…he has moved further towards a unique and dazzling approach to freely creating music.

Discus Music 147CD

Moss Freed: guitar; Laura Jurd: trumpet, cornet; Charlotte Keeffe: trumet, flugelhorn; Sam Eastmond: trumpet; Tullis Rennie: trombone; Rachel Musson: tenor saxophone; George Crowley: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Chris Williams: alto saxophone; Rosanna Ter-Berg: flute, piccolo; Brice Catherin: cello; Otto Willberg: double bass; Steve Beresford: piano; Elliot Galvin: piano; Will Glaser: drums; James Maddren: drums; Pierre Alexandre Tremblay: bass

Recorded 11th September 2018 and 27th May 2021 by Alex Bonney at City University, London

Moss Freed has for much of this decade been stirring the world of improvised music. Whether it be high energy jazz-rock in his Let Spin project or the impressionism of his ‘What do you when you close your eyes?’ album he is continually seeking different ways to encourage and create improvisation. In this group, Union Division, he has moved further towards a unique and dazzling approach to freely creating music.

Rather than working with charts or other forms of notation, the band work from a ‘shared language of hand signals…that evolved large numbers of players to self-organize easily, allowing them to transfer information between themselves inaudibly.” Across two recording sessions (some 4 years apart) with different musicians, Freed demonstrates his ease in constructing complex compositions, And, one assumes, finesses his language of hand signals.

While the idea of players using their hands to signal to their bandmates, e.g., to return to the head, to finish the tune after 4 bars, or simply looking at a player to invite them to solo, is stock and trade in the business, the idea of a vocabulary that defines and describes the manner in which the music is to be played (making each player potentially a conductor for different parts of the music) feels intriguing.

Of course, listening to this you don’t get any of the hand signals. What you do get is the most exciting and innovative improvisations for many a year. While there can be a tendency for improv to lapse into either full on bluster or tetchy scrabbling and not always develops, Freed’s approach appears to free the players while also allowing them to collectively develop the music’s themes and directions.

This grounds the music in ways which give the impression of a pre-ordained musical direction (as if they were working from charts and sketches). Harnessing the talents of the cream of the UK jazz scene helps, of course.

The pieces are dedicated to pioneers of improvised jazz (Anthony Braxton, Pauline Oliveros, Louis Andriessen, John Zorn, Christian Wolf, Terry Riley, Barry Guy). But these dedicatees are pioneers in compositional style and have shaken jazz in terms of how it creates its sounds. Perhaps a common consideration (between Freed’s work and the list of dedicatees) concerns the mechanics of organising the creation and integration of sound.

This is not meant to imply that the music is an academic exercise. Rather there is a sense of a fiercely organic process that Freed is seeking to harness and bring under control, while also respecting its wild nobility. In this respect, Freed and his Union Division orchestras harness this wildness in innovative and exciting ways.

Reviewed by Chris Baber