A first reaction upon hearing Steve Swell's This Now, after discovering that there are only three long tracks totaling more than an hour's worth of music, and that most of it is avant-garde or free jazz, might be either to embrace the concept (rare) or to run the other way (more likely). The danger inherent in 20-plus minute tracks encompassing a let-em'-loose-Bruce free jam is the ultimate tedium of lengthy self-indulgent solos: which is all the more reason that this outstanding album nearly stands by itself as an example of the heights to which the genre can achieve. Incredibly, there is not a tedious moment on the entire disc. The opening "This Now" embodies all that the raw '60s had to offer, with free-wheeling improvisations peppered with deliciously juicy riffs. "BA-1" is slower and more subdued, though almost as effective a piece, while the closing "Tryarhythmic" embodies a phenomenal breadth, opening with a raunchy Dixie-inflected jaunt and featuring some of the best Swell this side of the Mississippi. Swell's writing impresses immeasurably, as he has an ear to the moment so that the backgrounds constantly change and ebb to the machinations of the soloists. Swell's handpicked sextet is comprised of some of the best, and sometimes underrated, players in the world of modern jazz improvisation. Besides Swell, who is uniformly impressive, trumpeter Matt Lavelle exhibits a maturity and attack worthy of his musical influences who include Don Cherry, Bobby Bradford, and Dave Douglas. Jemeel Moondoc parades his hard bop roots with some riveting and searing wails, and the all-star rhythm section of the late Wilber Morris, the eclectic but enigmatic Cooper Moore, and Anthony Braxton disciple Kevin Norton swing with abandon. As a result there is not an unexciting moment on the entire disc, and this should appeal to wide range of palettes.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy