The Quietus | Features | Reissue of the week


There is a venerable, artist-run record label tradition in jazz, which dates back to at least the early 1950s. In 1952, bassist / composer Charles Mingus, his wife Celia and drummer Max Roach founded Debut Records, which focused on releasing music by emerging artists until it closed in 1957 – the same year Sun Ra and his business partner Alton Abraham set El Saturn records in Chicago, primarily as a release vehicle. intergalactic missives from Ra. While these two companies were pragmatic attempts to avoid the compromises inherent in working with major record labels, they were also candid statements of African-American self-determination that were entirely emblematic of the civil rights era.

Not surprisingly, amid the political and social turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the idea took on more urgent energy. In 1971, trumpeter Charles Tolliver and pianist Stanley Cowell created New York-based Strata-East Records, which released over 50 albums during the 1970s, including sessions of jazz heavyweights such as the bassist Cecil McBee and Clifford Jordan, as well as Gil Scott. -Heron’s hit album in 1974, Winter in America. Operating in the void created by the death of John Coltrane in 1967, Strata-East was a beacon of Afro-centric spirituality and cultural awareness, and is now rightly famous for issuing some of the most powerful statements of the 20th century. century on black American artistic identity. But that wasn’t the only label with a closed fist in the air. In Oakland, California, home of the Black Panthers, an even more revolutionary imprint was founded in 1969.

Imagined by pianist Gene Russell, Black Jazz Records seemed, from the start, inextricably linked to the Black Power movement, with a mission to “promote the talents of young African-American jazz musicians and singers” and a bold, monochrome logo showing two strong The black hands joined in fraternal greeting and mutual support. In a shrewd business move, Russell enlisted the help of Dick Schory, a classically trained percussionist and music industry insider who had been instrumental in the development of quadraphonic sound recording for vinyl records as well as in RCA Records’ “Dynagroove” process, before founding Chicago -Ovation Records, a country and western based label. Russell arranged for Ovation to fund and distribute the Black Jazz albums, leaving himself free to act as artistic and creative director.

Black Jazz released their first four albums in 1971 and amassed a twenty record catalog before Russell went out of business to launch a new label called Aquarican Records in 1975. After Russell’s death in 1981, Black Jazz disappeared from circulation. and, despite a series of CD reissues by Japanese label Snow Dog Records starting in 2012, has remained a somewhat mythical entity. But a comprehensive series of vinyl re-releases undertaken by US company Real Gone Music in 2020 and 2021 changed that – providing the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate the production of this most radical label.

Fittingly, Black Jazz’s first outing was from Russell himself – a date for appropriately named piano and percussion trio. New management, on which he covered a selection of pieces by other composers, from the jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street” to the pop sound of “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder. But it was with the label’s next salvo that it really took off. A classy acoustic jazz album in the mold of Horace Silver, Coral Keys by pianist Walter Bishop Jr. featured all the original compositions touching on playful Latin vampires, strutting boogaloo, harmonically complex hard-bop and the perfect “Waltz For Zweetie”, with soprano saxophonist Harold Vick respectfully nodding to “My Favorite Things ”by Coltrane. Born in 1927, Bishop had witnessed the birth of bebop in the late 1940s, and was already a veteran figure by the time of its Black Jazz release. But (leaving Russell out), his label mates were largely from a younger generation, from hip sounds to contemporary sounds, funk and free jazz to the electro jazz rock innovations of Miles Davis.

The Black Jazz roster was a diverse pantheon of unsung warriors and pioneers. Singer Kellee Patterson – formerly the first Black Miss Indiana – is out Groundbreaking trip in 1973, an album of magnificent vocal interpretations of jazz compositions, including a hypnotically magnificent version of the eponymous piece by Herbie Hancock. Rudolph Johnson was a hard-hitting tenor saxophonist whose two releases of Black Jazz (1971 Spring rain and 1973 The second coming) revealed a serious spiritual seeker in the tradition of John Coltrane. Bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin also recorded two albums for the label (The skipper in 1972 and The skipper at home in 1974), on which he played both double bass and electric bass with a huge fierce bounce augmented by electric keyboard and guitar. The Awakening was a Chicago-based group with ties to the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians, whose albums Hear, feel and feel (1972) and Mirage (1973) mixed the deep and meditative atmosphere of Thembi-ère Pharoah Sanders with Pan-African percussion and ‘small instruments’ from The Art Ensemble Of Chicago. But, without a doubt, the flagship artist of Black Jazz was keyboardist Doug Carn.

