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Marshall Allen with Lou Grassi’s Poband: PoZest

Reaching about the forty-year mark, free jazz has its own heroes, like alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, who here joins forces with the PoBand all-star ensemble, comprised of bassist Wilber Morris, drummer Lou Grassi, clarinetist Perry Robinson, trombonist Steve Swell and trumpeter Paul Smoker. Allen, long known for his tenure in Sun Ra’s various ensembles, is seldom heard outside Ra’s outer-spaceways, which should make this album all the more pivotal for his career. Unfortunately, there isn’t that much memorable happening on PoZest to really attest Allen’s striking playing.

No other idiom celebrates jazz’s improvisation in the moment credo more than free jazz, which is why most of it sounds more like indiscernible static, and considerably less ecstatic on record. Placing high premium on collective improvisation, sound textures and volume dynamics, with little regard to conventional composition structure, PoZest is avant-garde jazz at its most hermetic.

The opening, “Bird Symphony,” which takes up over 30 minutes of album, finds the ensemble sounding like an aimless flock of seagulls for about 10 minutes, then switching the dynamics totally with a midsection of cerebral hide-and-seek and spatial awareness-then it’s back to sonic claustrophobia. Perhaps it’s an exhilarating experience in concert, but it’s a bore on record.

PoBand is more convincing on “(Midnight) Blues,” which affords the members more melodic structure to portray their unique voices. As Grassi and Morris propelled the piece with a drowsy sense of swing, Allen does a fox-trotting dance with Robinson’s whimsical clarinet and Smoker’s cackling trumpet. It’s here that you can really hear beauty in the individual voices, and more importantly, free jazz’s collective improvisation linkage to Dixieland. The rest of the album, however, returns to generic ecstatic-jazz antics that sadly argue against its own artistic significance.

Originally Published