Thirty-one years ago, pianist-composer Richard Sussman released an LP (2/79, p. 54) that became something of an
underground Post-Bop classic. To celebrate Free Fall's
CD release in 2003, Sussman reconstituted most of the original group (saxist Larry Schneider didn't make it) for a two-night gig at New York's Sweet Rhythm.
Although between the 1979 recording and the 2003 one, trumpeter Harrell, tenorist Bergonzi, bassist Richmond, and drummer Williams had all added many pages to their Jazz resumes, Sussman himself had spent much of that time working in multiple non-Jazz contexts. But when the quintet made their reunion appearance, he easily kept up with the others. They resurrected three Sussman tunes from the earlier album (Inner City Records) and complemented them with a couple more originals plus the standards "Soultrane" and "What's New," the former a vehicle for Bergonzi's dazzling Coltrane-inspired tenor and the latter a medium-up feature for the highly melodic Harrell. Sussman's imaginative compositions include the Hard-Bop swinger "Waiting"; the sprightly, dance-like "Mary's Song"; the blazing, exotic "Tiahuanaco"; the modal "Lady of the Lake"; and the short, jagged head "Free Fall, a jumping off point for some rather uninhibited improvisatory explorations.
Given the stature of the performers, it comes as no surprise that the playing is magnificent. Occasional spots indicate that the performance is a live one, but that just adds to the music's appeal. Bergonzi, one of the best of the Coltrane cohort, shows great passion and swings fiercely throughout. Harrell also swings hard and weaves some of the most warmly melodic trumpet lines since Chet Baker. The leader's own well-constructed solos reflect his solid status as a composer. Richmond and Williams provide a rousing, inspirational underpinning.