Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


LOWE, Frank

(b 2 May 1941, Memphis TN; d 19 September 2003, Manhattan) Tenor sax, also other reeds; composer. Formal study at U. of Kansas, San Francisco Conservatory; worked for Stax Records '59. Influenced by Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor; then by Sonny Simmons (alto sax, b 4 Aug. '33, Sicily Island LA; worked with Prince Lasha, recorded with Eric Dolphy and Elvin Jones; own albums on ESP, Arhoolie, Contemporary, CIMP, Qwest/WB) and Donald Garrett (b 28 February 1932, El Dorado AR; bass, reeds, percussion; attended Du Sable High School in Chicago; co-founder with Richard Abrams of Experimental Band). Lowe never stopped developing, playing inside as well as out; the nature of his musical intelligence is welcoming, warm and down-home, not at all aggressive: as Bob Rusch points out in a Cadence interview, Lowe is one of the few of his generation who never sounded like a Coltrane clone. Worked with Sun Ra '66, Alice Coltrane '70-73. LPs Live At The Village Vanguard with alto saxist Noah Howard (b 6 April 1943, New Orleans; d 2 September 2010); LPs with Archie Shepp, Don Ayler; own albums on ESP, Byg, etc), Relativity Suite with Don Cherry, Duo Exchange with Rashied Ali on Ali's Survival label. Lowe's own albums began with quintet Black Beings '73 on ESP with Joseph Jarman, a wild, high-energy outing, after which he began rediscovering more temperate moods.

The classic Fresh '74-5 on Arista included 'Chu's Blues' with the Memphis Four, whoever they were: the atmospheric R&B wail sounds like it was recorded in a basement, the rest of the album a sextet with Joseph and Lester Bowie including two Monk tunes (reissued on Black Lion '95). Quintet The Flam '75 on Black Saint featured Leo Smith; quartet Tricks Of The Trade and The Other Side '76 were made in Paris for French labels; quintet Doctor Too-Much '77 on Kharma had Smith and Phillip Wilson, Lowe And Behold '77 on Musicworks eleven pieces in concert; Don't Punk Out '77 on QED was a duet with guitarist Eugene Chadbourne. Skizoke '81 on Cadence captured a working sextet including Butch Morris, cornet; Damon Choice, vibraphone; Larry Simon, guitar; Wilbur Morris, bass; Tim Pleasant, drums: straight ahead and mellow, 'skizoke' meaning touchdown, home run, the max. Exotic Heartbreak '81 on Soul Note was without Simon and with Amina Claudine Myers replacing Choice, Decision In Paradise '84 on Soul Note a different group with Charles and Charnett Moffett, Geri Allen on piano, Grachan Moncur III and Cherry.

Arista's commitment to contemporary music didn't last long, its Lowe, Braxton and Julius Hemphill releases soon deleted; then the record business was confused by the introduction of the CD, and Lowe is only one of many superb artists who were lost in the shuffle for a while. Inappropriate Choices '91 on ITM Pacific by Frank Lowe and the Saxemble had four reedmen playing eleven instruments among them (including Michael Marcus, Carlos Ward and James Carter) and Phillip Wilson on drums; then Live From Soundscape was released '94 on DIW with Myers, the Morrises and Pleasant; and the beautiful Bodies And Soul '95 on the new CIMP label was a trio with Charles Moffett on drums and Tim Flood on bass, a sort of remembrance of friends past capped by a solo 'Body And Soul'. Vision Blue '97 on CIMP was another trio, with bassist Steve Neil, drummer Anders Griffen; he also played on Joe McPhee's Legend Street One on that label. His last album was Down & Blue 2002 for CIMP. He died of lung cancer, and will be greatly missed.