Michael Gregory Jackson “Frequency Equilibrium Koan”

I readily admit that I’m still relatively out of the loop these days, but what seems like a recentish trend of all these past jazz sessions showing up on Bandcamp is awesome. Like last week’s Roberto Miranda [finish], Michael Gregory Jackson’s Frequency Equilibrium Koan is an absolute joy and hearing this document of a particular place during a particular time is like time traveling. I can’t get enough.

The line-up across these recordings is unimpeachable. Jackson, obviously, is incredible. He’s joined by Julian Hemphill on alto saxophone, Abdul Wadud on cello, and Pheeroan aKLaff on drums. It’s one hell of a quartet. Jackson’s compositions are fertile ground for this group. Culled from live recordings made in 1977 at Joe Lee Wilson’s venue, The Ladies Fort, on a Jackson’s Sony handheld tape recorder, Frequency Equilibrium Koan may be a document of a very specific place at a very specific time, but in the end these recordings are timeless.

On the title track, angular guitar riffs unfold like molasses from a jar while Hemphill plays runs all over the map. The interaction between the two is such a strange dichotomy that it works, each one pulling the other in their own direction. Wadud bridges the gap, though, alternating between plucking the strings and bowing them, like a wise man showing how there’s a space for both of these forms to exist as one. aKLaff keeps the piece’s shape steady, emerging when he’s needed most. It’s an intoxicating blend of howls and screeches, contemplative and resolute. “A Meditation” follows in similar minimalist territory, but it’s airy and light, like it’s floating above the clouds and chaos of the title track. Jackson changes it up, moving from guitar to bamboo flute, which adds to the weightlessness, while Wadud and aKLaff push the piece forward methodically. 

Groves abound on “Heart & Center,” with Wadud in the pocket with aKLaff to get feet tapping and asses moving. It’s another stellar example of Hemphill and Jackson’s understanding of each other as they move around each other, weaving guitar and sax ripostes like dancers on a stage in a dark, smoky club. It’s such an uplifting force. Meanwhile, “Clarity 3” is nearly 12 minutes of everyone in the quartet blowing fire. There’s a point about halfway through where all four are simultaneously soloing and it turns into this unreal, melt-it-all-down situation. It’s incredible. In all, Frequency Equilibrium Koan is potent and important. For those of us into the obscure, lively corners of free music, it’s an essential gem. Someone press this on vinyl! Highly recommended.

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