A new name to all when an unexpected digital single appeared online in February 2019, but this newly formed project is headed by Mark de Clive-Lowe alongside various members of the Japanese jazz scene including members of Kyoto Jazz Sextet, Kyoto Jazz Massive, WONK, Cro Magnon, Sleepwalker and Sauce81 but all produced by bandleader Mark de Clive-Lowe. This 4-track EP, which is very much a contemporary take on spiritual and deep jazz, is a forerunner to a future full-length album scheduled for an autumn 2019 release.
‘Stranger Searching’, as a precursor to the rest of the EP as blends the old with the new, that is, jazz sensibilities mixed with modern production qualities. The horn section of Shinpei Ruike, Kohei Ando and Wataru Hamasaki leads the way with MDCL’s floating piano chords used to confirm some of the changes, with the driving drum beat providing the rhythmic foundation. Additionally, the added light synth tones provide a sense of modernity to the track. The shortest track of the set at 4’48”, ‘Redeye Reprisal’ is again a very brass heavy composition but here drummer Hikaru Arata is particularly strong as he displays his proficient jazz drumming chops with his double-time accents riding over the frantic 7/4 time signature.
‘The Silk Road Prelude’ is definitely a journey indeed with its extended musical sections, loose arrangement and dynamic playing by all concerned, which includes the hypnotic bassline of Shinju Kobayashi which alongside the rest of the rhythm section which underpins MDCL’s excellent piano work. At the midpoint, guitarist Tsuyoshi Kosuga offers a timely melodic solo before the bass and drum groove take over for the final few minutes.
The final track is the Coltrane standard ‘A Love Supreme’. Covering one of the most acclaimed compositions in jazz history is a decision not to be taken lightly and it would be preposterous for the band to try to emulate the timeless modal classic. But here, the Rōnin Arkestra have chosen a far more contemporary approach with its use of hip hop type drums, audio filtering effects and sampled percussion blended with the unmistakable McCoy Tyner piano lines. Probably the free-ist track of the EP, with the horns and piano moving away from the usual musical grid within their later improvisational sections.
With MDCL drifting towards his cultural background with recent records, including his Japanese influenced ‘Heritage’ album released in January 2019 being a firm favourite at UK Vibe HQ, ‘First Meeting’ displays another opportunity for Mark de Clive-Lowe to showcase his virtuosity and current growth as a musician. And with this very accomplished set of musicians, the EP is an ideal vehicle for the band to also be in touch with their more experimental side, especially in contrast to many of their own records where they may be more conservative with regards their own creativity.
It is somehow fitting, (and comforting) that today I’m sitting listening to “Laaksum”, an album of creative beauty from composer/musician Gert Boersma, otherwise known as SILMUS. For today is just 24 hours on from the news of the passing of ‘Talk Talk’ frontman Mark Hollis. A feather has fallen, yet can still be heard.
While walking down the street on no particular day in his hometown Leeuwarden, it was the discovery of a single feather that brought back memories from days of youth and long forgotten scenes from early childhood. After more than 30 years, the feather triggered SILMUS to go back to a little inland bay in the southside of Friesland, the North of the Netherlands: Laaksum. It was the perfect picture to the sounds he would later create.
Assisted by Jan Theodoor Borger on piano, Minco Eggersman on drums, and Guy Gellem on cello, “Laaksum” is awash with ambient soundscapes, reminiscent of a post-rock era in which the likes of Mark Hollis, and before him a Berlin-era David Bowie and Brian Eno, made their music with little else in mind other than the music itself.
This is one of those albums that can be as equally melancholic as it can be uplifting. The music comes at you in gentle waves, like a meditation on the breath, gently breathing in, mindfully breathing out. Its nature is peaceful, relaxing, contemplative. Like a small pebble thrown into a large pond, the quiet waters ripple outward, before falling silent once more.
