Von Freeman – The Great Divide – [TrackList follows] Premonition Records 2004/2013 66917-90759-1-4, audiophile stereo vinyl, 36:04 ****:

(Von Freeman – tenor saxophone; Jimmy Cobb – drums; Richards Wyands – piano; John Webber – bass)

Hard bop tenor saxophonist Von Freeman was one of Chicago’s favorite sons. He started his career at the Pershing Hotel Ballroom with his brothers George (guitar) and Bruz (drums). They backed many great jazz stars including Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie. As a studio player, he came to prominence in the ‘50s as a member of Sun Ra’s band. He has   recorded with Jimmy Witherspoon and Albert B. Smith.

His first solo album (Doin’ It Right Now) took place in 1972 with Roland Kirk. Freeman recorded through the new millennium with a variety of players, including his son, Chico Freeman (also on tenor) and saxophonist Frank Catalano. He encapsulated the second wave of bop, and was instrumental in mentoring jazz artists from around the world. He continued to play regularly in Chicago, and occasionally toured in Japan. Perhaps his greatest legacy is as founder of the Chicago School of jazz “tenorists” along with Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons and Clifford Jordan.

Premonition Records has re-released Von Freeman’s 2003 release, The Great Divide. Freeman, a master (albeit underappreciated) player, constructs an homage to fellow saxophonists Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker. Freeman has reconnected with Jimmy Cobb (who has contributed to many great jazz albums, including Kind Of Blue) and his trio for an uplifting five song performance. Side One begins with a rare cover of “Be My Love” (Brodszky/Cahn). In a display of old school tempo-driven jazz. Freeman’s technique is unique with just a touch of vibrato in a poignant lyrical interpretation. At eighty, he still has passion for his music. Richard Wyands contributes a cool, fluent solo on piano, while John Webber stands out on bass. Cobb is an assured drummer and hits the tempo brakes precisely. The next track is a sumptuous ballad that is introduced by a haunting, melodic run by Wyands. Freeman exudes a soulful, meditative countenance with his unmistakable lead.

As you flip the album, a switch ignites Side Two. A reworked version of Lester Young’s “Blue Lester” (which is now called “Blue Prez”) is a slow-burning, closing time, blues groove. Freeman works a vampy sax line with a flowing grace. You can feel the deep melancholy (although there is a slight tempo bump) in the expressive saxophone notes. The quartet turns in their best performance. Turning up the intensity, he swings with bop force on Coleman Hawkins’ “Disorder At The Border”. Not as frenetic as the original, this is swinging bop that emanates from a tough, raw source. Another pleasant surprise is the a capella tenor piece, “Violet For Your Furs”. Freeman’s passion for music (like many influential jazz artists including Miles Davis and John Coltrane) lives within his visionary musical phrasing and melodic intuition. This cut captures the intricacy and varied shading of his musical journey.

The 180-gram pressing sounds great, and the mixing is excellent. Freeman’s tenor saxophone is warm and full, never squawking. The high-gloss cover is a Norman Rockwell-esque commissioned portrait of the venerable jazzman. Apparently three songs from the original CD have been omitted from this vinyl re-issue to make space. Another side (or two!) would have been greatly appreciated.

Side One; Be My Love; This is Always
Side Two: Blue Pres; Disorder At The Border; Violets For Your Furs

–Robbie Gerson