Saxophonist George Garzone and drummer Bob Gullotti founded their trio the Fringe in Boston in 1975. They play what’s known as “free jazz,” which aims to preserve the spirit of jazz without the letter of its traditional laws. The Fringe Live at Zeitgeist succeeds admirably at this. There is an ebb and flow of momentum throughout the album instead of the steady beat you find in rock and roll, yet I tapped my feet repeatedly as I listened. Some of the album’s songs are launched from planned melodies, but only in the last track is one of these melodies returned to, as it would be in traditional jazz. Yet each song has a sense of coherence, and the album as a whole gives a sensation of rightness within the mystery.
The variety of moods is striking: there is humor, solemnity, and poetry. Though Garzone honks, wails, and plays high harmonics on his tenor saxophone, he is not traveling in the pained emotional world of such free-jazz musicians as Pharaoh Sanders, who can sound like he is torturing his saxophone to death, or in the cruelly parodic world of Albert Ayler. Instead, the Fringe ranges from wit to meditation, with “Tonight’s Prayer” reminding me of the reverent music on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. The instrumentation of the trio, which has no piano or guitar, is ultimately inspired by Ornette Coleman and his concept of “harmolody,” in which melodic instruments (that is, instruments that play only one pitch at a time) work together to define the harmony. Because the saxophone and the bass also play in different registers, the music of the Fringe sounds wide open as well as harmonically free.
Garzone’s saxophone is not always in the spotlight. “Theme for Jake” is a two-and-a-half-minute bass solo from the trio’s third member, John Lockwood. Bob Gullotti takes a propulsive drum solo on “Try This,” late in the album. And Joe Lovano, world-famous professor at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, is a second saxophonist on two of the album’s tracks.
Garzone, Gullotti, and Lockwood are all graduates of Berklee, and all teach in Boston. The musical vitality of Boston is exceptional for a city of its size, and these locals contribute to it by reminding us that Boston contains more flavors of jazz than just the jazz fusion that came out of Berklee in the ’70s and the classically-influenced Third Stream from the New England Conservatory. The final track on The Fringe Live at Zeitgeist (in recognition of years of Monday night gigs) is “A Fringe Tribute to the New England Patriots,” and the album compels this local patriot’s tribute to the Fringe.