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Jazz Out There: Out of Print and Unavailable


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Have you ever wanted something so bad that you could feel it there at your fingertips but knew that it was somehow completely out of reach? Have you ever heard something that sounded so beautiful that you just had to hear it again and again? Have you ever seen something so artistically perfect that all you could do was think about how badly you wanted it? So here we come full circle, and then you ask yourself, "How could I possibly have this in my possession? Just to hear it? Just to see it? Please, how do I get this?"

You think about it day and night, you tell your closest friends about it, you tell your girlfriend about it even though you risk completely alienating her because she will discover that there is another love, another obsession in your life besides her, and, of course, you tell your parents just in case there is the off-chance that they might somehow bestow it upon you out of love and generosity. Actually, I tell mine anyway because my parents are cool. Yes, as the great free jazz saxophonist Reverend Frank Wright put it, "Love is the word." Love in the universe, the love of whoever or whatever your god may be, the love of jazz.

So how do you go about getting closer to this item so that you might possibly obtain it? Well, I thought I was really an awesome guy recently when I came across the four-CD set of John Coltrane's Half Note radio gigs from New York 1965. I went around town, and actually online, and told people about it. I even dubbed some copies and did some trading with them and gave a few copies away to some good friends of mine. The Coltrane Quartet in their prime, a four disc bootleg. I had been dreaming about this for years, decades! Then I met a guy who was even cooler. My ego was crushed. I wanted to fight him. I felt like a kid again walking through the halls at school with my head held high and suddenly somebody yells out, "You're a freaking dork!" This guy knew things that I had never fathomed. "Dude," he says to me. "Have you ever heard the Black Ark?" I just looked at him with my mouth open and before I could say anything he says, "Have you ever heard Noah Howard?" I started to cry, and then I said to him, "Well, who is the drummer?" "Muhammad Ali," he said to me. "Rashied Ali's brother." What? How could this be? I knew everything, I was the MAN. No, I began to realize that truly I am smaller than dirt. I started to drool on the carpet and then the guy says to me, "You want to hear it?"

And so began the journey. Noah Howard's The Black Ark is one of the most incredible pieces of music ever put to record and guess what? It is long out of print. It has been said that the original 1969 vinyl release was never reissued and therefore it gets bids upwards of $200 on Ebay. It is not uncommon for collectors to pay prices for rare pieces of music that would, to any other rational human being, seem astronomical. To collectors, they only thing they may want to rationalize is where and how to get the money to pay for it, not to mention why they want it so badly in the first place.

What is my rationale, you ask? My rationale is this: like so many other "collectors" of fine music, I am also a musician. I want to be the greatest musician I can be, so I go after great music that I can listen to and learn new things from. I am constantly studying, practicing, and expanding my musical and artistic horizons. The guy who introduced me to The Black Ark opened the door to hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of music that, prior to this discovery, I didn't know even existed. I will be indebted to him for life, and the problem is he knows that.

Another gem that he introduced me to is Duo Exchange by drummer Rashied Ali and saxophonist Frank Lowe. Most people know Rashied Ali from his days with John Coltrane from 1965-1967, and later with John's wife, pianist Alice Coltrane. What a lot of people don't know is that in 1973 he founded the New York jazz club Ali's Alley in conjunction with the Survival label for which he recorded some incredibly vital free jazz. All of those albums were independently released and, until recently, long out of print. Although Duo Exchange has recently been re-released on CD on the Knit Classics label, the original vinyl release still fetches $50 or more on Ebay.

