Back in 1978 Richard Sussman led a quintet that produced the much-admired album 'Free Fall'. Twenty-five years later the group reformed at the Sweet Rhythm for this live performance. The band - Richard Sussman (piano), Tom Harrell (trumpet), Jerry Bergonzi (tenor sax), Mike Richmond (bass), Jeff Williams (drums) - was carefully put together, as Richard Sussman explains:
'The first jazz that really turned me on was the quintet and sextet stuff by Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver, guys who were writers as well as leaders. So I started to focus on the quintet as the ideal form of small-group jazz, for harmonies and counterpoint, and I started writing more tunes ? and I eventually settled on Mike Richmond and Jeff Williams as the ideal rhythm section?? When I heard Tom Harrell (then on the road with Horace Silver), he totally blew me away as a player and writer, so I would get him whenever he was in town. And I kept hearing about this guy Jerry Bergonzi ?..eventually he was in town and we played a few sessions and he just blew me away too.' *
Working the band in New York clubs such as Beefcake Charlie's, Strykers and The Office, a record deal with indie label Inner City Records allowed the 'Free Fall' album to be recorded. (Larry Schneider, who does not appear on the Sweet Rhythm session, also appeared on tenor sax). Critically acclaimed in 'Downbeat', the album, like so much good jazz at that time, was not a commercial success and the band members went their separate ways ? Richard Sussman into big band arranging and teaching at Manhattan School of Music.
But 'Free Fall' retained a life of its own: 'It became a sort of underground classic which was strange to me?? I'd run into musicians I admired ? Ronnie Cuber, Mike Stern, Joe Locke ? who'd say they still had the disc and loved it?.. And Mike Richmond, traveling the world with Stan Getz, with Jack DeJohnette, would tell me at every place he went - Argentina, Germany, Japan ? people asked him about 'Free Fall'.'*
The live performance twenty-five years later - to mark the re-release of the 'Free Fall' album - reprises three compositions from 'Free Fall' ? 'Lady of the Lake', 'Free Fall' and 'Tiahuanaco'. Added to this are two new Richard Sussman compositions - the opener 'Waiting' and 'Mary's Song' - and two standards ? 'Tad Dameron's 'Soultrane' and the Bob Haggart / Johnny Burke classic 'What's New'.
The result is outstanding, memorable jazz. Jerry Bergonzi and Tom Harrell inspire with the depth of their inventiveness. Richard Sussman's arrangements deliver driving and involving music, making the most of the harmonic possibilities of the small group form. The group playing is tight, alive to the great possibilities in this music, perhaps now receiving the recognition that it deserves.
(* Richard Sussman quotes are from album liner notes by Neil Tesser.)