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Frank Lowe Quartet: Out Loud

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Considering its expansive influence, the Loft-jazz movement receives scant attention among archival releases. That in itself makes the appearance of the double-LP Out Loud a welcome (albeit pricey and limited) one. That it’s by Frank Lowe is all the better, since he-a prolific, respected but nonetheless obscure free-jazz saxophonist who died in 2003-is exactly the sort of musician who’s been the victim of neglect. This pair of 1974 dates (one studio and one live) is raw, challenging and ultimately fine music.

The sessions were intended for an unrealized album featuring Lowe’s quartet: trombonist Joseph Bowie, bassist William Parker, drummer Steve Reid. There’s not a compromise among them. “Untitled 1,” the opener of the first record (studio, from Rashied Ali’s Survival Studio), opens with a short, simple theme, then dives into nearly 20 minutes of freeform, shape-shifting improvisation. So does “Vivid Description,” the second tune, and “Untitled 2,” the fourth. By the live disc (from Sam Rivers’ Studio Rivbea), they’re barely bothering with “themes” at all; on “Whew!,” occupying side 3, Lowe and Bowie toss around two- and three-note phrases, then move on, while side 4, “Untitled 3,” has no head at all until 11 minutes in.

Of course it’s those long improvisations that matter, and patterns and affinities do emerge within them. Lowe, for all his roughness and perfunctory composition, remains a melodist; his short bursts on “Vivid Description” and “Untitled 3” contain riffs and phrases that beg for further development. (This is also true of Lowe’s soprano, which he wields briefly on “Untitled 2” and “Whew!,” and his bluesy harmonica on “Untitled 3.”) Bowie serves as a foil, replying to and (as on “Whew!”) often parrying Lowe’s tunefulness with the irregular atonality of human speech. But he also presents the album’s greatest flaw: He’s wildly off-mike, sometimes barely audible, from beginning to end of the Survival session.

Parker, on the other hand, has a close rapport with Lowe, following him intently throughout and undergirding his shouted words, from which the title of Out Loud come, on “Untitled 2.” Reid often stands apart, serving to shape the whole with his elastic tempo and meter changes. Yet bass and drums nonetheless find cunning ways to mesh, most notably in the loping, funky groove they establish on “Untitled 3”-the album’s highlight. Parker and Reid hold that groove together even as the former traces beautiful arco figures around Lowe’s manic riffs, and the latter shivers the cymbals between stop-time phrases by guest trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah. In a unit that’s more adventurous than cohesive, it’s the strongest cohesion.

The records come with a gatefold jacket and producer Ben Young’s detailed (perhaps too much so), insightful notes. Also included is a URL and password to a video of the Rivbea performance-the only known film from that venue, a stunning find. All told, Out Loud represents a high point for both a player and an era that are unjustly overlooked in jazz history.

Originally Published