Commitment - The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (No Business, 2010) ****
Thursday, June 24, 2010
I don't know how Lithuanian label No Business does it, but they have the knack to find back and re-issue amazing stuff. "Commitment" is the name of a band which released only one obscure album, in 1980, and which consists of William Parker on bass, Jason Kao Hwang on violin, Will Connell Jr on flute and alto and Takeshi Zen Matsuura on drums. An unusual line-up, with the unusual mix of Asian and African American musicians. At that time, William Parker was twenty-eight, and Jason Kao Hwang only twenty-three. The original album was released on Hwang's own Flying Panda label. In the label's good tradition, there is a lengthy booklet that gives all the necesseary background.
The first CD captures the five tracks of the original LP. The music is free-flowing, with slow themes setting the scene for lengthy improvisations and communal creation of sound. The first piece is typical, with a slow, somewhat solemn theme, which evolves in all four musicians improvising together, with Parker on arco, resulting in an intimate and light-footed interplay, slowly fading, leaving the original theme well behind them. The second piece is uptempo, with Parker's bass vamp quite recognizable, and Connell fierce on alto, and Matsuura gets ample time for a drums solo.
"Famine", is a staggering composition, with a very sparse discomforting sound environment created by Parker and Hwang working around the same tonal center, gradually increasing the intensity without creating variation, well illustrating and expressing the title of the piece.
The fourth track is again dark, slow and contemplative, with a slowly evolving unison theme. Again the sense of pace and tension is fantastic. Connell's soloing has a remarkable continuity in timbre and expressivity to Hwang's preceding soloing, with both Matsuura and Parker adding to the piece's minimalism in their solos.
"No Name", the last track of the original LP, is a longer work-out, based on a theme which could have come from Ornette Coleman.
As of track 6, the music was not released before, and is the recording of a performance of the band in 1983. The sound quality is a little less, at moments even doubtfull, yet the music is again a great gift to all of us. There is a little less unity in the performance, chaos reigns at times, voices from the audience sound louder than the band during quiet moments, etc, but despite all that, we should be grateful to have this music available for all to hear. The live performance has some stellar moments, like Connell's haunting flute-playing on "Ocean", a mid-tempo hypnotic piece with some middle-eastern influences.
The most remarkable aspect of the whole album is Hwang's violin playing. Like on many of his own albums as a leader, he is not a man of many notes - already then - but someone who so easily finds the right notes, he can stretch them and create his own unusual sound.
Three decades later, we can only be amazed that these young musicians already had some of the great musical personalities and vision that they expanded on during the years to follow, stubbornly sticking to what they learned during the haydays of the loft period in New York, yet adding character, power and expressiveness over the years. But it's all here, already then : the freedom, the spirituality, but also their typical approach to get more of their instruments than artists had done before.
It's not a masterpiece, far from it, but what a joy to hear, and have it back for us, fans of good music, and hopefully available for some more decades to come.