From-To-From presents a one-of-a-kind meeting of generations and geography. On the face of things, it might seem like a Southern free music super-group and that would be enough to whet the appetite – septuagenarian drummer Alvin Fielder hails from Jackson, Mississippi and trombonist Dave Dove, saxophonist Jason Jackson and bassist Damon Smith from Houston, a recognized hotbed of art and creative music in a state whose political and cultural struggles are by now all too familiar. Fielder (b. 1935) is an institution in and of himself; a student and historian of modern jazz drumming, he was a member of the AACM in Chicago in the late 1960s before returning to his home state in 1969. Since that time he’s co-led the Improvisational Arts Quartet (with saxophonist Kidd Jordan, trumpeter Clyde Kerr, Jr. and bassist London Branch), the Creative Collective (with Jordan, pianist/saxophonist Joel Futterman and bassist William Parker), and worked extensively with Dallas trumpeter Dennis González, Memphis pianist Chris Parker, saxophonists Ike Levin, Andrew Lamb and Mats Gustafsson, and many others.
Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, Sunny Murray and Beaver Harris all factor into Fielder’s approach – markedly different, one might assume, from his rhythm section partner Damon Smith. Smith (b. 1972) came up on the West Coast before relocating to Houston in 2010; he studied with Lisle Ellis as well as Bertram Turetzky and Peter Kowald. A student of contemporary classical repertoire and European free improvisation, Smith might seem like the antithesis of modern jazz rhythm, but it is the broad-mindedness of both players and the tension between divergent approaches that creates a pulsing sense of swing underneath the horns. Adding Dave Dove on trombone and Jason Jackson on saxophones might bring to mind such lofty 1960s units as the New York Art Quartet or the Archie Shepp-Roswell Rudd Quartet – the latter group Fielder saw at Chicago’s Plugged Nickel in 1966, and their drummer Beaver Harris was a crucial influence on allowing him to open up his concept.
Dove has certainly done his fair share of listening to Rudd and European brass exponents, but it is in education and community that Dove’s mark is felt in Houston as director of Nameless Sound, which not only presents concerts of improvised music, but also workshops to young Houstonians of varying means. It’s a treat to hear him play in such a loose, swinging and free context as this quartet; his compadre Jason Jackson is a young firebrand (alto, tenor and baritone) who came up in the Nameless Sound Youth Ensemble and now works as part of Norwegian bassist-composer Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s group The Young Mothers. Across these six pieces, which range from employing bells and little instruments to raging fracases, one gets a distinctness within this ensemble – clearly drawn from ancestral bebop and free streams, their tempestuousness and feeling are utterly contemporary.
Alvin Fielder – drums, percussion
David Dove – trombone
Jason Jackson – alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones
Damon Smith – double bass