Despite including two jaw-droppingly featherweight and disposable tracksMichael White's "The Blessing Song" and Dave Mackay & Vicky Hamilton's "See You Later"Pure Fire! is a welcome and timely compilation. Not only because of the other nine tracks, most of which are outstanding, but also because of the two offending pieces of la-la land muzak. The album presents, intentionally or otherwise, the most rounded, warts and all, single-disc precis of the Impulse! archive yet.
The ongoing The House That Trane Built reissue series is, not surprisingly, focusing on the label's School of John Coltrane legacy. First with the invocation of Coltrane in the project title, second with the strapline "Orange & Black, Fire & Ebony, Fury & Pride." The received perception of Impulse! as like-ESP-but-bigger is being cemented in.
The work of Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp is certainly the most important strand of the Impulse! legacy. But people tend to forget that the label covered a much broader field than just firebrand tenor saxophonists, even its mid-1960s/early-1970s heyday. Cool, West Coast, third stream, hard bop, mainstream, big band, astal jazz, blues, modal/free and vocalsand one-of-a-kind Cecil Taylorwere all recorded by the label.
London DJ Gilles Peterson covers several of these strands. Peterson has been a welcome and sunny presence on the British jazz/world/dance scene since the mid-1980s, when he accelerated the zeitgeist with his influential Talkin' Loud And Saying Something events. Here he applies his quirky, non-conformist aesthetic, most memorably, to hard bop (Art Blakey's high torque "Alamode," from The Jazz Messengers, 1961), mainstream (Milt Jackson & Ray Brown's gorgeous "Enchanted Lady," from Memphis Jackson, 1969), thinly veiled agitprop (Max Roach's "Lonesome Lover," from It's Time, 1962), third stream (Yusef Lateef's Erik Satie tribute "First Gymnopedie," from Psychiceotus, 1965), the blues (Archie Shepp's down-home reading of "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good," from For Losers, 1969), and the classic Coltrane quartet (the achingly beautiful "Wise One," from Crescent, 1964).
A few tracks benefit from the presence of musicianly, emotionally articulate vocalistsChina-Lin Sharpe on Shepp's "I Got It Bad" and Abbey Lincoln on Roach's "Lonesome Lover"but not Mackay & Hamilton's "See You Later" (from Dave Mackay & Vicky Hamilton, 1969) or White's "The Blessing Song" (from Pneuma, 1972). What the anodyne MOR warblers Mackay & Hamilton were ever doing on Impulse! remains a mystery. White's noodling violin on "The Blessing Song," together with the all-over-the-place, cooing vocal choir, is also best forgotten.
But it's good to be reminded that Impulse! didn't always get it right. Most of the time, though, the label surely did, and the generally lesser known, upbeat and lyrical tracks featured here will be trips forever.
Personnel: Milt Jackson & Ray Brown; Yusef Lateef; Max Roach; Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers; Michael White; McCoy Tyner; Archie Shepp; Oliver Nelson; Dave Mackay & Vicky Hamilton; John Coltrane; Pharoah Sanders.