Friday, February 08, 2019

Afro-Blue Persuasion - Live at Haight Levels Vol​.​1 (Tramp Records, 2019)

This is exciting unreleased SF bay area Afro-Cuban jazz from 1967, with scant information to go on. Rotating members of the band consisted of John Miller on piano, Harald Haynes on congas, Robert Belinksy on drums, Ulysses Crockett on vibraphone, and Robert Bing Nathan and possibly Paul Jackson on bass. The saxophone player is unknown. The group opens with "Philadelphia Mambo" which is a bright and bouncy uptempo number, focused on percussion and shaded by vibes. The band mines a tight groove that is propulsive and forward thinking, with bounding piano and hand percussion swirling and swaying in a very exciting manner. The saxophonist enters, taking his time building a confident solo, slotting his sound in perfectly amid the percussion and the general theme of the performance and turning up the heat for a full band improvisation that really cooks. The band simmers between excellent hand percussion and cymbal focused drum set playing with strong piano chords and anchoring bass keeping the group tightly focused and white hot, with the vibes rejoining to add some texture and usher the performance out. "The Girl From Ipanema" is taken at a lighter tempo, with gentle saxophone stating the melody and embellishing upon it, while spare percussion and piano keep the groove subtle and spare. There are chime like vibes over gentle piano comping and quiet bass and percussion. Someone gets lost and another band member calls out the chords, but the groove is steady and the reading of the familiar track is comforting and pleasant. "Ave Maria" has the rhythm section setting a deep pocket with a splash of vibes that is a fast paced theme laden with possibilities. These are picked up by the saxophonist, who takes a freer approach using the undulating rhythm as fuel for a wider ranging solo. Piano comes to the fore through the mid section, dancing smoothly over the bass, drums and extra percussion and working well with all three instruments, building power and a soulful strut as he goes, leading back to the full band and showing deserving respect to the bassist whose full sound roots the band to the ground. The standard "Dear Old Stockholm" has a strong and supple reading of the theme from the group, as the saxophone launches into a well articulated spiraling solo statement over strongly comped piano and vibes. He stretches out quite well, adding a biting tone to the situation, charging though his feature with a daredevil grace, followed by a sparkling cell for vibraphone, played briskly and shooting sparks across the sound stage. Piano plus rhythm keep the burner hot as they allow the keyboard and vibes some come complex interplay and bring everyone back together for a brisk conclusion. The set ends with Monk's "Straight No Chaser" which has some excellent bass featured alongside spirited vibes and percussion, opening the throttle with the help of the pianist and drummer. Wonderful texture is achieved, truly taking a familiar composition and making it their own as the saxophonist enters and adds a gruff and blustery toned solo that fits like a glove. The band is really cooking and hitting their marks, with a killing saxophone solo on top of an already towering groove, as they finish up their set on a truly high note. Live at Haight Levels, Vol. 1 -

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