Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Azar Lawrence - Mystic Journey (Furthermore, 2010)

Saxophonist Azar Lawrence was in the thick of the 1970's jazz scene, recording with the likes of McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis before stepping away from music for a while. After beginning his comeback a few years ago, he turns to his strength of modal post bop on this album featuring Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. Strength is really the operative term on this album, the music is deep and rich with strong deeply articulated soloing and ensemble passages. Lawrence is powerfully influenced by John Coltrane (who isn't?) and that comes through in his playing, especially on the ballad "Say It Over Again" where the lyricism and subtlety of his soloing recalls Coltrane's performance from the Ballads LP. Lawrence builds potent solos on the uptempo numbers as well, he has a deep and slightly raspy tone on tenor this is quite appealing, especially when used at speed like on "Starting Point" where he weaves through a deep thicket of piano, bass and drums while building to potent squalls of saxophone. Other impressive uptempo performances include Tyner's "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" which features appropriately muscular playing from the rhythm section laying the foundation for punchy trumpet and very strong swirling and swaying saxophone. Strong saxophone with a modal feel is the anchor of "Mystic Journey," playing fast and loose over this piano, bass and drums. I guess the knock on this album if there is one is that it is quite derivative of the music that McCoy Tyner made in the 1970's like the potent live albums Atlantis and Enlightenment. Lawrence was at the center of those bands, making jazz that was fiercely compelling without ever being quite "free." But since I really liked those albums I think this one is quite worthwhile as well. This is a veteran band playing strong, deep modern jazz that is powerful and supple. Mystic Journey - amazon.com

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