Charles Tyler's Saga of the Outlaws is one of the quintessential epic pieces of free improvisation in history, a 37-minute, one-piece of pure emotion and depth of spirit. Subtitled "Ride of the Marauders" -- a polyphonic sonic tale/drama of the old and new West, Tyler and his extraordinary, vanguard quintet power their way through free bop with an edge that reflects a gunslinger's cool and vicious mentality, while allowing a shoot-'em-up feeding frenzy of wailing discourse that incorporates plenty of harmonic depth and counterpointed interworkings. Trumpeter Earl Cross is alto saxophonist Tyler's main foil, very much in the post-Freddie Hubbard tradition of brass players like Ted Curson or Raphe Malik, who were seeking a sound without any boundaries whatsoever. Bassists John Ore and Ronnie Boykinsboth came out of the bands of Sun Ra, so their credentials are airtight, whether swinging hard or digging into the depths of their instruments.
Drummer Steve Reid is really the glue, a perfect rhythmic navigator, and has the requisite stamina to keep the band moving forward for the entire time. Recorded live at Studio Rivbea owned by Sam Rivers and his wife Bea, Saga of the Outlaws not only identifies the so-called loft jazz movement and post-Ornette Coleman/Albert Ayler revolution, but set its own standard in the mid-'70s where this music would became very influential both in America and on the burgeoning European (particularly German) scene, where Tyler fled to (the Netherlands) a year later, and stayed until his passing in 1992. The piece starts with clarion calls from Tyler and Cross commanding the freedom fighters to arms, with steady rhythms and probing basses buoying some lovely counterpoint. You hear gun fight imagery as the piece widens and intensifies, with Tyler's extended solo stretching harmonic parameters of tonality in the manner of his former bandmates, brothers Donald and Albert Ayler. The group plods along briefly as if conserving their reserve will power, Ornette Coleman type note approximations occur, Cross offers up a spiky solo, and Tylerbecomes more animated in tandem with Cross. This absolute blowing session also features a pithy drum solo from the quite capable Reid, then a new west free jam precedes a return to the imagery of the old west, as calmed, wafting smoke rises as the sun sets. It should be mentioned that many months of painstaking work, trial and error studio recordings, chance meetings, and much thought process were all preludes to this performance being documented here. To some, it may sound like a lark or random chance, but it was far from that. It is Charles Tyler's magnum opus, historically one of the most definitive free jazz statements of the '70s, ranking up there with the Wildflowers sessions and the work of Roscoe Mitchell, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Frank Wright, and Anthony Braxton. For specific tastes -- those who enjoy absolute creative improvised music -- it's a must-have item, and thankfully now on CD. AMG.
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