Leon Thomas – Full Circle (1973) (24-96khz vinyl rip)

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Leon Thomas – Full Circle

1973 Flying Dutchman (FD-10167 A/B-R)

1 Sweet Little Angel (B.B. King, J. Taub) 4:59

2 Just In Time To See The Sun (Carlos Santana, Gregg Rolie, Michael Shrieve) 2:58

3 It’s My Life I’m Fighting For (Neil Creque) 10:10

4 Never Let Me Go (Joe Scott) 2:28

5 I Wanna Be Where You Are (A. Ross, L. Ware) 4:22

6 Got To Be There (Elliot Willensky) 4:27

7 Balance Of Life (Peace Of Mind) (Leon Thomas, Neil Creque) 7:02

8 You Are The Sunshine Of My Life (Stevie Wonder) 5:47

9 What Are We Gonna Do? (Leon Thomas) 5:56

incomplete credits from `Discogs` website — full credits are in the LP jacket

Bass – Richard Davis

Berimbau, percussion – Sonny Morgan

Drums – Pretty Purdie, Herbie Lovelle

Guitar – Joe Beck, Lloyd Davis

Percussion – Richard Landrum

Piano – Neal Creque

Saxophone – Pee Wee Ellis

Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Jimmy Owens

Flute – Joe Farrell

Vinyl original pressing ; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15 ; M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard; Adobe Audition 3.0 at 32-bit float s 96khz; Click Repair light settings, additional clicks and pops removed in Audition ; ID Tags done in foobar2000 v.1.0.1 and Tag & Rename. For 16 bit/ 44.1 khz version, additional processing in iZotope RX Advanced.

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This is probably one of Leon Thomas’ lesser-known albums, and I can see why. Not that it’s bad, it just completely bizarre by virtue of its utter normality. Putting this album on the turntable for the first time was a jarring experience for me, because I would never have envisioned the singer I know through Pharaoh Sanders’ band – the guy who innovated “jazz yodeling” as a technique all his own — covering songs from B.B. King, Santana, The Jacksons, and Joe Scott (writer of “Never Let Me Go” and also responsible for the classic “Turn On Your Love Light.”) The title of the album, Full Circle, might indicate a return to R&B and soul-music roots for Thomas. The album cover, which has him pimped out in bad-ass blaxploitation-soundtrack garb, does nothing to clarify this mysterious record.

The first time I played it, I thought it was a confused, incoherent mess of songs. It probably still is that, but over time I’ve come to enjoy it quite a bit for what it is. According to Discogs database, there were two versions released in quick succession with different track running order — according to this, I have the second of those two. They also seem to have been issued in the same year — it seems like maybe Flying Dutchman also didn’t know how to market this stylistic jumble of tunes and tried messing around with them. I would be curious to hear from somebody who has the other version, as I have one major gripe with the mix on some tunes: the songs that have strings have the strings mixed WAY too loud, overpowering everything else.

