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The Great Divide

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Album Review

Journeyman tenor saxophonist Von Freeman pays tribute to his first major influences Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker on The Great Divide. Centered around Freeman's gorgeously blue, often skronky sax tone, the album works almost conceptually with Freeman representing the divide between the cool vulnerability of Young, the muscular swing of Hawkins, and the cerebral hipness of Parker. This is a meaty, visceral album full of well-worn standards that nonetheless feels immediate and relevant. Now in his eighties, Freeman — utterly unique and obviously inspired — still amazes with his mix of straight-ahead melodicism and avant-garde, sometimes off-kilter improvisation. He turns the Italian tenor perennial "Be My Love" into a sanguine and deliciously forlorn mid-tempo swinger. Similarly, Freeman's swabs of rich blue and green tones on the ballad "This Is Always" perfectly call to mind Young's languid and way-behind-the-beat late-career recordings. Freeman's originals also carry much weight here with "Never Fear Jazz Is Here" recalling the spirit of Parker via a burning harmalodic-esque melody, while "Chant Time" works as mantra to these ancients of jazz. The band — to which you hear Freeman speaking in a few brief and soulful moments — includes pianist Richard Wyands, bassist John Webber, and drummer Jimmy Cobb.


Born: October 3, 1922 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Not nearly as famous as his son Chico Freeman (also a tenor saxophonist), Von Freeman was nevertheless an equally -- if not more so -- accomplished jazz musician. While not a free jazz player per se, Von exhibited traits commonly associated with the avant-garde: a roughly hewn, vocalic tone; a flexible, somewhat imprecise approach to rhythm, and a fanciful harmonic concept. The son of a ragtime-loving policeman and guitar-playing housewife, Freeman himself began playing music around the age of two,...
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The Great Divide, Von Freeman
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