple Gums has an AACM mentality; in other words, Bradford, Wong, and Roper provide avant-garde jazz that makes extensive use of space and is reflective rather than confrontational and pensive instead of harsh or in-your-face. By hard bop standards, these inside/outside performances are left of center; by avant-garde standards, they are relatively accessible. Most of the tunes are instrumental, although the trio also offers some spoken word items -- most notably, "You a Square" and "A Boy Like You" (both of which feature Roper as a vocalist). While the latter addresses the more subtle forms of discrimination, "You a Square" is a humorous put-down of a painfully unsoulful, unhip musician. Purple Gums falls short of exceptional; nonetheless, it's a solid and respectable outing for the three risk-taking explorers.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson