Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chico Freeman: Peaceful Heart, Gentle Spirit, 1980

Peaceful Heart, Gentle Spirit includes a lot of musical textures, from warm spiritual jazz to the more dissonant music that Chico Freeman is largely known for to a jazz/ classical crossover track to close out the album. What really interested me was the use of Brazilian and Caribbean percussion on this record. The percussionists, Paulinho Da Costa and Efrain Toro, are credited on the back cover but not mentioned on the front, presumably because they were not the biggest names on the record. Aside from their musician credits, there is really no reference to Caribbean or Brazilian themes anywhere on the front of back covers. This is not rare on jazz records, and I'm sure there are many other albums out there that include Caribbean and Brazilian influences this casually. That in itself makes this record noteworthy to me. In the forties, when American jazz musicians were first starting to play with Cubans, the inclusion of Afro-Caribbean music in American jazz was a big deal and a much remarked on sign of diasporic consciousness in Black America. Even in the early 60's, most albums with a Latin influence included some reference to it in the album title or cover art. The same thing tended to happen with Brazilian music when it became influential in American jazz.

Chico Freeman's unspectacular treatment of these elements on his album indicate a certain comfort with the genres, a sense that they are now so closely intertwined with jazz music that their presence is more commonplace than remarkable. One could interpret this as a heightened version of the diasporic consciousness that Jazz experienced in the 40's, because the link between the musics is assumed and accepted implicitly. The unmistakable sound of the Brazilian tambourine becomes almost as much of an icon of American jazz as of samba and bossa nova. At the same time, the presence of so many influences of varying conventionality on this album, notably classical music, may also dilute the significance of the casual inclusion of musics that were first developed abroad and famously integrated into jazz. In any case, the Brazilian and Caribbean influences in these songs weren't musically surprising.

Another thing on this album stuck out to me: the presence and occasionally outside style of pianist Kenny Kirkland. Kirkland is no stranger to free jazz and has played on a number of unconventional albums, but is probably best known for his work with Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis is one of the few musicians whose discourse has arguably had a greater effect on the genre than his instrument. He really solidified the notion of a conventional jazz cannon not only with his inside playing, but with his efforts to define jazz, like Ken Burns, as America's classical music, a music which is bound to a very particular format and style. An early article of his called "What Jazz Is- and Isn't" exemplifies the way in which he has tried to separate out true jazz from other creative music. Naming Max Roach as a jazz visionary of the highest caliber, Marsalis insists that Roach, "matched [his extraordinary] talent with an ongoing dedication to sustained development [of the genre.]"

To me, the history and development of jazz seem much less linear and focused. If it is not a history of combining many musical currents, then it is certainly one of navigating them. Early on, musicians balanced between blues roots and new complex chords. Early small combos worked off Black musical traditions but also covered songs written for Broadway by Jewish songwriters inspired by earlier Black musics. Some artists of that period also started to integrate instruments, rhythms, and harmonies from foreign musical traditions. (I've even heard that North Indian rhythms inspired some of Max Roach's music.) Later, musicians explored the overlap between inside and outside playing, and spiritual jazz albums focused as much on repetition and space as on the development of jazz as a pure, distinct, and (somewhat) predictable art form. To me, Kirkland's work with Marsalis as well as his contributions to this album and many others that defy convention in various ways speaks to the idea of jazz as a genre for navigator-musicians. Jazz musicians both go with the flow and fight against currents in the music that variously intersect and conflict. Jazz as much as any other genre is a composite of influences, and I don't believe that any one manifestation of jazz is most pure. As far as I can tell, the creative resourcefulness of the musicians binds all forms of jazz to the genre more strongly than the adherence to and development of a singular (but communal) artistic vision.

Chico Freeman: saxes, flutes, clarinets
James Netwon: flutes
Kenny Kirkland: piano
Jay Hoggard: vibes
John Koenig: cello
Buster Williams: bass
Billy Hart: drums
Paulinho da Costa: percussion
Efrain Toro: percussion

Nia's Dance Song by EasyJams



  2. This is a great site! Do you want to trade links? Let me know.

  3. Thanks. Looks like you've got some classics up on your blog too.

  4. Links are always in the comments by the way

  5. I've had this old favorite on vinyl for ages. Since it's been packed away in storage with the rest of my lps for the last few years, I'm very grateful that you've provided a digital version. Thanks!

    And speaking of Brazilian influence on adventurous jazz, I assume you're familiar with Don Pullen's African/Brazilian Connection? If not, do check them out.

  6. I'll check it, thanks for the heads up

  7. Nice looking album I had missed - thanks EJ!