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Don Pullen: Ode to the Life Lived

By Published: August 22, 2008
The Italian connection had been made a year earlier. So in 1975, Giacomo Pellicciotti, already smitten by Pullen's genius and contributions to the new thing, recorded an intense feature with Sam Rivers, supported by Alex Blake on bass and Bobby Battle on drums. Capricorn Rising (Black Saint, 1975) blazed across what airwaves would have it played. Now Pullen was doing in Europe what he could never do at home. The label was so supportive. Everyone knew that this was historic. The music Pullen first made with Giuseppi Logan in 1964... now Pellicciotti would give Pullen's unique voice a fresh lease on life. The same year he did his solo record in Toronto, he recorded another tour de force solo for Black Saint in Milano. Healing Force (1975) is dark and introspective. Pullen bares all on "The Pain Inside" and it all comes together on the title track. Through his darkest moments in life, Pullen was focused, even driven. He is true to the music... Gospel and the blues... That mad, mad, swing and the swirls upon powerful swirls... Like Monk before him, when Pullen played a few bars and tilted into his solo, you always knew that it was him. No one could play like Pullen. No one.



By the time Giovanni Bonandrini bought out Black Saint from Pellicciotti, Pullen had become an icon in Europe—Italy at any rate. His oeuvre grew and he ended up recording eleven absolutely spectacular albums with that label. A lot of exploratory work got done, with Famoudou Don Moye and Fred Hopkins. It began in 1978 with Milano Strut, back to the format where he launched himself with Milford Graves a decade prior to this record. He paid tribute to Giuseppi Logan with a stirring "Curve Eleven" and to the city that adopted him with the title track. It was a fine record and Pullen's restless star was on the rise. At the end of July, 1979 he cut The Magic Triangle, with Joseph Jarman and Don Moye, a record that gave back to what he heard a long time ago on an Ornette Coleman record. One that had first opened his mind to the space within the beats at the secret heart of jazz and the melding of harmony and melody... in his own fiery way...



Don Pullen On January 5, 1979, Mingus died in Cuernevaca, Mexico at the age of 56. The anger melted away. Feelings came in waves... He wrote profusely. Later that year Pullen formed one of his most electrifying bands with George Adams, Cameron Brown and Dannie Richmond. Shortly after All That Funk (Palcoscenico, Nov. 1979), they record Don't Lose Control first. It's as if the four of them had been playing for years. As Mingus once told Adams, "Well, don't be like all the rest of the whores..."8 and they played their hearts out. Pullen contributed "Remember?," a turbulent number that recalls, perhaps in short order, the jumping turnarounds that Mingus popped on the three of them. Pullen was nodding at Mingus.



There is a strange sense of what did not—but always had to—get done. The George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet roamed large in Europe, finding another recording haven in Holland, with the Dutch label, Timeless. The air here was thick with music. Pullen, Adams and Richmond recorded Earthbeams (1980) and Lifeline (1981), with its soul-searching revisiting of "Newcomer, Seven Years Later," after he first laid the track down with Mingus on Mingus Moves. They also recorded both the breathtaking Melodic Excursions, with the deeply spiritual "God has Smiled on Me," and City Gates in 1983, featuring the first appearance of another tribute, "Thank You Very Much Mr. Monk" and the classic spiritual, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," recalling almost, the vocalastics of Paul Robeson. Decisions came in 1984—and again the spiritual voice is haunting on "His Eye is on the Sparrow"—and in 1985, Live at Montmatre, the spectacular version of "Song Everlasting," that was to appear in an exciting incarnation a decade later.



Meanwhile, back at the Bonandrini's ranch, with an impulse to perform a quick nod to vocal gigs he once did with Nina Simone, Pullen broke away between gigs with the guys in Holland, and recorded Angedras (Black Saint, 1983), a fine conceptual album with Marcelli Melis, who started it all in the first place. Pullen's triumphant return to New York in 1983 and the August 19 gig at the Village Vanguard was captured on record to forever celebrate the great affection that Pullen had for NYC, starting twenty years earlier. Thanks to Max Gordon, the group did a long gig and, once again, Giovanni Bonandrini was there to capture it all. Pullen's by now quite classic "Thank You Very Much Mr. Monk" and "Big Alice" rub shoulders with Adams' "City Gates," Duke Ellington's "Solitude" and Mingus' exquisite ballad, "Dianne."



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