National Book Critics Circle Award winning author Jonathan Lethem's latest work, The Fortress Of Solitude,
is a fictional account of two boys, one black one white, born in Brooklyn in the 1960s. Their story is told within the turbulent times they were raised, with plenty of references to the various songs that were the soundtrack to the meeting of the end of the beat generation, the rise of hippies, and the urban sound that later became hip-hop. Lethem paints a clear picture of the cross-pollination of the genres and the varying people involved. Since the Wynton revolution of the 1980s, rarely does a jazz aficionado acknowledge that this music is a part of its time, affected by events and fashions of its age.
The folks at Water Records have made it their mission to reissue out-of-print LPs that highlight the creative spark at the intersection of jazz, rock, psychedelia, funk, and soul. Music that inspired fusion, a genre that was later cannibalized by big record companies turning it into corporate cheese as unappetizing as corporate rock.
Tomorrow Never Knows
Saxophonist Steve Marcus, a graduate of jazz bands led by Stan Kenton, Gary Burton, and Herbie Mann was also coming of age in the 1960s. His rock influenced jazz seemed as normal to him as Miles Davis playing Broadway show tunes as jazz a decade before. Little did he know that his Count's Rock Band and Miles Davis' electric voodoo would cause traditionalists to curse and jazz fusionists to renounce the acoustic world. His 1968 release Tomorrow Never Knows includes covers of The Byrds, The Beatles, and Donovan. Where rock stars could touch on psychedelia, Marcus, a Coltrane devotee, could take the music really out there. "Mellow Yellow" played straight by Marcus on one channel, finds pianist Mike Nock, guitarist Larry Coryell and the overdubbed Marcus working a freak out on the other channel. Like Coltrane's rendition of "My Favorite Things," the jazzmen expand and expand on the themes developing the familiar Lennon/McCartney tune "Tomorrow Never Knows" into a psychedelic stew.
Black Rhythm Happening
Like Marcus, trumpeter Eddie Gale honed his craft with bebop players before signing on the the Coltrane revolution. His tenure with Cecil Taylor, Larry Young and Sun Ra opened him to the limitless possibilities of this new music. He recorded two discs for Blue Note records in 1969, a time of expanding African-American awareness with its demands to reclaim jazz, blues, soul and gospel music as their own.
Both Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening feature the Noble Gale Singers a large vocal ensemble. The music comes straight from Sun Ra's floor show conception of dancers and costumes. Gale has a penchant for medieval choir meets street funk at the free jazz intersection. The sixties rediscovery of artist's African heritage might not have begun here, but it certainly expands with Gale's work. The music is a credit to both Eddie Gale and the open ears of Blue Note's Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. The second disc, Black Rhythm Happening adds jazz greats Elvin Jones and Jimmy Lyons (incorrectly spelled 'Jamie') and opts for a bit more show biz vocals. This music reflects both free jazz, Black folk, but also Broadway.
These discs are fascinating archeological treasures of a time and place long buried by those who would rewrite jazz history. Water Records attempt to resurrect music that is 'of its time' is an admirable goal and a valuable lesson on how to make jazz relevant to this age.
Tracks and Personnel:
Tomorrow Never Knows
Tracks: The Rain; Fulton Street; A Understanding; A Walk With Thee; The Coming Of Gwilu.
Personnel: Eddie Gale - Trumpet, Soprano Recorder, Jamaican Thumb Piano, Steel Drum, Bird Whistle; Russell Lyle - Tenor Saxophone, Flute; Judah Samuel - bass; James "Tokio" Reis - Bass; Richard Hackett - Drums; Thomas Holman - Drums; Noble Gale Singers: Elaine Beiner, Sylvia Bibbs, Barbara Dove, Joann Gale, Evelyn Goodwin, Art Jenkins, Fulumi Prince, Norman Wright, Edward Walrond, Sondra Walston, Mildred Weston.
Tracks: Black Rhythm Happening; The Gleeker; Song Of Will; Ghetto Love Night; Mexico Thing; Ghetto Summertime; It Must be You; Look At Teyonda.
Personnel: Eddie Gale - Trumpet; Russell Lyle - Tenor Saxophone, Flute; Judah Samuel - Bass; Henry Pearson - Bass; Roland Alexander - Soprano Saxophone, Flute; James Lyons - Alto Saxophone; Elvin Jones - Drums; John Robinson - African Drums; Noble Gale Singers: Joann Gale Stevens, Fulumi Prince, Sylvia Bibbs, Paula Nadine Larkin, Carol Ann Robinson, Sondra Walston, Charles Davis, William Norwood.
Black Rhythm Happening
Tracks: Eight Miles High; Mellow Yellow; Listen People; Rain; Tomorrow Never Knows; Half A Heart.
Personnel: Steve Marcus - Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone; Mike Nock - Piano; Larry Coryell - Guitar; Chris Hills - Bass; Bob Moses - Drums; Gary Burton - Tambourine.