Various ‘Spiritual Jazz 4’ 3LP/2CD (Jazzman) 5/5


This is arguably the most ambitious project to date in the Spiritual jazz series which has showcased esoteric and, in many cases, extremely rare sounds that have only ever been issued originally on smaller independent labels and would be inaccessible to all but the most committed. For this fourth instalment, the overriding theme is that of American musicians resident or performing in Europe and it is a mightily impressive line-up of musicians which ranges from Albert Ayler to Archie Shepp and Sun Ra, from Don Cherry to Sahib Shihab, and along the way takes on board the likes of Eric Dolphy, Bobby Hutcherson. Lee Konitz and Grachan Moncur.

If the format is by now familiar, the music contained within is anything but and there are some major new discoveries to be made. These include a superb number on the Danish Steeplechase label by pianist Billy Gault with a tribute to the titan tenorist on ‘Mode for Trane’. This could easily be a Strata-East, or Black Jazz recording and is one of the early albums on the label dating from a 1974 New York session and features vocalist Joe Lee Wilson and some fine tenor work from Bill Saxton. Another relatively unknown artist worthy of your attention is Frank Wright and his sextet. The piece ‘T and W’ is an uptempo, percussive number with a Latin undercurrent on piano and some fine interplay between tenor sax and trumpet. The piece, although free-form in parts, is always held together by a pumping Latin rhythm section. The recording dates from 1979 by the US ensemble that just happened to be passing through Munich at the time. A far better-known musician is the legendary Sun Ra and his intergalactic approach to the world of music is typified on an all too brief vocal number from a live Paris performance in 1970, ‘Enlightenment’, with vocals shared between June Tyson and Marshall Allen. Arguably even more esoteric than the Sun Ra contribution is an edited version of an original eighteen-minute opus from Don Cherry with Krzystof Penderecki and the New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra on ‘Humus – The Life Exploring Force’. Among the mass orchestra trumpeters Tomasz Stanko and Kenny Wheeler feature and there is some truly wild saxophone playing into the heady mix with folk-inspired vocals by Loes McGillycutty. Free-form and classical are fused here and this could only ever have been recorded in the early 1970s period. Elsewhere a second Coltrane homage, a reworking of ‘Olé’ by the Noah Howard group, impresses and this was part of a 1975 live session at the Latin Quarter club in Berlin. Continuing with live performances, a lengthy eighteen and a half minutes of the Bobby Hutcherson and Harold Land sextet in their prime is the focus of ‘The Creators’ which was recorded in 1970 as part of the Ljubljana festival in the then Yugoslavia. This is, in fact, the full band that was recording on Blue Note at the time and it is wonderful to hear that formation in a live context. Full marks for unearthing this gem of a track. Among the total of fourteen compositions on the compilation, Albert Ayler and Eric Dolphy will attract immediate attention. The former is heard in a different context from usual insofar as his deconstruction of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ is a minimalist and, by Ayler’s standards, a relatively gentle interpretation. This date from a 1963 Copenhagen session and reveals another side to the tenorist. By contrast, Eric Dolphy’s ‘Springtime’ is one of the very last pieces he ever recorded and is the longest number on the entire anthology at nearly twenty minutes and it places Dolphy in a slightly different and more percussive context which recalls his collaboration with the Latin Jazz Quintet. Finally, some comment should be made on the Sahib Shihab piece ‘The Call’ where he plays soprano and this Danish recording dates from 1971 on the Storyville label, which like Steeplechase, was a vastly underrated independent label. At some future point, perhaps Jazzman could devote a project to other recordings from these two prestigious, yet hard to find record labels out of Scandanavia. Of all the numbers on offer, one that spiritual jazz devotees are likely to be familiar with is Lee Konitz’s modal piece ‘Five, Four and Three’ and this is a worthy inclusion among the other sounds.

Twenty-three pages of sleeve notes are impeccably presented with details on individual formations, brief histories of the recordings and original album covers in miniature. Jazzman has set the standard for inner sleeve notes which other labels would do well to follow. In addition, to present these wonderful sounds in their thoroughly modern context, the outer cover features a painting by Jackson Pollock and it should not be forgotten that art and music have invariably been closely linked and on occasion, jazz musicians have themselves devoted part of their lives to producing some worthy painting, Miles Davis being an obvious case in point. All in all, this is just over two hours of intensely charged, spiritual vibe inducing music that captures the essence of the 1960s and 1970s scene to perfection.

Tim Stenhouse

Read also:
Various ‘Spiritual Jazz 3’ 2LP/CD (Jazzman) 4/5

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