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The brief career of South-African trumpeter Mongezi Feza has been cruelly neglected in current discographies. By his death at age 30, he had made a fair number of recordings, many of which have never been issued on CD. His work with Robert Wyatt and Henry Cow has been widely available, but it does not adequately represent the breadth of his talent. Ayler Records is to be commended for bringing these November/December 1972 recordings to light, hopefully affording some overdue recognition to a more than deserving improviser.
While Ayler has chosen to highlight Feza with this release, it is first and foremost a group effort. Equally prominent and worthy of rediscovery is saxophonist Bernt Rosengren's quartet, purportedly one of the finest Swedish free improvising groups of its day. These recordings certainly back that claim, as the series of pieces entitled "Group Notes" and "Theme of the Day" draw attention to a unit in full communicative effect. The incredibly detailed and scholarly liner notes speak of early 70s Sweden as a bastion of world music study and absorption, and these collective improvisations show adventurous allegiance to all manner of jazz prototypes-blues, swing, hard bop and the occasional appropriation of a pop tune. Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz convincingly adds non-pejoratively stereotypical "Eastern" elements to rhythm and timbre. These group pieces are a thick and sometimes long draught to drink, but the rewards are equally bountiful.
For me, the most revelatory moments come with another series of pieces called "Moong's Research". These four excursions highlight Feza, still in a collective setting but in more of a conventional solo role. Far from the meditatively modal playing he did for Wyatt's Rockbottom or Henry Cow's In Praise of Learning, these are whirlwind performances. Feza combines the inventiveness of Don Cherry or Booker Little with the speed and precision of Clifford Brown to staggering results. His rapid fire liquid blurs are not "free"-a misused term if ever one existed-but veer between tonality and atonality with the agility possessed only by those with ears as good as their chops.
"Moong's Research II" opens in B-flat in a proto-blues feel, and Feza immediately asserts the tonal center while tossing in the devil's own tritone just for good measure. When an uncredited piano player begins to chord harmonies emphasizing other keys, Feza is right on top of every subtle shift, as he is throughout the whole set. As with Coltrane interacting with his final quintet, Feza shows himself willing and able to explore admirably the inner and outer extremities of any music Rosengren's group serves up.
Other reviewers have documented problems with Free Jam's recorded sound. While many of the tunes start and stop somewhat abruptly, the two-mic stereo sound poses no significant problems. The balance is actually remarkable given the limitations on what was surely a spontaneously recorded series of events, possibly never meant for official release. Such technical trifles should deter no one from enjoying an extremely important addition to the Feza discography, and Ayler should be applauded for all the care and research that went into its realization.
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