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Frank Lowe Orchestra 
Lowe and Behold  
(Musicworks (1978)) 

review by Michael Rosenstein
2003-08-20

Frank Lowe's Lowe and Behold provides a snapshot of a particular intersection of New York improvisation in the late '70s - AACM/St. Louis-BAG transplants Philip Wilson, Joseph Bowie and John Lindberg; free jazzers Lowe, Billy Bang, "Butch" Morris and Arthur Williams; and young upstarts John Zorn, Polly Bradfield, Eugene Chadborne and Peter Kuhn. (Until the "Twins Version" of "Lacrosse" was unearthed for the Parachute Years box, this was Zorn's earliest appearance on record.) Captured live in October of 1977, this long-out-of-print gem captures a scene in a state of flux. Here were musicians working out ideas that would work their way into conductions, game theory pieces, and the free jazz large ensemble vocabulary. But this was raw music that was in transition from aggressive assaults rooted in the Fire Music of the '60s toward articulated strategies for ensemble improvisation. Lowe provided loosely architected forms for orchestral playing; stabbing themes that were exploded in conversational sub-groupings. The tenor player guides this 11-piece ensemble across four pieces, threading together ferocious quartets, churning ensemble playing, and guerilla interaction, stoked along by Wilson's locomotive drive. Side one plays from the loft jazz lexicon, with aggressive settings for Lowe, Bowie, Lindberg, and Wilson. But even there, the frayed interjections of Chadborne's guitar add a definite twist. The first side ends with the compact "A Hipster's Dream," featuring the growling smears and lithe leaps of Peter Kuhn's clarinet. (Where has Kuhn disappeared too?)

The two pieces on side two head off into a different direction. Here, the ensemble is fractured and catapulted into clashing duets and trios, and it is here that Zorn stands out, his clipped pops and shredded cries bristle through, splintering the propulsive momentum of Lowe's tenor squalls. On the final piece "Heavy Drama," there is an elastic three-way tension between Zorn, Bang, and Morris, that edges toward the textures that Zorn, Chadborne, and Bradfield were charting out on the early game theory pieces at around the same time. There is always a tendency to find tidy lineages and epiphanal breakthroughs, but things rarely work out so neatly. This meeting isn't a radical jumping off point for Zorn. He and a steadily expanding circle of players were already breaking away from the language of free jazz and diving into jump-cut structures. This recording serves as one of the few extant documents of the some of the other settings they were participating in during that transition. But it is far more than an historical curiosity and still stands up well over twenty five years later. Let's hope some industrious label digs this one up for reissue.





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