Life has few certainties, but the constant and ever-moving nature of time is one of them. Events, both miniscule and monumental, pass by and usually leave nothing more than a memory or, in the case of music, a record. Such was the case with pianist Richard Sussman's Free Fall (Inner City Records, 1978). Joined by some burgeoning young talent in 1978, Sussman's album became an underground classic and that seemed to be the end of it. All the players involved in the recording moved on and developed into well-respected jazz veterans, with Sussman moving into touring bands, composing and teaching.
As the years went by, the music began resonating with a lot of people, Sussman included, and the pianist eventually bought the rights to his recording. After some calendar juggling, he was able to nail down everybody from the original project, with the exception of saxophonist Larry Schneider, and they celebrated the album's twenty-fifth anniversary with two nights at New York's Sweet Rhythm. Now, seven years later, this music has made its way to the marketplace as Live At Sweet Rhythm, and the music was well worth the wait.
A few songs from the original album, a couple of new tunes and a pair of standards make up the program, and Sussman generously shares the spotlight with everybody involved. The standards belong to the horn players, with trumpeter Tom Harrell at the center of "What's New," and saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi delivering a stellar take, capped off with a terrific cadenza, on "Soultrane." "Mary's Song," one of the two newer Sussman originals, has an uplifting and sunny theme that's instantly appealing, with drummer Jeff Williams and bassist Mike Richmond providing some slick supporting grooves.
What's so striking about this rhythm section is its ability to bring a certain amount of intensity to the music without the high volume levels that often, needlessly, go with it. "Waiting" and "Tiahuanaco" are prime examples of this quality, and both contain plenty of solo space. The album's closing tracks are its most adventurous: "Lady Of The Lake" begins with a rubato piano introduction?full of mystery, intrigue and impressionistic flourishes?before things finally settle in; "Free Fall" is almost episodic in nature, and offers a lot to like. Williams' loose drum soloing, Harrell's following explorations, Bergonzi's playing over uncertain footing, and Sussman's flurry of notes all add to the magic. Here's hoping three more decades don't have to pass for these musicians to reconvene.