Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Von Freeman Real Good

One of the unsung masters of the tenor saxophone, Von Freeman shows little sign of slowing down after all these years. A contemporary of Sonny Rollins, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, Freeman would have become a household name if he had left Chicago decades ago. Instead he eschewed fame to stay home mentoring musicians and playing primarily for his hometown fans. Freeman has been a most versatile musician who could play free jazz with the same authority as he could romp through a hard bop romp or get down into the nitty gritty on a blues (The legendary bluesman Sunnyland Slim was one of his earliest employers). Forty years ago, one of his admirers Roland Kirk got Atlantic to record him and in the past few decades has recorded mor extensively, including with his son Chico Freeman.

His latest CD on Premonition, "Good Forever," showcases Freeman on a set of ballads and blues, as he performs songs that in their time were his every day repertoire. He is accompanied by a wonderfully sympathetic trio of Richard Wyands on piano, John Webber on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. From the opening moments of "Why Try to Change Me No" to the closing breaths of "Didn’t We," Freeman brings his warm and full tone to these songs, breathing the unsung lyrics to life with his playing. The tenderness with he embraces "Smile," is especially enchanting and this certainly would make a wonderful background for a romantic evening. Lester Young’s influence on Freeman can be heard here, especially in Freeman’s attention to the lyrics in his playing here. Like his contemporaries Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, Freeman developed his own style and sound that is so evident here on another wonderful recording by one of the great tenor saxophonists of modern jazz.

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