Saturday, 30 July 2016

"Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political & Spiritual Jazz 1970-74" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (2016 Beat Goes Public CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...


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"...Let It Take Your Mind..."

In a crowded marketplace - the 'Various Artists' compilation is something of an endangered beast - especially if it's even slightly 'jazzy', 'progressive' or 'experimental' - and 2016's utterly brilliant "Celestial Blues" from Ace's 'BGP' label imprint is all three and more.

I review a lot and I'll admit that I have a 'thing' for Ace Records of the UK in all their varying reissue magnificence - Kent-Soul, Beat Goes Public (BGP), the 'Hip Pocket' Series, their amazing Rock 'n' Roll and Blues LP and CD reissues that stretch back 40 years and more. So it's not something new that I say Ace is really good at 'this sort of thing' - but holy crap - they really are. I love my Soul, Funk and Jazz Fusion (check out my 'Sounds Good: Exceptional CD Remasters for SOUL, FUNK and JAZZ FUSION' e-Book available on Amazon with over 1000 pages and a reasonable price tag) - but even with a real knowledge and love for the fields - I'll admit I don't know 90% of what's on here - and yet I'm digging most of it and wondering how I missed so much of this. And isn't that the best after all these years in the musical trenches. Let's get to the cosmic details...

UK released Friday 29 July 2016 (5 August 2016 in the USA) - "Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970 to 1974" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Ace/Beat Goes Public CDBGPD 300 (Barcode 029667530026) is a single-CD 10-track compilation of mainly Milestone and Prestige labels Jazz and Fusion tracks that play out as follows (79:10 minutes):

1. Celestial Blues - GARY BARTZ NTU TROOP (from the 1970 US LP "Harlem Bush Music - Uhuru" on Milestone MSP 9032)
2. Fire  - JOE HENDERSON and ALICE COLTRANE (from the 1974 US LP "The Elements" on Milestone M 9053)
3. Warriors Of peace – AZAR LAWRENCE (from the 1974 US LP "Bridge Into The New Age" on Prestige P-10086)
4. Brown Eyes – CHARLES EARLAND, FREDDIE HUBBARD and JOE HENDERSON (from the 1974 US LP "Leaving This Planet" on Prestige P-66002)
5. The Free Slave – ROY BROOKS (from the 1972 US LP "The Free Slave" on Muse MR 5003)
6. The Almoravid – JOE CHAMBERS (from the 1974 US LP "The Almoravid" on Muse MR 5035)
7. Let Us Go (To Higher Heights) – CARLOS GARNETT (from the 1974 US LP "Journey To Enlightenment" on Muse MR 5057)
8. Let It Take Your Mind – BAYETE UMBRA ZINDIKO (from the 1973 US LP "Seeking Other Beauty" on Prestige PRST 10062)
9. Josie Black – HAMPTON HAWES (from the 1972 US LP "Universe" on Prestige P-10046)
10. Aftermath – OLIVER NELSON (Previously Unreleased 'Edited Version' from the 1970 LP "Black, Brown And Beautiful" on Flying Dutchman FDS 116)

As you can see from the track list and generous near 80-minute playing time - "Celestial Blues..." gives you 10 lengthy Jazz and Fusion tracks from 1970 to 1974 (one of which is a Previously Unreleased edit) mostly culled from the Milestone and Prestige sets of labels with some Fling Dutchman and Muse thrown in. The 16-page booklet has superbly detailed and informative liner notes from DEAN RUDLAND - a name known to every lover of Soul, Funk and Fusion compilations. He's written for Ace, Edsel and many more and smartly accompanies the paragraphs with repros of the LP artwork so you can get a visual lay of the land too. Above all the text is musician credits and discography info for each entry and Ace's long-time Audio Engineer NICK ROBBINS has carried out the stunning remasters. Beautifully recorded and produced in the first place - this is an amazing-sounding CD reissue - huge presence as all that expert playing fills your room. Test drive the busy Joe Chambers track "The Alomoravid" to see what I mean - wonderful stuff...

