A ballad also stood out in Chico Freeman’s curtain-raiser. The Chicago-raised saxophonist got to the bittersweet essence of “To Hear a Teardrop in the Rain” with unaccompanied high notes and a round, muscular warmth, rooted in the blues. Elsewhere, “Elvin” was inspired by the late drummer Elvin Jones, “Erica’s Reverie” was fugue-like and the closer an up-tempo romp. Sax and rhythm quartets have space to fill, and at this show, Freeman and pianist Luke Carlos O’Reilly delivered with unflagging invention and style. Freeman hasn’t played in London for more than a decade, and this imperious set was a welcome return.
Chico Freeman’s quartet shows its leader’s ability to organise as it delivers a stimulating set at Cadogan Hall, according to Ronald Atkins
Odd in a way to encounter Chico Freeman on a bill that also featured The Cookers. His career includes spells with very similar all-star groups, not to mention a long-standing familiarity with rhythm sections sparked by The Cookers’ Cecil McBee and Billy Hart. This was his own all-American quartet, however, with Luke Carlos O’Reilly on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and regular colleague Michael Baker at the drums. It’s perhaps worth mentioning Freeman’s only horn on display this night was the tenor saxophone.
His emergence in Chicago had tended at the start to reflect a connection with the city’s more avant-garde music. Since then, you could say he has espoused traditional values in contemporary fashion. The tonal influence of John Coltrane remains but kept under control, so much so that in certain contexts the sound veers surprisingly close to that of Stan Getz.
What the five numbers played made abundantly clear was the leader’s ability to organise, as witnessed by the piano taking an independent role in the theme statements. The opener, named Elvin after one of Freeman’s previous employers, kicked off in archetypal free fashion rapidly overtaken by a furious drum barrage. It settled into modal improvising, with the tenor growing progressively less agitated and the first glimmerings of a 4/4 beat emerging when the piano took over.
That set the standard for what followed. The lilting Erika’s Reverie began with just tenor and bass, Freeman’s “sheets of sound” being smooth rather than frantic, before again a slither of 4/4 alongside the piano solo, though O’Reilly cannily tended to play across it. Relaxed conclusion, with snatches of Killer Joe breaking through.
Cutting bass lines from Kenny Davis launched the next number, lively and Latinish. A waltz, To Hear A Teardrop In The Rain, began with unaccompanied tenor and continued at a leisurely pace that switched to a rocking 4/4 for the closing blues, the perfect end to a stimulating set.
Saxophonist Chico Freeman has been on a 10-year journey of discovery.
“I always wanted to try to live in another place, besides the United States. I went from Chicago to New York, and I always had it in my mind that I wanted to base myself somewhere else in the world. I wanted to edify myself about other cultures and how people express music relative to their cultures,” he says.
It takes a truly dedicated musician to, after recording many records as leader, move to another part of the world to surround himself around different cultures, people, experiences….just so that he can perfect his craft and become a better person. That’s exactly what Chico Freeman did when he moved to Europe which is where he’s been for the last 10 years. But he’s back with a record that makes a statement that you hear loud and clear.
After living and working in Europe for the last decade, innovative saxophonist Chico Freeman makes his long-awaited return to the United States in May, with a special two set performance at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York City on Thursday, May 19 at 7:30pm and 9:30pm. The full performance will be live-streamed at Jazz.org/live. Marking this auspicious homecoming, the creative and trailblazing artist will celebrate with the domestic release of his tour-de-force album Spoken Into Existence (Jive Music, May 13, 2016). Freeman’s stateside return offers more cause for celebration, as he introduces audiences to his new ensemble: The Chico Freeman Plus+tet featuring pianist Luke Carlos O’Reilly, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Nasheet Waits and exotic percussionist Reto Weber.