Sunday, August 17, 2014

Azar Lawrence - The Seeker (Sunnyside, 2014)

Saxophonist Azar Lawrence came of age playing in the excellent bands of Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner in the early 1970's as evidenced on albums like Enlightenment and Dark Magus. He has been something of a journeyman since then but has lately released a string of fine albums. On this live LP he is accompanied by an excellent group consisting of Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. This group gives great support to Lawrence's strident and potent saxophone playing. The first track, "Ghandi," captures the band in full flight with Lawrence setting the tone with some muscular playing, followed by an excellent piano/bass/drums section. The leader storms back in with fiery runs that hints at John Coltrane's ecstatic playing, while still maintaining his own musical identity. Equally strong is "Lost Tribes of Lemuria" which has the full band stating the strong theme before Lawrence yields the floor for some fine trumpet and piano playing. He switches to soprano saxophone for "The Seeker" where his swirling playing is matched by melodic trumpet playing before the music builds sharply to a full band blowout. "Rain Ballad" is a quieter interlude that seems to reference John Coltrane's "After the Rain" in spirit, followed by "Spirit Night" and the concluding "Venus" both of which incorporate strong and proud tenor saxophone and build to dramatic conclusions. The spiritual jazz of the late 1960's and early 1970's is still a deep vein in jazz that can be mined by a thoughtful musician like Azar Lawrence who's potent yet humble music nods to past glories with moving full speed ahead into the future. The Seeker -

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