Man o man, do I ever love vinyl, and this licorice pizza release of the famed late (1943 - 2003) trumpeter and instrumental allsorts Frank Lowe alongside the equally celebrated Joseph Bowie (trombone, congas), William Parker (bass), and Steve Reid (drums)—plus Ahmed Abdulah (trumpet) on side D—shows precisely why. Recorded in 1974 but shelved and forgotten until now, the transparency of this analogue recording is three-dimensional, something I find necessary to such modes in order to environmentally illuminate the space the musicians were operating within, both mentally and physically. Analogue is always superior to digital, and the moment the chaos opens up on side A—and most of this, dear readers, is frenetic, free form, brilliant blowing, with sometime-passages reverting to more spacious fare, as in Untitled Two—you're right there in the welter of tumult elbow to elbow with all four musos. You don't just hear; you, as Jimi said, experience.
Thankfully, I'd just replaced my old Ortofon high-end needle (the last of a stash of three to finally bite the dust over a span of two decades) with a great Audio-Technica cartridge which proved to extract every last iota of juice from the recording, practically photographically. Add to that an Onkyo amplifier, Bose speakers, and a cool-ass old Marantz turntable with adjustable strobed pitch, and the picture's complete. I was ready not just for the 2-LP feast but Apocalypse as well and got a good deal of both, which didn't so much flow out of the speakers as erupt. Lowe was a player who never settled for meek, mild, and mannered, he instead just opened up torrentially the moment the mouthpiece to his instrument kissed his lips. However, as those hip to the style know, there is indeed mannerist form here, as abstract and seemingly evanescent as it may forever seem to be. Grasping and exhibiting that impossible to codify set of "rules" is what sets the immortals in their Valhallas.
The trick is in perception, transformation, and evocation, three demanding mistresses standing the masters apart from the poseurs (and there are plenty of the latter in the avant-garde fields, trust me). Don't ask me for elucidation, it can't be done, just as one cannot explain a Pollock painting, something that must instead be understood and decided upon, judged, in art as it is beheld and in music moment by moment, as the event is created. Afterwards, put to the task of description, you'll be at a loss, words cannot properly encompass what occurs.
The generous magazine-sized 40-page booklet accompanying these two records, though, goes far to depict the generative environment, set the historical stage and alliances Lowe ranged within. He found his 'in' only with a god, Sun Ra, the sole individual to immediately recognize Frank's outré brilliance…and Sun was a VERY demanding taskmaster, so acceptance alone was a mark of instant respect in and outside his everchanging Arkestra and that splinter of the jazz world. Lowe then moved on to Alice Coltrane and beyond. Interestingly, he was daunted by the complex wife of another god, John, even despite his tenure with Ra; nonetheless, he ended up working well with her and his life's course was set.
Frank soon rubbed elbows with ever more of the greats—Don Cherry, Butch Morris, Billy Bang, John Zorn, etc.—and near greats—Amina Claudine Myers, John Carter (whose colorful work still languishes woefully in critical forums), etc. Even the bizarre but highly regarded Eugene Chadbourne fell into Lowe's orbit. This isn't too surprising, as, in many ways, the free jazz movement was as singular and eclectic as what occurred with the pioneering electronicists and kindred outsiders (Subotnick, Wuorinen, Salzman, Erb, etc.), Out Loud a testament to that. If you want a precursor while having your mind blown, your ears knocked off, and your backbone disintegrated, all while experiencing a distinctive form of ecstasy, listen to Lowe's 1973 In Trane's Name:
…but don't send me your medical bills for repairs to various organs sprained while digging on Rashid Sinan's Cobham-esque drumwork, Lowe's horn, and everyone's volcanics. I'm, after all, just an doe-eyed scribe as innocent as a newborn lamb, as pure as the driven snow; ignore the horns, the pitchfork, and the leering ear-to-ear grin.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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