Steeped in the Detroit tradition of hard-hitting swing and deep blues, Alex Harding is one of the few baritone saxophonists who makes a trio date with bass and drums an anticipated event. His appeal is immediate, as his power and agility can cut through even sax-heavy groups like Frank Lowe's Saxemble and Hamiet's Bluiett Baritone Saxophone Group. Yet Freeflow is not a two-dimensional blowout. With bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Jimmy Weinstein, Harding has developed a well-balanced ensemble attack and a multifaceted book. While Freeflow is an album that lives up to its name in terms of the trio's interplay, it is more sturdily constructed than its name suggests.
The most engaging aspect of the CD is how the trio's wide-open exchanges invigorate oft-trampled materials. Whether the issue at hand is rollicking bluesy changes of Lucian Ban's opener, "Harmology," the Coltraneish vamp of Dahlgren's "Om Becomes You" or Harding's testifying "Spirit Take My Hand," the combination of Harding's exclamatory attack, Dahlgren's amp-and-effects-thickened sound and Weinstein's crisp propulsion is consistently exciting. These qualities also give the band's forays into freely improvised zones a sharp focus. Subsequently, the trio can swirl color and texture as persuasively as they can kick a blues upstairs.