Monday, December 11, 2017

Joe Henderson - The Elements (Milestone, 1973/2017)

Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson recorded a superb string of hard-bop jazz records in the 1960's for the venerable Blue Note label. But by the time the 1970's bloomed the ascendance of rock 'n' roll had fractured the jazz scene into small enclaves of free, bop, fusion and a form of spiritual jazz that grew out of the prior decade and the music of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane's widow Alice, who melded her increasing interest in Eastern spirituality and wide open multi-instrumental improvisation. This mixture of the orthodoxy and the vanguard on this album might be a recipe for disaster, but the results are exactly the opposite, free and unfettered and very exciting. The band is a talented one, consisting of Henderson on tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute, Alice Coltrane on piano, harp, tambura and harmonium, Charlie Haden on bass, Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, Baba Duru Oshunand and Kenneth Nash on drums and percussion and Michael White on violin. The album consists of four lengthy tracks that are dedicated to the elemental forces beginning with “Fire” which shows Henderson and and Coltrane working very well together with his deep seated tenor saxophone juxtaposed against her lithe piano and harp and Michael White’s swooping violin, which gives the music wings and allows the lengthy performance to stay fresh and interesting. "Air" has the strong saxophone Henderson was known for reaching out over minimal backing, with Charlie Haden's thick, stoic bass playing at the forefront, and displays Henderson's playing moving into the upper register of the horn favored by Sanders and Albert Ayler, without losing his grounding in post-bop jazz. There is an interlude for spacious piano before Henderson's dark toned saxophone returns to close soaring over a droning backdrop. "Water" offers droning string instruments, with Henderson adding pinched tone, which uses echo to give the music an unearthly quality. This is the most experimental and spiritual selection on the album, perhaps taking some inspiration from the Miles Davis recordings of the period. The final track, "Earth" incorporates a spoken word interlude read by Nash, with music that allows itself to breathe, buoyed by complex rhythms of hand percussion. Long drones push the music into a more overtly spiritual direction, and Henderson's soulful saxophone is comforting and relaxed, playing in conjunction with White's emotive violin and gaining a more strident tone. A fine stringed solo serves as a transitioning point to a spare section of harp and flute, over which Nash begins to speak. Henderson returns to tenor saxophone for a majestic solo over a hypnotic beat and bubbling percussive background. The Elements -

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