Frank Lowe | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Frank Lowe 

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Free jazz in the 90s has been marked by a rekindled interest in flamethrowing saxophonists--investigate the expanding discographies of David S. Ware, Charles Gayle, and Ivo Perelman if you doubt it. From the sound of his scorching debut, Black Beings (ESP), or his early duet with drummer Rashied Ali, Duo Exchange (Survival)--both from 1973--you might think Frank Lowe fit snugly into that niche. But the Memphis-born tenor player (once dubbed "Dr. Too Much") learned a great deal about space and form, as well as how to spit fire, as a soul stirrer in Stax Records' horn section and then during his formative years in trumpeter Don Cherry's band. His work over the years has reflected a broad interest in energy music, blues roots, and what he's called "out-traditionalism," a concept he fleshed out on some of the best records of the free-jazz diaspora, including The Flam (Black Saint), Fresh (Arista), and a little-known duet with guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, Don't Punk Out (QED). I fondly recall hearing him with cornetist Butch Morris in the early 80s; his chunky, earthy tone and deliberate improvising set him far apart from both the baby boppers and the high-wind howlers. Though Lowe made a smattering of discs during that decade, including the fine Decision in Paradise (Soul Note) with Cherry and trombonist Grachan Moncur III, for a protracted period he was rarely heard outside of New York and reviews of his concerts there were increasingly mixed. But he seems to be in strong shape again, judging by a spate of recent recordings for the CIMP label--including Bodies & Soul, a forceful trio outing from '95 on which Dr. Too Much tackles tunes by Coltrane, Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, and drummer Phillip Wilson. In this rare appearance, Lowe will be joined by pianist Donald Smith, an accomplished but somewhat overlooked fellow traveler, and a Chicago rhythm section of Harrison Bankhead on bass and Vincent Davis on drums. Friday, 8:30 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Lana Foote.

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