It opens with the Gil Scott-Heron moaning of Andy Bey on Vocals while Gary Bartz gives it some backing Saxophone on "Celestial Blues" – an 'expand your mind' track I do recognise from other Jazz-Funk compilations on vinyl - very cool stuff. Tenor Saxophonist Joe Henderson penned the instrumental "Fire" - 11:07 minutes of instrument sparring between him and Alice Coltrane (Piano, Harp, Tamboura and Harmonium) and Michael White on Violin. A funky groove is set up right from the start - Charles Haden on Bass, Ngudu on Drums with Kenneth Nash on varying Percussion - that allows Joe to counter with the other soloists. But the big draw is his partnership with the amazing Alice Coltrane – a musical journey that started on the 1970 Milestone LP ""Ptah, The El Daoud" - an album that graced the Reckless Records CD shuffle play on many an occasion. The title track to the album "Bridge Into The New Age" by Tenor and Soprano Saxophonist Azar Lawrence has provided the title for another CD compilation in this series of reissues - Beat Goes Public CDBGPD 203 from late August 2009. Ex McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones' bands - Azar Lawrence is described as a 'spiritual Jazz musician' and his frantic but disciplined soloing with Pianist Joe Bonner will test many people's faith for the eight minute duration of "Warriors Of Peace" (too manic for my delicate palette). Far better is the very hip organ sound that Charles Earland eases out on "Brown Eyes" – a cut from the "Leaving This Planet" LP he did with Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson in 1974. You get the three great soloists giving it slices of their magic for 11:45 minutes of mellow and mid-tempo Jazz Funk – slinky Moogs meshing Henderson's Trumpet, Dave Hubbard's Alto Flute and Harvey Mason's expert drumming.

Things liven up with the Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe" feel to "The Free Slave" where Detroit Drummer Roy Brooks (toured with Yusef Lateef and was part of Horace Silver's 1950 group) lets Woody Shaw and George Coleman take the Trumpet and Tenor Saxophone leads while Hugh Lawson plinkers on the old Joanna. "The Free Slave" is a fabulous groove that doesn't seem to overstay its considerable 12:14 minute duration and is a shoe-in for a 'cool' CD-R compilation as fast as I can make one. The sexy and rather trippy sleeve art to the rare Carlos Garnett album "Journey To Enlightenment" is given the whole of Page 12 in the booklet. Coming over like the sophisticated but musical mid-section of Steely Dan's "Aja" track from 1977 - "The Alomoravid" by Drummer Joe Chambers is stunning stuff. Ray Mantilla is on Congas while David Friedman gives it some sublime Marimbas as Cedar Walton plays Piano and Richard Davis anchors it with tasteful Bass lines.

A part of the Miles Davis ensemble - reed player Carlos Garnett clearly had his eye on the dancefloors of the USA in 1974 because he took Stevie Wonder's clavinet sound and gave his "Let Us Go (To Higher Heights)" track a seriously funky edge. It's that wonderful mixture of great music meets (dare we say it) commercial appeal - all 'peace brother' shouts, football game whistles, clavinet Funk, driving Saxophone and a backbeat that just won't quit for its six-minutes plus (a 12" of this sucker would go for such money). The 2:44 minutes of the decidedly Graham Central Station/Sly Stone fuzzed-up Funk of "Let It Take Your Mind" by Bayete Umbra Zindiko (Todd Cochran to you and I) is completely new to me - a furious little thing that half works (he played on Peter Gabriel's 2nd LP and is associated with Santana's drummer Michael Shrieve). The two finishers elevate things - "Josie Black" - an eight-minute slinky Funk Out by Keyboardist Hampton Hawes where wah-wah guitars do battle with his Fender Rhodes - and finally "Aftermath" by Saxophonist Oliver Nelson - a beautifully orchestrated filmic piece that's been edited down to 3:09 minutes - its melodramatic strings against an aching Saxophone (written about MLK's assassination) is both beautiful, difficult and exciting - all at the same time (great compiling choice).

Looking at its rather nondescript quarter-moon artwork and its hipster 'space' title - I hadn't expected much from "Celestial Blues". But as Joan Armatrading said two years after most of these 1974 tracks were recorded - 'I'm open to persuasion'. A brilliant CD compilation and well done to all involved...

Other CD compilations like this on Beat Goes Public include:

1. Bridge Into The New Age: Funky Afro-Centric Spiritual Sounds From Jazz’s Forgotten Decade
July 2009 CD on Beat Goes Public CDBGPD 203

2. A Loud Minority: Deep Spiritual Jazz From Mainstream Records 1970-1973 May 2010 on Beat Goes Public CDBGPD 215

3. Liberation Music: Spiritual Jazz And The Art Of Protest On Flying Dutchman Records 1969-1974
March 2013 CD on Beat Goes Public CDBGPD 259

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