Booker Ervin The Freedom Book Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

It is a classic album that should give great satisfaction to any lover of modern jazz.

John Eyles 2007

Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin is still best remembered for his years with Charles Mingus, and his playing on such classic albums as Blues and Roots and Mingus Ah Um. His own albums tend to be overlooked by comparison. Ervin’s reputation is long overdue for reappraisal; he remains chronically undervalued compared to many of his contemporaries. This reissue of his greatest album, - recorded in late 1963 and now beautifully remastered by the original engineer, Rudy Van Gelder - should help to change that.

The album’s title should not be taken too literally; the music is definitely not free jazz, more a free variant of hard bop, typified by the opening track, “A Lunar Tune”. It sets a cracking pace, with Ervin firing off a passionate solo that is the musical equivalent of an adrenalin rush, before handing over to pianist Jaki Byard (also a veteran of the Mingus group) who cools things only slightly, injecting his trademark hints of a more fractured, freer style. Even on the album’s freest track, “Al’s In”, there is a driving rhythmic pulse throughout; bassist Richard Davis and drummer Alan Dawson (who taught Tony Williams) display an uncanny mutual understanding, given that this quartet never gigged together.

Two slower pieces, “Cry Me Not” and “A Day to Lament”, are just as tight, but more emotionally charged. The latter was written in response to the death of JFK. Recorded just ten days after the assassination, the raw emotions felt at the time are all too evident. Ervin has the ability to convey complex feelings through tone and intonation alone. With one sustained note he can eloquently communicate emotions that would take pages to describe. Here he subtly transmits a huge sense of loss, tinged with a hint of optimism.

Within a year of recording The Freedom Book, Ervin would add three more “Book” albums (Song, Blues and Space). All are very fine, but this one is the pinnacle. There is not an average track, slack phrase or redundant note here; it is a classic album that should give great satisfaction to any lover of modern jazz.

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