Evolutionary Jass Band: Pure Light
Jaffe Records

Jefrey Brown returns with his Evolutionary Jass Band's second LP, Pure Light. Conceptually and musically the album evokes the tumultuous ‘60s-‘70s eras when artists and activists alike protested the carnage of the Vietnam war (the parallel to today needs hardly be mentioned), and when a jazz outfit such as Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra documented its opposition on record. Closer in spirit on sonic grounds to Brown is Albert Ayler, with traces of his sour and acerbic tone audible in Brown's raw playing. The Evolutionary Jass Band's loose approach calls to mind the open-ended spirit which Coltrane adopted in his quintet recordings with Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman in his Free Jazz sessions. Similar to that single-track opus, Pure Light is composed of two tracks, one per side and each one markedly different in tone: the first's focus is on war and destruction, the second celebrates the individual spirit and humanity's potential. Brown, who plays tenor and soprano saxophones, percussion, and sitar, is joined by drummer Michael Henrickson, double bassist Bob Jones, violist Daphna Kohn, guitarist and pianist Marisa Anderson, cornetist Jesse Johnson, and Christine Denkewalter on alto and tenor saxes, and flute. Just as the group's first release, Change of Scene, was recorded in two days, Pure Light was laid down in two sessions at the Steele Street Dining Room. As before, the music is raw and unpolished by design, as Brown and co. prefer to let the music be captured spontaneously, rough edges and all, rather than have it sound too polished.

The lamentation on side one (“About War”) begins in a meditative Eastern mode more reminiscent of Indian sitar music than jazz, as the musicians invite the listener to contemplate war and all the sorrow it has generated through the ages. Consistent with the idea, the music simulates an ancient tribe's funeral procession with the dirge gradually giving way to the repetition of a mournful theme and an eventually free-flowing percussive and drum episode (Brown thinks of the drum as “war's constant instrumental companion,” hence the instrument's prominent role in the album's first half). This sets the stage for the saxophonists and cornetist to wail clamorously in the minutes that follow, with the three soloing separately and in unison as if in supplication, before the side ultimately ends peacefully with a single tone. The second side (“Pure Light”) continues the music's prayerful spirit with the group calling for an end to war and for peace and harmony in its place. Not surprisingly, a hopeful mood pervades the material, and the overall feel is less violent and anguished. Stillness at times reigns, with viola, flute, and saxophone audibly advancing through the peaceful forest. Eventually piano takes center stage, the piece meandering and at moments threatening to come to a complete stop, before a gently lulling samba-like rhythm asserts itself and the saxes and cornet give uplifting shape to the music at its end.

June 2009