Lady of the Lake
When pianist/composer Richard Sussman’s extraordinary debut album Free Fall was first released over 30 years ago, it quickly became a classic. Originally issued on Inner City Records, Free Fall not only received wide critical acclaim, but also served as inspiration to a generation of young musicians. The eminent educator David Baker even used it for many years at the University of Indiana as a prime example of contemporary jazz.
Unavailable since the demise of Inner City, Free Fall has been reissued by Double-Time Records and proves to be as stimulating, original and immediate as it was when first produced over three decades ago. The seven Sussman originals that comprise the album display a highly original style, reflecting the eclectic musical experiences he’s had over the years. Performing and arranging for Lionel Hampton and Blood, Sweat and Tears among others, Sussman also worked with such jazz greats as Lee Konitz and Buddy Rich, along with diverse talents like Carly Simon and Little Anthony & the Imperials. He’d also composed part of the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy and was a veteran of several Broadway pit orchestras, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Oh Calcutta.
While all of these experiences contributed to his overall musical vision, Free Fall is an album of uncompromising and challenging progressive jazz. Like much of the most adventurous jazz “mainstream “ of the ‘70s, the inspiration of Miles Davis’ classic “free-bop” quintet of the ‘60s (and its members, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock) is clearly apparent. And the powerfully edifying music contained on it fiercely disputes the revisionist notion that the late ‘70s was an unproductive period in jazz history.
As richly complex and lyrically appealing as Sussman’s compositions are, they blossom beautifully in the hands of the date’s superb musicians. Tom Harrell, who has since gained a reputation as one of jazz’ finest and most articulate trumpeters proves why throughout the album, especially in his scalding solo on the blazing title cut.
Tenorman Larry Schneider’s passionate solo highlights the complex and episodic mid-tempo driver, Lady of the Lake, switching to flute on the easy groove of the gently yearning Colors and the nicely syncopated Street Fair. Renowned tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi takes over the big horn duties with a scorching solo on Dance of the Spheroids, a darkly lustrous piece. Bergonzi also performs on the album’s closer, Tiahuanaco, a driving piece built on a mild backbeat that turns into a blistering 4/4 excursion during the solos.
The rhythm team of bassist Mike Richmond and drummer Jeff Williams has propelled many ensembles over the years, and here they’re at their best. Tightly knit, highly empathetic and consistently inventive, they handle all of the complexities and shifts with ease, providing a perfect setting for the energetic and probing soloists. Willaims' solo interlude between the first two tunes demonstrates his superb musicality and rhythmic intensity, and Richmond’s solos on Dance of the Spheroids, and the trio piece, The River, display the deeply resonant, woody sound and brilliant creativity for which he’s known.
As a soloist, Sussman combines deft lyricism with a strikingly original harmonic sense and formidable technique, producing solos that are models of form and rhythmic intensity. His darkly probing solo on the title cut simply bursts with ideas, and he transforms the serene theme of The River into a mysterious, kaleidoscopic exploration of abstract harmonies during his sojourn through its currents.
Richard Sussman - piano
Tom Harrell - trumpet, flugelhorn
Jerry Bergonzi - tenor saxophone
Larry Schneider - tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute
Mike Richmond - acoustic bass
Jeff Williams - drums