Mike Allemana

Vonology
(ears&eyes)

Von Freeman (1923–2012) was not only a skilled tenor saxophonist who had a very distinctive tone, but for more than a half-century he was an important mentor to a countless number of up-and-coming jazz artists in Chicago. One of those was guitarist Mike Allemana, who worked with Freeman during the tenor titan’s last 15 years.

Vonology, Allemana’s five-part suite, which is influenced by his use of astrological research, sums up Freeman’s life rather than seeking to duplicate his music or his sound. The guitarist utilizes an octet plus two singers, many of whom consider Freeman to have been a mentor.

The opening “Welcome, Enter” is a spiritual piece that can be thought of as a depiction of Von Freeman starting life. It alternates gospel singing of a warm and inviting melody with concise yet adventurous solos by tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, trombonist Kendall Moore and drummer Michael Raynor. “Libra, The Mediator” is about how Librans like Freeman enjoy having dialogues with others. Allemana’s guitar is in the lead at first over a groove, preceding some wailing alto by Greg Ward and a rather wild trumpet solo from Victor Garcia.

Of the five pieces, it is easiest to imagine Freeman performing on “Communion And Renewal,” a ballad with 1950s-type harmonies. The avant-funk of “Libra Channeling” can be thought of as symbolizing Freeman’s desire to work with younger modern players. Bradfield, cellist Tomeka Reid and Allemana (who displays his rockish side) are the stars.

“The Mentor’s Benediction” wraps up the suite. Bill Brickley gives a sermon about creating beauty out of pain and the importance of music. During the piece’s second half, an energetic theme emerges and there are some exuberant and intense ensembles before Vonology concludes with a reprise of the opening gospel melody. One imagines that Von Freeman would have appreciated this heartfelt tribute.