When Ornette Coleman lit the fuse of the free jazz revolution in the 1950s, he wasn't trying to foment anarchy--he just wanted the option to improvise wherever a melody might take him, without being boxed in by prescribed chord changes. Since then musicians have embraced other sorts of freedom: espousing radical liberation politics (Joe McPhee's album Nation Time), emancipating themselves from meter (Sunny Murray's drumming on Cecil Taylor's Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come), even stepping outside "jazz" altogether (Evan Parker, originally a Coltrane-inspired saxophonist, has recorded with Tuvan throat singer Sainkho Namtchylak). But for bands like this trio, with saxophonist Matana Roberts, bassist Josh Abrams, and drummer Chad Taylor, there's still nothing more inspirational than a good tune. On Roberts's "Turning the Mark" (on the group's excellent forthcoming album, as yet untitled) her just-sweet-enough alto and Abrams's resonant plucked double bass unwind an elegant, unhurried melody that hovers over Taylor's racing percussion. "Lose My Number," by little-known trumpeter John McNeil, launches from an Ornette-like head into a steeplechase in which the horn and drums vault over a walking bass line, tumble into a woolly pileup, then recover their footing to reprise the head in a cantering finale. The trio also has excellent taste when it comes to more familiar material: at the Empty Bottle last March they negotiated the white-water cascade of Thelonious Monk's "Skippy" and the misty-eyed romanticism of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan," and the record includes a brooding take on Junior Delgado and Lee "Scratch" Perry's reggae lament "Sons of Slaves." All three members used to live in Chicago, but Roberts now lives in Boston and Taylor has relocated to New York City; these are their first concerts here in almost a year. Saturday, February 2, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. Sunday, February 3, 9:30 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont; 773-935-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Michael Jackson.