David Wertman / Sun Ensemble ‘Earthly Delights’ 2LP (BBE Music) 4/5

Welcome first-time vinyl reissue for David Wertman’s rare debut album ‘Earthly Delights’ with his Sun Ensemble, lovingly retrieved from the archives by the BBE Music label. Recorded in 1978, the LP is a tour de force of free expressionist spiritual jazz, which was originally released on the independent Sweet Earth Record label that existed between 1978-79; set up by John Sprague JR., who plays flute and percussion on the album. The label only released five albums yet each release was a testament to the label’s adventurous stance and close relationship with the contributing artists on board. Of those five albums on the catalogue, Both Sun Ra’s ‘The Other Side Of The Sun’ album and Amina Claudine Myers’ ‘Poems For Piano’ featured alongside this recording.

Both the leader David Wertman [bass] and John Sprague JR. [flute/percussion] shared a deep involvement with the legendary New York Jazz Loft jam sessions before recording this classic album, playing alongside many great avant-garde jazz musicians including Steve Reid, Charles Tyler, Billy Bang, Arthur Blythe, Archie Shepp, Marion Brown and many other influential figures who frequented the progressive and free-spirited meeting of minds. Both musicians also featured on albums including those by both Steve Reid and Charles Tyler in the mid-’70s.

More experimental and loosely structured than both his 1976 recorded ‘Kara Suite’ LP and his 1983 recording ‘Wide Eyed Culture’, the change in compositional approach on ‘Earthly Delights’ stems partly from David Wertman’s move from his New York setting to the liberal college town of Amherst, Massachusetts and through his newly formed Sun Ensemble; a group who shared a similar ethos in respect of the social and political matters of importance of that period in history and place.

The music stretches out over the four compositions with an explorative probing of boundaries and sound, energetic, contemplative, intense and revealing. The music pays tribute to John Coltrane on the aptly titled ‘John Love Trane’, a contemplative piece with subtle touches of percussion complimenting David Wertman’s intricate and reflective bass; echoes of Jimmy Garrison and Paul Chambers contained within the ever-evolving link through time. The atmospheric title track sets the tone for the album, full of subtle probing sounds and colourful percussionist elements, quietly leading into the mid-tempo swinging composition, ‘Relations’, with the full ensemble creating a dynamic intensity that creates a highlight from the session. With the final track, ‘Clear Air Dancer’, drummer Larry Conway creates an infectious groove amidst the swirling darting reed sounds which eventually recede to make way for a buoyant drum solo to round off this memorable album, thankfully available after a lengthy period of obscurity.

The featured line up includes Greg Wall (Baritone Saxophone), Jay Conway (Drums), John Sprague Jr. (Flute and Percussion), David Swerdlove (Soprano/Alto Saxophone), and John Zieman (Synthesizer) and of course the formidable larger than life bassist and leader David Wertman. A welcome reissue and essential album for anyone who appreciates the more experimental side of spiritual jazz.

Mark Jones