Gorgeous guitar melodies make me think of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Luscious strings make me think of a Max Richter composition. Atmospheric subtleties of sound make me think of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays on As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls. And as a whole, this album makes me think of friends, family, endearing memories, and the impermanence of everything. Take some time out of a busy life to reflect awhile. Like a feather drifting in the wind, music can be timeless. Let it in, let it flow, let things go…
The last 5 years have been a glorious period for new release soul records in all formats, with more and more albums getting a vinyl release, and with a plethora of 45s, it’s a tough time keeping up with it all. I spend two hours every day looking for new additions to acquire, and most of that time is searching out new releases. You can tell we are in a golden period when outlets start stocking albums like this. It has no nods to the modern-day productions, not a synth in sight thankfully, all real instruments with the main man being quite an accomplished guitarist. The whole sound is that of the early 60s rhythm and blues with a real southern edge, and sitting very comfortably along side The James Hunter Six, and although Alexis’ voice isn’t the strongest around, more a smooth and delicate one, he clearly sits within this epic musical backdrop effortlessly.
Let’s talk about the music score. Vast, stabbing horns and sweeping strings battle the bass and percussion with the occasional guitar joining the fray. Alexis is 25 and hails from Boudeaux, France. He is not “the next big thing on the French Deep Soul scene”, as we are told. There are no deep soul tracks on here or on his previous album; deep soul is slow torturous, with pleading vocals, over a simple backdrop, far from what is offered here. What he is, is an exciting new addition to soul music.
The album kicks off with the 45, “She Took Me Back”, a wonderful throwback dancer which could grace any Northern Soul/Crossover dance-floor. The big track on here is the simply stunning “Your Words” an absolute anthem in the making, crossover soul nights in the UK and Europe will be hammering this once word gets out and and can clearly imagine this getting some healthy attention at the forthcoming Soul Essence Weekender in April – perfect timing indeed. The myriad of Sunday Soul Sessions up and down the country will cement its place on the scene as one of the true modern greats. Recorded in the Bordeaux, mixed in Sydney by Dojo Cuts and the Liberators head man Nate Goldentone and mastered in LA at Golden Mastering. “I’ve come a long way” deserves special mention too, starting off in classic soul man mode and continues to excite, very subtle, quite superb. Alexis has been at this game a long time, discovering Afro-American music at a very young age and taking up the guitar thanks to his father, an English musician. Alexis stated “I spent a few months composing and arranging all these tracks with the idea of approaching the songs of The Impressions, Allen Toussaint or Bobby Womack (…) and with everyone in the right mood, we found our own sound and we recorded the album”. The other track that’s grown on me and is now a constant play is the unlikely titled “Chocolate Seller”, which starts off with horns that sound out of tune and then morphs into a funky choppy dancer, heavy on the horns throughout. If you’re into the sound of Timmion, Daptone, Kimberlite, Colemine etc then this album is an absolute must. Search out the vinyl and appreciate the music.
Norwegian born, New York based guitarist Lage Lund follows up his excellent 2015 trio outing “Idlewild” with “Terrible Animals”, a quartet recording featuring Lund on guitars and effects, Sullivan Fortner on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey drums.
“I basically could have recorded this right after Idlewild” Lund says. “The first time we played, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s it’. I love this combination of people, and most if not all of this music started out as stuff I wrote for them. I felt we could play anything, and it would make sense.” And there is a genuine warmth and comfort that comes across on this session, one that does make the listener share the feeling that all the musicians feel at home and at ease with one another, thereby allowing them the freedom to express themselves.
The album is made up of ten Lund originals, with the overall feel being quite different to the guitarist’s previous trio release which featured bassist Ben Street and drummer Bill Stewart. Obviously with a change of personnel, along with the addition of piano, the dynamic changes. “Terrible Animals” sounds more polished than its predecessor, with strong tunes backed up by top drawer performances, but for me it lacks a little of the surprise and originality that came with “Idlewild”. But “Terrible Animals” is of course a different beast, and stands strong as Lund’s fifth release for Criss Cross Jazz.
Listeners familiar with the Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau collaborations will perhaps share my thoughts on the similarities with this recording. The Metheny/Mehldau “Quartet” album especially (which also featured bassist Larry Grenadier), is as good a reference point as any for the music on this project. Both albums share a similar stylistic approach and the performances on both are pure quality.
