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Various Artists: Impulse Records: Music, Message & The Moment

Chris May By

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Those of us for whom Impulse has been as important a part of our cultural lives as Blue Note, perhaps even a more important one, will not be satisfied until the label reissues its entire catalogue on remastered CDs and audiophile vinyl. In the meantime, it would be churlish to do anything other than applaud such signs of Impulse's rejuvenation as its signing of reed player Shabaka Hutchings and welcome every tickle of its back catalogue such as this mostly well compiled, thoughtfully annotated 4xLP / 2xCD compilation marking the label's 60th Anniversary.

Some of the 25 tracks on Impulse Records: Music, Message & The Moment, such as Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has A Master Plan" and John Coltrane's "Alabama," are widely celebrated, but others deserve to be better known, Max Roach's "Garvey's Ghost" and Marion Brown's "Bismillah 'Rrahmani Rrahim" being just two among them. There are a few curious, as in relatively lightweight, inclusions: Quincy Jones' "Hard Sock Dance" and Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison's "Just Us Blues" are hardly wastes of space but neither is anywhere near the artists' best work for the label. Most of the selections stack up though.

The liner notes are more insightful than we have latterly become used to with Impulse, and put the music in its contemporary socio-political context while stressing its continuing relevance. The notes comprise two eight-page essays, one by A.B. Spellman, the other by Greg Tate. Spellman's is particularly valuable for he was there in the 1960s, deeply involved in and writing authoritatively about the new Black music that Impulse championed. Tate has been round the block as well, though not as often as Spellman, and his always enjoyable words also hit base.

It is about time, however, that Impulse improved the functionality of its packaging. It is difficult to extract CD1 without tearing the cardboard. The same weakness marred John Coltrane's A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters (2015), Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (2018) and Blue World (2019). No one should need reminding that back in the day, Impulse's gatefold sleeves made other labels look cheap (and the premium price Impulse albums commanded met no sales resistance).

The selected tracks come from 25 albums released between 1961 and 1976, programmed in chronological order: John Coltrane's Africa/Brass (1961), Max Roach's Percussion Bitter Sweet (1961), Quincy Jones' The Quintessence (1962), Coltrane's Impressions (1963), Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison's Illumination! (1964), Coltrane's Live At Birdland (1964), Charles Mingus' Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (1964), Shirley Scott's For Members Only (1964), Yusef Lateef's Live At Pep's (1965), Archie Shepp's Fire Music (1965), Stanley Turrentine's Let It Go (1966), Earl Hines' Once Upon A Time (1966), Oliver Nelson's The Kennedy Dream: A Musical Tribute to John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1967), Pharoah Sanders' Karma (1969), John Coltrane & Alice Coltrane's Cosmic Music (1969), Ahmad Jamal's The Awakening (1970), Albert Ayler's Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe (1970), Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra (1970), Alice Coltrane's Ptah, The El Daoud (1970), Pharoah Sanders' Thembi (1971), Archie Shepp's Attica Blues (1972), Michael White's The Land Of Spirit And Light (1973), Dewey Redman's The Ear Of The Behearer (1973), Marion Brown's Vista (1975) and John Handy's Hard Work (1976).

Track Listing

LP1: The John Coltrane Quartet/Africa; Max Roach/Garvey’s Ghost; Quincy Jones and his Orchestra: Hard Sock Dance; John Coltrane: Up ‘Gainst The Wall; Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison Sextet: Just Us Blues. LP2: John Coltrane/Alabama; Charles Mingus/Better Get Hit In Yo’ Soul; Shirley Scott Trio: Freedom Dance; Yusef Lateef/Sister Mamie; Archie Shepp/Malcolm Malcom Semper Malcolm; Stanley Turrentine/Good Lookin’ Out; Earl Hines/Black And Tan Fantasy; Oliver Nelson/The Rights Of All. LP3: Pharoah Sanders: The Creator Has A Master Plan; John Coltrane & Alice Coltrane: Reverend King; The Ahmad Jamal Trio/The Awakening; Albert Ayler/Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe; Charlie Haden/We Shall Overcome. LP4: Alice Coltrane/Blue Nile; Pharoah Sanders/Astral Traveling; Archie Shepp/Blues For Brother George Jackson; Michael White: Lament (Mankind); Dewey Redman/Imani; Marion Brown/Bismillahi 'Rrahmani 'Rrahim; John Handy/Hard Work.

Album information

Title: Impulse Records: Music, Message & The Moment | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Impulse! Records

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