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Kidd Jordan - Palm of Soul

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Artist: Kidd Jordan

Album: Palm of Soul

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Jun. 3, 2006

Despite the Crescent City’s deserved stature as the cradle of jazz, trends in the music there have tended toward the catholic for quite some time. Chaos and confusion post-Katrina have only contributed to the city’s conservative leanings as scrutiny of the New Orleans Jazz Festival website will quickly confirm. Kidd Jordan has made cutting against this grain of orthodoxy a mission over a career that now runs five decades deep and has included gigs with a constellation of collaborators from Ray Charles and Perry Como to Sun Ra and Alan Silva. As a musical educator and ambassador (he was knighted by the French government), he makes his fealty to freer forms of expression no secret. On the stage, he’s known for shedding any physical semblance of his seventy-odd years and threatening the structural integrity of his saxophone’s ligature with volcanic upper register multiphonics that are among the most potent and precisely-deployed amongst his peers.

Accolades and admiration aside, one area of Jordan’s oeuvre that continues to suffer is his discography. It’s still scant considering how long he’s been in the game and unduly weighted toward collaborations with pianist and sometimes-saxophonist Joel Futterman. Fans have long been clamoring for a record reflecting his various activities outside that comparatively well-documented orbit. Palm of Soul answers prayers by pairing Jordan with one of the most revered rhythm teams in the business, William Parker and Hamid Drake, a duo intimately familiar with his preferences and particulars. The album also upends expectations by featuring Jordan in less overtly explosive surroundings. Parker and Drake devote a large portion of the disc to what some consider their peripheral instruments: the former setting down his bull fiddle in favor of guimbri (a teardrop-shaped African lute) and various percussion, and latter turning to frame drum and tablas as well as passionate chanting on the emotion-wrought “Unity Call.”

Most of the pieces carry a meditative air, and Jordan calibrates his sound and horn accordingly. “Forever” opens not with a furnace blast, but a slowly smoldering ceiling-pitched tenor line flanked by gongs, brushed snare and cymbals. Burrish vibrato and rich glissandi further deepen the emotive import of the saxophonist’s improvisation. Arco harmonics weave with more pathos-saturated tenor on the lengthy “Living Peace,” creating a gradually combusting Gordian braid in the closing minutes that is gloriously difficult to unravel. In-between the three cycle through a number of permutations from loping swing advanced by Parker’s strolling pizzicato and Jordan’s Coltrane-codified sheets of sound to a slightly shaky groove-rooted blues. Drake once again satisfies himself with a largely supportive role, stamping his partners interplay with just enough forward propulsion, but never overplaying his hand with bombast. And lest listeners think its all somber chin-stroking and lofty contemplation, “Last of the Chicken Wings” brings a bit of humor to the table in an Eastern-inflected processional of frame drum, gongs, and talking drum as a porous rhythmic vehicle for Jordan’s soul-suffused horn.

Back in the early ’90s, the Prestige label released a pair of reissues by Gene Ammons and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis entitled Gentle Jug and Gentle Jaws (both essential acquisitions by my lights) focusing on the balladic side of each legendary saxophonist. This disc doesn’t quite qualify as “Gentle Jordan,” but it does reflect a welcome departure from his past recordings, one that will pleasantly surprise those who have pigeonholed him as one-trick fire breather as well as steadfast fans better versed in the broader diversity of his music.

By Derek Taylor

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