“Hard Eights”, undoubtedly one of the strongest tunes on the album, opens proceedings. Lund’s use of effects is worthy of special mention; always cool and seamlessly integrated into the music itself, they add some wonderful textures and memorable moments. The intuitive combination of Lund’s guitar and Fortner’s piano is a feature throughout the album, the pair sharing an obvious empathic understanding. I love the way the quartet intuitively work together and build on ideas and melodies, before taking them off in different directions. The soloing is wonderful at times, as on “Suppressions”; cool, fluid and enchanting. Yet the tunes themselves are never far from their core, the writer’s inventive and sharp intelligence always creating a structured base from which everything else develops. “Octoberry” is a great example of how all of the musicians are free to explore and improvise around a theme. Lund’s quirkier side comes across well on tunes such as this, and indeed, the very impressive title track “Terrible Animals” leaves me wishing there was more of this to be heard. It’s on tunes such as these that for me, the individual character of Lund’s music really shines through. This is his voice, his thoughts, his expression, his music.
“Terrible Animals” is a strong release from Lund, adding to a glowing portfolio of music from the guitarist. He’s right up there with the best for me, and with a more frequent output that focusses on the individual character of his playing and writing, should be one of the leading lights of jazz guitar for many years to come.
There are few names in hip-hop that have garnered the level of respect that A Tribe Called Quest have since their debut in 1990 with ‘People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm’. The reverence their first three albums alone (including ‘The Low End Theory’ in 1991 and ‘Midnight Marauders’ in 1993) are held in cement those projects along with its members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad amongst hip-hop royalty.
The legacy of A Tribe Called Quest lies within the subsequent generations of rappers, producers, beat-makers and DJs who herald Tribe’s music as the soundtrack to their youth and the inspiration for them to forge their own path in hip-hop. ‘A Quest Called Tribe’ is very much the exploration of Orlando “Medline” Diaz’s passion for the hip-hop luminaries and it’s a passion that’s exquisitely realised on the new My Bags record label release.
Eight tracks from the beloved Tribe catalogue are masterfully tackled here including ‘Electric Relaxation’, ‘Scenario’ and ‘Jazz (We’ve Got)’ in a thrilling new project that is sure to captivate hip-hop fans’ imagination, particularly with the love and affection with which the songs have been recreated.
Through the My Bags label, Medline’s projects have consistently managed to straddle the lines between pushing the boundaries of his own creativity and trying new styles and approaches, while still remaining true to his French-Chilean heritage; it’s the metaphor that comes to life in subtle ways through Medline’s, for example, use of both analog and digital tools and instrumentation.
Aside from ‘A Quest Called Tribe’ in itself serving as an homage to hip-hop’s own cultural heritage, Medline still finds a way to dig that little deeper and scrawl his signature sound in to these new creations, in this case, by respecting the works that provided the backbone to the original Tribe recordings. In ‘Continue A Rouler’ (renamed from ‘Keep It Rolling’), Medline skilfully segues into the song’s original sampling of Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s 1974 version of ‘Feel Like Making Love’ at the song’s conclusion; same as for ‘Relaxation Electrique’ (renamed from ‘Electric Relaxation’) whose recreation leans heavily towards Ronnie Foster’s ‘Mystic Bounce’ (1972) from the outset. It’s a genius touch that works beautifully.
February is a month of notable significance for hip-hop fans as it marks the month of James Yancey’s (Jay Dee, Dilla) birth and subsequent death. As one-third of the Ummah production stable (along with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad), Dilla’s legacy is partly built upon the Tribe albums he contributed largely to, ‘Beats, Rhymes and Life’ and ‘The Love Movement’, so it’s fitting to see some notable Dilla productions revisited here like ‘Trouver une Voie’ (‘Find A Way’) and ‘Continue A Rouler’ (‘Keep It Moving’), the latter of which cleverly reimagined with gospel-like handclaps.
There is actually a bigger *picture* here – no pun intended – that transcends Medline’s music, making the entire project a more immersive experience, and that’s the exceptional artwork provided by Stéphane Carricondo. As well as his artwork adorning the vinyl sleeve of the album, the Bandcamp page also features an excellent A2 poster for sale that is an inspired piece.
