Philadelphia is an amazing city for jazz. (Sun Ra's Arkestra was inducted into a neighborhood association's hall of fame last year; can you picture our mayor even acknowledging that Sam Rivers exists?) Legendary pianist Dave Burrell is just one player who calls the city home, and a new label bearing the partial name of his most famous work High Two is preparing to re-expose Philly to the world as a free-jazz hotbed. Burrell recently released his Expansion album on the label, but also of interest is the debut of an eight-member collective calling itself the Sonic Liberation Front. The SLF's lolling percussion and Afro-mystic grooves are similar to Sun Ra's best work, and the musicians here move in an exploratory tandem that swings in the same slowly assaultive way the Arkestra did. But it's also pretty clear that the City of Brotherly Love is a town that encourages its musicians to take giant steps forward and the SLF obliges by using an interplanetary agent like Ra as their starting point. Most of the pieces here are loose improvisations, with lots of visceral tenor sax work and strong percussion (Ashé is a predominantly percussive affair, with melody taking a secondary role.) Regardless, everything jells together beautifully, with the sort of pan-global fervor that's been missing from the jazz scene for a long time now ... missing, that is, everywhere but Philly.
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