Every year as summer draws near I have to play Harry Whitaker’s sensational Black Renaissance: Mind, Body and Spirit – and in full. It is simply a wonderful piece of free, spontaneous and Afrocentric jazz, soul and rapping – before rap was known. In effect and reality, the whole piece was a jam session recorded in one take and – rather fittingly – on Martin Luther King day in 1976.
There are just two tracks – Black Renaissance (side 1) and Magic Ritual (side 2). Whitaker comments on the record sleeve that “we discussed ideas the night before – just the basics like the bass lines and the drums, but that was it. It was recorded in what I call moment-to-moment.” For many years the tapes were thought to be lost forever, but they they were eventually tracked down in 2002 by the Luv’n’Haight label in California and released on Ubiquity.
Harry Whitaker was a pianist, producer, arranger and composer who played and recorded with Roy Ayers and Roberta Flack and had influential jazz friends and contacts. The record includes Woody Shaw (check out his trumpet solo), Azar Lawrence, Buster Williams, Billy Hart and Mtume. The music is essentially a map of the African American musical canvas of 1976, with echoes of Sun Ra’s call and response, Coltrane’s tonal meditations and touches of the electronic wizardry of Herbie Hancock’s early 1970s music. You simply need to hear this essential music – press the Mixcloud tab now! You can still track down the album on both vinyl and CD. Original Japanese pressings from 1976 come up at around £300 so go for the Lu’n’Haight reissue – around £10 for CD and a little more on vinyl. If you don’t have this jazz essential just treat yourself.
It was another tune from the Dinosaur record Together as One that started off the show. Extinct has been an ever-present on my current playlist for some time now. The clarity of the playing from each player comes out really strongly on this tune. It is jazz for our times from a significant, young British group.
I was reminded recently that a year ago this week I saw the Sun Ra Arkestra under the musical direction of Marshall Allen, now aged 92 and still as strong as ever. The orchestra continues to carry the spirit of Sun Ra and Cosmic Hop manages to combine the spiritual with the danceable. The Jelle Van Giel group from Belgium have featured regularly on the show. We like them and they merit repeated listening. There was another tune from The Devotion, US drummer John Lumpkin’s release from last year. This was one of those tunes that ends in a free and improvised blow-out (like Black Renaissance) – quite different from how it starts. The whole album, available on download, is, in fact, quite unpredictable. One tune, in particular, is very different, maybe I should try it next week…
Two other artists I saw almost a year ago were UK musicians pianist Kit Downes and cello player Lucy Railton. At that time, they were playing with Norwegian Thomas Stronin as he toured in Europe. This week we ended the show with a track from the duo’s recent release Tricko .
- Dinosaur – Extinct from Together as One
- Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance from Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit
- Sun Ra Arkestra – Cosmic Hop from Songs for the Sun
- Jelle Van Giel Group – The Truth from Songs for Everyone
- John Lumpkin – The Red Sea from The Devotion
- Kit Downes – Jinn from Tricko
Neil is listening to…