Egon’s exceptional Now-Again Records consolidates the release of four extremely rare albums by jazz drummer Bubbha Thomas from 1970 to 1975 into a comprehensive box set with a total of 61 tracks (I counted them). Hailing from Houston, Texas – not the bedrock of spiritual jazz and jazz fusion in the US, but nonetheless, this remarkable set showcases another missing link in the evolution of jazz during its extremely fertile early to mid-1970s epoch. As the vinyl box set for practical purposes is split into four pressings representing each of the four albums, I will also separate them individually to examine each album at a time chronologically.
‘Free As You Wanna Be’ (1970) the debut is definitely a development record. Not as ‘free’ as the title suggests but its influences range from accessible free jazz to fusion, but the title track is explicitly early 70s spiritual jazz, even with its loose guitar chords which are reminiscent of some of Pharoah Sanders’ Impulse material. ‘Talk Visit’ with its swirling horns and heavy shuffle rhythm is particularly memorable. This record and ‘Country Fried Chicken’ also includes a pre-Blue Note Ronnie Laws playing alto sax, soprano sax and flute.
The follow up album ‘Fancy Pants’ (1971), again contains spiritual elements as well as heavier fusion moments. ‘Sorrow, Bitterness And Revolution (Now He’s Gone)’ sees some excellent guitar work by Kenny Abair, who features heavily on the first two albums. ‘Ashie’ at 2’45” is a perfect DJ tool and was also originally pressed as a 7” circa 1971 (it fetches £500) and is a downbeat funky jazz number. As a bonus, an alternative version labelled ‘Synth Version’ is also presented which features an additional Mini Moog playing the main melody line (this track is on a different disc).
‘Energy Control Center’ (1972) is the most in demand of these albums and drifts between post-bop tendencies, fusion with some slightly free-ish elements to more resounding spiritual jazz moments with ‘Leo’ especially strong here. As memorable is the funky ‘The Phantom’ (nothing to do with the Duke Pearson piece). Also included is the non-LP track ‘All Praise Due To Allah’ which appeared on 7” in 1972, which one assumes to be both parts 1 and 2 combined with an extraordinary unreleased alternative 9-minute version – which could well be the track of the box set. A bold statement indeed.
The final album, ‘Country Fried Chicken’ (1975), jumps from post-Headhunters fusion including the breakbeat intro of ‘Country Fried Chicken’ to the 10-minute journey that is ‘Sweet Ray’. The Rhodes driven ‘Famous Last Words’ is the most jazz-based track of this album, but I would state that this album is probably my least favourite, but that’s like having a least favourite Leroy Hutson album.
Furthermore with each of the CD and vinyl versions, all albums are presented as double releases, with Fancy Pants and Free As You Wanna Be having both stereo and mono versions presented. Energy Control Center’s second disc includes additional or alternate tracks as well as four tracks by Thomas Meloncon, a one time member of The Lightmen who released two singles on Judnell, the original label for the first two albums. And finally, Country Fried Chicken also contains some bonus tracks including alternative versions and non-album releases.
In reality, many jazz groups on tiny labels in the 1970s only had very brief recording careers, maybe releasing one or two albums within their catalogue. Remarkably, Bubbha Thomas recorded four complete albums, a best of compilation and seven singles, including quite a nice boogie 45 in 1980, which is also included, which highlights his sheer single-mindedness and determination to release music that he believed in. And it’s here that Now-Again have to be acknowledged for bringing these rare pieces to a wider audiences especially considering how well they have been presented.
There are so many tracks included within the box set that it’s initially easy to miss many of its highlights and it demands a certain amount of time to fully absorb the large track count and its various nuances. But it’s worth noting that each of the four original albums have been issued separately on double vinyl and CD editions and with the bonus material included. You could argue that reissues of this nature are also investment pieces, with the four original albums alone fetching well over £1000 on the second hand market and even these reissues won’t be around forever and will increase in value. But that’s being very cynical as this is, first and foremost, just great music.
