VA – Spiritual Jazz: Esoteric, Modal, and Deep Jazz from the Underground 1968-1977 (2009)

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Various – Spiritual Jazz: Esoteric, Modal, and Deep Jazz from the Underground 1968-1977
Jazzman/Now-Again (NA5042)

01. James Tatum / Introduction 4:32
02. Lloyd Miller / Gol-E Gandom 4:09
03. Morris Wilson-Beau Bailey Quintet / Paul’s Ark 3:18
04. P.E. Hewitt / Bada Que Bash 4:09
05. Mor Thiam / Ayo Ayo Nene 5:44
06. The Lightmen Plus One / All Priases To Allah (Parts 1-2) 4:28
07. Ndikho Xaba / Nomusa 8:46
08. Salah Ragab / Neveen 7:51
09. Positive Force / The Afrikan In Winter 4:15
10. Frank Derrick Total Experience / No Jive 5:09
11. Hastings Street Jazz Experience / Ja Mil 3:33.14
12. Ronnie Boykins / The Will Come, Is Now 12:29
13. Leon Gardner / Be There 3:30
14. Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble / Psych City 3:03

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This post is for Sir Chadwick the Golden, who mentioned it about nine months ago. Like always, Flabbergast is as timely as an unwanted pregnancy and so this post has taken about nine months or so to finally arrive. At this point he has probably gone out and found himself a copy, but if not then I hope he enjoys this quality rip of a top-notch collection from Jazzman Records, a label that has yet to disappoint me with any of their releases. Chadwick had mentioned that the album was curiously, and pleasantly (for his ears) free of spiritual-jazz yodeling. Indeed, there is no Leon Thomas anywhere on this album, and aside from some appearances from Lester Bowie and an entry from Salah Ragab, the majority of the artists on this album will likely be unfamiliar to all but the most astute and studious of rare groove stalwarts. And that is no big surprise: the bulk of the material here is culled from rare 45’s and LP’s pressed privately and-or in very small quantities. I’ve felt my own consciousness expanded by this compilation and have definitely been turned on to a bunch of wonderful artists through its existence. The whole album is so consistently good that I have to fall back on one of my own clichés and say that it’s too hard to pick out highlights. But if you put a bop-gun to my head and made me start talking, I’d say the album really begins to make a believer out of me by the time it takes flight with B.D. Hewitt’s Jazz Ensemble and their track “Bada Que Bash” with scatlike vocalizations that remind me of the best of Andrew Hill or Donald Byrd’s work in that vein. The following track is the bona-fide monster of the collection – “Ayo Ayo Nene” by Senegalese percussionist Mor Theme and featuring a pre-Art Ensemble appearance by Lester Bowie, it’s a funky as hell global trot of transnational infusions and Afrocentric celebration from his album “Drums of Fire.” Ndikho Xaba and The Natives deliver some post-Coltrane-via-South-Africa modality with a heavy soul arrangement. Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band blow our minds with a piece of Latin-soul-jazz-Arabian-funk from the impossibly rare 1972 album “Prism Music Unit.” Ragab’s band is better known via an association with Sun Ra’s Arkestra that would come a decade later, and unfortunately he recorded very little of his own, all of it precious. The wonderful liner notes fill in the story of the Cairo Jazz Band’s creation.

Another incomparable treasure on this album is from the Detroit collective The Positive Force featuring Ade Olutunji, led by Kamall Kenyatta. The impetus for the group ame largely through Ade’s participation in the 1977 FESTAC festival in Lagos (the same event, incidentally, which brough Gilberto Gil more directly in touch with Mother Africa and Caetano Veloso more in touch with his own narcissism but which would yield his last decent album he ever made, Bicho). As the aforementioned lovely booklet with this CD mentions, The Positive Force was conceived more as a collaborative art project combining music and poetry, and the sole album they recorded (in Highland Park, Michigan!) was only sold at their performances. Even more highlights from Detroit’s oft-overlooked and under-celebrated jazz scene during the 1970s is the cut here by the Hastings Street Jazz Experience with a tune called “Ja Mil”. The band is simply too huge to list all the musicians in this post but features vocals by Kim Weston (on loan from Motown and an old high school friend of bandleader Ed Nelson), as well as Phil Ranelin on trombone (Tribe Records) and Walter Strickland (Sun Ra’s Arkestra) on sax. More Sun Ra connections arrive via bassist Ronald Boykins, whose one and only LP as a bandleader (for the ESP label) gets represented here with the brooding “The Will Come, Is Now”. The next track, Leon Gardner’s “Be There”, is a head trip of the first order. Undoubtedly the weirdest thing on here, it features and uncredited band with undeniable jazz chops led and arranged by Horace Tapscott, and virtuoso verbosity via Mr. Gardner who seems to be cautioning us to watch out and make sure that we be there. The album closes with the Ohio Penitentiary 511 Ensemble, which while having what is easily one of the most interesting background stories, offers up one of the least interesting musical pieces, “Psych City.” But it’s a good and laid back two-chord vamp to jam out the tail end of the record, with the additional fun of a farfisa piping away quietly in the right channel.

Given the rarity and scarcity of this precious source material, sound quality is not particularly stunning on some of this collection. This is not actually a *complaint* from me this time – and not just an observation, I mention it because I have a suggestion: this album deserves a listen with a good pair of headphones. For those of us with sound systems that cost less than a new automobile, a good pair of headphones can help bring out some of the details that get lost in the harmonic distortions of a lot of speaker systems. Of course I could just be saying that because I am listening on a comfortable pair of Senheisser’s as I write this, and previously I had only cranked up this record on the stereo at home. I feel like I missed a lot of the music that way, so if you dig this album give some `phones a try.

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