On October 3, 2002, Von Freeman celebrated his 80th birthday. The veteran Chicago tenor man had a lot of memories to look back on -- he's old enough to remember Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War II, and he was still going strong when the 21st century arrived. Freeman was 79 when The Improvisor was recorded live at various Windy City venues in late 2001 and early 2002, including the Green Mill and the New Apartment Lounge. And after all these years, his playing hasn't become any less fascinating -- Freeman still combines an avant-garde-like tone with more conventional hard bop and post-bop changes. It's a delightfully odd contrast, and one that serves him well throughout the album. Performances of "What Is This Thing Called Love" and other standards have everything that basic hard bop would ordinarily have -- a great sense of swing, a wealth of blues feeling, and a strong command of Charlie Parker-based changes. No one can claim that Freeman doesn't know changes; he knows them inside and out, and he swings as passionately as Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, or Dexter Gordon. But his tone always sounds avant-garde -- even when he is being lyrical and romantic on the ballad "Darn That Dream" or bringing a churchy, gospel-like optimism to "I Like the Sunrise" (one of Duke Ellington's lesser-known pieces). As excellent as The Improvisor is, this CD probably won't convert anyone who hasn't comprehended his previous work. Those who have felt that Freeman's eccentric tone doesn't go with bop changes are unlikely to hear The Improvisor and suddenly become obsessive fans; nonetheless, his followers will find a great deal to admire about this CD and will agree that, at 79, the tenor man still had a lot to say.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson