It’s been a few years since I opted out of end-of-year polls, but if I was still in the game this would be one of my choices for this year. The “jazz with strings” sub-genre has been with us since at least the bop era, and this release for me takes a revered place within it, not least because it’s the work of an artist with a view for the future of creative improvised music and the possibilities it might still offer as well as an eye for the past.
Referring to Jones’s writing, Harmony Holiday in her booklet note makes the point that “jazz composition that is this good at original thought is rare now” – a point I heartily concur with. The music is demanding, not least in the sense that the listener can’t fall back on the often immediate comparisons.
Rainbow opens with a solo from Cleaver which beguilingly hints at the shape of things to come, and when Meger joins him around the two-minute mark the tension builds and the music blooms. When Jones adds what essentially is a top line it’s as if he’s channelling the spirit of Marion Brown, a musician with whom Jones stands comparison: both men sound as though they’re working outside the acknowledged conventions of their times, yet with a deep appreciation of and for them.
In closing, Damon And Pythias essentially summarises what has gone before even while it exhibits an agitated heart of its own. Jones’s broad, slightly smeary alto tone comes into its own again, and his work on this one is that of a musician whose apprenticeship has been served and who knows that the “avant-garde” doesn’t exist in a vacuum now, just as it never has.
Fluxus V5T 1S1; Zubot; Rainbow; Damon And Pythias (52.04)
Jones (as); Jesse Zubot, Josh Zubot (vn); Peggy Lee (clo); James Meger (b); Gerald Cleaver (d). Grand Luxe Hall, Western Front, Vancouver, Canada, 25 June 2022.
Northern Spy & We Jazz Records WJCD54