Michael Gregory Jackson – Frequency Equilibrium Koan – [TrackList follows] – Golden Records MGJ/77–#001, 39:33 [2/5/21] ****:
Michael Gregory Jackson – electric and acoustic guitars, producer, body percussion, chimes, bamboo flutes, recording, postproduction, digital editing and compositions; Julius Hemphill – alto saxophone; Abdul Wadud – cello; Pheeroan aKLaff – drums
You don’t need an HG Wells’ machine to travel back into the past. Want to experience the much-heralded, New York City free jazz loft scene? Listen to the digital-only album Frequency Equilibrium Koan, a nearly forty-minute time capsule which documents a 1977 gig at singer Joe Lee Wilson’s NYC venue, The Ladies’ Fort, which features four originals by leader Michael Gregory Jackson (on electric and acoustic guitars, percussion and flute), who performs with alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill, cellist Abdul Wadud and drummer Pheeroan aKLaff.
Jackson might not be as well-known as other guitarists who came to prominence in the NYC downtown or jazz loft music scenes, but fellow musicians understand his prowess as performer and composer, including Bill Frisell, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid and others. Jackson’s collaborations include projects with Oliver Lake, Wadada Leo Smith, Matthew Shipp and more. Regarding this release, Frisell states, “These guys are all heroes of mine. I’ve learned so much (still learning) from all of them. To hear them all together like this is a real gift. What a combo! I can’t believe this happened more than 40 years ago. It sounds like the future.”
This live recording has not previously been issued and Jackson fans should note three of the four selections have not been heard on a Jackson album. “Heart & Center” later showed up as the title track of a 1979 Jackson LP. On the nine-minute opener, “Frequency Equilibrium Koan,” the quartet combines minimalist statements and unusual aural permutations which balance skewed symmetry and unpredictable moments into an almost surreal symbiosis. “Frequency Equilibrium Koan” is not a free-jazz blowout with unremitting discord. Rather Hemphill, Jackson, Wadud and aKLaff control what may seem like disorder, and offer slices of avant-garde with iotas of uninhibited beauty. Jackson’s lyrical imagination is at the forefront of the nearly ten-minute “Heart & Center,” which is moored by a memorable riff and a groove-hued rhythmic pulsation, not quite funk but close enough to sustain a heady bedrock. Jackson demonstrates his electric guitar artistry as he delineates a rock perspective akin to Sonny Sharrock or Jimi Hendrix at his most adventurous. “Heart & Center” is a must-hear for Mary Halvorson enthusiasts or devotees of early Frisell. “Heart & Center” fades out at the end, so it’s anyone guess how long the actual tune went.
The heated exchanges escalate on the anarchic “Clarity 3,” which at 11:30 is the lengthiest excursion. It’s here where the band fully immerses themselves in collective free improvisation, embracing unbridled creativity and firmly taking listeners away from any comfort zone. The gig’s conclusion is the aptly named “A Meditation,” a nine-minute trio outing without Hemphill and where Jackson switches to reflective wood flute. There is a spiritual core to the slowly poignant piece, as if the threesome has left NYC behind and transported themselves to an idyllic bamboo forest glen. Frequency Equilibrium Koan was recorded on Jackson’s Sony field recording cassette machine. This means the audio quality, while superior to many bootlegs, has some difficulties. It’s too bright at times and also somewhat blunted on occasion. The clearness is mostly good, but there are some sonic blemishes due to the older tape source.
Frequency Equilibrium Koan
Heart & Center
More information at Bandcamp Website for Michael Gregory Jackson: