Norman Williams and The One Mind Experience ‘The Bishop’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Rooted in Bebop, Norman “The Bishop” Williams’ alto is a swinging affair “in the Kansas City Charlie Parker tradition”. This debut 1976 recording with The One Mind Experience was to be the first release on the Californian Theresa label – their Pharoah Sanders’ releases being widely recognised – with some 44 years passing before lovingly remastered by Ray Staff and reissued by Pure Pleasure Records. A Theresa partnership that would have Williams working alongside Hadley Caliman, Babatunde Olatunji and Dave Liebman in 1978 on the Bay Area Music Award-winning Theresa album ‘Bishop’s Bag’, for which he is perhaps better known, before a third release, ‘One For Bird’ in 1979 with Pepper Adams.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of his passing it is with celebration that we now unwrap this, his first release, and encounter two original songs penned by the leader, four by pianist/band member Paul Arslanian and one Hal Galper composition from 1971 which opens side A. Together with Pierre Obadi Baynes on drums, Michael Formanek on Electric Bass and Allen Pittman on Flugelhorn, the sextet unleashes the full weight of their energy on the opening Galper piece ‘Figure Eight’, a non-alto sax original that excels here as Williams soars through with Paul Arslanian’s keys lifting each passage to a majestic place. A stand-out piece indeed and with only one drummer!

Arslanian’s ‘Terry’s Song’ is funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter and a wonderful platform for the leader to dazzle, although there is no mistaking whose song this belongs to and pains this writer to discover there are very few releases with Arslanian featured. His writing skills return with ‘Don’t Go ‘Way Mad’, a jazz samba dance-floor monster [did I say this hasn’t seen a rerelease before now?]. We then close the first side with Arslanian’s ‘Christina’, a swinging ballad propped up by Williams’ alto. Delightful.

Flipping the disc over for Arslanian’s last composition, ‘Mr. Peabody’, I’m further convincing myself this is a showcase for Paul Arslanian and question then why there wasn’t more for us to discover. This compelling piece, supported by stunning bass playing by Michael Formanek is on par with Gary Bartz NTU Troop sprinkled with the reverence bestowed on The Headhunters. It’s already a five-star album…

The final two songs are those of the leader; ‘Trane’s Paradise’ nods to the foundation for The One Mind Experience as his own progressive church, the One Mind Temple Evolutionary Body of Christ (renamed St. John Coltrane Church) highlights his devotion to Coltrane, although very much a pity Alice Coltrane herself filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against the church in 1981 for “misrepresentation” – he would go on to write songs dedicated to Lee Morgan, Eric Dolphy and Charlie Parker – before ‘Ole’ Brown’ plays the encore. Make no mistake, Williams knew how to pull a tune together, notably having worked alongside Max Roach and Phineas Newborn Jr. The experience and energy truly unfold through the entire album.

As I ponder on how familiar this album sounds, evidence of previous encounters proves embarrassing. There are no tracks featured on any compilation I own, there is no reissue by Evidence Music during their 90s take-over to be found on CD and therefore a proven example of how important this release is, in the music, the mastering and the sense that this needs to be part of our respective collections. I applaud everyone along the journey from the San Fransisco recording date in 1970 to today with even one-time band member, Eddie Henderson, stamping his approval with liner notes. Essential listening feels like an understatement.

Steve Williams