Kidd Jordan is still a force of nature at age 84 even as he is limited physically by health problems. His tenor saxophone playing remains a standard against which excellence is measured. One of the most accomplished experimental jazz theorists, he continues to blaze trails in New Orleans improvisational music with recent appearances at SideBar, joining younger local improvisers like Aurora Nealand and Helen Gillet. Garden Party is a great showcase for Jordan’s soulful playing, which can touch on Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Archie Shepp but is always unmistakably Kidd. Coleman’s compositional spirit comes through on the magnificent “Guilty Happy,” an epic that works off a harmelodic theme and builds to a ripping tenor solo from Jordan, then into a ballad section through an ingenious extended breakdown engineered by pianist Christopher Parker, drummer Alvin Fielder (the ostensible leader of this jazz supergroup) and bassist William Parker. During the ballad section Kelley Hurt adds wordless vocals and composer Chad Fowler on alto saxophone teams back up with Jordan for a final run at the exhilarating theme.
The group made this recording at Marigny Studios. It features several great partnerships/friendships, the kind of connections that often result in powerfully emotional music. Jordan has a longstanding musical dialogue with Fielder, who sadly passed away after making this, his final recording. Fielder has an uncanny sense of time here, but he doesn’t just “keep” beats, he distributes them in bursts that add drama and commentary to the flow, a la Max Roach. Parker, the great improvisational bassist who orchestrates New York’s Vision Festival, has often tapped Jordan for inclusion in that monumental tribute to improvisation and the idea of the musician/philosopher. He matches Fielder’s compartmentalized approach to the groove, never just walking the beat but coaxing, toying and boiling it by turns.
Hurt, Christopher Parker and Fowler played together in Hurt’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, and they bring their own vibe to the set in a hopeful combination of younger and elder souls. The trio also accounts for all of the wonderful compositions on the session except the collective improvisation “C Melody,” which is credited to all the group members. The three writers move in a range of directions, from Fowler’s regal ballad “Dopolaria” to Hurt’s magical “Garden Party” and Chris Parker’s freebop finale, “Impromptu,” which he composed during the session, hence the name. Improvised jazz is one area of music that is flourishing right now, creatively if not commercially, and New Orleans is one of the places where it lives—because art is best worth pursuing for its own sake.