Lowe Blow


Frank Lowe
The Flam
Black Saint : 1976
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FL, tenor sax; Joseph Bowie, trombone; Leo Smith, trumpet, wood flute; Alex Blake, bass; Charles Bobo Shaw, drums.

We try not to be too axe-grind-y here at D:O, favoring a more celebratory stance, appreciating the under-appreciated. But if we have any under-arching points — and we do try not to be too point-y — one of the main ones is to reinforce the notion that the jazz avant garde/New Thing/noise thing is not the departure some might think, but rather an extension of The Tradition. We do not hear the New Thing as a rejection of what came before, but as a conversation with it, or perhaps at its most radical an interrogation of it.

One of the greatest examples of this can be found in the person and playing of tenor man Frank Lowe. Lowe’s first record as a leader was 1973’s Black Beings, on ESP. His long, ecstatic rendition of “In Trane’s Name,” when combined with the ESP pedigree, and his early experiences playing with Alice Coltrane , had some pegging him as the next Aylerite/late Coltrane fire-breather. Less noticed on that album, perhaps, was the rather lovely, and short, unaccompanied solo “Brother Joseph.” And maybe even less known, still, was the key role Gene Ammons played in inspiring Lowe to pursue the tenor path. Here was a musician who was going to use all that came before in crafting his sound and approach.

The Flam showcases Lowe’s free-boppish approach in grand style. The title track is Lowe’s. After a peppy unison head, everyone drops out except for bass player Blake. Cue theme again. What follows is an ever-shifting arrangement of trios and duos, with Blake propelling the song forward. Each solo maintains some kind of relationship with the central theme. Lowe himself makes the most aggressive shifts in tone, sliding from smooth balladeering to honky screech across the space of a couple bars, almost like he’s trading fours with himself. It’s all-encompassing — a method we can really get behind.

Hope you enjoy. Coming up next week: more brand new music.

Discussion10 Comments Category Frank Lowe Tags

10 Responses to Lowe Blow

  1. The distinction in the first paragraph remains important. It’s not a “departure from,” but a “departure with.”

    Meanwhile, I’ve never heard Lowe before, but this track is great. Kind of straightforward, really, while also exploring every inch of straightforwardness.

  2. Hey! I actually have this record! It’s great.

  3. Other Frank Lowe albums that I know (and can recommend to anyone who finds ‘The Flam’ interesting) are ‘Fresh’, ‘Exotic Heartbreak’ and ‘Decision in Paradise’.

  4. We can second John’s recommendations of those later Lowe discs. In a sort of reverse Coltrane progression, Lowe (on record, at least) went from extreme sonic questing toward straighter, more subdued performances. All worth your time, though.

  5. Ah, great record, my favorite of his. Soulful, swinging “free jazz”. Alex Blake is excellent on the track you’ve posted.

  6. One of his last records (if not his absolute last), “One For Jazz” with Billy Bang, is also terrific. Out of print now, I think.

  7. I’d also recommend his even later CIMP discs, like Bodies & Soul…

  8. And continuing…a very late live date with Billy Bang, Above and Beyond, is strong, too. One of Lowe’s last gigs, I think. Or last-ish recorded, anyway.

  9. Frank acknowledged his channelling of Paul Gonsalves on a BS/SoulNote date with Billy Bang as well… ‘would love to hear that.

  10. A great album !

    Of course, Frank Lowe should have been given more coverage, but free jazz musicians are never accorded the respect that lesser talents receive. Even so ,this 1975 avant garde classic
    should be in the home of any jazz fan who have music by Ayler, Sun Ra, Gayle, Coltrane, Zorn, Harriott, Coleman etc.

    Beg, borrow or steal. My only regret is that it has taken me so long to hear this neglected talent…

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