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21 February 2015

Free Music Quintet - 'Free Music One and Two' (ESP)

Not a lot of Eurojazz landed on ESP and I guess that's not surprising as it was a NY-based label and these were the days way before the global communication network we're so used to now saturated our lives. So I'm not really sure what the story is with this album, which is one I almost never hear talked about but is pretty worthy of of the ESP brand, in my opinion. Ferdy Rikkers, Erwin Somer, Pierre Coubois, Boy Raaymakers and Peter van der Locht holed up in the farmhouse that Somer was living in and spent two days recording in June 1968, and this is the output. Free music it certainly is, and despite the jazz-leaning instrumentation this actually achieves something close to "non-idiomatic" at points (though it's probably years before that term was introduced). No instrumentation is listed besides Courbois's drum manufacturer (Yamaha and Paiste cymbals, if you were wondering) and the high-contrast photos on the back cover only hint at what we're hearing. Rikkers is on double bass, though it sounds like a higher-pitched stringed instrument, perhaps a violin, is getting played against him occasionally. Somer's on xylophone or vibes, though the photo shows him bowing it (I think). Van der Locht is on reeds and Raaymakers on trumpet or flugelhorn or something brassy. The latter two are playing two instruments at once in their photographs and that might explain some of the plurality heard here. Courbois pulls things into the jazz angle the most with his frantic yet light touch, and the saxes (which occasionally sound like they have wax paper stuffed in them) get appropriately bellicose when it's demanded of the others. Throughout the half-hour or so of music, the sliding measure between tense and fluid never settles, instead veering wildly from one extreme to another, often changing suddenly. Somer's xylophone playing is very mood-focused, and restrained; there are parts where he slowly rings out a descending pattern, the sonority of which cuts through the warring winds, and infuses a mature gravitas on the group. The punchier parts of this (such as the opening of side two) generally outshine the spacious parts, though Courbois does a stellar job creating atmosphere with his Paistes when he gets a chance. It's quietest moments are at the very end, where the proceedings sputter into nothing, and the crackle of 47-year old surface noise is barely distinguishable from the woodblocks, instrument-slapping and other light percussion that rides out this session. What does it feel like? Joyous, bright and open - the sounds of freedom, I suppose.

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