Harry Whitaker / Black Renaissance – Body, Mind and Spirit (1976)

Black Renaissance
Body, Mind and Spirit

1. Black Renaissance
2. Magic Ritual

Recorded at Sound Ideas, New York, NY (01/15/1976).

Arranger: Harry Whitaker.

Players: Harry Whitaker (piano); Lani Groves, Edna Holt, Sandy Nakarmura, Assata Dolby (vocals); Azar Lawrence (soprano & tenor saxophones); David Schnitter (tenor saxophone); Woody Shaw (trumpet); Buster Williams (bass); Billy Hart, Howard King (drums, percussion); Mtume, Earl Bennett (percussion)


For those of you who have never heard of this album, it will come as a lovely surprise. For those who have heard about it but have yet to actually hear it, it might well seem a bit over-hyped, due in no small part to the douchebaggery of one Giles Peterson, who prattles on in the liner notes about how cool he is for knowing about it and showing it off to any other DJ’s who “dared to challenge” him. Well if you ignore that bloated musical neocolonialist (and snappy dresser), you can immerse yourself in what was truly a lost gem, lost even to its creator for decades.

Recorded on Martin Luther King Day in 1976, Whitaker invested his own hard-earned money as an arranger, writer, and session player into making this boldly uncommercial soul-jazz exercise in musical stretching. It features understated riffing from Azar Lawrence, David Schnitter, and the eternally-underrated Woody Shaw. Anchoring the rhythm is stalwart bassist Buster Williams with Howard King on drums and James Mtume on percussion. These latter two would go on to release the first album from the band Mtume the following year, and it’s interesting to keep that in mind while listening to this. While the first side of this album straddles a line between between mellow funk and spaced-out soul jazz (and is a bit long-winded at 23 minutes), the second and shorter side ‘Magic Ritual’ is a more aggressive, agitated piece of Afrocentric celebration. There is effective use of spoken word here that puts us comfortably in Strata-East and loft scene territory. More industry/label hype is compelled to claim this is “one of the earliest examples of rap” or some such nonsense. How many records are we going to bestow that honor on? At any rate claiming this for an album released as late as 1976 is a ludicrous statement that ignores so many musical ancestors it barely merits discussion. So, I’ll stop discussing it.

Since it is Martin Luther King Day in the United States, and since the next US president is likely to abolish that holiday, this makes today probably the last opportunity to celebrate this album without being locked up and held in indefinite detention without Habeas Corpus.

The sound on the CD is burdened with distortions, but given that the masters were destroyed and the source used here is presumably the Japanese bootleg that until now was the only available release, at the end of the day it sounds surprisingly good.

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  2. Anyone that calls Giles Peterson a douchebag is alright in my book! Thanks for posting!

  3. A wonderful MLK day post, thank you!

    You might want to fix 1 typo in 1st sentence of second paragraph, I believe Whitaker spent his own savings for the session, not Roy Ayers 🙂

    And yeah, the US is totally screwed without a viable 3rd party candidate..

  4. doh! thanks Holly for catching that typo, that's pretty funny.

  5. Got this CD too, great album n love it 🙂

  6. The advantage of having the Baystate (JP) reissue: no douchebaggery whatsoever, just the original album art (and no Love'n'Haight logo either!) 😉 It is a magnificent album indeed, though!

  7. Never heard this one but did some quick previewing on itunes and it sounds dope! sent you an email by the way flabbergast!

  8. Killer album and yep I got a CD reissue when it came out some years back.

  9. Thanks very much!

  10. I really appreciate you calling out the spurious "proto-rap" descriptor… whenever I see stuff like that ("rockabilly contains the first seeds of punk, etc") I get really cheesed. As if musical evolution, rather than existing on a continuum, is a religious timeline that culminates in the creation of rap, or punk, then pivots on that fabricated "event" and enters a "post-" period. Not that comparisons shouldn't be made between works and styles across time- that's some of the most interesting stuff in music history, obviously- it's the lazy fixation, bordering on cultural obsession, on easy points of reference that get my goat.

  11. Yeah. At best it's a lazy, facile way to pigeonhole things and sell more records; at its worst it's a teleological argument that does a disservice to both musical forms being compared.

  12. Cheers, Flabber, a timely upgrade of a solid set

  13. omg. tnx for the flac.

    the thought that this music might get too obscure and forgotten makes me cry!

    Spread the love.

    Dutch White Guy!

  14. It says it's exhausted!? OH if you could re-upload this album I'd be forever grateful, it's a testament to black culture and how happy it makes to hear it oh how happy it'd make me to own it!

  15. Buscador del groove perdido

    please repost in flac , fabulous albums

  16. outstanding work, din’t know it, but the cd rip sounds bad, like saturated, i wonder if the riping brings fail or the original cd sound is poor?

    • the EAC rip is a bit-perfect representation of the CD. The producers of this remaster care more about being the cool kids on the rare groove block than they do about bringing the kind of detail and nuance to this mix that the album deserves. It’s a shame.

  17. Thanks.I have the original vinyl.Look forward to hearing a nice digital version.

  18. Re-Upload Please

  19. Many thanks!

  20. magnifique!

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