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Collective 4tet - Moving Along

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Artist: Collective 4tet

Album: Moving Along

Label: Leo

Review date: Mar. 14, 2005

The Collective 4tet is bassist William Parker, pianist Mark Hennen, trombonist Jeff Hoyer and percussionist Heinz Geisser. Formed in New York in 1992, Moving Along is their seventh album overall and fifth for the stalwart free jazz label Leo. On the album’s three spontaneously composed pieces, they highlight free jazz’s most lasting musical contribution: the elimination of comfortable, pre-determined roles for instruments, musical devices, composition and group interaction. Had the 4tet existed in the ’60s, when the music was loaded with social meaning, they would have been the musical model for true democracy.

The 4tet creates a constant motion that never loses momentum, quite a feat considering that much music in the free idiom fails to consistently deliver excitement. This motion is generated by the group’s oblique counterpoint, a patient melding of voices that resembles a puzzle being continually assembled and disassembled.

The title piece most clearly shows their working method. It fades in with Henner exploring the innards of the piano, throwing up a distant rumble soon joined by Parker’s stabs and Geisser’s knots of cymbal and snare. When Hoyer eventually enters, the piece gradually coalesces, patiently gaining density and volume until each player finds their pedal point, an angular, descending snatch of notes to which each occasionally returns. A unifying texture emerges among pitch, volume and tempo. Hoyer might shoot into the upper reaches, but Hennen drags him down with low-end clusters. Parker walks nimbly for a moment, but Geisser obdurately blocks his way with spare, heavy-handed crashes.

A mood of restraint hovers over this session, like the group has intentionally put a lid on their playing. Such restraint casts a dark, mysterious pall over the pieces, especially “Si en si.” Hushed dynamics prevail over the first half, with Parker’s ominous bow, Hennen's dissonant chord fragments, and Hoyer's abstract melodies. It all slowly mutates into a thick cloud that threatens but never storms, the tension never released.

The composer Karlheinz Stockhausen made an incisive observation after once seeing a free jazz group, saying that the musicians failed to realize “freedom (is) a means of restricting oneself, so that others can be free.” Moving Along suggests Stockhausen might have found the freedom he was talking about in the Collective 4tet.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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