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Kidd Jordan (Photo: Courtesy the artist)Despite its relative marginalization in terms of mainstream visibility, avant-garde and free-jazz notions are alive, well and enjoying both healthy mutation and a legacy of a “tradition” dating back to the 1960s. Small, sometimes artist-run labels and festivals tend to stoke the music’s fires and serve a small but devoted audience, as this selection of recent releases illustrates.A Tribute to Alvin Fielder, Live at Vision Festival XXIV (Mahakala),captures a 2019 gathering of variously aged free-jazz veterans paying tribute to a fellow jazz hero — AACM-linked drummer Alvin Fielder — over the course of one long and rambling, yet engaging and musically variegated, 45-minute set. Fielder, who died in 2019 at age 83, had been a close ally of mighty and sonorous saxophonist Kidd Jordan, in powerful (but never overpowering) form here. Bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake assert a rumbling twin force in the rhythm section while interacting with pianist Joel Futterman. But ears lean into Jordan’s work, as he blends ferocity with lyricism and gamely quotes “Crepuscule With Nellie,” What’s New,” “Motherless Child” and recurring, anthem-like strains of “Nature Boy,” as if to check in with jazz tradition along the path to a world of musical freedom.Abbey Rader and John McMinn’s Duo from the Heart (Abray) is a prime example of what can happen when spontaneous musical combustion is backed by symbiotic listening, depth of musical instincts, wisdom and a hunger for discovery. Seasoned drummer Rader, who worked with Mal Waldron and David Liebman, teamed up with the luminous improviser John McMinn, on tenor saxophone and a slightly out-of-tune piano, in McMinn’s Miami living room one day, with no plan other than to improvise a work into existence. Piano-and-drum pieces punctuate the seven-track outing, including the twin centerpieces “Acknowledging the Roots” and “Freedom With Roots.” Said roots include the Coltranes, John and Alice, among others, along the subsequent free jazz trail.On Expanding Light (Tao Forms), drummer Whit Dickey, longtime ally of free-thinking pianist Matthew Shipp, leads a sensitive powerhouse of a trio. The “chordless” and generally uncharted group, in tight accord (tightness of concept and will, not structure), features flexible bassist Brandon Lopez and impressive alto saxophonist Rob Brown. Dickey’s shambling force, keeping rhythm a felt presence rather than a strict linear guide, anchors yet liberates the trio’s ensemble identity. The epic title cut expands and contracts through melodic contours and outside venturing, with Brown’s lines tracing arcs of fire and lightness; while “The Opening” (actually the album closer) explodes into a cathartic collective starburst, full of Brown’s craggy overblowing and an ecstatic embrace of freedom. It’s an articulate groupthink wail, bringing free-jazz impulses into the 2020s. While the other albums in this review heed the free-jazz ethos of “in the moment” impulses and generate heat within an all-acoustic context, the Chicago collective 85bears approaches its task with an attitudinally freer hand, and with electro-acoustic textures in the swirl. On their self-titled debut for the Ears and Eyes imprint, alto saxophonist Greg Ward steps out brightly with an Ornette Coleman-ish brio on the 58-second opener, “Lament for Sweetness” (i.e., Chicago Bears’ Walter Payton), against an electronic wash of sound. On the following 10 tracks, Ward empathetically interacts with bass clarinetist Jason Stein, while Matt Lux metes out limber grooves on electric bass, and drum tracks come courtesy of Marcus Evans and Chad Taylor, the latter of whose tracks were flown in two years after the initial recording. Echoes of Eric Dolphy dance with inferences of groove, a Cubist bluesiness and post-avant-garde atmosphere.