Ben Hall & Don Dietrich – “Tiger Swallow Tail” (2019)

Those two words.  Those two words that have lives apart from one another in most contexts, but when combined result in a visceral reaction, the scrunched up nose, the shaking of the head.  Two words that even the most die-hard music fans will dismiss out of hand.  Two words that everyone seems to have an opinion about, even if they’re never heard the music.

I speak, of course, of “free jazz”.

I too reacted that way for most of my life, though in recent years I’ve developed a sort of respect for it.  Let me be clear – I’m not a free jazz fan.  But that being said I can understand the appeal of the improvisation, and from time to time on a recording, if you’re fortunate and the artists are talented, things coalesce into the ethereal, a glimpse of something new and unexpected, a hint at what is possible.

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Ben Hall & Don Dietrich combined on a pair of 15-minute, untitled tracks for the recently released Tiger Swallow Tail.  Put out by Radical Documents (and available on Bandcamp HERE), the duo pair up in a cacophony of drums and saxophone, crashing cymbals and a screeching horn, an aural attack on common sense and decency.  And it works.  I can wrap my head around it just enough because of the general simplicity – this isn’t some large collection of instruments competing for space and time, banging into each other like a bunch of beater cars on a dirt figure-eight track, but more like two completely different and random events that intersect from time to time, sometimes missing each other entirely, others banging into each other like billiard balls and careening off in different and new directions, and every now again locking into a groove and swirling around one another.

I’m not going to promise that Tiger Swallow Tail will transform you into a free jazz evangelist, but it may be the right intro to the genre to open up your ears and expand your horizons just a bit wider.  And that’s always a good thing.

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