Soundcraft 75 - Fantasy for Orchestra
The Universal Jazz Symphonette
Earl Freeman director, composer
Anima Records AN1001
This LP is the brainchild and creation of Earl Freeman - the closest thing there is to a 'leader's date' in his small - but always interesting - discography of appearances on record.
Earl Freeman was a talented, strange, sensitive artist who played acoustic bass, electric bass guitar - piano, flute, harp and percussion. He wrote poetry, and was a graphic designer - the unusual pen and ink contour-hatched illustration that takes up most of the front cover here is his.
Originally from California, and later working with Sun Ra's band in Chicago, Freeman travelled to Paris in 1969 and ended up as part of the BYG/Actuel recording frenzy of American free jazz players in that year.
Not so much a 'big name', as more of an outsider -the word crops up again and again in descriptions of him - it was Kenneth Terroade the Jamaican tenor player who Freeman credited with an introduction to the Parisian scene.
Kenneth Terroade (left) with Earl Freeman (right)
Freeman appeared - memorably- on Terroade's great Love Rejoice LP (Actuel 22), as part of a two-bass lineup with Beb Guerin. He played bass on a bunch of Archie Shepp recordings from this time too,
as well as harp with Alan Silva's Celestrial Communications Orchestra and percussion instruments on a handful of BYG and 'America' LPs from around this time.
He appears on the very first Gong LP (BYG/Actuel 5) and performed at the legendary Amougies Actuel Festival in October 69.
left to right - frank zappa, philly joe jones, earl freeman, louis moholo, johnny dyani, grachan moncur, archie shepp. Amougies, Belgium october 1969 (foto - jacques bisceglia)
The twin bass approach with Beb Guerin was again used on Clifford Thornton's Ketchaoua (Actuel 23), memorably on the wonderful last track - 'Speak With Your Echo (And Call This Dialogue)'.
Both Freeman and Thornton were eventually barred from France as being undesirables with an overtly radical political stance. Freeman seems to have claimed that on his part - this was largely through misunderstanding and that he had no overt political stance.
He did go on a North African 'back to the roots' trip with Archie Shepp, Steve McCall, Cal Massey and Don Byas - with Eldridge Cleaver acting as tourguide !
[ Worth noting that Cal Massey's son Zane plays saxophone here on Soundcraft 75 ]
Despite being persona non grata in France, and making jaunts to both Holland and Britain - he returned to Paris - living there clandestinely when Val Wilmer interviewed him in early 1972.
By then he had recorded in London on drummer Selwyn Lissack's 'Friendship Next Of Kin' [which includes a spoken recitation from Earl]
- as well as a session with UK saxophone monsters Mike Osborne, John Surman and Alan Skidmore. With a second bass player - Harry Miller this time, and with Louis Moholo on drums, this was eventually released as 'Shapes' under Osborne's name - [ highly recommended ].
Freeman had also previously recorded in Noah Howard's group in Holland for the 'Patterns' LP from late 1971
Later in 1972 however, Freeman left Europe, returned to the USA and rejoined Noah Howard - appearing on Howard's 'Live at The Village Vanguard' record on Freedom Records with Frank Lowe, Rashied Ali, Juma Sultan and Robert Bruno.
In 1975, he put together the enormous group on Soundcraft 75, adding choreographers and dancers for a performance at the Washington Square Methodist Church on West 4th St, NYC ('The Peace Church') - and chose the name Universal Jazz Symphonette for the project.
7 years later, Earl is playing electric bass with Sonny Simmons' group- again in a 2-bass configuration - on one of the two sessions that made up Simmons' Global Jungle
1984 - probably the last year of Earl's life, saw a recording of his group with Henry P Warner and Adeyeme (Philip Spigner) - The Freestyle Band. This trio recorded just one album which was privately released. Recently reissued, this is both fascinating and fantastic.
Playing what sounds like a fretless electric bass through a phaser and perhaps a chorus unit, Freeman lays down basslines underneath Henry Warner's plangent clarinet and Spigner's dynamic congas to create a group sound that is totally sui generis in its field.
In the liner notes to The Freestyle Band's re-release CD, Ed Hazell reports that Freeman collapsed during a performance some time in 1984 "probably not long after that" he died. And that appears to be all that is known of Freeman's passing from the world.
A US armed forces veteran, Freeman shaved his hair very close, dressed only in dark colors and wore huge circular glasses - tinted or prescription. He frequently wore a leather aviators helmet, a steel service helmet, or both.
(foto - juma sultan's aboriginal music society box - eremite records)
The Album - Soundcraft 75
This was the first recording and release on the Anima label.
Associated with Billy Bang, who issued 5 LPs on Anima - the label actually belonged to John Mingione, a trumpet and flugelhorn player who ran it from a storefront on East 5th Street in Manhattan. He appears on this LP, and more recently, some of his playing with William Parker has resurfaced here. I know of no other instances of him actually performing on record. He produced or co-produced all the label releases.
This was the 1st release on Anima in 1975. The final release was in 1982.
It's a large ensemble - nearly 30 players and is not a high fidelity recording by any stretch of the imagination.
The church acoustics, the size of the ensemble, the collective free-form style of musical approach all combine to produce a sonic result that I can best describe in one word as - dense.
