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Frank Lowe - The Loweski

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Artist: Frank Lowe

Album: The Loweski

Label: ESP-Disk

Review date: Jun. 1, 2012

Sometimes, you need music that will shake your blood just a bit. And when in need, this vivid five-part shout from 1973, right at the apex of NYC’s loft scene, will do the trick quite nicely. A companion piece to Frank Lowe’s well known ESP date, Black Beings, The Loweski was recorded on the same night and features the leader’s tenor, Joseph Jarman (on furlough from the Art Ensemble of Chicago, here on soprano and alto), “The Wizard” (Raymond Lee Cheng) on violin, a young William Parker on bass, and drummer Rashid Sinan.

It gets off to a terrific start with a lengthy unaccompanied feature for Lowe. With a great opening yawp, Lowe announces his intentions to play with fierce intensity. But it’s no mere blowtorch drill, as he patiently works some intervallic exercises and returns to a soft trilling from which he builds again. True, his tenor can often come across as sour and aggressive, but it’s always, always got a tonal true north that’s shaped as much by Chu Berry and Don Byas as by Albert Ayler or Pharoah Sanders, something often overlooked with Lowe’s listeners. It’s fascinating, then, to hear him work at the intersection of fire music fury, cooing big tenor luster, and the kind of minimalist playing you might expect from Roscoe Mitchell.

When the full band joins in for the second part, things get – as you would expect – a bit more raucous. But as with Lowe’s solo, it’s not just a five-way blower. If you pay attention to all those glissandi, you’ll notice them weaving a kind of lattice with Sinan, creating a kind of common gravity so that Lowe and Jarman can dart, swoop or howl by turns. Sustaining multi-directional free playing like this without compromising urgency is no mean feat, and The Loweski has it all over.

The third part pins your ear back with a furious strafing from The Wizard, whose slashing polytonal violin could just about pass for a no-wave guitar solo. The band surges through sections of ragged, intense, forceful playing that always maintains some kind of fragility despite its energy. Atop the rumble and swirling strings, the group reaches a kind of cruising altitude and while Lowe exudes (he’s way higher in the mix than anyone else), the band manages some tutti articulations that seem to suggest a rudimentary structure at least. By the fourth and concluding parts, it sounds like the microphone placement has blessedly changed since you can hear Jarman more clearly as he and Lowe trade phrases. And the suite ends on a gorgeous, sawing Parker pedal, with skittering, fading commentary from the rest of the band.

The Loweski is more than just a valuable document from a fairly under-represented period/scene; it is – questionable fidelity and all – a terrific set in its own right.

By Jason Bivins

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