Marshall Allen, born in 1924, has been playing professionally since the 1940s and, during that tenure, has developed quite a distinctive sound and attack. Today he stands as one of the most dynamic players on the scene. Outside of his work with Sun Ra, Marshall has been almost undocumented by recording, notable exceptions being a 1964 recording on ESP with the Paul Bley Quintet, a 1997 quartet recording with trombonist Tyrone Hill (CIMP 154), and a pair of 1998 recordings under his own name which featured Mark Whitecage (CIMP #s 171, 180).
This is the third recording to document the Po Band. Organized in 1994, the first recording (Cadence Jazz Records 1062) had pianist Burton Greene as its guest artist. The second recording (CIMP 156) was just of the core group. This recording is the first to include Paul Smoker (1941, Muncie, IN), who joined the group in 1998, replacing Herb Robertson who had settled in Germany. To date that remains the only personnel change over the years. This is one of the few working free – for lack of a better definition – bands around. It is also one of the best.
The genre of Free Jazz has, at the end of the century and after a 40-plus year run, suffered from a general lack of attention in these current neo-conservative, politically correct times. And like any genre, after almost 5 decades it has suffered from its own abuses and often falls into boring formula. However, while some music may be out of fashion, it exists and ultimately should be judged (albeit subjectively) as simply music, good or bad.
The purpose here was to bring together 2 very strong musical forces, see how they dealt with each other, stimulate their artistic curiosity and response, and produce some good music.
On the first day, the group, after about 90 minutes of sound checks and audio placement, opened with Bird Song One, a sectional improv which lasted over 31 minutes. At the end, Wilber (1937, L.A., CA) asked if he could hear some of it. Marc played it back and everyone sat transfixed. We listened to the entire piece freshly unfold. Even though we had just experienced it played in real time, we were now hearing it for the first time, an inspired excursion. At some point Paul Smoker said, “This should be called Bird Symphony,” and so it is.
After a break, the ball was thrown to Marshall, who developed a fox-trotty (Midnight) Blues, almost locking horns with Perry (1938, NY), another interesting excursion into good music. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to see the parallels with this take and a 1940’s/50’s midnight jam at Condon’s or Monroe’s Uptown House. Here the group avoids playing coyly or cutely, follows the muse, and respects the music. Following that, and in absolute contrast, was Soft Winds.
The next day brought forth lots more good music and with it a dilemma. After a number of strong takes we had reached our objective but, knowing that Paul had brought along some music for this occasion, I suggested we take a look at his material. I made copies of Paul’s music, knowing, from past experience, that Paul’s deceptively innocent compositions/arrangements could be catalysts for stunning results (witness CIMPhonia 1998 Pt. 2 – CIMP 178). I kept quiet and let the group work out the music. The result was LouRa, the joy of which was only tempered by the fact that, to be included meant I had to drop other material which I also felt passionate about. It is atypical for the Po Band to work with written music and its inclusion here is both very satisfying and different from past documents.
The session ended, Lou told me that choosing which material to eliminate was my problem and indeed I wrestled with it throughout the afternoon and into the night.
Here is Marshall’s and Lou’s and Wilber’s and Steve’s (1954, Newark, NJ) and Perry’s and Paul’s music and my choices. Wonderful stuff.
Robert D. Rusch – 5/11/99