The album leads off with “Sweet Little Angel”, which oddly enough seems to have been the most played track on my copy if the surface noise is any evidence — I am thinking “college radio DJ at a southern university where they like their black men playing unthreatening, beaten-to-death blues standards…”. It’s not terrible, but its not terribly convincing. Thomas makes an okay blues singer. The next tune, a cover of Santana’s “Just In Time to See The Sun” is actually quite good, with no attempt to “rock” but instead given a full soul-jazz Latin-tinged treatment with Pee Wee Ellis on sax. So far, things are getting better. The next song is the first original tune and one of the highlights of the album for people who have followed and admired the rest of Leon’s career. “It’s My Life I’m Fighting For”, written by keyboardist Neil Creque, is driven by his Rhodes electric piano, its ten minutes of a soulful jam with `free` elements and, FINALLY some jazz yodeling! I never thought Thomas’ jazz yodel would sound so welcome to my ears. Herbie Lovell on the drums on this track really keeps things going, with great riffing from Joe Farrell on flute, solos by Creque and Jimmy Owens that keep this solidly chugging along. The song is then inexplicably followed by old-school R&B ballad “Never Let Me Go”…. the word “buzzkill” comes to mind. Leon redeems himself with “I Want To Be Where You Are,” a Jackson 5 tune that seems to have been in vogue with soul-jazzers in the early 70s: Gary Bartz also released an instrumental version around this time where he went all modal on its ass. Here, this is easily the most successful of the cover tunes on the albums, slowed down a notch, augmented with some choice Muscle Shoals slide guitar courtesy of Joe Beck, punchy trumpet from Farrell, and Leon just can’t help himself — he lets rip a few JAZZ YODELS here and there on the chorus. But they only last for a couple of seconds, as if he remembers suddenly that he is supposed to be a soul music balladeer on this song and must restrain his urges. Flip the LP over, and another Jackson-related tune, “Got To Be There”, is a huge disappointment, with Leon just taking it on as a straight interpretation with nothing particularly remarkable about it. “Balance of Life (Peace of Mind)” is another original tune and brings us back to more familiar Leon Thomas territory. Opening with the Brazilian instrument, the berimbau, accompanied by other urgent percussion that seemlessly gives way to a mellow jam led by Creque’s electric pianoa and congas by Pabldo Landrum and Sonny Morgan, it keeps the groove going for 7 minutes with a full-on percussion jam in the middle. Then, once more, the album shifts gears for a basically pointless reading of Stevie Wonders “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”. It is almost a novelty song for its straightness, getting slightly trippy towards the end. The album closes with the somber and soulful “What Are We Gonna Do?” which is just Thomas on vocal and Neil Creque on acoustic piano. A meditation on ecology, peace, love, and violence, its a beautiful tune, reminding me of all the reasons to love Leon Thomas in the first place.

Perhaps this album was meant to `prove` that Leon Thomas could have been a huge figure in straight soul and rhythm and blues, which he probably could have been if he felt inclined. But the album is indeed a weird jumble. The three original tunes are the best here, followed by “I Want To Be Where You Are” and “Just In Time To See The Sun.”

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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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Andy Bey – Experience and Judgment (1974)

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ANDY BEY
EXPERIENCE AND JUDGMENT
Released 1974 on Atlantic (LP 1654)
This pressing 1998 Koch Jazz (KOC CD-8520)
This pressing is HDCD encoded

1 Celestial Blues 3:24
2 Experience 2:57
3 Judgment 2:58
4 I Know This Love Can’t Be Wrong 4:22
5 Hibiscus 4:39
6 You Should’ve Seen The Way 2:31
7 Tune Up 4:11
8 Rosemary Blue 3:24
9 Being Uptight 3:05
10 A Place Where Love Is 4:38
11 Trust Us To Find The Way 2:39
12 The Power Of My Mind 2:55

Recorded at Regent Studios, NY

Andy Bey – Vocals, Acoustic Piano
Buddy Williams, Jimmy Young – drums
Wilbur Bascomb – Bass
William Fischer – Electric Piano, Organ, Harpsichord, Synthesizer, Percussion
Electric Bass – Wilbur Bascomb
George Davis – guitar (Track 2 only)
Richard Resnicoff – guitar
Engineer – Bob Liftin
Guitar – George Davis (2) , Richard Resnicoff (tracks: 2, 3, 8, 9)
Selwart Clarke – Violen, viola

Produced by by William Fischer

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Yes, this is one ugly album cover. But what’s inside is as beautiful a record as you’re likely to come across.

A long long time ago I promised a flood of music from Gary Bartz. I didn’t deliver on that promise. What can I say, my life is a morass of unfulfilled potential and broken promises. At least, that’s how it seems some of the time.

