Phil Freeman is a free jazz evangelist.
What does that mean? Well, it's not all positive or negative. Sometimes it makes for a great read.
The upside of evangelism is a contagious enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to the subject at hand, in this case, the present-day free jazz scene. Freeman is clearly on a mission to convert, and in his best moments his delight in this music is inspiring. He does a canny job of conveying the exhilaration that the best of this music delivers. In between observations on the scene as a whole, including some intriguing reflections on the relation of free jazz to mainstream jazz and underground rock, Freeman offers chapter-length profiles of key figures -- some well known, others less popular.
The downside of evangelism is, of course, tunnel vision and blind devotion. After a while, even though this book is short, Freeman's slavish dedication to this music becomes somewhat tiresome. His assertions about the business side of music -- about how if labels shipped more of this stuff it would sell more to a wider audience -- is naive. This is powerful music, but it is not mainstream fodder and it will never achieve a huge crossover audience. Freeman seems unable to come to terms with this, and pounds ceaselessly at the door of a wider acceptance which is never going to come.
Like a tent-show revivalist, Freeman is compelling to listen to in small doses, but it can become a bit draining. This is a great read in short bursts, and certainly recommended to newcomers who want something of a guide to a very vital yet challenging scene...but one shouldn't lose sight of reality.