That the music on guitarist Rich Rosenthal’s self-produced album, Falling Up, is not what anyone would call mellow or pretty is a gross understatement. The music is often hard to listen to. It is not necessarily hard to like, like in the same way one likes a painting like The Scream, like in the same way one likes the nightmare visions of H. P. Lovecraft, in the same way one is fascinated by Berg’s Wozzeck. Visions of hell have always had their place along-side visions of heaven.
Falling Up is indeed a vision of hell, and the fact that it exists at all is a testament to the ability to rise out of it, to fall up. At the very end of the bio on his website, Rich Rosenthal says: “What I strive for in my music is to let all my life experiences come out through the music. My personal struggles and triumphs. Music to me is not about doing fancy or tricky things on an instrument, but to make music that moves people.” This is highly personal music too personal to be sugar coated.
What better vehicle for such music than free jazz?
That Rosenthal cites as his influences artists like Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Lyons, Cecil Taylor, and Steve Lacy merely documents what is clear from the album’s first piece. This is avant-garde music that will not necessarily find a large audience, but with any luck it will find a discerning audience.
Rosenthal leads a quartet featuring Joe Giardullo on soprano (and sopranino saxophones), Craig Nixon on bass, and Matt Crane on drums. In an on-line video, Rosenthal explains he chose these musicians because he wanted side men who would make a real commitment to work on the music, and they were willing to put in the necessary rehearsal time. While to many detractors, free jazz sounds like the members of the ensemble have never even met, let alone rehearsed together, Rosenthal’s practice belies the myth.
Of the half dozen tracks on the album, four are Rosenthal originals, one, “No Baby,” a three note etude by Steve Lacy, and “Wee Sneezeawee” by Jimmy Lyons. “No Baby” is dedicated to percussionist Oliver Johnson who was killed in Paris, and Johnson’s voice is doing the rhythmic repetition of the title phrase at the beginning of the cut. The set opens with “Powder Hysteria,” a piece with a title that suggests the nature of Rosenthal’s struggle and ends with the high powered drama of “Eternal Meltdown.” The sonically rich “Airing Out” and the title song fill out the disc.
Falling Up is free jazz with a bite. Clearly not everyone will find it to their taste, but given a chance, it is an album that may surprise you.