Commitment - The Complete Recordings 1981/1983
(No Business Records)
An incredible two-disc recording documenting the talented but under-represented Afro-Asian avant garde quartet that included reed player Will Connell, Waukegan-born violinist Jason Hwang Kao, bassist William Parker and drummer Zen Matsuura. Commitment recorded one self-titled album - generally unavailable for years - which has been remastered and included here, along with previously unheard concert recordings from a European tour. The group was active between 1978 and 1984, during the heyday of the New York's Lower East Side loft scene, when a sense of comraderie prevailed amongst the musicians of all cultures who intermingled in the area. Promoting a belief that music is a "healing force," this multi-cultural foursome has gone on to continue their musical explorations in various configurations, but this release is more than just a trip down memory lane - the music is vital and surprisingly fresh and modern. Combining Asian influences with African American jazz is not particularly unusual these days - especially in Chicago, where artists like Tatsu Aoki, Yoko Noge and Jeff Chen continue to merge boundaries, but when Commitment was starting up, it was revolutionary and steeped in the anger over the racism that both cultures had experienced. With the sound of the Watts riots still ringing in their ears, these musicians lashed out with a righteous ferocity that still seems startling. However, their aggression is tempered by their musicianship and sense of the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic components of music.
Connell's traditional jazz experience gives the music a melodic center; his flute playing especially creates a sense of wonder. Kao, meanwhile, brings in the Eastern sense of tonality and classical music directions, but he certainly isn't afraid to mix it up - check out his hair-raising solo on "Ocean." The duo had played together for a considerable time and their sense of interplay is breathtaking. Meanwhile, Matsuura shows he has studied powerhouse drummers like Max Roach and has a catalog of beats and sounds that easily moves across styles and cultures. Parker, of course, is noted for his innate almost primal way of approaching the bass as if it were not a separate instrument, but part of his body and soul itself. The interaction between the group members is highly organic, emotional and logical. The studio recorded material is simply brilliant - why this recording has been neglected is beyond me. On the other hand, the live recordings suffer slightly from sound quality - you can hear audience members obliviously chatting during the music - but is more than made up for by the power, feel and intelligence of the performances. This is avant garde jazz at its best and will provide hours of enjoyment for the open-minded listener.