Conservative jazz fans big or small c don't have much time for free-improv. They never got the memo. Without getting into exceptions which doesn't prove any rule even if they exist what I mean by small c ''conservative jazz fans'' are the kind who know exactly what they want and stick to that come thick or thin. It's not specific fandom it's ''type of jazz'' preference. They are suspicious of the new! And they are particularly suspicious of anything that doesn't swing, sounds a bit ''plinky plonky'' or is full of let's-use-another-''c''-word, ''cacophony''. I suppose it's to do with what you feel about form and structure and really what you sense as a listener how far is safe to go with improvisation and freedom. That's a big subject. One person's freedom from, is another's freedom to.
Often it's the shock of the new that scares the very bejaysus out of the tory-jazzers unless that ''wildness'' is historical and can somehow be tamed. Of course there is a lot of cant written about free-jazz and critics of the hipsters who rave on endlessly about it are known to dismiss their preference as ''trendiness,'' ''woke'' even, if they are really jumping into the culture wars, as their diagnosis of that taste ''malaise''. Some free-jazz does not work I'd be the first to admit and avant jazz is a style like any other, you either like it or you don't. But it does say something about you if if you are hostile fundamentally to it for any of the above reasons.
Free-jazz does help change things and that is at the root of this discussion. We need change as a jazz community because everything is not OK. And change is achieved on the bandstand and spread by audiences who somehow get convinced and then word carries. Where to look for it today?
I've long been an admirer of bassist Dominic Lash here in duo with reedist Ricardo Tejero I suppose since Opabinia released eight years ago. Live, the best I have heard him, was with the late great Steve Reid even further back in 2009 at the Jazz Cafe that time playing bass guitar surfing the thunder that was the ecstasy of the Reid onslaught. Southville, Summer is thoughful stuff, not about massive heat but you feel the ideas spooling out in real time, like coming up with new routes, not just going the same old way. Half the album here works, the first half. The latter half isn't as compelling. 'Fernleaze' is when the sound practically disintegrates, 'Grittleton' is more chamber music-like. 'Drongola' hones in on tiny details as Lash plucks and Tejero there on clarinet responds talkatively. 'Estoril' meanwhile goes more into Paul Dunmall territory. Not everything works (I think Tejero could have left his whistle at home as 'Bangrove' suffers from it) but that's approaching the essential point again: experiment and see what sticks. And certainly the first two tracks 'Comyn' and 'Allfoxton' do just that. Recorded earlier this year in Bristol experimentalism is all, something that needs to go in every jazz manifesto sooner or later and then acted upon pronto. SG
Ricardo Tejero, top. Photo via the duo's Bandcamp page