So-called free jazz is something of a love it or hate it proposition. Knowing that Konstrukt – a Turkish free jazz ensemble – has teamed up with Ken Vandermark – a Chicago-based free jazz player – for this record, Kozmik Bazaar, has likely determined whether you abandoned ship already and moved on to a review of a different, non-free jazz album. Reviews are not generally in the business of changing minds. Writers can, at best, offer clear and evocative impressions of what they hear in a given album. It is all filtered through the imperfect medium of language, however. Even so, it may be that the music on Kozmik Bazaar can change minds, or, more aptly, free them.

The record starts in a rush with “Diggin’ That Harmolody,” a blistering track led by looping bass and percussion. Sax and a distorted but understated electric guitar duel it out for much of the track’s five minutes. The press release for the record compares it somewhat hubristically, but not incorrectly, to Ornette Coleman (parts of the melody “quotes” him, as it were). While chaotic, the tune does resemble, to the average listener, an approximation of jazz – if a maximalist and frenetic version of that genre. The track is a head-fake for the album that follows.

The album takes a darker, more vibe-y turn on “Semazen,” which sounds like the soundtrack to whatever the Turkish equivalent of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is. Far from the chaos associated with free jazz, the track pulls the listener in. “East of West, West of East” while featuring, again, frenzied brass, is anchored by a tight and driving beat. “Ex-cess” is a study in tension – at less than three minutes, the track threatens at every moment to come apart at the seams. Here, the guitar puts in heavy work, creating a dark sonic soundscape on which the brass paints more Coleman-esque melodic motifs.

By the time the listener reaches “Bammm!” (a wonderfully ironic title and a sign that these musicians are serious, but not self-serious) it should be clear the range in which these musicians operate. Another loping track – haunted by spoken word drowning in reverb – it allows space for the musicians to stretch and manipulate sound without the demands of speed. There are percussive bursts, like gunshots out of the dark. There is a clarinet baying in the moonlight. Tracks like these work in atmosphere rather than pure force. They are no less virtuosic, though. Subtle changes in phrasing and inflection can be as shocking here as any run up and down the scale in the more stereotypically free jazz sounding tracks.

Closer “Cocoon” stands at the polar opposite end of the record not only in sequence, but in style to the opening track. It never falls into a recognizable rhythm, but rather ploughs a field of pure sound. Strangely, this is the track where you can hear the musicians responding to each other the most. The rhythm is not a percussive one, but a relational one. The movement of the composition (and, here, that phrase is used as broadly as possible) is dependent entirely on the players feeling each other out. It is the riskiest gambit on the record because of how close it stands to pure self-indulgence. But the players are not selfish, and the track passes like a dream, containing some wonderful moments of fusion and fission.

This is the ideal of free jazz. That is, when players can be liberated from the strict outlines of a pre-existing composition and guide each other to a place they could not go alone, taking the listener with them. It is an exciting and difficult medium to adapt to – but its rewards are myriad. Kozmik Bazaar offers a perfect entry point for the skeptical listener.

 

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