The PoBand, which first came together in 1995, now enters its 7th year and for only the second time has a personnel change in its core. We welcome Art Baron (1950, Bridgeport, CT), filling the chair originally held by Steve Swell. Art, an affable fellow, first came to my attention as a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, during the last period (1973) when Duke was alive and then into Mercer’s leadership. He again came to my attention as part of the very under-appreciated Saheb Sarbib’s big band (1980) and along the way has played with groups ranging from Elliott Sharp, George Gruntz and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Positioned in the PoBand, he will give the listener a good chance to hear his talents more directly.
Guest artists joining the basic quintet have distinguished three of the last four PoBand recordings. This time it is John Tchicai (1936, Copenhagen, Denmark). His worldwide reputation was established in the early ‘60s for his work with people such as Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon, and as a member of the N.Y. Contemporary Five and the N.Y. Art Quartet. A seminal figure in the post-Parker revolution, he has continued to be active in the music scene with, notably, Pierre Dorge and his own work while also beginning a career in the early ‘70s in academia. Originally this date was to have taken place in September of 2001. Unfortunately, the day of John’s flight from California to Syracuse, New York was September 11, now simply known as 9-11.
John’s presence brings another change to the usual PoBand set-up: written music. Previously, Lou had resisted the use of pre-notated compositions (though Paul Smoker had begun to offer up some sketched forms), feeling that this was meant to be a band of instant composition. But when John expressed some enthusiasm to present written ideas to the band, Lou wisely followed up on it. That’s the way you treat guests.
The band began arriving mid-afternoon on January 14, and accomplished a sound check by 5 p.m. Supper was a bit less prolonged than usual as John seemed anxious to get playing and by 7 p.m. they were running down some of John’s music. At 7:30 p.m. they opened with Daddy No Mana. John stood with a bemused look of satisfaction as he listened to the ensemble and cued the band. After the first take, I commented that it sounded good. Wilber noted, more importantly, that “it felt good” and Lou followed with “if it felt good now, it’s going to feel even better next.” My usual pre-session anxieties gave way to a great expectation.
The evening moved along nicely till about 10:30 p.m., when John gave into the temptation of the desserts that had been calling to him during the evening. After some noshing we reassembled for the last set of the night, opening with Drunk & Happy for which Art brought out his didgeridoo (inspiring Paul to do some doo work on trumpet) and Perry balanced things out with some ocarina playing on what proved to be the most extended blowing of the night. And then we called it a night.
We reconvened a bit before 10 a.m. the next morning and again began exploring more of John’s lilting music, opening with Tidens Tand. That’s Wilber in the background, speaking with the other ensemble Spirits, all of whom are obviously energized and in spirit. A meditative Spirit (Oxbow Incident), the group’s first free improv followed: a dirge-like tempo but also celebratory and with considerable variety in its internal directions and rhythms.
Interestingly, this music (Jazz/Creative Improvised Music) is as different as the circumstances that surround it. Its reflectiveness is what draws aficionados to it and, ironically, it’s that quality that also repels others. And, while it is of the highest quality, fast food it is not; it is almost by definition surprise. The PoBand is an element and a force, yet one which can be altered by just a presence. John Tchicai follows Burton Greene, Marshall Allen and Joseph Jarman in affecting its presence. It’s not about good or bad, it’s about another form of right. This is another PoBand recording that is right, very right. To borrow Wilber’s enthusiastic outburst after Stealing Beauty concluded: “Man, that is some serious shit, John.” Indeed it is.
Robert D. Rusch – January 15, 2002