Until I put on this and then everything is suddenly fine. Andy Bey is easily one of the most underrated figures in music. His work with Horace Silver and Gary Bartz especially is phenomenal. And this album is, well, eternal. It’s largely a laid-back affair, brimming with the echoes of cosmic soul in ways that aren’t too different from a lot of other contemporary albums, but this one has a certain fire and heart that just isn’t very common. It begins with a slowed down take on his ‘Celestial Blues’ that he had already recorded with Bartz’ NTU Troop. First time I heard this version I didn’t know how to react. I felt like a fly suspended in sweet funky amber. Followed by ‘Experience’, the most frantic and uptempo tune on the record, full of lyrics that would be difficult for anybody but Andy to sing and make sound this cool in elongated melodic gospel shouts from the lotus seat. “Judgment”, the other side of the coin, is slowly and heavier on the funk with some wickedly-recorded wah-guitar sounding like the microphone was in the hallway during the session. Andy deserves more credit as a pianist than he usually gets but it must be said that keys man Bill Fischer steals the show here. Acting as producer and also composer on some of the tunes, he definitely has a ‘mark’ of production here – but with his exquisite taste in analog synth tones and the absolutely perfect mix, you won’t hear me complaining about his production. His synth work and electric piano weave in and out of the music faster than an arcade old-school centipede, there and gone halfway before your awareness has caught up. In trying to find some more info on this album on the All-Knowing Interwebs, I have seen this album compared to Gil Scott-Heron in a few places. Which really makes no sense in terms of Gil’s vision and gestalt.. Where there IS a similarity is between this album and Brian Jackson, Gil’s co-conspirator. Now, THAT makes sense to me.

Really really I mean it, not a bad song here. The scaled-down funk poetry of ‘Hibiscus’ hits all my buttons in the right place, perfect in every way of composition, lyric, execution, tonalities, textures, production. A heavily spiritual mind-expanding vibration just billows forth from your stereo speakers (or, um, iPod earbuds, I guess) to envelop you. “You Should’ve Have Seen The Way” is easily the funniest song about meditation I’ve ever come across. Granted, that makes it kind of a big fish in a small pool, but still… Story of guy taking a friend’s advice by trying to clear his mind and find his way through meditation, but he just can’t stop thinking about making love to a woman. Deep, metaphysical, sensual as hell. For all the buddhist vibe on this album it’s good to know Bey and company can keep it real. “Tune Up” is a more serious tune on a similar wavelength, one of my friend TY’s favorite tracks on this. More lyrics that would sound weird from anyone but Andy Bey, “like hypnotizing yourself up to a certain point,” it just kind of works on you and achieves in the listener an analog of what he’s singing about.

So far there is nothing remotely commercial about whats been presented here (jazz purists be damned, this stuff is too obscure and deep to be selling out to anyone). Then we should be all the more surprised by the next tune, a ballad lifted from Neil Sedaka. That’s right – Neil fucking Sedaka! And he just kills us with it. It becomes a love sonnet sung from across the veil of mortality, sung from a dead man to his widow. Granted all that was already in the lyrics but goddamn if Andy Bey doesn’t make it all come together and work on this album. By now we are 3/4 through the album and the remainder is pretty low-key and mellow. Nothing to grab you like what’s already come before but just enough going on to keep you engaged, going out on a wonderfully optimistic and sensual mindsex epic of “The Power of My Mind”.

It’s always weird to stop and think about how friends are brought together out of seemingly random occurrences, some drifting apart, some always there, some coming back like cycles of the moon. And when I ask myself why it took me so long to post this record, because it had been on my ‘short list’ for about a year now, I think it must have to do with that elusive ephemeral thing called friendship. I remembered it, suddenly, and sent it to someone who I think may have needed it right then. And a few days later we were having an intense conversation that ostensibly had nothing to do with this album but yet also had everything to do with this album. And that is one of the great qualities of “Experience and Judgment” – although you can call it ‘soul jazz’ or ‘spiritual jazz’, it is of an earthly sort of cosmic consciousness, one imbued with the substance of day to day living and struggle, that keeps its lyrics even at their most abstract from flying untethered into the blinding light of oneness, instead staying in the air for a while to light our way as we listen. I can’t recommend this album enough.

p.s. the HDCD mastering is a nice touch. Several digital players can recognize the coding and provide the up-sampling, leave a note if you want to know more.

