The Free Zen Society: Free Zen Society

[24 May 2007]

By Daniel Spicer

These recordings started life in 2003 as a jam session between three Downtown free-jazz and Improv stalwarts—bassist William Parker, pianist Matthew Shipp and harpist Zeena Parkins. You can just about tell that the original improvisations must have been pretty beguiling in their sparse minimalism and simple restraint: Parker is always a heavy presence, whether rolling out a hypnotic thrum or setting up a thick arco drone; Shipp does everything he can to avoid jazz cliché with magisterial chords and limpid explorations; and Parkins draws all sorts of unusual sonorities from her harp—one moment a clipped pluck like a Japanese koto, the next swirling cosmic eddies à la Alice Coltrane. So, imagine, if you can, the incredible hubris it takes on the part of Thirsty Ear mogul Peter Gordon to bring these recordings out of storage, credit himself as arranger and producer and pretty much render them pointless by adding syrupy, New-Age synths, lame ambient soundscapes and layer after layer of plastic, soulless electronic trimming. It’s not just a shame, it’s yet another nail in the coffin of Thirsty Ear’s avant-jazz credibility.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/the-free-zen-society-free-zen-society/