Harold Vick ‘Don’t Look Back’ LP (Strata East/Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Multi-reedist Harold Vick was born in 1936 in North Carolina and his early influences were those of his piano playing cousin. However, his talents as a student of psychology were duly noted and he enrolled at Howard University, Washington D.C.. By his third year there, it was becoming apparent, however, that music was rapidly taking over his life and he gave up any thought of becoming a clinical psychologist in order to join the R & B band of Red Prysock, and in this capacity Vick accompanied some of the finest blues singers, from Ruth Brown to Lloyd Price. Thereafter Harold Vick moved to New York where he gained useful experience with bop trumpeter Howard McGhee and drummer Philly Joe Jones. His very first album as a leader dates from 1963 on Blue Note, ‘Steppin’ Out’ which is regarded as something of a classic with a stellar line-up of Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Grant Green on guitar and ‘Big’ John Patton on Hammond organ. Four years later, and from a composition perspective, Vick was in altogether different territory on ‘The Caribbean Suite’, a progressive big band effort with Bobby Hutcherson in attendance on vibraphone, Blue Mitchell returning, and Montego Joe and others on percussion. This was a sign that Harold Vick was veering away from the standard combos and was indeed exploring deeper jazz grooves. His exploration came to fruition on the 1974 recording for independent label, Strata East, and this is the latest re-issue in an ongoing series from vinyl specialists Pure Pleasure. An extended brass section comprising Virgil Jones on trumpet and flugelhorn, George Davis on flute, Kiame Zawadi on euphonium, Joe Bonner on piano (a regular with Pharoah Sanders among others), Sam Jones on bass and the great Billy Hart on drums (later the preferred drummer of spiritual jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd), and not forgetting the added percussion of Jimmy Hopps. The music is hard-hitting, uncompromising and unrelenting throughout, and the cover says it all. Classic 1970’s attire, with jacket and balaclava and a saxophone in hand. If the Latin-flavoured ‘Señor Zamora’ is an immediate winner with both percussionists excelling, then it is the less obvious material that requires a few listens to sink in that truly impresses here. That includes the lyrical ‘Melody For Bu’ and the multi-layered piece, ‘Prayer’, that features Vick on clarinet, flute and tenor, while Joe Bonner operates here on Fender Rhodes. For his best tenor solo, ‘Lucille’, is hard to better. Interestingly, the title track would be reprised on the Shirley Scott album referred to below.

Harold Vick would record in a sideman capacity the same year for Strata East on, ‘Shirley Scott’s, ‘One for me’, and once again this recording eschews the stereotypical organ combo sound, and is far more in tune with the heavier Larry Young sound, and is even a tad sinister in parts. Strata East was not out to score a million seller gimmicky record. However, its canon of work stands the test of time and the re-issue of ‘Don’t Look Back’ is a timely reminder of what independent jazz labels were capable of, in an era where fusion and rock dominated , and acoustic jazz was (wrongly) perceived as old-hat and regressive. This album is a firm riposte to any such viewpoint.

Tim Stenhouse