The Freestyle Band
The Freestyle Band (Henry Warner, Earl Freeman, Philip Spigner)
NoBusiness Records

Right on time reissue of this great underground free jazz classic, complete with two previously unissued tracks totaling over 20 minutes (!) and in-depth liner notes by Ed Hazell. Nice price on this Lithuanian import due to peripheral 50 Miles involvement. 50 Miles used to offer the original vinyl pressing, and that write-up is below:

"I watch the things all around me and I shy away, reject and go away, and sometimes it's more successful." - Earl Freeman, quoted in "Freeman Fighter," written by Valerie Wilmer, published in Melody Maker, May 13, 1972.

earl freeman Earl "Goggles" Freeman (1931-1994) was an outcat's outcat: musician, poet, visual artist, and all-around interesting fellow. Born in Oakland, Freeman was a noteworthy but somewhat enigmatic musician who was most active recording-wise when he was an expat on the '60s Paris free jazz scene. His discography includes dates by Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, Kenneth Terroade, Noah Howard, Selwyn Lissack, Mike Osborne, and even Gong's first record. A Korean War veteran, he often wore an aviator's cap and goggles, hence his nickname. (He is also rumored to have worn a parachute onstage on at least one occasion.) In 1972, French state investigators hauled Freeman in for questioning and subsequently declared that he possessed a "Dangerous Political Image." Under threat of imprisonment, he hightailed it to Amsterdam. He hung there for a while until some folks smashed his bass, signaling that it might be time for another move.

Freeman was living in New York City by the mid-'70s, where he would occasionally perform with The Music Ensemble. He also directed the Universal Jazz Symphonette, as heard on the elusive Sound Craft '75 album. While its fidelity leaves quite a bit to be desired, the LP is highly sought after because it features some of the earliest recorded work from William Parker, Daniel Carter, Raphe Malik, Billy Bang, and many other young players on the scene during that period, including Henry P. Warner and Philip Spigner, a.k.a. Adeyeme (incorrectly credited as Abe Yeme on the LP sleeve), who would later collaborate with Freeman in The Freestyle Band.

henry warnerHenry P. Warner was born in New York City in 1940. Notable early entries in his discography include William Parker's Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace and New York Collage by Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble. He was also the music director for Bang's Outline No. 12 LP, and performed with Sun Ra, Wilbur Ware, Earl Cross, Frank Lowe, Clarence "C" Sharpe, and many others. He subsequently went on to lead his own bands, perform with groups such as the Vibrational Therapists, and take part in jam sessions in a multitude of scenes in and around New York City. He believed in the importance of the role of the musician within the community, and was a teacher of long-standing at Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center in the Bronx. William Parker's book Conversations features an extensive interview with Mr. Warner. Sadly he passed on April 9, 2014.

philip spignerBorn in Manhattan in 1951, Philip B. Spigner has led a multifaceted life that could be considered somewhat characteristic of many subterranean artists. A member of the Black Panthers at 17 years old, he was later offered a full scholarship to New York University but instead pursued an occasionally illicit underground life. He subsequently adopted the African name Adeyeme (Yoruba for "the crown becomes me") and became a hand-drummer on the NYC free jazz scene during the '70s and '80s. He also appeared at jazz festivals in France and Luxembourg. Soon afterward he relocated to Arkansas where he would play solo gigs in and around Little Rock at the YWCA, Senior Citizen's Tea, and at junior high schools. Today he continues to play "freestyle" hand drums semi-formally in California.

Warner and Spigner often performed together at a venue called The Bakery (aka The Basement) before later joining forces with Earl Freeman in The Freestyle Band. They privately pressed 500 copies of this LP in 1984, their only commercially available document, and it is one of my favorite dispatches from the free jazz underground. Freeman's bubbly electric bass and the steady patter of Spigner's percolating hand drums create an ominously undulating backdrop upon which Warner's clarinets (both b-flat and alto) flutter and fly.

