Friday, August 26, 2016

Various Artists - Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970 To 1974 (Ace Records, 2016)

Inspired by the success of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, this various artists collection looks to present some of the music that may have inspired his album. Note that Washington had no involvement with this project, but is name-checked throughout the liner essay. The music collects “spiritual jazz,” music from the early 1970’s from primarily the Muse, Milestone and Prestige catalogs, which evoke a search for higher consciousness, peace and/or racial harmony. See also Soul Jazz Records long-running multi-volume spiritual jazz series. With those caveats out of the way, it’s important to stress that this is a well-done compilation with interesting music complimented by excellent notes and photography. Saxophonist Gary Bartz was performing with Miles Davis when he led his Afro-centric NTU Troop band for a series of albums on Milestone. The collection gets its title from Bartz “Celestial Blues” which features a deep groove, appropriately spacey vocals from Andy Bey and some fine soloing from the leader. “Fire” from Joe Henderson and Alice Coltrane works very well with Henderson’s deep tenor saxophone juxtaposed against Coltrane’s piano and harp and Michael White’s swooping violin. Inspired by John Coltrane, saxophonist Azar Lawrence was very active in the bands of Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis when he cut “Warriors of Peace” with a young Arthur Blythe on alto saxophone. They both take burning solos on this track making it one of the most exciting on the album. Charles Earland’s “Brown Eyes” is one track that sounds a little dated with period synth-strings but he also has Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard aboard for jazz cred in addition to contributing a solid organ solo. “The Free Slave” has a wonderful swinging groove, and no surprise since drummer Roy Brooks was a mainstay on some of Horace Silver’s finest bands. This is a great live recording with fine spots for Woody Shaw and George Coleman. The title track from percussionist Joe Chambers’ album “The Almoravid” is very interesting, a drum, percussion and rhythm oriented track with accents from vibraphone. There is nothing cliché about this, and it stands out as a highlight. There’s a funky groove to Carlos Garnett’s “Let’s Go (To Higher Heights) and be plays some burning saxophone, however his vocals do leave a little bit to be desired. With swooping vocals and electric keyboards, “Let It Take Your Mind” by Bayete Umbra Zindiko (Todd Cochran) is something of an acquired taste. The underrated pianist Hampton Hawes moves to electric keyboards on “Josie Black” and the track is surprisingly successful, in part to some fine horn work from Harold Land and Oscar Brashear. The collection is rounded out by a brash big band recording of Oliver Nelson’s “Aftermath” from the album Black, Brown and Beautiful. Google the very NSFW album cover if you need further evidence of his conviction. The music begins with a somber tone then opens up to some powerful saxophone, cinematic strings and brass. Celestial Blues - Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970 To 1974 -

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