Peter Lemer Quintet - Local Colour [ESP-Disk - 2013]Prolific free jazz pianist Peter Lemer released but a single LP with his Peter Lemer Quintet in 1968, titled "Local Colour". This quintet, according to the liner notes, was but one of many ensembles Lemer had at the time, and certainly, there is a hasty impromptu spirit that can be felt throughout the music.
Essentially, these musicians take odd, complicated head melodies of highly technical nature and unravel/deconstruct them quickly into completely freeform improvisations of unpredictable trajectory, which speed up and slow down haphazardly. He writes, "the written leads were the inital maps into the unexplored, the direction being toward the open, out..." One might question what actual relation the opening structured elements bear to the unstructured chaos that follows, but if nothing else these passages provide welcome melody and musicality that make it possible to hear the entire album in one sitting. By free jazz standards, it is a diverse recording containing a variety of refreshing approaches.
The album begins with a Carla Bley composition titled "Ictus", which belongs to the Eric Dolphy school of note-heavy, 'flight of the bumblebee'-esque anxiety inducing stop-start odd-metered patterns. Its a lively jolt to the brain, pointedly rough, ugly and sly as the best jazz is. As the percussive sharpness of the head wanes, the piece does indeed expand 'out', dissolving into comparitively relaxed drum fills and watery scalar ramblings from Lemer's piano, which generally retains some tonal grounding and sense of beauty even in the most 'free' moments of this album. The dissonant, meandering and strange head melody is actually the ugliest part of the track; these musicians do not seem inclined to squeal, scrape or otherwise murder the listener's hearing during their unlimited explorations.
All of the other pieces on the album are credited to Lemer himself, and if I had to guess I would say the 2nd piece "City" is purely improvisation, and involves no written material. It is at first a restless, gestural call and response between piano and string bass. As these are not aggressive instruments in tone, even as they release volleys of rapid notes, the piece has the impression of sparisitude. The drummer enters thunderously and sketches a cataclysmic landscape. The band's strong point is their sense of perfect cohesion despite an utterly elastic rhythm. Each song has the feeling of being a highly psychedelic & abstract story, and fills the mind's eye with pictures. These musicians make the spontaneous meaningful; this track in particular goes as far out as the best moments of Sun Ra's "Heliocentric Worlds", and one can hear the buzzing of Saturnalian bees.
In case the groundless dissonance of "City" was too much, there is a surprising and pleasurable increase in melody and structure for "Flowville", easily the prettiest and most conventionally 'jazz' music thus heard. A chorale of brass alternates two Satie-esque chords, and a very chill "Kind of Blue" mood is achieved. The band retains this basic open consonant sound even into the free portion that inevitably follows. Eventually, a frantic walking bassline emerges for a drunken and strange finale. At this point in the album, the band really began to impress me with their versatility.
Words certainly fail to convey the experience or content of music such as this, but suffice to say this band functions as a complete unit, a current moving one direction and then another, in unison. Listening to this album, I hardly think about the musicians independent from one another; certainly there are no show offs in this ensemble, all are engaged in listening intently.
In conclusion, I highly enjoyed this bit of semi-melodic 'psychedelic' free jazz. Though it can be highly disorienting, I consider it to be nearer the pleasurable end of the free jazz spectrum, in that it does not shy away from moments of aesthetic beauty, and does not seem to be driven by aggression, but rather an exploratory spirit that reminds me of classic psychedelic jam bands like Hawkwind or Acid Mothers Temple. Anyone at all open to the classic sound/era of free jazz should investigate this recording, and if you're already into Sun Ra this is a no brainer.Josh Landry