CD Review by Dawoud Kringle
What happens when you combine four master musicians who believe in the redemptive healing power of music, have devoted their lives to perfecting their craft, and to bringing it to the public? You get the New York Free Quartet.
The NYFQ is MFM member Michael Moss (tenor and soprano saxophones, Bb and bass clarinets, flute), Steve Cohn (piano, shakuhachi, trombone, shofar, ichidichi), Larry Roland (bass, poetry / spoken word), and Chuck Fertal (drums, percussion).
The first track, “Monk Meets East Meets West” begins with a strangely Japanese approach to free jazz. The notes that Moss and Cohn play against the watery interplay between Roland and Fertal create the inner imagery of walking through a bamboo garden. The introduction of the Monkish splashes of chords on piano by Cohn underscore this Asian vibe before it reinvents itself as jazz. But the jazz vibe is an honored visitor within this eastern garden; we experience his presence in this strange place as both perceiver and perceived. Moss’ saxophone appears as a bird in the garden. But this is not an Asian species of bird; it’s a species from another land, whose natural instinct is to find a natural equilibrium with its new environment.
“On Their Shoulders” begins on a mournful, contemplative mood. The instruments sigh, and discuss ideas that seem to weigh heavily upon them. Roland comes in with a spoken word. He speaks about the lineage of responsibility that is passed down, serves to keep traditions alive, and to build new traditions – and the lives that make this a reality. It contemplates the fleeting, transitory nature of life. It grows to an impassioned dance that underscores the very urgency of life itself.
“24/8 Aren’t We All?” begins with Fertal playing a swinging metallic percussion grove, Roland does a bass ostinato, and Moss comes in with a saxophone part that is clearly from the realm of Coltrane. He holds front and center, while Cohn weaves his flute in and out of the melodies. Eventually the piano comes in with its sharp and jagged colors, and takes center stage. He humorously quotes a number of old jazz forms that are recognizable to the trained ear.
The rest of the CD is equally compelling, and exploratory in its emotional color and musical , Each track is unique, yet one can hear the thread of continuity that runs through the music.
Moss, Cohn, Roland, and Fertal have a strong sense of what they are going for. They sculpt the music with deep textures, and powerful statements. These men have access to a vast receiver of musical knowledge to draw from; but also have a great deal of real life experience that breaths meaning into their music.