Take three jazz heavyweights—downtown violinist and veteran loft musician Billy Bang, erstwhile Anthony Braxton bassist Joe Fonda, and ex-Circle drum legend Barry Altschul—put them on stage in front of a loudly enthusiastic audience and leave them to have a good time. This infectiously joyous album is what you get.
For the most part, the music here is spontaneous free jazz, but it fairly bursts with an irrepressible sense of swing. The three musicians seem unable to resist falling into a deep groove whenever the possibility presents itself—and it frequently does: the music is crammed with memorable moments of coalescence. Take, for example, the way Bang and Fonda come together with a bluesy grind to introduce Altchul’s “fours” in the swinging opener, “FAB”; or how the soaring free jazz of “For Frank Lowe” transforms into a hulking brute as Fonda introduces a stomping riff, before changing again into a kind of military strut as Altshcul marches it home; or how a few pizzicato chords from Bang drive “Tune For Barry” into a genuinely funky break.
Bang is in scorching form throughout, with plenty of frantic, Michel Sampson-esque sawing and crazed, neck-climbing avant-gardism—often quite audibly spurred on to increasingly fevered heights of intensity by the shouts and cheers of the audience—as well as more lyrical playing as on the unaccompanied introduction to “B.B”, where an imperious pseudo-classicism gives way to a bluesy swagger. He also provides the album’s most conventionally catchy number, “For Don Cherry”, with its lilting, pizzicato Fourth-World melody.
Much of the music’s irresistible bounce is due to Altschul’s deeply swinging approach to free improvisation—a seeming contradiction that helped characterize the sound of the early 70s recordings of free jazz supergroup Circle. Here, his relentless sense of pulse is given a certain heft by Fonda’s chunky contributions.Still, the CD is a highly enjoyable document of three world-class improvisers at the top of their game. And did I mention that it swings like hell?