FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

FMP CD 122

Steve Lake


Space, sound colour, interaction, independence, transparency, and a tremendous sense of propulsion, like a pocket chamber orchestra on the gallop, the band that illuminates these “Fractured Dimensions” is a far-reaching one. And a band making a debut, of a sort. The ensemble originally billed to play the Berlin Total Music Meeting in 1999 was the New York quartet known as Other Dimensions In Music, with bassist William Parker, trumpeter Roy Campbell, reedman (and intermittent second trumpeter) Daniel Carter and drummer Rashid Bakr. Bakr’s unavailability led to the fortuitous last-minute substitution of Alan Silva, the expatriate Bermudan/American bassist-turned-synthesizer player, and a near-total transformation of the group dynamic. Seldom has the old free music axiom change one man and you change the music been so dramatically demonstrated. New worlds open up - “other planes of there” as Sun Ra said - as Silva frames, tints and shades the improvisation with his keyboard colours (subtle pastels, lambent watercolours, luminescent gobs of day-glo), creates a real sense of orchestration-in-action with strings and percussion samples, or hurtles toward the centre of the whirled interplay. At all times his contribution encourages a great clarity in the music, where you can hear every blossoming detail, even at the most delirious speeds.

He is leaping however into a band of long proven mutual compatability, whose participants are in concord at a very high level. William Parker, Roy Campbell and Daniel Carter have been together in the Other Dimensions band since 1982; Campbell and Parker have worked in diverse bands since 1978 (including a decade with Jemeel Moondoc), and Campbell and Carter first locked horns circa 1974. They’ve shared a wealth of experience, honed skills, discovered new techniques, in all kinds of quasi-underground and barely-over ground bands from the last gasps of the so-called Loft Scene onward. In Europe we’ve mostly been obliged to track aspects of that shared history via a scattering of records sometimes hard to find...and which can tell but part of the story.

No doubts now though of William Parker’s absolutely central role in the music. His big sound pulled, like Mingus’s, like Wilbur Ware’s, from strings high above the bass’s fingerboard, has reverberated through groups ranging from the large and small ensembles of Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry and Peter Brötzmann (he’s currently the eleventh member of Brötzmann’s steamrollering Chicago Tentet), to David S. Ware’s quartet, Matthew Shipp’s trios, Charles Gayle’s bands, Roy Campbell’s Pyramid Trio, a duo with Hamid Drake, Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory, his own In Order To Survive group and Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, and several dozen more units . So ubiquitous is he that you sometimes wonder if the Village Voice’s characterization of him as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time” goes far enough. The positive energies his playing embodies, and his conviction that the purpose of music making is to uplift the human spirit, make every encounter with his music valuable.

Roy Campbell’s been coming up on the inside track for a long time. Some of us first glimpsed him in Ebba Jahn’s 1984 film “Rising Tones Cross”, playing jubilantly with the groups of Charles Tyler, Jemeel Moondoc and Peter Brötzmann. Campbell’s father was a musician who had played with Ornette Coleman in the early 50s in California, and Roy Jr.’s entry into the music was a natural and logical development. At 15 he met Lee Morgan, an early role model, and later took workshops with Morgan, Kenny Dorham and Howard McGhee, studying more intensively also with Yusef Lateef. He has tremendous control,a great ear, and a sound hard to describe as other than “soulful” - rich, burnished, warm and as powerful or tender as he needs it to be in a given context. At ease with all facets of new jazz, and all stations of the pitch continuum, he can burn up the boards with Brötzmann’s Die Like A Dog quartet, soar above the maelstrom of Alan Silva’s Sound Visions Orchestra, or play lyrical melting microtonal improvisations with Joe and Mat Maneri. Nor are his horizons limited by jazz at its broadest. He recently told Internet journalist Fred Jung (, “No matter what point you hit on a circle, it is still a circle, and that is how I regard the music: I am not just into jazz. I am into reggae, country, classical music, world music.” Pan-global modes and pulses have a predominant role in the Pyramid Trio, his group with William Parker and Hamid Drake.

