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Various Artists 

Wildflowers (Knitting Factory)

The type of no-holds-barred free improvisation in jazz that emerged in the '60s eventually hit a wall, and there wasn't any point in trying to play higher or faster than Albert Ayler or use more multiphonics than Pharoah Sanders. As a result, there was a need to create new structures rather than return to old ones, as Wynton Marsalis and other retro jazz artists did. And musicians including Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Henry Threadgill, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and others did begin to create these new structures, which opened the doors for John Zorn, the Jazz Passengers, and Dave Douglas in the '80s and '90s.

These recordings were cut at the lot of avant-garde saxman/flutist Sam Rivers from May 14-23, 1976, and originally came out on five LPs, the contents of which are contained in this three-CD set. The mid-'70s were watershed years for jazz avant gardists. Here, there is '60s-style avant-garde work by, among others, Rivers, Ken McIntyre, and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre. The intensity of their work is high and unvarying, and they play as fast as possible. It's strange that McIntyre and Rivers played excellently in more traditional modern styles, where pacing was important. Free jazz doesn't have to be frenetic. If a musician plays violently throughout the course of a long solo, there's more of a chance that his work will be monotonous.

On the other hand, discipline and intelligent development characterize the work of altoist Jimmy Lyons and oboist Karen Borca during "Push Pull." Lake's "Zaki" is a well-assembled performance, intense for the most part, but with quieter workouts and varied sections and textures. On "Pensive," Hemphill's band does play thoughtfully and with restraint. Drummer Sonny Murray's "Something Cookin'," done with a bass, tenor saxophone, flute, and vibes, is full of variety. David Murray, on tenor, and trumpeter Olu Dara engage in lucid counterpoint during "Shout Song." Surely one of the more memorable performances is altoist Roscoe Mitchell's 25-minute "Chant," during which Mitchell begins with trance music, playing a phrase over and over for about eight minutes while two percussionists improvise around him, then follows with an eerie duet with a musical saw and finishes with a screaming '60s-style section. Men like Mitchell, Hemphill, and Lake prove that it's possible to improvise lucidly and lyrically without a preset chord progression.

More by Harvey Pekar

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