Sunday, March 11, 2018

Azar Lawrence - Elementals (High Note, 2018)

Although he may be most well known as a sideman for McCoy Tyner (see Phil Freeman's podcast with Lawrence and excellent series about the 1970's LP's by Tyner for more information) and Elvin Jones, saxophonist Azar Lawrence has released several albums as a bandleader, first in a funky fusion mode in the mid-seventies, and most recently with a strong series of modern mainstream jazz albums. This is a fine LP that continues that trend with Lawrence playing tenor and soprano saxophone in the company of Benito Gonzalez on piano, Jeff Littleton on bass, Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. "La Bossa" is a strong and swinging opener with the bassist and percussionist providing a deep rhythmic foundation and Lawrence playing in a bittersweet fashion, with the piano grooving at a solid medium tempo. The group cooks together quite nicely, never forcing the pace with Lawrence soloing in a sleek and shiny fashion before stepping aside and letting the rhythm section say their piece which they do in grand style before the leader returns on soprano saxophone the lead the group to the finale. He stays on soprano for "Eye of the Needle" developing an appealing tone as the group takes a stronger stance, developing a faster and more strident pace, leading to an excellent section of collective improvisation, with the group developing a full rich sound, building to an exciting climax of powerful percussion and saxophone held fast by piano and bass. The title track "Elementals" is one of the most powerful on the album with strong piano comping and tenor saxophone over brisk rhythm accompaniment. There is a fast paced and muscular interlude for the band without saxophone, then the leader returns with a raw and deeply rooted solo statement of his own, taking the music into a personal and unique space. "African Chant" opens with a yearning unaccompanied tenor saxophone statement before the music jumps into a fast full band mode, adding some scatting vocals to further deepen the rhythmic sensibility of the sound. They develop a potent collective improvisation that swings very well, while allowing the band members to express themselves fully within the music. There is a fine piano solo, set up by undulating drums, percussion and bass, before the full band comes together for a fast conclusion. This upbeat nature continues on the fast paced "Sing to the World" where Lawrence develops a strong melody on soprano saxophone as the remainder of the band churns beneath him. He uses this theme as the basis for a strong solo, swooping and swaying over the musical landscape like a bird in flight. The group is really in their element with this brawny improvisation that is rooted in tradition, yet soaring to break free. This was a very good album, and continues a strong renaissance for Azar Lawrence, who has been making a habit of releasing one strong modern jazz LP a year for the past ten years with no sign of letting up. Elementals - amazon.com

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