With this eagerly anticipated volume in the ongoing series, one immediate question needs to be posed: where does the legendary Blue Note label fit into the spiritual jazz paradigm? When one might have expected a possible decline in the content of the independent label with its mid-1960s sale to conglomerate Liberty, in actual fact some of the most challenging music it put out was coming to the fore and those Reid Miles cover designs were still outstanding and stand the test of time remarkably well. This compilation focuses attention more specifically on the period 1964-1966 from which the majority of tracks derive, though earlier and later examples can be found. Of the numerous highlights worth outlining here, the name of vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson crops up frequently as does that of tenorist Joe Henderson. Both are featured on the magnificent opener, ‘Verse’, from a 1966 album by Hutcherson, ‘Stick Up’, that needs to be heard in its entirety and with a line-up that includes McCoy Tyner on piano and Billy Higgins on drums. This follows on from the similarly minded ‘Mode for Joe’ (1966) album when the leadership duties were reversed into the hands of Joe Henderson. While that recording is not illustrated on this anthology, another from that era is in ‘Inner Urge’ (1965), and from that, the energetic, Latin-themed ‘El Barrio’ is selected and the mighty powerful rhythm is propelled by Elvin Jones no less.
Indeed, as a sideman, the tenorist participated in one of the great mid-1960s albums by drummer Pete La Roca, namely ‘Basra’ (1965). From that stunning recording, which includes the piano of Steve Kuhn and bassist Steve Swallow come two supreme examples of spiritually-tinged jazz in the title track and the Spanish-flavoured ‘Malaguena’, formerly heard on a Latin Jazz percussion album by Jack Costanzo, but which here has been slowed down into a smouldering slice of post-bop. Searching out to distant lands in order to draw inspiration is a common theme elsewhere with Wayne Shorter’s lesser-known offering, ‘Indian Song’, and a classy quartet comprising Herbie Hancock on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Joe Chambers on drums. That feeling is reinforced by a second and more familiar Shorter original, ‘Footprints’ from the ‘Adam’s Apple’ (1966) album, a piece which he recorded also as part of the Miles Davis Quintet.
Pianists feature prominently and the name of Duke Pearson is one of the most worthy contenders for inclusion. Of all the albums Person recorded for Blue Note, ‘The Phantom’ (1968), is one of the most unusual, beguiling, and the impressionistic of his entire career. The album cover alone hints at an exotic forest and the use of percussion blends in perfectly with the imagery and the combination of piano and vibes (courtesy once again of Bobby Hutcherson) makes the title track sound like nothing else you have heard previously. More in keeping with the interest in progressive big band jazz that Duke Pearson had, ‘Empathy’ from the album ‘Sweet Honey Bee’ (1966) features an extended brass section with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, James Spaulding on alto saxophone and yet again Joe Henderson on tenor. That larger ensemble setting works equally on a lovely mid-1960s Hank Mobley outing, ‘The Morning After’ from the memorable ‘Caddy for Daddy’ album (1966). In a different vein, Duke Pearson adopts electric piano for a Donald Byrd composition with a strong spiritual theme, ‘Cristo Redentor’ which was an early example of Brazilian ex-patriot, percussionist Airto Moreira, on a recording with American musicians. Andrew Hill gets a look in on the unreleased, ‘Poinsetta’ (1968), that is notable for the use of strings, and Bennie Maupin alternating between flute and tenor saxophone. Another piece by Hill, not included here, but worth investigating is ‘Fish ‘n’ Rice’ from a Liberty album, ‘Dance With Death’ (1968), or piano plus voices on ‘Lift Every Voice’ (1969). Indeed, so unique is the work of Andrew Hill that an anthology of his Blue Note work would be welcomed.
Elsewhere, we find an album that personifies the spiritual approach to music in Freddie Hubbard’s 1965 recording, ‘Blue Spirit’. Hubbard is quoted on the back cover as stating that “Recording the album was a spiritual experience”, and that is backed up by a hefty line-up of musicians including a four-pronged brass ensemble that features Hank Mobley, James Spaulding and Kiane Zawadi on euphonium, with Pete La Roca taking care of drumming duties. Altoist Jackie McLean was present on some of the more avant-garde albums that Blue Note put out in the second half of the decade, and thus choosing a single item was no easy task and, ‘It’s Time’ featuring Tolliver, Herbie Hancock and Roy Haynes is another fine example. From the ‘Action’ (1964) LP, ‘Flight’ impresses with a line-up that includes an early example of trumpeter Tolliver, with no piano, but the vibraphone of Hutcherson and Cecil McBee and Billy Higgins part of the rhythm section, For those in search of wider modal pleasures, be sure to check out the wonderful twelve and a half minute, ‘On the Nile’ composed by and featuring Tolliver from the McLean album, ‘Jacknife’, that covers two sessions from 1965 and 1966, but went unreleased until 1975 and has since been re-issued.