The book “Avant Garde Jazz Musicians: Performing ‘Out There’” (University of Iowa Press 1993) gave a picture of Daniel Carter as a musician taking extreme positions in the recurrent debates regarding composition versus improvisation, or music-as-art versus music-as-life. Not only was Carter then - according to author David Such - turning down jobs that involved undue deference to score paper, he was declining to draw distinctions between performance, rehearsal or practise sessions, and was sometimes known to begin “the gig” while travelling toward it. The audience might then meet him halfway through a thought. While it is harder to speak of a Daniel Carter “style” than it is of any of the other participants’ musical signatures here, he plays some very beautiful things on all of his instruments in these “Fractured Dimensions”. I’m reminded obliquely of the role Joseph Jarman used to play in the Art Ensemble, as free floating sound-sculptor and all-round unpredictable polymath, a holder of knowledge and secrets. If you didn’t know Carter was also a poet and a songwriter, you might guess as much from his inscrutable yet compelling lyricism. Some early influences: the new jazz innovators of the 1960’s, the sound-worlds of composers including Schoenberg, Boulez and Stockhausen, and Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”. He has played with Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers, Ted Daniel, Gunter Hampel, Matthew Shipp, Bob Moses, Earl Freeman and many others, and fronted the groups The One World Ensemble and Test.

Alan Silva’s history and achievements could fill a book. He was of course on the front lines of jazz’s October Revolution. Played with Sun Ra in the 60’s and 70’s, wood shedded, worked and recorded extensively with Bill Dixon, featured in Cecil Taylor’s epochal groups (documented on “Unit Structures” and “Conquistador”) and in Albert Ayler’s equally vital ”Greenwich Village” ensemble. Came to Europe with the same cultural tidal wave that brought the AACM groups and other visitors and in 1969 in Paris launched his Celestrial (sic) Communication Orchestra, one of the first big bands to play and document ”guided” free improvisation via the method now termed conduction. Much of the 70’s were spent as a member of the Frank Wright Quartet, whose free jazz adopted a take-no-prisoners policy. He also joined Alex Schlippenbach’s deathless group with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens for a number of tours and recordings and was on hand for Globe Unity’s 20th anniversary in ’86. Then, for more than a decade, sighting were rare. When he re-emerged, the bass player whose keening arco sound had often been a defining characteristic of major moments in new jazz, had become (primarily) a synthesizer player. One of his first showings in this role was with the Tradition Trio, with German trombonist Johannes Bauer and British drummer Roger Turner.

Silva played synthesizer, too, on a 1998 duo recording with William Parker. “A Hero’s Welcome”, on Eremite, effectively reintroduced him to the American improvising community. Some listeners expressed surprise at his choice of instrument. But there’s a logic to it, and Alan Silva’s life work’s of a piece. He had intended to imply orchestral colours with the bass, he yearned for bigger, brighter colours with his improvising orchestras, and now he has a near-orchestral reach with his electronic instruments, in this case maximizing the expressive potential of the Roland XP-50 work-station. If he sometimes has to settle for high-tech instant tonalities less than “organic” from this machine, it’s a small price to pay for being able to move with such facility.

Movement, that’s the thing in these “Dimensions”, it’s the cascading, coruscating flow of sound that makes this such a refreshing recording. A unique one, actually. What a pleasure to listen to these four men shaping this music in real time, to hear the Parker/Campbell/Carter axis fielding every sound that Silva tosses at them, the sheer alertness on all fronts. ”Not only operating on six cylinders, but on cylinders you didn’t even know you had”, as Parker once described the improvising experience (to journalist Pete Gershon). Roy Campbell and Daniel Carter seem to be reading each other’s minds for much of the distance, in tune in all meanings of the term, while their tesselated horn lines are swept along by William Parker’s sheer driving power. Parker’s talked, in the past, of the bass as ersatz drum kit: ”The G string I looked at as a ride cymbal, my D string as a snare. My low E string I looked at as a gong, and my A string I looked at as a bass drum.” Rhythm waves and patterns are just some of the functions the Parker bass fulfils here, and these are functions that overlap with Silva’s. The music is powered by two bass players; one just happens to be a synthesizer player for the duration.

In truth, though, all four of these mighty musicians are dealing with rhythm and with melody in the dancing, joyful improvised chamber music of “Fractured Dimensions”.

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