Frequency is a Chicago-based collective quartet who may not be household names, but anyone who's been paying attention to the Chicago jazz scene of the '90s and 2000s knows these players. Edward Wilkerson, Jr., Harrison Bankhead, and Avreeayl Ra have been appearing in groups and recordings together off and on for the better part of two decades, and while Nicole Mitchell hasn't been active for as long, the fact that she's currently co-president of the esteemed AACM speaks to her respect and stature in the Chicago jazz community. Frequency
is an impressive debut that draws from the well of "Spiritual Jazz" that informed so many great Impulse recordings, but with an AACM sensibility. Each member contributes a composition (Mitchell gets two), and nearly half the songs are credited to the group, presumably improvisations. There are some stunning flute and clarinet solos, and the way Mitchell and Wilkerson's lines intertwine at times is nothing short of sublime. Bankhead's bass playing is intuitive and supportive and he's equally at home with arco and pizzicato techniques. Avreeayl Ra is an extremely attentive drummer, able to push the music in an Elvin Jones
style or play melodic lines on the kit (check his drumming on "Pitiful James" as well as contributing some beautiful kalimba work on "Satya" and "Portrait of Light"). Bankhead and Ra both offer up a bit of flute work as well (wood flute and Native American flute, respectively). While there are some roiling rhythms here and there, overall this is a beautiful, gentle, contemplative date. "From the Other Side" gets pretty far out with bowed bass, plastic bag(!), and odd vocalizing, but it never gets cacophonous. "The Tortoise" ups the energy a bit, driven by a muscular bass groove and Ra's dancing drums with a great tenor solo and more excellent flute work. "Portrait of Light" and "Serenity" are absolutely beautiful. Wilkerson and Mitchell are great soloists and work off each other beautifully (just check the solo transition on "Take Refuge"), and the group improvisations are all very sharply focused and sometimes difficult to distinguish from the composed material. Frequency
is an excellent debut and demonstrates once again that Chicago's jazz talent is second to none.