One could quibble with some of the pieces not selected, such as ‘African Village’ or ‘Little Madimba’ from ‘Time For Tyner’ (1968), another stellar pairing of McCoy Tyner and Bobby Hutcherson. Then again, there is the alternative version to ‘My Favourite Things’ from a 1964 Grant Green quartet date ‘Matador’ (1964) that features both McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, both integral members of the John Coltrane interpretation. In fact, the Middle Eastern flavoured ‘Bedouin’ on the same album is almost as good, but listeners can readily find such examples on CD and increasingly on vinyl re-issues. Entries from Eric Gale and Solomon Ilori widen the repertoire to incorporate African-American musical innovations and an interest in African culture.
Interestingly, while John Coltrane the tenor saxophonist is not included here (his few recordings on Blue Note date from before his modal and exploratory work for the Impulse label), his towering influence on so many jazz musicians are alluded to on a piece that this writer had not heard before. ‘Searchin’ the ‘Trane’, which is the second of the Bobby Hutcherson recordings under his own name and dates from 1976. As in keeping with other volumes in the series, in-depth and exemplary sleeve notes, with album covers graphically illustrated. A most worthy successor to the preceding volumes.
Celebrating its fiftieth year in existence, ECM turns to tenorist Joe Lovano who records his first album for the label as a leader after spending a happy and lengthy tenure at Blue Note, with whom he remained for some twenty-five years or more. If the evocative front cover with Lovano underneath one of New York’s fine bridges and with the Manhattan skyline in the background, hints at a homage to Sonny Rollins in the 1960s, the trio sound is more contemporary, with word beats in the percussion of the youthful Carmen Castaldi who impresses throughout while Marilyn Crispell is an unusual piano partner.
This partnership does not have the melodic pizzazz of say Hank Jones and Lovano, either in a live setting, or in the studio, and, in truth, the all original Lovano pieces are not all that memorable. That said, the album is notable for the use of space between notes. That can be heard on ‘Sparkle Light’, which has something of an impressionistic quality to it. A spiritual quality permeates ‘One Time Is’, where Lovano’s tenor sounds as if it has been processed through a tunnel to create echo and more particularly on, ‘Mystic’, where the leader develops his continuing passion for the tarogato, a Hungarian reed instrument. The partnership between Crispell and Lovano works best when they are perform in tandem from the outset, as is the case on ‘Seeds Of Change’.
Mention must be made of the fine contribution of Carmen Castaldi, who deploys an array of ethnic percussive instruments including the Chinese gong on occasion. A future duo album beckons surely because there is a natural empathy between drummer and saxophonist, as evidenced on their duet from the outset on, ‘Rare beauty’, and even evoking the Coltrane/Elvin Jones partnership on ‘Spirit Lake’. In contrast, Crispell offers a relaxing classic style on a piece such as, ‘Terrassa’, where the tenor gradually weaves its way in and the number becomes ever more abstract in tone. Interestingly, this is one of the few compositions where all three instrumentalists operate together and that is something missing from the rest. In fact, typical of the album is, ‘Razzle Dazzle’, where the piano dominates and on a number that is just over three and a half minutes, the tenor does not enter before the two minute mark. The album ends on a lyrical note with ‘The Smiling Dog’. Not quite the fireworks one might have expected with this line-up, but in spite of that reservation, the presence of Joe Lovano on ECM, where in the past he has often figured as a guest sideman, is nonetheless a welcome addition to the portfolio.
