Free Jazz Quartet – Memories for the Future
The future is a concept laden with paradox. A certain lazy rhetoric plays with the contradictions, giving us Back to the Future, ‘nostalgia for the future’, or more promisingly A Future for the Past, or Lincoln Steffens’ famous comment when he went to the new-fledged Russia and declared that he had seen the future working. In practice, the future is never seeable, other than in imagination. By the same token, memory is not real, but merely scattered printouts of experience, selective, hoarded, consoling or self-serving.
There is a fundamental philosophical divide here. Progressives understand the future to be real, or realisable, and the past a dead weight. Conservatives rely entirely on precedent and regard the optative as dangerous nonsense. For men and women of the left, the future has a particular and positive reality; they see it as a destination at the end of the sands, where conservatives see only a mirage. The trick, of course, is to take enough of the past along to remain human, and not be burdened by it.
One younger British musician, associated with the Matchless label, signs off his letters and e-mails, simply and poignantly, ‘Future’. The men on this record are of a somewhat older generation, one for which the future once had a more apocalyptic and driven cast. Here they are, though, revisiting their own past in ways they might formerly have rejected, and invoking memory as a positive. A lazier title would have been Memories Of The Future, a predictable contradiction that succeeds as word-play but flirts with nostalgia.
The ‘for’ is important because it implies effort, a conscious decision to store up something for later use. Here is, or are, momentary occasions that resist the temporal sift and refuse to be blown away. Here is, to adapt the title of a fine book on architectural heritage, a future for the past. In its first incarnation, now twenty years ago, the Free Jazz Quartet cast its music in an urgent future tense. The track titles on Premonitions, the group’s only previous CD, were all cast as warnings: ‘Roman Geese’, ‘Tocsin’, ‘Eddystone’, which is not just the name of a great lighthouse that warns of dangerous sands, but a pun on the drummer’s name and his sound, and ‘Red Flags’, which neatly combines a beach warning with the bloodied shirt of demonstrators turned into banners of protest.
‘Old Moore’s’ referred to a famous annual publication which offers predictions for the year ahead, but also to an old LP by the trombonist, which went out as Old Moers Almanac. Paul Rutherford is no longer with us, but the music here captures him, as well as saxophonist Harrison Smith, cellist Tony Moore and percussionist Eddie Prévost in one of their finest performances. Each has moved along individual paths over the years, sometimes converging, sometimes deliberately not. Each has taken a step away from jazz, sometimes away from music altogether. Prévost has committed his ideas to writing; Moore to the visual and plastic arts. Smith has refined a saxophone voice that is not so much a vehicle for self-expression as an aspect of personality, which is a far more difficult and disciplined route.
The late Derek Bailey, who along with Rutherford, Evan Parker, Prévost and fellow-drummer John Stevens is one of the founding figures of British free music, used to say that there was no such thing as ‘free jazz’. In less rebarbative moods he would alter that to say that the only musicians he knew who played free jazz were saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and drummer Milford Graves. There is a certain consensus that ‘free jazz’ was an evolutionary way-station in British creative music, an episode in the transformation of bop into ‘free’. There is something to recommend that view, but it tends to derogate free jazz as neither fish nor fowl, an awkwardness rather than an achievement, a rough patch in the dialectic.
As such, it’s a false negative, since rough patches are definitive of any dialectical process, and they are usually where the most creative thinking is to be found, there rather than in the eventual synthesis. It is impossible to hear this group without recognising its deep roots in jazz. Where later outfits might forsake progressivism for a time to revisit the jazz repertory – all those Coltrane and Dolphy tributes – the Free Jazz Quartet accepted that the language was not exhausted or its terrain fully explored. Release of this wonderful set may yet lead to the group’s reformation, with Rutherford present in spirit, if not person.
