The OGJB Quartet — Bamako
(TUM Records 050, 2019, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2020-10-22
OGJB stands for Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda, and Barry Altschul, and if those names mean anything to you, you know what to expect. Oliver Lake (alto sax, soprano sax, voice) is a legend in avant-jazz circles, a Guggenheim Fellowship winning veteran of uncompromising recordings going back to the early 70s, and cofounder of the World Saxophone Quartet. Graham Haynes (cornet) has worked extensively in modern jazz explorations bringing sounds from hip-hop and funk into the mix, including time with Steve Coleman, Bill Laswell, and others, though here he eschews electronics. Bassist Joe Fonda is no stranger to our pages, having worked with Satoko Fujii, Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton, and others. And lastly, Barry Altschul is a free jazz drum stalwart who got his start with Paul Bley in the 60s and went on to work with Chick Corea (in Circle with Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton), Annette Peacock, Paul Winter, Roswell Rudd, Yochk'o Seffer, Elliott Sharp, and many more. The best widely-known reference I could use for Bamako is The Art Ensemble of Chicago, with highly improvisational but not chaotic pieces allowing the participants to roam widely. There are infusions of African influence as well, especially on the title track, where Altschul plays mbira, Haynes switches to ngoni (a stringed instrument similar to a kora), and Lake recites impressionistic poetry; for this one, Fonda is the only one remaining on his primary instrument, where his bowed notes add hints of melody as well as effects. At the other end of the spectrum is “Be out S'Cool,” a relatively brief tune with a catchy unison head and rambunctious soloing. Bamako is proof that Free Jazz has many facets, and some of them are quite engaging, and also that harking back to the years on either side of 1970 needn’t be tedious or hackneyed.
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