Von Freeman, The Great Divide

Dylan Hicks

By Dylan Hicks

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A canny octogenarian tenorman pays tribute to Prez, Hawk and Bird.

Chicago tenorman Von Freeman (Chico's dad) conceived this album as a triple-duty tribute to his key formative influences: Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker. Not the jazz world's most original idea, but octogenarian Freeman knew Pres, his dad was pals with Hawk, and he was born just a few years after Bird — seniority has its privileges as well as its discounts. Despite the title's statement re: stylistic divisiveness, Freeman treats his sax polestars like a Unitarian: It's hard to say where Young's cool begins and Hawkins's heat ends and Parker's braininess step in, and all those simplifications are erased by Freeman's idiosyncratic playing. He handles ballads like a romantic poet and blues and swings like a boxer — the title of "Hard Hittin'" is no empty boast. He plays with pitch like an avant-gardist, yet always stays in the pocket. There's no shame in toe-tapping nightclub jazz; when it's this unpredictable, there's glory in it.