If the wonderful SoulMusic records’ box set of the complete Epic recordings of the Staples Singers whetted your appetite, then this single CD compilation takes a step backwards in time and covers the period between 1953 and 1961 when the group were gaining a national reputation for the excellence of their singles. Pared down blues and gospel is what the Staples offer up and even with sometimes just piano and/or guitar to accompany, those distinctive vocal harmonies are already in place. That is the case of ‘Won’t You Sit Down’, which opens out into a piano-led number. With twenty-six songs in total, a variety of labels come to the fore, with Gospel, Sharp, United and Veejay all prominent and discerning promoters of 1950s gospel music at that, frequently labels created from the Chicago stable. What impresses with this pre-Riverside and Epic era of Staples Singers songs, is the extent to which the lyrics are embellished by the sound of Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples’ blues guitar, often beefed up by period produced echo. That makes the overall sound on songs such as ‘If I Could Hear My Mother’ and ‘Uncloudy Day’, all the more appealing.
While the espousal of Civil Rights issues was still around the corner, the message behind many of the songs is all-encompassing such as the welcoming hues of ‘It Rained Children’. Of the standards revisited, ‘Swing Low’ is heard in two separate renditions, with the Gospel label take adopting a slower tempo that enables the blues to have a far great input. That said, on the 1958 Vee-Jay interpretation, the guitar playing of Roebuck is more prominent, and in some ways more impassioned. Both versions, then, have their individual merits. Elsewhere, it is the throaty female vocals of Clovis and Mavis that lend an exceptional hand to ‘Love Is The Way’. This is a priceless set of sings and great value at just under eighty minutes. A fine way to complete your Staple Singers essentials of the later years.
“Creative musicians should not consider themselves entertainers. Their purpose is to enlighten – themselves first and then the audience.” That’s how Muhal Richard Abrams stated the essential truth in the AACM manifesto. This ethos has been clearly articulated by its many awe-inspiring members; from the Art Ensemble to Anthony Braxton to Phil Cohran to Henry Threadgill to etc.
As AACM members themselves, I had an expectation of this 1979 recording by Chicago’s Infinite Spirit Music to be proudly uncommercial, seriously uncompromising, with an out there, spiritual, African influence. So, I planned to give it a quick blast to prove I was right and then wait until I was more ‘in the mood’ (and until my free-jazz-fearing family were out of the house!) to give it a focused full play.
As it turns out, the out there onslaught I was expecting never came; “Live Without Fear” is a gentle, soulful, peaceful flow of feel good and optimism.
In “Children’s Song” a Soji Adebayo rhodes twinkles and massages, Light Henry Huffs ascendant sax soothes and strokes while Ka l’ella Alou’s (?) smoky, celestial voice seeks ascendance. Divine, fluid, relaxed and respectful it feels like a coasting Lonnie Liston trustfully taking his foot off the gas.
“Ritual” and “Father Spirit, Mother Love” are African voice and percussion prayers; calling for love, wisdom and strength to proceed and grow. They’re both led in the devotional by Kahil El Zabar, creating a voice of strength, tension and uplift.
If you want some percussionfest rhythm fire then “Bright Tune” is your spin. Following a deep Huffs walkabout the layers of conga, whistles, ticks n tocks n shaky stuff deliver an extensive, revitalising, hypnotic space that eventually gets rudely interrupted by some gleeful, expressive Rhodes runs and glides. It’s fusion-time in Evanston!
“Rasta” has many parts and wears its Caribbean influence interestingly. The first 2 minutes are metronomic and electronic music-aware; then Soji stabs us into dub-lite while Huff lyrically floats and soothes again. Always sparse, it breaks down into a conversational bass solo before Soji takes us on a soulful, peaceful ramble.
Title track, “Live Without Fear”, kicks off in the vein I expected from this album. Huff’s wasp sax excites, lifts & stings, but only briefly, before the soulful spirituality takes over again; this time in the elevating vocal/sax/piano spoken mantra of “Live Without Fear”. We are then blessed with Soji’s explosion of warmth before the Infinite Spirit Music percussive troupe dances away into the distance finally, and sincerely, wishing upon us a life without fear.
Soji Adebayo remembers of the album “I recorded Live Without Fear on May 31, 1979 with some of my friends. We drove up into Evanston from Chicago in three cars on a day that smelled good and spoke all day sunshine…to Live Without Fear means to live in material reality with faith… Peace on you!”
That pretty much sums it up; warm, soulful, spiritual sunshine that smells real good, wishes Peace upon you and, true to the AACM manifesto; it enlightens.