When saxophonist and composer, Kamasi Washington, released his tripple album, The Epic in 2015, it was celebrated widely, not only in the spheres of jazz, but also in rock magazines. Washington was clearly on to something, forging a new spiritual sound that married world music, orchestral funk and free jazz.
However, new sounds do not come out of nothing. Music is always born out of or into a tradition. The compilation Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political and Spiritual Jazz 1970 to 1974 tries to trace the influences that led to the Epic and does so quite successfully.
The album is conceived by the accomplished compiler and DJ, Dean Rudland, who has also written the excellent notes that accompany each track. The selection includes a wide range of artists, including saxophonists Gary Bartz, Carlos Garnett, Joe Henderson and Azar Lawrence, drummers Roy Brooks and Joe Chambers and pianists Hampton Hawes and Bayeté Umbra Zindiko. What they all have in common is that they were trying to break out of the mold of traditional jazz and adjust themselves to the electric, experimental spirit of the 1970s while keeping a close tie to the virtues of jazz: improvisation and the polyphonic approach to rhythm and melody.
For instance, it is fascinating to hear Hawes, the accomplished modern bop pianist, delve into the spacious sounds of the electric piano on "Josie," a groovy, bubbling piece with a rain forest of percussion, creamy electric bass, wahwah blues licks and punctuating horn lines. A transcendent approach to the instrument comes from Azar Lawrence who seems to blow into heaven with his throaty saxophone sound on "Warriors of Peace" that takes off with Latin rhythms and razor sharp rhythmical breaks. Joe Chambers on the other hand conjures a whole world of tribal rhythm on "The Alamoravid" and the liquid sounds seem to flow effortlessly from the organ, Moog and ARP synthesizers of Charles Earland.
Simply put, Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political and Spiritual Jazz 1970 to 1974 is a fun journey into a strange and funky world of sound, both celestial and bluesy. It is an album that encourages further crate digging, but it also stands as a perfect proof of the saying that the past is just as cool as the future.
A note: The booklet also includes several scans of album covers. Let it be said that the cover art was just as colorful and eclectic as the brilliant music inside the sleeves.
Track Listing: Celestial Blues - Gary Bartz NTU Troop; Fire - Joe Henderson & Alice Coltrane;
Warriors Of Peace - Azar Lawrence; Brown Eyes - Charles Earland; The Free Slave
- Roy Brooks; The Alomoravid - Joe Chambers; Let Us Go (To Higher Heights) -
Carlos Garnett; Let It Take Your Mind - Bayeté Umbra Zindiko; Josie Black -
Hampton Hawes; Aftermath (Edited version) - Oliver Nelson.
Personnel: #1: Gary Bartz: alto saxophone, piano; Andy Bey: vocal; Hugh Lawson: piano;
Ron Carter: bass; Harald White: drums; Nat Bettis: percussion. #2: Joe
Henderson: tenor saxophone; Alice Coltrane: piano, harp, tamboura,
harmonium; Michael White: violin; Charlie Haden: bass; Kenneth Nash: congas,
North African sakara, drums, Chinese, African, Indian bells, gongs, percussion;
Ndugu: drums. #3: Azar Lawrence: tenor & soprano saxophone; Black Arthur:
alto saxophone; Joe Bonner: piano; John Heard.: bass; Mtume: congas,
percussion); Ndugu: drums. #4: Charles Earland: organ, Moog, ARP Synthesizer;
Freddie Hubbard: trumpet, flugelhorn; Eddie Henderson: trumpet; Dave
Hubbard: alto flute, soprano & tenor saxophone; Joe Henderson: tenor
saxophone; Dr Patrick Gleeson: ARP and Moog synthesizers; Mark Elf: guitar;
Eddie Arkin: guitar; Harvey Mason: drums; Larry Killian: percussion. #5: Roy
Brooks: drums; Woody Shaw: trumpet; Hugh Lawson: piano; George Coleman:
tenor saxophone; Cecil McBee: bass. #6: Joe Chambers: drums; Cedar Walton:
piano; Richard Davis: Fender Bass; Omar Clay: marimba, percussion; David
Friedman: marimba, percussion; Ray Mantilla: congas, percussion. #7: Carlos
Garnett: reeds, vocals; Ayodele Jenkins: vocals; Hubert Eaves: keyboards;
Anthony Jackson: bass; Reggie Lucas: guitar; Howard King: drums; Charles
Pulliam: congas; Neil Clarke: percussion. #8: Bayeté Umbra Zindiko: piano,
electric piano, clavinet, vocals; Mguanda: soprano saxophone, flute, vocals,
percussion; Mulobo: trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; Hoza Phillips: electric bass,
vocals; Agusta Lee Collins: drums, percussion.#9:Hampton Hawes: Fender
Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, Hammond B-1 Organ, ARP
synthesizer; Harold Land: tenor saxophone, Oscar Brashear: trumpet; Arthur
Adams: guitar; Chuck Rainey: bass guitar; Ndugu: drums. #10: Big band
arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson, featuring tenor saxophone solos from
John Klemmer and John Gross.
I love jazz because it is the only existing music style which let you
I was first exposed to jazz by Gunther Hampel in Hamburg, around 1972.
I met Ornette Coleman, Butch Morris, Karl Berger, Michel Camilo, a.o.
The best show I ever attended was Salif Keita at the Blue Note in
The first jazz record I bought was the Tony Scott and Hozan Yamamoto
My advice to new listeners: when you listen to my music, please be a
part of it.