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Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes – Cosmic Funk (1974)

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Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes
“Cosmic Funk”
Released 1974

Flying Dutchman Records (BDL 1-0591)

1 Cosmic Funk Smith 5:39
2 Footprints Shorter 6:11
3 Beautiful Woman Smith 6:58
4 Sais (Egypt) Mtume 8:16
5 Peaceful Ones Smith 5:03
6 Naima Coltrane 4:01

Produced by Bob Thiele
Engineered by Bob Simpson

Electric bass – Al Anderson
Congas, Percussion – Lawrence Killian
Drums – Art Gore
Percussion – Andrew Cyrille , Doug Hammond , Ron Bridgewater
Acoustic and electric pianos, percussion – Lonnie Liston Smith
Soprano saxaphone, Flute, Percussion – George Barron
Vocals, Piano, Flute – Donald Smith

You will have to escuse me if I don’t give this album the presentation and descrption it really deserves. I have wanted to post about here for a long, long time. But for anyone else who is celebrating Christmas alone, as I currently am, I feel an urgent impulse to put this album out there. While all of Lonnie Liston Smith’s records with the Cosmic Echoes may have carried more or less the same variations of messages about peace and love, nothing comes close to the eruption of the first cut off this one that gave the album its name, which introduces Lonnie’s brother Donald Smith on vocals

CITIZENS OF THE WORLD
IT’S TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME for WORLD PEACE!

followed by a long hair-raising scream to let you know he really means this.

This song is one of the heaviest slabs of spiritual/soul jazz funkiness out there. The track, along with much of the rest of the album, combines creative use of electronics in some seriously psychedelic flourishes along with free and post-bop jazz explorations. While his next album, “Expansions”, may get the lion’s share of attention for this former Pharoah Sanders sideman, I find this album to be every bit its equal and in fact I seem to come back to it more often. Beyond the first cut, the rest of the album is a real treat too, with first-rate original compositions along inspired readings of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and, unafraid of taking the risk, a vocal version of Coltrane’s “Naima.”

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Gary Bartz NTU Troop's "Juju Street Songs" (1972) vinyl

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From Michael Jackson to Malcolm X: Gary Bartz NTU Troop’s “Juju Street Songs” (1972) vinyl

Gary Bartz at his best created music that heals the soul and lifts the spirit. This may sound trite to you. So be it. If language was sufficient to express what I hear in the best jazz musicians’ work, there wouldn’t have been any reason for them to compose and play it. The signifier and the signified. Beyond the reach of the word, this time, and found in the sustained note of a saxophone or the modal chord changes of an electric piano. The spirituality effervescing from this music is, perhaps, of a piece with the time it was created. A time when radical politics danced with eastern philosophy and African religious ideas, when Franz Fanon sat next to the Koran and the Sutras on the same bookshelf. I had an exchange, one of those conversations that is somewhere between a debate and an argument, about the idea of racial pride and specifically black pride. My interlocutor was stoically against the idea of any pride based around the concept of race. The argument was elaborated in a way that was similar to or identical to others I had heard before, on the streets of Chicago or in the halls of higher learning, or over drinks in the country that imported more slaves from Africa than anywhere else on the planet. On the level of abstractions, where most people contemplate such questions, the argument holds some water, but tends to leak like a British oil rig the minute flesh-and-blood people in actual historical contexts are factored in. It’s a reasonable enough argument usually found on the lips of white people, who invented the very idea of race as a means with which to categorize, catalog, and compare humanity along a sliding scale of value. And easy enough for whites to then discard the idea as of little analytical worth once it becomes inconveniently reclaimed and rearticulated by the racialized. White people can do this because of the common epistemology that they are colorless, some sort of neutral human template, rather than part of the dialogic process in which racial identities calcify. Do not think I’m skipping lightly over the heterogeneity that is glossed over by these terms — it is no more analytically rigorous or accurate to talk of “white people” than it is “black people,” merely chromatic poles in a spectrum, yet there are generalizations that can be made, MUST be made, as a starting point of any meaningful analysis. Dissimulation, the refusal to make assertions and critique, is a poor substitute for nuance. In a historical situation of dominance where deliberate concerted efforts were made to not only strip away a peoples’ cultural lifeways, but even their very ability to identify their own family – the forbidding of slaves to keep surnames, for example — we simply cannot look at “black pride” with the same optic we might use for “white pride.”

