On Fault Lines, drummer Dana Fitzsimons collaborates with two other Atlanta-based musicians, pianist Bill Graham and bassist Brandon Boone, to create a program of rhythmic, free-style jazz improvisations. Now I am not a fan of free jazz – we all have our prejudices – but the following from Dana Fitzsimons did get the better of my curiosity:
“The music we wanted to make requires a lot of close listening and allowing the music to take you wherever it wants to go, untethered from strict ideas about time, form, and harmony. With all this freedom, it was important to me that the music still be rhythmic and lyrical so that the music invites the listener in, even for those who are not accustomed to free jazz.”
I chose to listen to the album and give “free-style jazz” a chance.
Bill Graham’s ‘Slant Anagrams’ eased me nicely into the album with its straight-ahead jazz feel led by Graham at the piano. The tempo is brisk, the piano playing crisp and angular, with a nod to Chick Corea, and the drumming adding its own voice to the tune without dominating: good start! ‘Agitation Lullaby’, written by Fitzsimons and saxophonist Chris Otts, is a drum and piano piece with an occasional interjection from bassist Brando Boone. On the listen through I was struck by the beauty of the piano playing but the drumming gave the tune an edge I found unnerving. I referred to the press release and read that “the song reflects Fitzsimons’ memory of his young children being sung to sleep by their mother, who has a beautiful voice, during a time that he was experiencing a great deal of stress in his life.” Those mixed references are clear in the writing and playing of this powerful and emotive number.
‘Crystals’ is an example of free form improvisation based on images given to the band by Fitzsimons before playing and it works. ‘Ice Bridges Before Road’ is described as an “impressionistic ballad” and is another very strong tune. Bill Graham on piano moves between gentility and drama with ease and the support from Boone and Fitzsimons is excellent. This is an atmospheric tune that would not be out of place in a classical music concert. ‘Borders’, on the other hand, fits very well with the description of a cinematic score – though definitely not Disney. Again, there is real drama in the playing with wonderful variations in tempo, pitch, and tone – I really engaged with the bass playing of Brandon Boone whose resonant sound gave the piece its depth of field.
‘Number 6’ is just very good jazz music playing in a piano jazz trio setting. The melody ebbs and flows with ease, the drumming is powerful without dominating and the bass ties it all together. This is my style of jazz music, the style that drew me to the art form in the first place. ‘Where Or When’ is the only standard on the album. The band plays this Rogers & Hart composition as a ballad but do allow the time signature to vary, which works very well indeed. ‘It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago’ starts with a terrific bass solo from Boone before the piano, giving us the melody, and drums come in. The tune belongs to Paul Motion and first appeared on an ECM label and this cover would not be out of place on the same label.
‘Weeble Wobbles’, named after a toy that cannot fall over, has a great feel to it and it was easy to imagine a toy moving around, bumping into things but not falling. A jaunty, angular sound with a good bass line running throughout, delightful tune. ‘Intersections’ is “a free-style jazz improvisation bookended by fully composed opening and closing statements” and what lays in between is more good bass playing, rippling drum patterns, and punctuating piano lines. This another strong performance from the trio balanced by moments of restraint that show a confidence in both the music and each other. The album finishes with Joni Mitchell’s ‘Amelia’, a wonderful tune played with real composure, allowing the melody to dominate.
Fault Lines is a highly engaging and enjoyable album and if nothing else has confirmed my idea that you cannot judge a sound by the label attached to it. “Free style Jazz” conjures up all sorts of ideas around atonalty, unsettling time signatures, dissonance, and freedom from melody, all of which are dispelled by Dana Fitzsimons, Bill Graham, and Brandon Boone. If you are invested in music, you have to listen to music and not just hear it. When you have listened, listen again … and again, the rewards for doing so are immeasurable as I have discovered on listening to Fault Lines.
Musicians: Dana Fitzsimons – drums; Bill Graham – piano; Brandon Boone – bass.
Tracklist: 1. Slant Anagrams. 2. Agitation Lullaby. 3. Crystals. 4. Ice Bridges Before Road. 5. Borders. 6. Number 6. 7. Where or When. 8. It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago. 9. Weeble Wobbles. 10. Intersections. 11. Amelia.