Look, Up in the Air, It’s 81-Year-Old Von Vonski Freeman


I’ve figured out why I like Von Freeman’s The Great Divide less than the 81-year-old Chicago tenor saxophonist’s 2002 The Improviser, which isn’t to say I don’t like it a lot. During the languorous “This Is Always,” Freeman picks up the tempo mid-phrase, and the impeccable New York rhythm section—Richard Wyands, John Webber, and Jimmy Cobb—follows a split second too late. Here and elsewhere, it’s as if the New Yorkers are talking Freeman in off the ledge, unwilling to believe he can fly—which means disbelieving their ears. Despite what the title implies, this isn’t an example of the twain not meeting; with his long beat and alternately breathy and brawny vibrato, Vonski is eccentric by any standard, but the hometown sidemen on The Improviser were used to him. Wyands and the others are right, and Freeman is wrong—but wrong like Monk and Lester Young were, with the peculiar logic of genius. Here and there, especially on “Blue Pres,” “Disorder at the Border,” and the mesmerizing “Chant Time,” everything falls into place and Freeman ascends. The others aren’t flying with him. But at least they let go of his ankles.

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