But in a way these thoughts were all beside the point. To throw a blanket statement over the fire of racial pride and (re)valorization, to call it essentially destructive and polarizing, is to utterly decontextualize the dynamic situations where such movements take place. And they are movements in every vibration of that term – collective, with a particular understanding of the past, and a particular vision for remaking the world. In the Afrocentric spiritual jazz of the 1960s and 70s you are dealing with musicians old enough to remember segregation, young enough to remember there was more to the civil rights struggle than just Dr. King, equally inspired by Charlie Parker and Motown, and emboldened by a solidarity, symbolic or otherwise, with the victims of dislocation, colonization, and imperialism around the globe. Musicians who were active when Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist enemy of the state, and who watched as a score of African nations struggled for and won their independence in the 50s and 60s. A time when any hopefulness gained from desegregation and decolonization was tempered by the violence in the streets, of black and brown-skinned people as canon fodder in Vietnam, of the scourge of heroin in the ghettos. Ghetto, a word that dates to the seventeenth century and was used throughout Europe since that time and well into the twentieth century to denote a Jewish neighborhood. From Webster, Etymology: Italian, from Venetian dial. ghèto island where Jews were forced to live, literally, foundry (located on the island), from ghetàr to cast, from Latin jactare to throw. It also referenced the iron foundries and slag heaps of the Venetian island where the word came into usage. After the liberation of the concentration camps came the concentration of more and more brown and black skinned peoples into the marginalized landscapes of urban U.S. cities, populated by the human slag heaps of four hundred years of dehumanizing capitalist accumulation. The ghetto, a signifier so dire in its valence that even the most celebratory of Afrocentricities could not celebrate it. It is nearly always condemned as a particular circle of a Dantean hell; if spoken of with warmth or nostalgia it is accompanied by extreme qualifiers that leave no doubt as to its demoralizing enervation. This is different from the barrio of Puerto Ricans (many of them also black, but until right around this time more historically likely to distance themselves from the African-American as long as they bought into the white dream of upwardly mobile meritocracy). The barrio could represent resistance, preservation of cultural values across time and space and against odds for the Latino enclaves dislocated by transnational flows, or crossed by the border. The ghetto, on the other hand, was always only a few steps away from an ethnic cleansing by the dominant power. And in this case, that was white America. Not even Nina Simone, a luminous torch of the civil rights movement, could bring herself to thoroughly trust the white people around her in the music business. Smart woman, Nina.

So when Gary Bartz dedicated Harlem Bush Music to Malcolm X, we should really pay attention to that. It is not a footnote. It is an exclamation point and a wake-up call.

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What does all this have to with me, with my comfortable middle-class childhood and existence? What does all this have to do with my mixed-race home and its aspirations to the American Dream? What does any of this have to do with me – culturally white, politically red, spiritually yellow? Perhaps nothing at all.* Maybe nothing to do with me or perhaps it’s better for me to do nothing.

But everything to do with me when I pick up this album on a night when I don’t know if I’ll make it through to the next day, and find there a spirit to meet me half way and whisper, “Time is running out, time is running..” Music that makes me close my eyes and open my heart and find the stain of self-hatred so old it’s faded, like scar tissue from a clumsy surgeon. When I play this record I am filled with the compassionate joy that the buddhists talk about. There is a comfort, not a reassurance, but a comfort and camaraderie in having someone else show you, with their music, that everything is NOT alright, but that you will survive. Because you have so far. And because there are few other choices. I want to be where you are. The longing for oneness, peering into the gaping maw of transcendent consciousness, obliterating the individual, the longing for union with god, with a lover, with one’s true self. Know thyself, you dig? In the first two minutes of this track we are brought through all the changes of death, repose, and rebirth – of solemn reflection followed by exultation to be simply alive.

Can it be I stayed away too long?
Did I leave your mind when I was gone?
It’s not my thing trying to get back
But this time let me tell you where I’m at

This song is one of Michael’s huge early hit songs, released in 1972, written by Leon Ware and T-Bone Ross. I doubt they ever imagined it played this way when first putting it together.

