JJ 01/81: Chico Freeman Quartet & James ‘Blood’ Ulmer Quartet

Forty years ago at Camden Jazz Week, Chris Sheridan loved Chico Freeman's set but lamented the second, in which 'a road-mender ran amok'. First published in Jazz Journal January 1981


On Friday Chico Freeman confirmed further growth in a long set, which though comprising only six performances, was crammed with incident.

To open with ten minutes of rubato exploration of timbre on all four of his instruments was brave and inevitably interrupted by various sets of clogs as latecomers clumped down Camden’s wooden steps. Fortunately, the piece, Look Up (from his ‘Kings Of Mali’ album on India Navigation) exploded into life when he took tenor sax and developed a rhythmic duo with Richmond’s drums. His subsequent solo was devastating.

A fascinating duologue between his bass clarinet and Williams’ arco bass followed (Part 1 of his suite, The Search), but his finest feature of the night – on the same instrument – was his scurrying Freedom Swing Song, a tribute to Eric Dolphy. He showed amazing continuity of idea through lines which weaved throughout the instrument’s range.

In the second half, a road-mender ran amok. The brave souls who didn’t leave after 15 minutes deduced it to be James “Blood” Ulmer’s quartet, in which the heaviest drummer since Sousa overwhelmed the talented David Murray and undermined Ornette Coleman’s important harmolodic lessons by ignoring his rhythmic freedoms.