In all likelihood, free jazz will always exist on the margins of American music. Fortunately, that hasn't dissuaded relentless improvisers like Madison's own JoAnne Pow!ers. Over the years, the local saxophonist has developed a persuasive vocabulary that includes everything from playful peregrinations on soprano to mellow purring on tenor to all-out blowing that recalls uncompromising players like Albert Ayler, Roscoe Mitchell and Peter Brotzmann.
On Food for Thought, Pow!ers has also emerged as a very canny bandleader. Her saxophones and cornet are the focus here, of course, but the CD's brightest moments come when she's playing off bass player Jennifer Pendur's lowing arco work and soaking up the energy of Paul Baker's remarkably subtle drumming. Baker uses every square inch of his kit, tapping deliberately on a single tom-tom here, rapping ferociously on the bell of a ride cymbal there as he undergirds his bandmates with an ever-shifting mosaic of rhythm.
The trio's interplay is particularly impressive on "Low Profile (for Malachi Favors Maghostut)," a 29-minute tune that is by turns uneasy, ruminative and frantic. Dedications to musical legends who have died often come across as cheap plays for attention, but here Pow!ers' bold threesome definitely do the memory of the late Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist proud.