I understand better now why bassist Stafford James plays his electric bass through some type of envelope follower or flange pedal. It makes his playing more elastic, the attack of the notes more susceptible to coaxing out the bottom end of rhythm, supporting but not overwhelming Howard King’s drums. Bartz blowing his sax like a mad dervish, sometimes modulating it with a wah-wah pedal in small, choice musical phrases. He runs this slice of Motown through a melodic meat grinder and gives us prime grade-a. Listen to Andy Bey`s chord inversions around the vocal melody while Bartz veers outward and beyond on modal flights of fancy. The last three or so minutes of this (cut from the version on the anthology posted at Flabbergasted Vibes previously) see the ensemble swinging the main refrain with heavy funk before is total deconstruction approaching the nine-minute mark, playing in free time and destroying the love-lorn pleas into a pastiche, threatening to put them all back together again for one final chorus, but instead leaving us hanging and still wanting to be where you are.

The next track is even more Motown. “Black Maybe,” a song written for Syreeta by her producer and one-time husband Stevie Wonder. Like “I Want To Be Where You Are,” this song also dropped in 1972. The sessions for this album were cut in October of that year, showing just how little time the NTU Troop wasted in restocking their ammunition. Slowing this song down to a slow burner with a blues feeling, you can still here Stevie’s hand in the melody. Andy Bey may not have the same vocal magic as either Stevie or Syreeta, but I love the guy’s voice and he was a perfect fit for Bartz’s musical vision. On this track you can also clearly hear the double-mic technique Bartz was using to get part of his sound. The microphone panned to the right channel is clean saxophone, probably with the mic placed above and slightly out in front; the left channel is the modulated signal run through a wah pedal, with microphone mostly likely stuck damn nearly right in the bell of the sax. The result is a sound that envelopes the listener in the aural equivalent of a vice grip, death via saxophone, but so sweetly a demise has rarely unfolded on this earth. Lyrically one of Stevie’s most intriguing, complex, and radical songs tackling racial and identity politics with an urgency to unsettle the mentality of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-and-to-hell-with-your-brother that we can, once again, generalize as endemic to a white middle-class value system . If only people had listened more closely to the message of Stevie’s music more generally, MJ would never have bleached his skin and Will Smith would never have existed. Time is running out, time is running… out.

Bertha Baptist (b.1942, Atlanta, Georgia, d. 1980). Although having no familial relationship to Bertha Butt, the two were friends and frequently exchanged anecdotes and gossip at a Harlem hair salon. Due to her strict religious beliefs, Bertha Baptist was constantly turning down Bertha Butt’s invitations to go out for a night of dancing. Those places are for drunkards and hussies, she would say. However one day curiosity got the better of her and she accompanied Ms. Butt to a local jazz club (Miss Baptist kept calling it a “juke joint”), where as it happened the evening’s entertainment was Gary Bartz & NTU Troop. During one of Andy Bey’s funky electric piano solos, Bertha threw all modesty to the wind and astonished all onlookers as she performed dance moves she picked up working in a New Orleans brothel ten years earlier before she found The Lord her savior. It was the one and only time anyone in New York would ever see her dance. Bassist Stafford James wrote a song in her honor. He also looks curiously like Bertha’s only child, William, born about six months after this record was released.

Africans Unite. Feels like we´ve discussed this already. Pan-African transatlantic solidarity, percussion frenetic yet easy on the ears, a folk melody building to a chant of “Let’s do it now”. A Bartz original composition with fluid riffing over the stuttering rhythmic base. Teheran. Well it’s a few years too early to be about the Iranian Revolution. The song is as mysterious to me as it was probably intended to be, Bartz seducing us in serpentine Phrygian-mode rivulets of sound, a shimmering tapestry of gongs as a backdrop in the king’s palace, Howard King playing his toms and snare drums with mallets and laying down heavy on an open high-hat and cymbals. (Side note — this is the track that has the most ‘clicks and pops’ from the vinyl. The presence of so much sibilance from the cymbals and gongs and other percussion made it risky to try and remove these clicks and I opted to leave them in rather than potentially lose frequencies by trying to clean them up.)

