Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 17 July 1949, Chicago IL) Saxophones, bass clarinet, composer. Father is Von Freeman (see below). Played with the Four Tops, Isley Bros, Earth, Wind and Fire; a member AACM '72. Won awards at Notre Dame Jazz Festival '73, down beat polls. Played in Jack DeJohnette's Music Machine, also in Special Edition (quartet Tin Can Alley on ECM); on Don Pullen album Warriors '78; then mostly led his own groups since the late '70s. One side of the Columbia LP Fathers And Sons '81 (with the Marsalises on the other side) and Freeman And Freeman on India Navigation included Von, Chico, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette. His first own LP was Streetdancer Rising '75 on Dharma, then Morning Prayer '76 with Henry Threadgill, Muhal Richard Abrams, McBee and others, later on India Navigation; others on that label incl. Chico '77 (one side a duo suite with McBee), Kings Of Mali '77, The Outside Within '78, ballad set Spirit Sensitive '79 followed by lovely standards set Still Sensitive and The Search '82 with vocalist Val Ely. On Contemporary: Beyond The Rain '77, Peaceful Heart, Gentle Spirit '80, Destiny's Dance '81 with Bobby Hutcherson, Wynton Marsalis, McBee; also No Time Left '79 on Black Saint. On Elektra Musician: Tradition In Transition '82 with McBee, DeJohnette, drummer Billy Hart (b 29 Nov. '40, Wash. DC), Clyde Criner, piano; Wallace Roney, trumpet: the album included 'Free Association', 'Each One Teach One', 'Mysstory', Monk's 'Jackie-ing' etc; Tangents '84 features Bobby McFerrin on some tracks. He toured '85 with a quartet including McBee, drummer Fred Waits (b 27 April '43, Jackson MS; d 18 Nov. '89 NY), Mark Thompson (from NYC) on piano; he played many of the tunes on Transition, using bits of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, R&B etc, all absorbed and under control; he played the difficult bass clarinet beautifully, using circular breathing for unbelievably long lines.

His conservative compositions fall into 'new traditionalist' category; in person his playing seems to have power and technique in reserve; he is also a personable leader on the stand. The Pied Piper '86 on Blackhawk included John Purcell on woodwinds, Thompson, McBee, Elvin Jones, Kenny Kirkland. Also played on McBee's Alternate Spaces on India Navigation with Don Pullen, etc; toured with quintet incl. Branford Marsalis; Tales Of Ellington '87 incl. Ellington tunes and Duke-inspired originals; quintet tour '88 and album You'll Know When You Get There on Black Saint included Von; Focus '94 on Contemporary included Arthur Blythe, George Cables. He toured and recorded with The Leaders including Blythe, Lester Bowie, McBee, Don Moye, pianist Kirk Lightsey (b 15 Feb. '37, Detroit), albums included Out Here Like This and Unforeseen Blessings '88 on Black Saint, Slipping And Sliding '93-4 on Sound Hills. Repertory septet Roots included Blythe, Pullen, Nathan Davis on soprano sax, Sam Rivers, Idris Muhammad on drums and others (album Stablemates '92 on In+Out); Roots tour '96 had Blythe, Davis, Lightsey, Benny Golson, Ed Thigpen on drums and Buster Williams on bass.

Freeman and Blythe share the problem that they do not quite play 'outside' yet are too iconoclastic for the mass audience, or so broadcasters would have us believe. Of their quartet set Focus '94 on Contemporary, with Freeman playing tenor, Blythe on alto, George Cables on piano, Santi Debriano on bass and Yoron Israel on drums, Dave McElfresh in Cadence suggested, 'Check a recent jazz radio playlist and see if anything you hear beats this outing.' The Emissary '95 on Clarity with Bay Area musicians (half of them vocalists) was made with two omnidirectional microphones, another label (like Cadence's CIMP) moving away from the sound of too much production; the album was lightweight fun, except for a hard-hitting trio version of 'Seven Steps To Heaven'. Spoken Into Existence was a new album in 2016, subtitled Jive Music, and revisiting 'Seven Steps To Heaven' the '4-tet' including Heiri Känzig, Michael Baker and Antonio Faraò.