Born in Florida in 1948, Doug Carn arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, released his first album – The Doug Carn trio – on Savoy in 1969 and played on Earth’s first two albums, Wind And Fire in 1971. That same year, he signed to Black Jazz and released four albums on the label – more than any other artist. The first three of them – Infant eyes (1971), Spirit of the new earth (1972) and Revelation (1973) – featured the voice of his wife, singer Jean Carn, and created an aesthetic that is now synonymous with Black Jazz: irresistibly funky yet intensely serious, rhythmically dense and propulsive but somehow ethereal. On the piano, Carn showed traces of the influence of McCoy Tyner’s breathtaking agility and sincerity; on organ and electric keyboard, he pointed out his knowledge of Larry Young’s work with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock Mwandishi project; and on the synthesizer, he has proven to be a visionary futurist and one of the first to embrace the breathtaking possibilities of Moog.

His work as a lyricist has also been crucial. Whether he’s writing lyrics for existing compositions like “Acknowledgment” by Coltrane or “Search For The New Land” by Lee Morgan, or writing originals like “Revelation” and “Power And Glory,” he continued. a constant passion for spiritual matters, betraying a feeling of pending religious awe. At the same time – and in keeping with the tenor post-Coltrane, sensitizer of the time – his songs simmered with an impatient call to action: on “Jihad”, he promised “that a new day is dawning”, and on ‘Arise And Shine’, he urged “beautiful people stand up.” While these injunctions clearly spoke of an Afrocentric need for fulfillment and freedom, there was also a sense that he was equally concerned with the emancipation of the human family at large from material drudgery. Jean Carn’s voice provided the perfect delivery of these manifestos of hope: at once shrill but fragile, old-fashioned yet timeless, and endowed with an extraordinarily wide and slow vibrato, it sounded from another world, like a singer. cosmic episode of Star trek.

Carn’s fourth and final album for Black Jazz (and the last on Real Gone Music’s reissue program) dates from 1974. Adam’s apple – undoubtedly his best release and that of the labels. Here the Moog synth is even more important, often – like on the album’s opening, ‘Vocals’, – increasing the bassline, creating a sense of dark and eerie momentum, encapsulated in the lyrics: “Come on. forward together, say a song for the freedom of man. Jean Carn does not appear on the album; instead, the vocals are performed by Joyce Greene and John Conner, credited as The Voices Of Revelation – a name brilliantly fitting for their Gospel-meets-Age-of-Aquarius, its apocalyptic-utopian sound. Carn’s lyrics seem even more preoccupied with a judgment ahead, obsessed with a desire for future-oriented delivery. On the wacky and funky “Higher Ground”, the Voices sing about building a “just nation”. On “Western Sunrise”, they proclaim “a new day is dawning. “On” Sweet Season “, they happily welcome a new age:” Sweet season, I’m so glad you’re free to come back. ”

Although there are lots of Moog and percussion based jams with an apocalyptic feel Adam’s apple, the music touches various stylistic territories, calling upon the talents of a diligent group including Calvin Keys on guitar and Ronnie Laws on saxophone. The title track marries a tale of biblical morality with a dirty porn-funk groove; “To A Wild Rose”, revisits the orbit of Jean Carn with a cosmic ballad similar to that of Sun Ra on “When You Wish Upon A Star”; “The Messenger” is a fierce jazz-rock vibe with haunting synth sirens and an urgent Hammond organ solo; “Mighty Mighty” brilliantly transforms a funk bang from Earth’s 1974 album Wind and Fire Open our eyes in an incredibly up-tempo slice of hard-bop, swaying madly; and “Sanctuary” adds lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s melancholy ballad, offering an ambiguous fusion of earthly and spiritual love, with Carn murmuring a sultry oral introduction: “Don’t run away from me,” he advises, “let go. I help you discover the secret treasure of beauty and expansion that awaits our completion, ”which, to say the least, is surely one of the most strangely intense pickup lines ever spoken.

Carn has continued to record and perform on and off, most recently as part of Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge’s hip-hop-influenced group. Jazz is dead project in 2020. Despite this, he remains a mysterious character, who still ruminates in the apocalyptic shadows of his obsessions of the early 70s. Adam’s apple and the rest of his production Black Jazz, he is undoubtedly one of the great little-known geniuses of revolutionary and progressive jazz.


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