The October Revolution in Jazz is arguably the most seminal jazz concert series ever held. Organized by Bill Dixon in 1964, it was a comprehensive four-day survey of jazz’s cutting edge, including Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Guiffre, Andrew Hill, Sheila Jordan, Steve Lacy, etc. ad infinitum. It gave birth to the Jazz Composers Guild, which paved the way for the Jazz Composers Orchestra Association, New Music Distribution Service, and a plethora of artist-produced recordings and concert series. It marked the beginning of the Golden Era of do-it-yourself jazz culture in the U.S.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the series, three groups performed at the Fez Room under the Times Cafe, the home stage of the Mingus Big Band: the trios of Zane Massey and Myra Melford, and a quartet comprised of Rashied Ali, Borah Bergman, Joe McPhee, and Wilbur Morris.
Unfortunately, sound system problems precluded Massey’s set from being included on The October Revolution. Presumably due to time limitations, Melford’s trio is only represented by one seven-minute track, Butch Morris’ “The Death of Danny Love.” This poignant, blues-drenched, space-sensitive piece taps both the pianist’s strengths as a balladeer and her strong rapport with bassist Lindsey Horner and drummer Tom Rainey, leaving the listener wanting more.
Still, the piece works well as an entr’acte between two lengthy quartet improvisations. The opening forty-minute barrage, “For Bill Dixon I,” commences with a surprisingly conventional five-minute Ali solo. Successively, the addition of Morris’ skitterish bow effects, Bergman’s swirling piano clusters and McPhee’s spattered flugelhorn fragments brings the music to a full boil by the 15:00 mark. Faced with serious heat, McPhee wisely switches to tenor saxophone, which triggers a frenzied chain reaction through the quartet. Yet, fires so hot quickly consume themselves, and by the 22:00 mark the intensity gives way to a series of ruminative solos, duos, and trios, which set up the culminating well-sculpted ensemble statement.
The contours of “For Bill Dixon II” are quite different. McPhee opens with unaccompanied fluegelhorn, paying homage to Dixon’s delicately fragmented lyricism and fluttering textures. Bergman joins in unobtrusively, staking out a middle ground between accompanist and counterpart. As a result, the first third of this nearly half-hour piece is a precariously constructed oasis. Turbulence ensues, however, again spurred on by McPhee’s tenor. The dissipation of energy over the last few minutes of the piece is the aural equivalent of watching a hurricane disappear on a time-elapsed weather map. It unwinds and it’s gone.