Susanna Lindborg's Mwendo Dawa

Time Sign

LJ Records, Sweden -CD

Available at Jazz Now Direct CD Store

 I am an old-line fusion music buff. Every time Percy Jones' Tunnels comes through town, or every time Brand X gets back together and cranks it up for another go, I am there, or I buy the CD when it comes to my local music shop (yes, critics do buy CDs. Square business!). And I will also freely admit to having mine old heartstrings pulled a lot more effectively by Return to Forever's "Vulcan Worlds" than a lot of what we hear emanating from Lincoln Center's newest performance space. But one thing has rankled for quite a while, and I had forgot what that was until Ms. Lindeborg's very accomplished TIME SIGN arrived in the mailbox. And that is the eternal dogfight in what little is left of the fusion genre between saxophones and guitars. Point is, dear auditor, once The Mahavishnu Orchestra released THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME the guitar all but replaced the sax in fusion as a lead voice. Which gave Jazz fans an out to say, "Ah, they're most of 'em just rock bands who can play faster than they can think..." Some were guilty of that, yes, but the stranglehold the guitar had on the franchise plainly limited its appeal. Consider the form's putative founder, after all, and how he simply refused to entertain the question. See, Miles Davis was no dummy. I don't think he ever walked onstage without a saxo-phonist; probably he didn't want to completely jettison the sonic palette of the instrument that was so important to Jazz as he understood it. But younger folks didn't look at it that way, and we all know examples, so on to Ms. Lindeborg and company.

TIME SIGN is fluid, driving and witty in a clinical ECM kind of way (remember Jack DeJohnette's Directions? Another guy who gave the sax its props. Or there was Art Lande's Rubisa Patrol, with Mark Isham...) and quite rewarding if you listen and keep listening. A massive wandering synth riff lumbers through the beginning of "Techno 4 Four" until drummer Dave Sundby chases it off, and the rest of the instruments kick in with a head rivaling Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance" for all its mad convolutions. Ove Johansson blisters a break on tenor (this happens a lot) and Lindeborg's piano dances in an oscilloscope kind of pattern; her soloing isn't all classical hard bop forward motion, nor is it more a series of geometric high and low tones as we've heard from Matt Shipp over the years. It's somewhere in between, and a treat. Sundby's drum interlude, crisp and wide-ranging, takes us back to the head, and away. A good intro to the group at their more effective. Jimmi Roger Pedersen appears to play an electric upright bass, at least that's how it sounds, and Eric Jonasson's mix separates his booming, woody sound so you can always hear where he is. I know a lot of bass players, Dom Duval among others, have gone great guns for the acoustic with an electric pickup over the last decade, but a CD's mix has to complement that added sonority, and that concept is nicely respected here if not much elsewhere. "Serious Serie" twins a synthesized chime set with Pedersen, a smart gambit, and his late step-up shows off a nice elastic technique.

Classical Jazz buffs also used to moan about how 'written down,' 'by rote' and 'overarranged' fusion always sounded in its heyday, and if that 'turn on a dime and give you 9 cents' change' method irritates you, TIME SIGN is a heavy offender. Even the 'free' bits here sound a tad rehearsed now and again (see the opening bars of "Short Theme," "Free Fall" or "Autumnmix"). I never had or have any problem with this, however, for as the bop and hard bop and post-bop records piled up at my old college radio station in the 1970s, it became obvious that the head-solos-head method was in its time, ah, way played out. Clearly, all compositional gambits become orthodoxies if overused. The Mingus method will most probably last the longest: keeping one's options open, arranging here and letting it all hang out there (to recoin a phrase nobody's used since the 1960s...). Lindeborg and company realize that as much as Mingus ever did.

Neat, clean, melodic, precise, yes to all for Mwendo Dawa. Also loads of fun. Try it if you're of a mind to.

 by Kenneth Egbert