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Roswell Rudd/Jamie Saft/Trevor Dunn/Balazs Pandi: Strength & Power

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Strength & Power shows how opting for brute force in a totally improvised context can yield the sort of explosively coherent free jazz that transcends noisemaker stereotypes. The trio of pianist Jamie Saft, acoustic bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Balazs Pandi have concocted propulsive, pure improvisations alongside guitarist Joe Morris in the band Slobber Pup, and various pairs of the three have powered ensembles ranging from Metallic Taste of Blood to projects headed by John Zorn. But the secret, clarifying agent for their collective incandescence arrives in the form of 80-year-old trombonist and free-jazz pioneer Roswell Rudd.

Having worked with pianist Cecil Taylor, Rudd knows how to meld in and punctuate the torrid flow of Saft’s glissando vamps and hammered chords, even as Dunn and Pandi pummel and bash beside them. As a longtime associate of the renegade Monk interpreter Steve Lacy, the trombonist is able to brandish fatback blues drawls that put an ingenuous spin on the spirit of Monk when it is invoked at the onset of “Cobalt Is a Divine.” On all of the half-dozen spontaneous compositions, Rudd’s stature inspires his three younger sidemen.

The opening title track sets the turbulent template with gradual intensity, reaching a resounding crescendo and would-be denouement at the 12-minute mark, but Rudd promotes a glorious second wind with inspired blowing that includes a snippet of the French national anthem, taking the tune past 18 minutes. “The Bedroom” is a frenzied romp dominated by Pandi, from the opening drum solo (think Ginger Baker) to the splash-a-thon cymbals in the close. “Luminescent” proves the quartet’s acumen at a slower tempo; “Dunn’s Falls” features the bassist’s heavy tone as lead progenitor of an ethereal shroud; and “Struttin’ for Jah Jah” finds Rudd’s Dixieland roots shooting up from the free-jazz bedrock. Amid all its heave and combustion, the band flaunts an extraordinary unity of evolving purpose, delivering thrilling density and spontaneous agility without confusion. This is vintage free jazz for the 21st century.

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Originally Published