Persuasion A was a sextet briefly led by bassist Simon H. Fell in the late '80s. Listeners only familiar with Fell's experiments in "xenochronicity," such as Composition No. 30, might be very surprised at the music here, though the subtitle, "A South African Suite," offers a clue. Fell clearly steals a page from the expatriate South African musicians who had called England their home since the early '60s, musicians like Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, and Louis Moholo. "Free Nelson," which opens the album, could in fact be straight from the Moholo songbook: a bouncing, roaring tune with a strong township vibe, featuring powerful solos from soprano saxophonist Charles Wharf, pianist Keith Tippett, and Fell. Much of the album careens between thematic material and freewheeling improv, and treads the boundaries quite well. Fell, in addition to being a fascinating composer with tons of unusual ideas, is a ferocious bassist, and he lends a rich pulse to both sides of the melody/improv coin here. Tippett is also a joy, and it's a special pleasure to hear him playing in generally straighter environs than his work with, say, Mujician. The sextet sounds a wee bit ragged on the slower numbers, like the (perhaps aptly named) "Futility," but makes up for it on the barnburners, including the closing reprise of "Free Nelson." Two Steps to Easier Breathing is a solid session that fits comfortably along with other ventures of the time by British artists who sought to incorporate the musical richness of South Africa with their own take on free jazz. Recommended.
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