This post is dedicated to the very recent work of Allen Lowe, not only one of the most ambitious, prolific, and interesting jazz composers alive but also a talented saxophonist, an essential author for anyone wanting to deeply understand this country’s music, and a musicologist who can compile a 36-disc about the flexibility and mischievousness of the blues that, at this late date, is full of surprises, no matter how well-versed the listener is. Among musicians, only Swamp Dogg, Charles Mingus, and early Bob Dylan are his peers in piquantly and entertainingly writing one’s own liner notes. He toils away in the state of Maine, pursuing the “everlasting beauty of monotony” (Benjamin Britten) and–successfully, I would argue–pushing his work to speak in new ways about who we are. If that sounds complicated, it is, a little, but it doesn’t violate the law of diminishing returns, I assure you. He has recently released five new records that deserve praise; since, according to Roger Price’s Law, “if everyone doesn’t want it, nobody gets it,” the best way to grab ’em is to contact Allen directly at email@example.com about the ones you’re interested in, or browse to http://www.allenlowe.com/for-sale/ Keep your eyes peeled for his upcoming Mary Lou Williams Suite, portions of which appear herein. Now, to the reviews, w/accompanying unscientific but deeply-felt ratings out of 10…
MATTHEW SHIPP PLAYS THE MUSIC OF ALLEN LOWE – 8.8 – Shipp, who’s made his pianistic bones in more abstract settings (notably with David S. Ware), is movingly earthbound here, often striking veins of dark, complicated romanticism that are, I think, at the heart of Lowe’s work. The composer’s alto will remind you of Dolphy’s angularity and Parker’s headlong expressionism–a pleasingly drier-toned version–and bassist Kevin Ray, who plays on most of these recordings, is a wonder: I seemed to learned more about Lowe’s writing following Ray on my third and fourth listen than from focusing on any other musician.
From the IN THE DIASPORA OF THE DIASPORA* series :
WE WILL GATHER WHEN WE GATHER – 10 – One of the very best jazz albums of the year, with the baritone of Master Hamiet Bluiett shooting worship and subversion through Lowe’s blues- and gospel-colored compositions. Ava Mendoza’s guitar-skronks, Matt Lavelle‘s skittery trumpet (makes me miss Don Cherry even more–and you should mos def try his Monk record!), and Jake Millet’s turntable scrubs and scratches combine with Bluiett’s inventions to do the most justice to Lowe’s vision of any in the series. Pick to click: the first serious composition–to my knowledge–to honor and mourn the murdered Charleston churchgoers, “Theme for the Nine,” maybe my favorite and definitely my most-played track so far. I wish I could share a track with the #CharlestonSyllabus project. There is a way….
MAN WITH THE GUITAR: WHERE’S ROBERT JOHNSON? – 9.3 – Electronics and turntables are frequent voices in Lowe’s work, and here DJ Logic and Millett answer the title question: Johnson’s ghost haunts the spaces in our best music, as it certainly does on this record (though you won’t hear Robert sampled, you’ll be excitingly jolted out of your contemplation by flickers of Charley Patton’s rasp). Lowe plays tenor and operates electronics on this recording along with playing alto, and Gary Bartz sounds more alive than he has in years, testifying on alto on “Slave Rebellion,” “Delta Sunset,” and “Blues Forever After.”
WHEN A CIGARETTE IS SMOKED BY TEN MEN – 9 – A showcase for an exciting young clarinetist, Zoe Christiansen, with a nod to Pee Wee Russell, a wry jab at Howard Hunt, and two joyful tracks with desolate titles.
BALLAD FOR ALBERT – 8.5 – This is essentially a trio record, with Millet’s almost-subliminal murmurings of current providing some disruptive texture. I am not sure which Albert the record’s named for (could be Ayler, but, being a longtime fan, I don’t quite hear it), but I am sure that the ballads are lovely and deep–in fact, Lowe’s ballad playing is a shining thread that runs through all five records. Special shout-out to “Maui Shuffle,” which, like many of Allen’s compositions, can make you think the record’s advanced a track if you leave the room, which I adamantly advise you not to do on these records. Hit the WC ahead of time, grab a drink, get comfortable, and lock in–you will be rewarded.
If you are looking to get more deeply into Lowe’s work, advance directly to his masterpiece, MULATTO RADIO: FIELD RECORDINGS 1-4, one of my very favorite records of 2014–so good I couldn’t write about it, if that makes sense. And explore his earlier work, which, unsurprisingly–ranges across the diaspora of the diaspora.
*Allen considers all of his work as fitting under this umbrella, which refers to the diaspora cascading out from the original music of the African diaspora–where, in Lowe’s own words (words, I suspect, that have gotten him in Dutch), “tradition becomes both a means of respectful worship and a matter of subversion…”–but these four records are specifically designated as such.