Arthur Jones is one of the forgotten men of free jazz. An alto saxophonist out of Cleveland, he made his mark during the Parisian summer of 1969, when a horde of American free jazz players (and a few from other places) made their way to France for gigs and recording contracts with the upstart label BYG/Actuel. He appeared on several albums by other artists, including Dave Burrell‘s Echo, Jacques Coursil‘s Way Ahead, Frank Wright‘s Your Prayer (for ESP-Disk), Sunny Murray‘s Sunshine and Homage to Africa, Clifford Thornton‘s Ketchaoua, Archie Shepp‘s Yasmina, A Black Woman, and Burton Greene‘s Aquariana. But he only recorded twice under his own name, and on one of those albums, he shared billing with drummer Claude Delcloo. Wikipedia says he died in 1998.
Scorpio is a four-track album, kicking off with the energetic “C.R.M.” The rhythm section—bassist Beb Guerin and drummer Delcloo—interact in a manner reminiscent of Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray on Albert Ayler‘s Spiritual Unity, from five years earlier. Guerin yanks at the bass strings so hard, they seem at risk of coming unwound, or flying off the neck. Delcloo works mostly with cymbals, hi-hat and bass pedal, rarely touching the snare drum. On this track and the next one, “B.T.,” Jones’ phrasing and tone recall Ornette Coleman, though he’s a little more inclined to go for a deep, bluesy honk at the bottom of the alto’s range than Coleman is, and at the height of his solos he lets his lines run longer, and get more repetitive and shrieky, than the Texan would do in a similar situation. He’s also less concerned with melody and more with maintaining an overall feeling of eruption. Delcloo takes a drum solo on “B.T.” that’s fairly energetic in a Max Roach sort of way, with lots of toms. The album’s second side offers two ballads, “Sad Eyes” and “Brother B,” making it sort of a free jazz equivalent to Dexter Gordon‘s Dexter Blows Hot and Cool. On “Sad Eyes,” Jones gets quite emotionally raw, sounding at times like he’s wailing over the coffin of a loved one, before regaining control of himself and blowing bluesy lines that wind up, toward the piece’s end, in a very Ornette-circa-1960 place. Guerin’s bass solo is also worthy of note. And the album’s final track, “Brother B,” is possibly its most interesting, as it starts out morose and slow before Delcloo establishes an almost march tempo on the drums and things become much more incantatory, Jones returning again and again to a fanfare-like phrase and alternating it with a scrabbling, screeching line that’s like Ayler attempting to imitate Ornette. It’s no surprise that this was the piece chosen to represent Scorpio in the astonishing 3CD JazzActuel box released a decade(!) ago.
Africanasia, despite being co-billed to Jones and Delcloo, is not a sax-drums duo album. In fact, it’s more of an unofficial Art Ensemble of Chicago record than anything else—Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell and Malachi Favors all appear (the former two playing flutes, the latter log drum). The two side-long tracks are much gentler than one might expect; a simple flute melody is blown over and over, then delicately expanded upon by Jones, as Delcloo leads the rhythm section (which also includes Clifford Thornton on conga and Earl Freeman on gongs, bells and other percussion). At no point does it erupt into raucous free blowing; none of the other saxophonists (in addition to Mitchell and Jarman, Kenneth Terroade is also playing flute) ever picks up a man-sized horn to solo, or challenge Jones in any way. And his style here is very calm, even romantic; he rarely indulges in the hard-bitten shrieks that were the dominant saxophone language of the time and the place. He seems much more influenced by Charlie Parker than by Ornette or Jimmy Lyons; his lines are long and limber. Notes seem to slide, rather than leap, out of his horn. At about the 11-minute mark of the second track, he takes an unaccompanied solo that’s just lovely; there’s no other word for it. Then the rhythm section and the flutes come back in, and he murmurs some more gentle, introspective phrases over the band’s steady pulse until it all winds down.
Neither of these albums is in print on CD. But JazzActuel is available from Amazon’s MP3 store (you have to buy each disc separately: Disc 1, Disc 2, Disc 3), and so is Africanasia. Both are highly recommended.