Definitions are always problematic, and in this field the source of much antagonism and mis-hearing, but however one defines jazz, either as an established language or as a looser complex of varied procedures and gestures, it has certain recognisable characteristics: a distinct approach to ensemble; an element of ‘swing’; some relation to the blues. Anyone hearing FJQ for the first time will be immediately aware of these characteristics, even if they appear in unfamiliar form. It plays like a group, not like a chance encounter or like a conscripted ‘ensemble’; it swings in its thoughtful way, thanks largely to Prévost’s deep familiarity with the literature – not for nothing was he the ‘Art Blakey of Brixton’ – but also to Moore’s extraordinary time-feel and ability to occupy space or leave it thrillingly empty. It’s intriguing to hear a cello take the bass’s part. The sound draws attention to itself, human-pitched and –proportioned, proposing a new role for the low instrument other than harmonic anchor and time-keeper. When Rutherford played, the blues were never far away; he drew on them deeply, from beginning to end; Smith, too, though his narratives are very different, less bitingly confrontational, stories that have to be heard right through to the end.
This music evokes strong memories, coming as it does out of the not so distant past, but it also points forward, as it is intended to do. Its permanent newness is not in any way degraded by a few years on the shelf and its message remains strong and proactive. Back to the future? Nostalgia for the future? It works.
Brian Morton - September 2009
During its four year existence from 1988, Free Jazz Quartet released only one CD, Premonitions, so the previously unreleased Memories for the Future, recorded in 1992 at a concert in Bristol, doubles their output. The moniker Free Jazz Quartet seems to set the group — Paul Rutherford (trombone), Harrison Smith (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet), Tony Moore (cello) and Eddie Prévost (drums) — apart from self-conscious, 'non-idiomatic' free improvisation. But Rutherford made a key key contribution to the development of free improv in his Iskra groups, and Prévost is best known for his work in that area. In fact this recording seems to balance the twin poles of free jazz and free improv — indeed it often references a regular swing pulse.
Rutherford, who died in 2007, produced varied levels of performance in his later career, but this recording finds him in relaxed, highly creative form; equally individual, though, is the blustery tenor of the less well-known Harrison Smith. The opening, very free 'A Fertile Valley' begins with unaccompanied duet by searching trombone and bass clarinet, soon joined by tremolo cello and gently rustling percussion. In contrast, Moore on cello sets up a folksy vamp on 'Pulsate', which he refers to loosely throughout: it's still relatively unusual to hear this instrument taking on the role of bass, and Moore's guitar-like facility is shown in some strudent arpeggiated skittering effects on 'Summoning." On this driving track, he's paired with Prévost on mallets, and before the horns join the melée the pulse edges into and out of focus; the drummer's solo piece 'Octavian Law', in contrast, sets up a highly controlled, waxing and waning son continu. This is careful, considered, often rather delicate music — free jazz in the sense of searching and exploratory, rather than ecstatic.
Andy Hamilton The Wire February 2010
It's tempting to place the music of SUM in the same context as The Free Jazz Quartet, another ensemble Eddie Prévost has played in. Both groups reference jazz, but the FJQ is motivated by a different aesthetic and looks at the jazz tradition through an entirely different lens. Trombonist Paul Rutherford, reed player Harrison Smith, and cellist Tony Moore first got together in 1988 to engage in demonstratively conversational, polyphonic improvisations driven by Prévost's gregarious drumming. Their only previous release, Premonitions, came out on Matchless over ten years ago. Rutherford's jazz background is well-known, but Harrison Smith's is no less important. He's played with musicians like Mike Osbourne, Kenny Wheeler, Chris McGregor, and as part of the South African inspired group District Six. Moore's interests range beyond the strictly musical, and have included collaborations with dancers and visual artists in improvised settings. The eight pieces on Memories for the Future, an animated set recorded live in Bristol in 1992, ride along on a relaxed sense of free swing. The trombonist provides his inimitable wry phrasing and blues bluster tinged with acrobatic smears, while Smith is more considered, less boisterous, and brings an open melodicism to the proceedings. The way that the two work off each other is a study in contrast and balance. Moore makes the most of the entire range of his cello, moving effortlessly between propulsive momentum and linear counterpoint, bringing out the complex rhythmic underpinning of Prévost's hyperactive playing. It's a great snapshot of the four in full flight and a vital reminder of what a great player Paul Rutherford was in a jazz-based setting.
