Sisters of Swing: Kicking the Habit (2003)
For those not in the know, ergot is an unusual fungus which grows on rye. In its ordinary form it can cause paralysis, convulsions, and death. However, upon baking the grain into bread, a significant amount of the toxin is converted to LSD. For centuries ergot has been intimately, although covertly, associated with Church culture. Some of the greatest visions in religious history have been attributed to simple rye bread, including experiences by all the major prophets. Think about those loaves and fishes, for example.
Sister Martha, the pianist in this quartet, spent ten long years as an ergot addict. While this period was her most creatively fertile, it had devastating consequences on her responsibilities in the convent. She had to be subdued several times for claiming she had seen Jesus in drag. (The mother superior had a bit of a problem with facial hair, which may account for some of these visions.)
Martha's three Sisters on this date show a surprising empathy for her condition. On "I Saw Him and He Was Her," Sister Agnes dives deep into the bottom end of her baritone saxophone to growl along with bassist Sister Mary. But it's Sister Martha who brings the piece together when she scats brightly atop the calypso portion that follows. On the upbeat "Freedom From Freedom," the group synergizes for a fully improvised romp in the spirit of Ornette Coleman's early quartets. It's remarkable how the four voices manage to simultaneously intertwine four hymns in this piece.
In the liner notes, John H. Lienhard asks of ergot, "Is it from God? Is it from the Devil? Or is it from the bread we eat?" Clearly it's all three. Sister Martha learned this the hard way, and now she adheres to a strict bread-free diet. And her piano playing soars free and unfettered, thanks to a little help from her Sisters.
For more information, see John H. Lienhard's notes .
Track Listing: I Saw Him and He Was Her; Organ Jam; Bake Wheat Not Rye; Astral Traveling; Freedom From Freedom.
Personnel: Sister Mary - bass; Sister Martha - piano, keyboards; Sister Agnes - tenor and baritone saxophones; Sister Amelia - drums.
Record Label: Heavenly Sounds
Style: Modern Jazz