Open-form extended group improvisation as practiced today has become a highly evolved art. It is as hard to do right, without a safety net, in the full public eye, as anything humanity has taken on in its history. It takes decades of dedication to come together and really play, to make all the difference between a good record and one that is truly transcendent, beyond the given and into a higher plane.

The New York Free Quartet does it–some prime examples of the art, as set down on a live recorded gig (cd entitled FREE PLAY released in 2015) in the heart of New York, on a summer day, July 29, 2014.

When you hear the results in all subtlety and expression, it should come as no surprise that these four artists have put in significant time, both together and in a myriad of similar playing situations. Reedist Michael Moss has been interacting with pianist and multi-ethnic instrumentalist Steve Cohn and bassist Larry Roland for some time now. And Steve’s association with drummer Chuck Fertal goes back 30 years. They all have been musical gladiators in the fight to make improvised music anew for a long time. Mike’s key experience in the early loft scene in Manhattan is only a part of the involvement of all in the music of the trenches. So that by now they well know who they are and how they can channel the experience of the history of improvisation, the wide world of musics, the musical heritage of the eternal Afro-diaspora, the world slipstream that we all still participate in. The music you hear is the culmination of all that.

Then there are the poetic utterances that we get an excellent taste of here, with Larry’s evocative recitations. Like the music it is about being there, becoming in the spirit of creation, surviving a world mostly disposed to have you “eat, lay eggs and run,” to live like roaches, with no room for what else there can be unless like the NYFQ you insist on a repeating soundings of the depths. In spite of it all.

But most of all this is about totality, total sound generation. You can hear them speak with the sure vocabulary and eloquence of masters long apprenticed, chained to the lodestone of woodshedding, gigging, communicating in the classroom, on the stage, in the streets. It all leads up to this moment in July when the New Free Quartet gives out with definitive individuality-in-togetherness. Check Michael Moss on bass clarinet or any instrument in his reed arsenal, flowing out with the very together freedom that takes years to reach. Steve Cohn as the pianist who by touch and thought brings significance into sound like very few pianists alive can do. Larry Roland on bass, never wasting a note, making it all mean something. Chuck Fertal on drums, a master of tone, everything hit in just the right place, with second-splitting soul science.

And the more of it, the totality of collectivity. You don’t get what the NYFQ achieved that day in July without all the jousts of life in alleys and cold-water flats combined with the extended free-thinking togetherness of group playing that comes only with much time, talent and perspiration. It’s all here. All on this recorded set. Just sit back and listen!
– Grego Applegate Edwards

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