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Lenny White: Lenny White Live from '97

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Lenny White played powerful funky drums on some of the best records in jazz and jazz fusion history, including Freddie Hubbard's triumphant Red Clay with Creed Taylor (CTI, 1970), Miles Davis' (in)famous Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970), Romantic Warrior (Columbia, 1975) from his tenure in the Return to Forever rhythm section, and more.

Lenny White Live from '97 captures the drummer leading a first-call cast of electric and fusion jazz players through a thoroughly magical night during White's Japanese tour in support of his two previous studio albums, Present Tense (HipBop, 1995) and Renderers of Spirit (HipBop Essense, 1996). "The personnel alone is a hint at the quality of music," wrote White's funk co-conspirator and bassist Victor Bailey, who also played in Weather Report. His point is well taken: While White and Bailey stoke up the rhythm engines, the frontline features White's fellow Miles alumni Bennie Maupin (saxophones) and Foley (lead bass), synthesizer player Donald Blackman (from White's Twennynine band), pianist Patrice Rushen and trumpeter-vocalist Mark Ledford (who suffered a fatal heart attack in November 2004).

From the opening version of "Whew! What a Dream" through the encore version which closes this set, White rocks such big fat hard bass and snare drum sounds that everything he plays sounds funky—a sound he shares with John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, who is otherwise a completely different type of drummer. Two bassists—Bailey on rhythm, Foley on lead— plus White's heavy thumping transform "Dark" into a fire-breathing stomping dragon of psychedelic funk, and make Live from '97 a deliciously bottom-heavy set.

But it's more than a raging funk monster. "East St. Louis," six minutes on Present Tense, expands to more than twenty here. After a duet with Bailey, White slips the band into a jazzy groove, which Ledford's trumpet stabs and gores like one of St. Louis' most famous homegrown talents, Miles Davis. "Wolfbane" adds multiple, unison horns to a frantic but colorful fusion melody, and brings the house down with White's closing solo, which sounds like Bonham and Buddy Rich simultaneously discovering the same style.

Patrice Rushen's magnificent playing—in "Whew!," Bailey's "Pic Pocket" and "Wolfbane"—was an absolute revelation for me. I knew Rushen is a great musician; I did not know that she is a great jazz musician.

"My biggest impression of this great record is that while you may have heard all of us before, you've never heard us sound exactly like this. That's chemistry," Bailey's notes continue. "This is a great example of something Lenny and I discuss often, which is FUSION. This is our fusion. Not a million notes, not showing off how much chops we have, but 'fusing' our jazz knowledge and contemporary music knowledge together to create GREAT MUSIC."

"Many special musical moments are only memories for those fortunate enough to have witnessed the live event," wrote White. "We all thought this was special and now we share it with you."

Track Listing: Whew! What a Dream; East St. Louis; Pic Pocket; Dark; Wolfbane; Whew! What a Dream (alternate).

Personnel: Lenny White: drums; Mark Ledford: trumpet; Bennie Maupin: saxophones; Foley: lead bass; Patrice Rushen: keyboards; Donald Blackman: keyboards; Victor Bailey: rhythm bass.

Title: Lenny White Live from '97 | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: BFM Jazz

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