Friday, January 3, 2014

Marilyn Lerner, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi, Live in Madrid

When a music considered by most to be in the avant garde reaches a certain maturity, there usually is some sort of consensus among those practicing it as to what the language consists of, what has become standard operating procedure, that sort of thing. I am not sure that is the case today with the music ordinarily known as "free jazz". The music has license by its own definition to do whatever it sees fit at any given moment. One can of course group practitioners into various schools and some have done this, myself included at times. Yet the reality is at least at this point that "free" means there is free invention, that improvisation is a critical element, and that at least theoretically "anything goes". Of course there is nothing wrong with this. In fact it is a sign that the music is living, healthy, moving ahead.

I preface these comments to the album at hand today because my first reaction to it was, "oh, this is classically free piano trio music". Then I stopped myself. What can that mean? In any given point in the performances on this disk there are so many choices to be made by the three musicians collectively and individually that one could not say that the results are in any way predictable. And maybe that's crucial to what makes "free" music good.

What we have on hand is a recent disk, Live in Madrid (Cadence Jazz 1247). It involves Marilyn Lerner on piano, Ken Filiano on acoustic bass and Lou Grassi on drums. This is a well-recorded set they played live at a Musicalibre-sponsored 2012 Hurta Cordel Festival in January of that year.

There are three collective improvisations involved and they are by all definitions "free". The fact that each of the musicians are consummate masters of this musical zone of course has a great bearing on the results. You expect a certain level of interaction of all three in tandem; you expect solo moments where one of them steps forward, dynamic variations from quietude to rousing energetic fullness. You get all of that. Yet there is no real blueprint that an audience will have (if they know the music, anyway) about what should happen when.

What's especially good about this outing is just that. The three come together with highly inventive fare, each contributing in their own specific way whatever they deem goes together at any point. And it works, whether it's a full blown energy drive with each emerging from time to time with a riveting figure, then an equal sort of three way mix, then on again to someone coming a little forward to assert something else that stands apart, and so on.

The longish middle improvisation starts very quietly with a logic of bowed bass, malleted drums and inside-the-piano colors, gathers momentum with Marilyn emphasizing a repeating interval in her lower register that sets up freely articulated lines in the right hand while Lou's drums gather steam and Ken's bowing becomes more heated, switching to pizzicato while Lou switches to sticks and breaks out into a very busy, musical working of toms. This is what it's about. The arco solo that follows by Ken fits the sequence perfectly, too. And then it's on from there. It would mean virtually little if each musician did not have that inventive touch.

But of course they very much do. That's what makes this excellent "free jazz", a set that hangs together and builds excitement by the ecstasy of being in the moment. This is what musical creativity is about in the new improvisations today. Is it "classic" free jazz? In a way, yes, but not in any foreordained way. These three play what they hear and feel and the open form gives them all they need to place themselves in a state of continual invention.

So I would certainly recommend this one. Great trio sounds!

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