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By Any Means - Live at Crescendo

David Keenan, The Wire

Given the group name and the personnel – wall-destroying saxophonist Charles Gayle, bassist William Parker and drummer Rashied Ali – you’d be forgiven for reaching for the seatbelt in anticipation of another obliterating slab of high energy instant composition. And you’d be half right. After all, this is the same group that cut the raging Touchin’ On Trane for FMP in 1991, still one of the most aggressively nuanced free jazz LPs to retain an umbilical connection to the New Thing. But the change of name also marks a slight change of tack. Live At Crescendo presents a 2007 concert from Sweden in its entirety. Gayle’s playing may not be any sweeter, but it immediately feels more informed by the eschatological gospel and blues that made up more traditionally ‘earthed’ Gayle sides like Ancient Of Days.

The longest track is just over 14 minutes, a mere feather on the breath compared to the steel tongue athleticism of earlier releases, but Gayle’s playing is so hyper-focused, so exactingly executed, that he devours the minutes, bracketing accelerated, smeared scales with boppy heads and sudden invasions of the alto’s most phantom registers.

Rashied Ali has cut some fairly pedestrian sides over the past decade or so, but for the duration of this set his reactions are as lightning fast and tonally astute as anyone who came up in his shadow. His various solo spots combine an almost machine gun-style rapid attack with an uncanny feel for timbre that means at points you could almost mistake his floor tom for Parker’s bass. Indeed, Parker and Ali sound particularly good together and between them they generate the kind of precariously accelerated architecture that Gayle loves to take nosedives from.

The first disc is the slow burner of the two, with tracks that feel more rigorously constructed, while the second is a little wilder, kicking off with a great vocal/horn piece by Gayle that feels like a more articulate take on the pan-African love cry of Arthur Doyle.

Parker’s “Eternal Voice” is another highlight, with Gayle picking out high, melodic complements to his singing arco work.

It’s a fantastic set, one that explodes the tradition while simultaneously bolstering it, like all of the most ass-flattening free jazz dates.