Michael Rosenstein PARIS Transatlantic Magazine February 2010
Every musical aspect of the late Paul Rutherford's work is on show here and he is supported throughout by men totally in sympathy with him. Prévost is consistently busy and endlessly inventive. He injects an urgency that moves from the conversational power pf Moore's cello into a mood that contains the more angular controls of the horns. Rutherford and Smith are stunningly interactive. Their contrapuntal conversations set remarkable standards and they deliver their results with a nonchalance that is daunting.
Barry McRea Jazz Journal April 1010.
This is a newly discovered recording of a concert given in Bristol in 1992 and like everything else that Mr. Prevost releases on Matchless, it is extraordinary. This is the second disc from the Free Jazz Quartet, the personnel is the same as their earlier Matchless disc - it features the late Paul Rutherford on trombone, Harrison Smith on tenor & soprano saxes & bass clarinet, Tony Moore on cello and Eddie Prevost on drums. Similar in respect to the past with an eye to the future British percussionists Eddie Prevost and John Stevens both led bands and influenced those around them with their vision and playing. Both men led by example and helped to focus the playing of the members of their various projects. This, the Free Jazz Quartet is a great example since they are much more than just a free jazz quartet. Mr. Prevost has selected an excellent, well-balanced and explorative unit. Eddie's own playing is constantly shifting between rhythms, colors and shades similar to what the under-recorded Tony Moore does on the cello, more often plucking than bowing. Eddie plays with the utmost restraint for the first few pieces on this disc, as if he is using knitting needles on his cymbals and drums. Both horns (trombone & reeds) sail around one another in a most organic fashion. Eddie's mallet playing on "Summoning" is both spacious, careful and melodic, his solo and duo with the cello is quite stunning. When the horns finally come in it is perfection personified. It sounds like a conversations between ghosts or elders, with ideas being tossed back and forth effortlessly. It was sad to lose trombone legend Paul Rutherford a few years ago. This disc show that he was still an amazing improviser later in life and captures him and the rest of this magnificent quartet just right. Truly outstanding!
Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
A strange album. It has been lying here for a while now, waiting to be reviewed. It was recorded in 1992, and is only the second album by the British Free Jazz Quartet. The band consists of the late Paul Rutherford on trombone, Harrison Smith on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet, Tony Moore on cello, and Eddie Prévost on drums.
The music is extremely light-footed, and unlike some British free improv or AMM music, it is "free jazz" as its name suggests, in the sense that there are themes, there is rhythm, but the openness of texture, the gentle breaking of boundaries and the sonic explorations already hint at another kind of music. In that sense the title is apt, taking good jazz memories from the past, and taking the best of it to make the music of the future. No paradox here, just some forward thinking.
The musical result is excellent: mild explorations, full of warmth, great interaction and somehow also surprise on the journey. "Pulsate" offers an interesting cello vamp to spur the improvisation on, and is in that sense more traditional. "Summoning" adds something more, starting with a great percussion intro on the toms only, the bowed cello adds a kind of maddening phrase and improvisation, and once that scene is created, sax and trombone join past halfway the track with mourning bird calls evolving into surreal wailing.
"Vibrational" brings a beautiful soprano solo over a nervous rhythm by drums and cello, evolving into what could be a chase between Tom and Jerry, then turning bluesy when the trombone joins. The title track is led by the trombone, is somewhat more adventurous and atonal in its approach, with the cello and percussion taking over the lead in the second part, full of urgency and intensity."Harmonious Relations" is as jazzy as it gets, with the sax leading the tune, and with cello and drums adding the sparse rhythmic backbone.
The album ends in absolute beauty, with "Blurring Of Boundaries" offering the essence of their music : sensitive and in the musical vanguard, sweet and different at the same time.
It's a shame this band did not record more. It's a miracle and a joy that their second album is now available.