Gary Bartz NTU Troop – Juju Street Songs
Prestige Records (P-10057) 1972

A1 I Wanna Be Where You Are 10:04
A2 Black Maybe 9:38
B1 Bertha Baptist 6:32
B2 Africans Unite 6:30
B3 Teheran 8:20

Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply) > Creek Audio OBH-15 -> M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard -> Adobe Audition 3.0 at 24-bits 96khz -> Click Repair light settings, remaining clicks removed manually in Audition -> dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced

Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Sopranino, Voice, Electric Piano, Percussion – Gary Bartz
Bass, Electric Bass, Voice, Percussion – Stafford James
Drums, Voice, Percussion – Howard King
Vocals, Electric Piano, Percussion – Andy Bey

Recorded at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California, October 1972.
Photobucket

Gary Bartz NTU Troop – Juju Street Songs (1972) in 320kbs em pee tree

Gary Bartz NTU Troop – Juju Street Songs in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO (16-bit, 44.1 khz)

Gary Bartz NTU Troop – Juju Street Songs in 24-bit, 96khz FLAC

Note that the file sets will actually have 1973 as the year, which is erroneous. Please correct this mistake yourself if it matters to you.

*(Look around the internet for some ‘user reviews’ of some Gil Scott-Heron albums — you the site I mean — and you may find the ranting of one reactionary man who insists Gil’s music has absolutely nothing of value to offer to white Americans like himself. Don’t take my word for it, go and look.)

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Gary Bartz – Anthology 1970-1977 (2004)

Bartz

Gary Bartz
“Anthology”
2004 Soul Brother Records (CD SBPJ 23)
Made in England
Recordings from 1971 – 1977

1 Celestial Blues 7:35
2 Uhuru Sasa 6:47
3 Drinking Song 5:16
4 Dr. Follow’s Dance 2:39
5 I’ve Known Rivers 8:34
6 I Wanna Be Where You Are 7:14
7 Ju Ju Man 9:11
8 Sea Gypsy l 6:19
9 Gentle Smiles s 4:22
10 Music Is My Sanctuary 6:21
11 Carnaval de l’Espirit 5:55
12 My Funny Valentine 7:11

Single-artist compilations are a difficult thing. It can be hard to represent an artist’s trajectory faithfully and still produce a coherently listenable document, let alone please everyone in the process, especially if the subject in question is a jazz artist. Soul Brother Records deserves massive props for pulling this off with this Gary Bartz anthology, which presents highlights from his most inspired post-bop output of the 1970s. My introduction to Bartz was, like many people, via his work with the Mizell Brothers, but there was so much, much more to the man’s legacy. Soul Brother makes the smart move of presenting this material in roughly chronological order beginning with selections from the incredible two volumes of “Harlem Bush Music.” Spiritual, socially-conscious, adventurous and above all soulful, this stuff soars and the vocals of Andy Bey qualify as one of the best-kept secrets of the universe.

Nobody seems to have passed through the ranks of Miles Davis’ various ensembles and come out unchanged but Bartz seemed to have been doing his own thing when Miles picked him up for a brief stint that yielded the semi-live album “Live Evil” (more complete material from those concerts appearing on 2005’s “Cellar Door” release). But performing with Davis’ post-Bitches Brew lineup (at the time including Airto on percussion, Keith Jarrett on electric piano, and McLaughlin still on guitar) may have inspired Bartz to stretch out even further in his work as a bandleader. But Bartz has plenty of other credits under his belt as a sideman, most prominently with McCoy Tyner but he’s also recorded with Woodie Shaw, Pharoah Sanders, and Charles Mingus.

The playing on the tune “Drinking Song”, the oldest piece on this collection, is simply fierce as the whole band raises your consciousness out of your bohemian apathy. Bartz pays homage to Langston Hughes with the track “I’ve Known Rivers” off the live record of the same name. Four entire tracks from the Mizell collaborations (the records “The Shadow Do” and “Music Is My Sanctuary”) may be a little disproportional considering that stuff already has wider exposure, but you won’t hear me complaining because it does indeed flow very nicely. Wrapping up the set with a sultry, melancholic reading of “My Funny Valentine” with vocalist Syreeta is a very nice finishing touch to this very satisfactory anthology. It’s also good to know that this disc apparently has Gary’s own approval as he wrote short note about the release and about music as a healing force to be included in the booklet.

I am so happy listening to this collection that I am planning on a mini-flood of Gary Bartz in the weeks to come, so prepare yourselves and meanwhile enjoy this teaser to whet your musical appetite.

Bartz
Bartz

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 in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO

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