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Dopolarians - The Bond (Mahakala Music)

2 April 2021

Who knew that the south was a hotbed of free jazz? Probably every Southern jazz fan ever, but for the rest of us, the existence of a group like the Dopolarians is a delightful surprise. Based out of New Orleans, with roots in Memphis and Little Rock, the group revolves around alto saxophonist Chad Fowler, pianist Christopher Parker and singer Kelley Hurt, who’ve led every incarnation of this group. For the band’s second LP The Bond, however, the trio has recruited some heavyweights to come along for the ride: trumpeter Marc Franklin (the Bo-Keys), free jazz bass titan William Parker (Cecil Taylor, plus many, many records as a leader) and eclectic drummer Brian Blade (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan).

The ensemble lays out its vision in the twenty-minute title track. Christopher Parker eases everyone in with some solo piano, as the musicians all attack at once. Before things get too hectic, however, William Parker kicks out a bluesy groove, joined by Christopher. Franklin (the traditionalist, at least for this tune) and Fowler (the avant-gardist) interweave horn lines that manage to be complementary even as they come from different worlds, while Hunt’s wordless croon acts as a Greek chorus. “The Emergence” follows a similar tack, alternating spacey spiritual jazz passages and some gentle swing with classically-inclined sweeps and bursts of frenetic chaos. Hurt takes center stage for much of it, her controlled vibrato acting as a soothing agent after some particularly intense bits, but also slipping into another dimension when she’s feeling it. Parker also steps forward with an epic arco solo. At a half hour, it’s almost too much of a good thing, but the group’s near-telepathic interplay and ability to turn on a dime is impressive.

At a mere ten minutes, the closing “The Release” lives up to its title, with flowing passages of sweeping beauty, letting Blade and Fowler go crazy while everyone else stays on an even keel. It’s a perfect way to go out, offering a cool down while still sticking with the spirit of the previous epics. The Bond serves notice that the Southern free jazz scene is worth the spotlight.