Sounds Of Liberation ‘Untitled [Columbia University 1973]’ LP (Dogtown) 4/5

2019 is turning out pretty good if you (like me) are a fan of 70s American community-focused, politicised spiritual jazz. We’ve had reissues from Chicago’s Infinite Spirit Music, Detroit’s Griot Galaxy and several from LA’s Horace Tapscott and his Arkestra. Perhaps there’s a need for them, and their message, to be heard again right now? To further add to that hallowed list we now we have this gem from Philly’s Sounds of Liberation, purveyors of “Black Liberation Music”.

Sounds Of Liberation were formed out of the Germantown and Mt Airy neighborhoods of Philadelphia in 1970/71. The group consisted of seven members: Khan Jamal (vibraphone), Byard Lancaster (alto saxophone/flute), Billy Mills (bass), Dwight James (drums), Monnette Sudler (guitar), Omar Hill (percussion), William Brister (percussionist, aka Rashid Salim). Errr…What’s that you say? Spiritual jazz with flute, vibes and two percussionists? Nice *grins*.

This 5 track release, “Unreleased”, follows Porter Records’ wonderful reissue of “New Horizons” aka “Sounds of Liberation” in 2010. All compositions, penned by Jamal, Lancaster and Sudler, have never been released before and have been prepared by group members, in collaboration with Peter “Max” Ochester of Philly’s Brewerytown Beats Records.

“Thoughts” kicks things off with Jamal plodding out a warm, sensitive, cosmic pattern and Sudler offering a simple slowhand melody in a fusion-stylee (a touch of the Sharrock’s) before Mills busies up a deep groove, the percussion steps it up and Jamal shimmers while Sudler shakes and pokes.

Latin heat comes the way of “Keno” a 3 minute 50, Ocho vs Malo step out with agile, slippery guitar, mesmeric dancing vibes and layered, power percussion. Hips required, por favor.

Next, an unexpected, but most appreciated, groovy psych rock gets it on, with the flute-throwing, hard-riffing “Sweet Evil Mist (Rib Crib)”. It’s the sort of fiery jam session that was an essential at trippy 60s festivals. The 6 keep it tight and high energy, with Mills driving it home HARD, as they let the flute and sax go off on extended ones, taking us out there and right back in there.

“Badi” is a goodi. Again, Mills drops a seriously deep one as the flute soulfully flutters and Sudler funks it up with a latin touch. Jamal then grabs hold of it for a while before morphing into a pretty exit theme led by the sweet, sweet flute.

The top and tailing, soulful vocal harmonies of the nearly 11 minute long final track, “New Horizon (Back Streets Of Heaven)”, lift us to that higher place. It’s joyous, spiritual, latin-infused, psych soul where everyone gets a chance to preach while tempos shift. Unsurprisingly, it’s all anchored by Mills’ ever reliable, almost totemic bass. And that’s yer lot.

Man that album felt short! It’s an exuberant and infectious shook-up bag of latin-enlivened, spiritual, funky psych soul jazz. With touches of Bobby Hutcherson, Sons and Daughters of Lite and Malo here and there, it’s less “serious” than the artists I mentioned at the top of the review but its variety of clashing, shaking, danceable rhythms make it an experience well worth having…not least because of the flute, vibes and two percussionists…oh, and after listening, the bass too.

Ian Ward