Generations Quartet: Fonda/Stevens Plus Oliver Lake
Generations Quartet — Flow (Not Two, 2016)
The name “Generations Quartet” apparently refers to the youth of drummer Emil Gross, who’s found himself in a supergroup of veterans who’ve helped advance the creative language of jazz.
Me, I prefer to consider the name as a reference to concepts echoing down from past generations, mixing with today’s ideas to create a musical spirit for tomorrow.
Bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens have been partners for decades, not only in the longstanding Fonda/Stevens group but in bands such as Gebhard Ullmann’s Conference Call. Their calling card is steeped in the traditions of the ’60s, colored with rich creative touches from the worlds of free jazz and free improvisation.
Lake — who recently came through the Bay Area for the Outsound New Music Summit — is familiar with all those languages as well, of course. It all adds up to a depth and reverence in these tracks, taken from live sets in Germany last year.
They do exercise their free-jazz muscles. The track “Flow” features disjoint sax lines, leading into some crooked-line free-for-all playing — high-energy stuff. “Rollin'” is the basic, midtempo jam that the title suggests, but against its bluesy air, Lake is “rolling” at a slightly different pace, playing sour tones and a slower counter-rhythm. His solo eventually works its way into blazing free territory; the groove fractures and yet continues (yeoman’s work by Joe Fonda on bass, freeing up Gross’ drumming).
“Mantra #2” is the one that really echoes down from the ages, with a delicious, deep bassline redolent of that ’60s eternal-seeking vibe. Lake uses that backdrop to build some heartfelt soloing. It isn’t perfectly polished (this is a live take, after all), but I love the way you can hear Lake feeling out the song and the moment, working many different angles to build his statement.
“Me Without Bella” deserves a mention, too — a 17-minute exploration that starts as a dirge, eventually building into a midtempo, soul-searching groove. After an arresting bass solo from Fonda, the band really kicks into gear, with Lake in buzzing, fiery mode and Stevens and drummer Gross pounding away — all without losing control of that tempered groove.