Unfortunately, various circumstances resulted in making the record particularly obscure. A third party diverted overseas promoters who wanted to book the band, and eventually the group split up. A shame, as I've never heard anything else quite like this terrific album. Hear a couple clips: The Roach Approach & Pelican

Playing with Earl and Henry was like flying in formation…we took turns flying out front…we would rotate positions…we were dreaming in harmony.” - Philip Spigner, March 4, 2016

It was always such a pleasure to play music with Earl because he was so tuned in to the cosmos. He always had that thread going and there was never any hesitation in his approach. As a drummer, playing with Earl, it was just like riding on a wave of sonic bliss......virtually effortless and so inspirational.” - Roger Baird, December 17, 2016

Earl Freeman: bass guitar, piano
Henry Warner: b-flat clarinet, alto clarinet
Philip Spigner: hand drums

William Parker on Earl Freeman:

William Parker collaborated with Freeman in the Music Ensemble collective in the mid-1970s and played on the Universal Jazz Symphonette Sound Craft '75 LP that Earl composed & directed. Citing Freeman as an inspiration, Parker dedicated both a composition ("Goggles," on Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy) & a 2013 solo performance to him. Below are some of his insightful memories of Earl, excerpted from an interview conducted on December 29, 2014:

My introduction to him was, of course, all the music that he made when he was in Paris. Pitchin’ Can, Black Gipsy, also some other things with Archie Shepp, the record with Kenneth Terroade called Love Rejoice. And you’re surprised to see someone who you’ve seen on a record, a record that you’ve enjoyed, and now, wow, they’re in New York. Because in our eyes, myself and the other musicians who enjoy that music, these guys on the BYG records were like celebrities. They were our heroes, in a way, because they were doing it. We didn’t have any records out at the time, but they did.

I’m not sure Earl’s entrance into our lives. I know he was playing with us as the Music Ensemble. I know when I first met him, I believe he was playing acoustic bass here in New York. He played cello at one point and he played electric bass toward the end. But I’m not really sure of his entry into our lives. But whatever it was, we were happy that he was here, because he was part of the real deal squad, the generation before us.

You notice Earl’s appearance, that he was very thin and he wore this leather hat with goggles up top, I guess like a pilot hat and goggles, like he was in the Air Force, but almost like his own secret Air Force that he was the captain and the colonel and the general and the sergeant and all the workers. And then Earl, when you spoke to him, he almost whispered. He had a very quiet voice. He had a sophisticated street thing. What I mean is that you could see where he was not foreign to being a street guy, but he also had a large element of him was being sophisticated, and what I mean is that he had traveled and he had learned things and he had a deep reservoir of knowledge and understanding of things that he didn’t really just put out there in your face, but you felt these things all the time. And he was cool. He didn’t talk too much. He didn’t say too much.

He was always there, musically, when you needed him. He wasn’t the kind of bass player that pushed the music forward. He was almost like a poet on the bass, like a painter, someone that would make a snapshot of the fire to cool it down in a way and bring out the elements of beauty in the fire. So if you look at a fire and it has colors, green and red and blue, he would take those colors and make a lake out of those colors in his music. But the colors started from the fire. And that was his role in the music that we played. He’d always make a lake out of fire and then it would begin a new story.

So Earl was a catalyst for poetry. He was a catalyst for almost calming the fire so that it would last longer and change direction. Always seeking out the beauty in things. He could always take any element of the music and just flip it around. And then his sound. At first I said, “Oh man, why is he playing electric bass?” But the sound he got on the electric bass was just so beautiful. It was sort of, wow, unworldly. And I don’t know how he did it. I never did play his electric bass to see, well, how does he do this? Does he have the strings detuned? Is it the amplifier? What is it that makes it sound that way? He had this bubbling sound, like a drone, almost like he was playing a tambura in Indian music. And that’s what he would do through the set. No matter what was going on, he would just play what he played. And I always wanted to do that and I never could do that. I was always kind of at the mercy of where the music was going, like being a good bass player and following the role of, you know, if they’re playing a blues, I’m gonna play a blues. If they’re playing 6/8, I’m gonna play 6/8. But Earl, wherever the music went, he stayed in his boat and followed his journey and his path of what he had to do, which is a very sophisticated system and very hard to do, to follow your path. Your natural inclination is to just follow the stream of the music, they’re playing the blues so I’m gonna play a blues…And Earl was playing a blues, except it was just different. It was a different kind of fire and a different kind of color system he was using, rhythmic system. And so for those who liked it, it was very inspiring what he was doing.