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In an age of strictly defined stylistic directions in jazz, Dopolarians ventures into decidedly “inside-outside” territory. The innovative yet organic intergenerational group — bassist William Parker, tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, vocalist Kelley Hurt, drummer Alvin Fielder, pianist Chris Parker and alto saxophonist/saxello player Chad Fowler — is onto something fresh and contextually revitalizing.
Garden Party, Dopolarians’ debut recording, succeeds in fulfilling a stated mission of creating a more rootsy, accessible avant-garde sound. They create new syntheses while also recalling the blending of free improv with sweet, simple melodic structures — think folk tunes and nursery rhymes from alternate universes — and the infectious rhythmic elements found in seminal avant-garde statements by Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Despite prior musical alliances among the players — Jordan and Fielder had worked together for decades — this recording represents the first meeting of this aggregate, and the release is the first on Fowler’s new Mahakala label. The recording date was also the last for revered veteran AACM elder Fielder, who died in January 2019, lending the effort a poignant tinge.
Variety enhances the musical map. “C Melody” begins with an open, ecstatic spirit and Fielder’s rumbling toms, while “Dopolaria” shifts from a balladic luster to wilder turf, its dusky melody loosely wending throughout. “Father Dies; Son Dies,” featuring a stellar piano solo by Chris Parker, leans into bebop without fully committing, while “Guilty Happy” and the closing “Impromptu” oscillate between melodic buoyancy and blissful anarchy.
Midway through, vocalist Hurt’s delightful title track, “Garden Party,” nudges listeners into a weirdly enchanting detour, a giddy sung-spoken tale of backyard bunnies in which Beatrix Potter meets avant-jazz menageries of sounds and attitudes. Hurt’s final chanted word, fittingly, is “outside,” here loaded with double meaning. — Josef Woodard
Featured photo by Marc Pagani.