As well as Duo Exchange, Rashied Ali recorded another duo album for Survival with violinist Leroy Jenkins in 1975 entitled Swift Are the Winds of Life. Here is an album that, like Duo Exchange, features some blazing drum set playing on the part of Ali. At just over 30 minutes in length, Jenkins composes and plays against Ali beautifully. A member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Jenkins has a long history of working with artists such as pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and reeds player Anthony Braxton. Interestingly, even though Braxton's 1968 release 3 Compositions of New Jazz featuring Leroy Jenkins, Leo Smith, and Richard Abrams has been reissued on CD, the original LP release still goes for more than $140.00 when it can be found. Conversely, Abrams's 1968 release Levels and Degrees of Light featuring Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, and Thurman Barker goes for more than $150.00 in its original LP format even though it has been re- released on CD. Perhaps this is due to a difference in mastering quality. Many people prefer the sound and the experience of listening to an original vinyl release. Vinyl is warmer, and sometimes the mixes are hotter on an LP than on a CD. It has also been said that there are some high-end frequencies that can be heard on vinyl that are inaudible on CD, but that may or may not be the case.

Reverend Frank Wright, saxophonist and preacher, was born in 1935 in Mississippi and, sadly, passed away in 1990 while in Germany. He recorded some very important music during his lifetime, possibly some of the most important jazz music ever put to disk. As well as having an illustrious career as a leader, he recorded Holy Ghost with Albert Ayler in 1966, Spiritual Infinity with Sunny Murray in 1968, two albums with Cecil Taylor: Winged Serpent in 1984 and Olu Iwa in 1986, and he worked with such luminaries as Peter Brotzmann, Raphe Malik, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Frank Wright's first album, simply titled Frank Wright Trio, was recorded for ESP-Disk in 1965 and features Henry Grimes playing bass, Tom Price playing drums, and Frank Wright playing tenor saxophone. It was made during Henry Grimes's early years as a bassist when he was becoming known in New York and on the free jazz scene that was at that time beginning to explode. Grimes plays beautifully with grace and abandon, complimenting Price as the perfect match in a rhythm section that plays open, abstractly, and swings hard. Wright begins by playing heads that at first seem accessible then break apart leaving the listener wondering if he is witnessing something comparable to a lightning storm in sound. He wails as though deep in meditative prayer, expressions of joy and emotion, at times vocalizing without his horn. He reaches musically in the truest sense of both words: to reach is to stretch out into the vastness of life to grab a piece of the universe and to hold it, to ponder it, to be with it; musical means expression, a language, a cry, a wail, prayer that his cry will be answered, to express oneself into complete oneness of being.

Frank Wright Trio is all of that. This recording is a beauty, a true musical gem. There are no cliches here, no preconceived conceptual notions, only the musicality of the artists. Suffice to say, this album is out of print. I did find a copy on Ebay, and I won the auction and paid $12 for it, which was an incredible steal. Unfortunately, the disc was lost in the mail so ultimately all I received was a refund. I was, however, able to find someone online who was willing to trade a copy of it for the Coltrane Half Note recordings.

Another rare one is Babi Music by Milford Graves. This is a powerful group that features Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover on reeds and this album is impossible to find, even on the trade circuits. I have actually had better luck finding an audience recording of this group in concert, which is a rarity indeed. Scorpio by Arthur Jones on America is another extremely rare one. Nobody seems to have it, much less does anyone seem to know who Arthur Jones is, but what I have heard of this album is master work.

There are thousands of items out there, classics demanding to be unearthed. There is much that has never seen the light of day. In fact, Leroy Jenkins has made it known that his finest material has never been released commercially. When beginning a search for rarities, I would highly encourage you to bear this in mind: some of the greatest material may be right under your nose. The best musicians often are not people with major commercial success, but people who have a handful of releases (if any at all) on small, independent labels. Please give them a listen. Support the local guys, the ones who strive for the highest quality. You will not be disappointed.

Author's Note: Since the date this article was published in 2004, ESP Disk has reissued Frank Wright's Frank Wright Trio and Your Prayer as a two- disc set. They can be found at the label's web site: www.espdisk.com. Also, as of June 2007, Bo'Weavil Recordings in England has re-released Noah Howard's The Black Ark on CD and limited issue 180-gram vinyl. A copy of this gem can be attained at www.boweavilrecordings.com.

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