Musically - on first blush, it's chaotic. If you've just spent a morning listening to and loving Alan Silva's Lunar Surface, followed by Dave Burrell's Echo - then this is record you might like to put on next.
Only this one is not as well recorded as those 2. . .
The keen ear, or subsequent listening, will reveal that it's not necessarily 40 minutes of mad chaos - that there is movement here, there are dynamics, there are some themes of sorts, and that there is solo playing (where audible) of a high calibre.
Opening with a swirling trio of flutes and spare percussion, additional instruments are applied in successive layers like paint until the whole ensemble is all in - a vast melange of sound.
Then after a hushed intermezzo at around the 5 minute mark, the music builds again and things begin in earnest. The technique is repeated again, punctuating solos from trumpet, tenor saxophones and violin.
The soloists are actually not that difficult to make out - what is difficult to hear is what is going on musically in the vast sonic soup that is behind and around them.
Earl was fond of a good quasi-mystical recitation it seems, and Orea (Side B) opens with 2 recitations from female voices: - the first a mystical paean involving Jesus Christ and the second a seemingly randomly chosen poem in French.
The music builds again from here into a huge seething amorphous out-of-focus thing.
Brass and reed soloists are again, clearly discernible in the sonic foreground - at one point with 2 tenors - extremely clearly.
As to the background - it's clear that there are some written parts - even section work. And that the ensemble is being actively directed or conducted - it's no unfettered group improv freak-out. It is just quite difficult to make out what is going on back there because of the quality of the recording.
I'm certain that the acoustics of the church didn't help in documenting such a large group.
In the excellent sleeve notes to The Freestyle Band's CD re-issue, Ed Hazell mentions Soundcraft 75, and lauds it as "..a valuable document of early work by Parker, Carter, Raphe Malik, Bang, and many other young free-jazz players of the early loft years..". Whilst I guess that is true in a way, it would be an utter challenge to hear - for instance - a single note on here that William Parker plays. Or Henry Warner for that matter. Or the tabla player...
Read Hazell's notes here, or go here for the excellent Freestyle Band CD
It's probably safe to assume recording conditions and equipment may have been a little rough - near the beginning of the record, a microphone is audibly scuffled and bumped and there are a few odd stereo channel leaps throughout.
The fades you hear are exactly as per the LP and haven't been changed in any way by me.
Technically, side 2 consists of 2 pieces - there is such a small gap between the 2 that I've left the whole second side as a single track - assuming somewhat of a symphonic intent on the part of Freeman.
The back jacket abounds in mis-spellings of the musician's names - "Henry Warnef" for Henry Warner, "Kappo Umega" for Kappo Umezu, etc etc.
I've corrected the names that I know are clearly wrong - but any other corrections I've missed that are warranted - are welcome.
That this was a live performance, incorporating dancers - is evident by the credits for choreography.
As to the Washington Square Methodist Church - you can visit New York City and see it still - or the facade of it anyway.
You can't go in - it's no longer a church, it's private property.
- sold it.
"...now this graceful artifact enters a new beginning as Novare, a limited edition portfolio of eight extraordinary loft homes by the visionary architects at FLANK Architecture.. .Come to be reborn"
There's more of this sleazy drivel on their real-estate-for-the-brain-bogglingly-wealthy website.
Which seems like a truly sad way for the little church to end.
Me, I'd take 1975 any day.
So there you go - I hope you enjoy Soundcraft 75.
At least you can say that you've heard it, which hasn't been that easy for most - it's quite a rare record it seems
But at the same time it possesses something very akin to what I can only call a kind of grandeur.
The Freestyle Band (Earl Freeman, Henry Warner, Adeyeme) - Self Titled, Re-issued album.
No one else made a sound like this - Highly recommended . Earl on processed electric bass
In the US - on the excellent 50 Miles of Elbow Room - http://www.50milesofelbowroom.com/artist/106-the-freestyle-band-henry-warner-earl-freeman-philip-spigner.html
In Europe - No Business Records
Website of the estimable and overlooked Mr Henry Warner - http://henrypwarner.com/
Bio of Earl in the liner notes to The Freestyle Band, by Ed Hazell - http://theshop.free-jazz.net/henry-p-warner-earl-freeman-philip-spigner-freestyle-band-no-business-records/shop/music-label-and-artists/
The outstanding Noah Howard 2-on-1 CD that contains Patterns with Earl Freeman, as well as the fantastic Message To South Africa - http://eremite.com/album/mte-19
Wonderful box set on the same label (eremite) that features another underappreciated Earl (Earl Cross) - and the source of the photo of Earl Freeman standing in the street - http://eremite.com/album/mte-54-55-56
The obscure 'underground classic' - Selwyn Lissack's only album, featuring Earl Freeman - Friendship Next of Kin http://www.jazzloft.com/p-45348-friendship-next-of-kin.aspx
Earl duetting with Harry Miller (acoustic) and playing with a shit-hot band [Mike Osborne, John Surman, Alan Skidmore, Louis Moholo] - Mike Osborne - Shapes
"“The music opens up their minds, opens up their hearts – it’s subversive, but it’s pure!”
- Earl Freeman 1972 -