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JAZZ REVIEW : Free Flight: Airy Sound at Bon Appetit

February 19, 1990|DON HECKMAN

You can say this about Free Flight: It's a well-named group. The quartet's opening set at Bon Appetit on Friday night featured a collection of performances that were airy, ephemeral and lighter than air.

But not always. Because Free Flight had two conflicting images--one floated with the easy buoyancy of a hang-glider, while the other roared through the music like a renegade jet plane.

The facile, lighter-than-air Free Flight surfaced in pieces that featured flutist Jim Walker--formerly of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and now a much-in-demand sideman for television and motion picture recordings.

On the unfortunately titled "Mo's Art" (based on the Allegro movement of Mozart's C Major piano sonata, K. 545) and a set of variations on Prelude No. 6 from J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Walker displayed his remarkable technical skills, bringing life and substance to arrangements that often verged on cuteness. On slower numbers, his rich, silken tone was a joy to hear.

But Walker's improvisational skills were not on a par with his instrumental excellence, and he wisely limited his impromptu solos to a few moments here and there, usually surrounded by improvisational-styled written sections.

Free Flight took on an entirely different identity when Walker turned the music over to pianist Mike Garson, bassist Reggie Hamilton and drummer Joel Taylor. Working as a fiery jazz trio, the group ripped off powerful three-way improvisations--most notably on Garson's "Slice of Life" and "Interplay."

The missing element was a connective link between the ensemble's quasi-classical sounds and its straight-ahead jazz. Until these two facets are better integrated into the group's music, Free Flight will continue to be an ensemble that is propelled by two very distinct and often conflicting kinds of musical energy.

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