Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Azar Lawrence - 1974 - Bridge Into The New Age

Azar Lawrence 
1974 
Bridge Into The New Age
 


01. Bridge Into the New Age 6:45
02. Fatisha 4:05
03. Warriors of Peace 7:59
04. Forces of Nature 8:41
05. The Beautiful and Omnipresent Love 10:07

Azar Lawrence: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, writer
Jean Carn: voice
Woody Shaw: trumpet
Ray Straughter: flute
Woody Murray: vibraphone
Clint Huston: bass
Billy Hart: drums
Guillerme Franco: percussion
Kenneth Nash: percussion
Julian Priester: trombone
Hadley Caliman: flute
Black Arthur: alto saxophone
Joe Bonner: piano
John Heard: bass
Ndugu: drums
Mtume: conga drums, percussion


Azar Lawrence (born November 3, 1952) is an American jazz saxophonist, known for his contributions as sideman to McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Woody Shaw. Lawrence was the tenor saxophonist Tyner used following John Coltrane's death.
This is a prime example of the spiritual/Afrocentric/space jazz-fusion that was so prevalent throughout the 1970s. "Bridge" is a very deep and powerful recording that is in the same vein as Mtume's "Rebirth Cycle" and "The Elements" from Joe Henderson and Alice Coltrane. Azar is a master saxophonist who has is own uniquely ethereal style that floats and drifts. Trumpet man Woody Shaw and master percussionist Mtume are among the other players on this 1974 offering which is Azar's first as a leader. All the cuts are very spacy and even border on the psychedelic. The amazing album art matches the aforementioned description as well. This is a very rare and somewhat costly record that is ,nonetheless, well worth seeking out.
I confess, I've been holding out on you.  I've had this vinyl rip sitting on my computer hard drive for at least a year and a half.  There were some things about the transfer that bugged me a little and I wanted to start it all over, with some minor adjustments to the equipment, but alas I never got around to it.  Now I have a new cartridge and was thinking about re-doing it again and finally just realized this is getting way too obsessive-compulsive.  This is a great record, and having only been briefly available once in Japan on CD, not terribly easy to find in the digital realm.

 Now I love lots of Prestige stuff from the 70's, but this first record by Azar Lawrence, a sax player in the modal mold of Coltrane, could have sat comfortably side by side with anything being released by the Strata-East label, flush as it is with spiritual-jazz and Afrocentric accents.  The Black Jazz label comes to mind too, if only because it is book-ended with a pair of tracks featuring the not-yet-famous Jean Carn on vocals.  Presumably it Lawrence's affiliation with (ex-Coltrane quarter member) McCoy Tyner, in whose band he played for a while in the early 70s, that brought him to the attention of Orrin Keepnews and the Milestone/Prestige/Fantasy family.

There are a bunch of heavyweights from the outer limits on this album. Julian Priester and Arthur Blythe have credits on one track each, while Woody Shaw shines on two, as does the ubiquitous Billy Hart on drums.  The singularly named soul searcher Mtume runs the drum and percussion throne on other tracks.   There are also some arrangement credits given to Ernie Straughter, who went on to contribute to a ton of more mainstream but funky modern soul records in addition to a Bobbi Humphrey album.  In all it's an eclectic collection of a musicians for a very focused record.  Very upbeat and driven, even on the laid-back Fatisha. It occurred to me yesterday that the track "Warriors of Peace" would be perfect for an imaginary Blaxploitation film  It features a scene involving a few dozen Afro-hippies dressed in Egyptian headdresses, descending on the Pentagon, serving macrobiotic food to everyone, and handing out artisinal Shea butter to spread their message of universal harmony.  However, this could have been a side effect,  a combination of what sounds like a harmonic minor scale while walking around in the scorching heat where I am currently hiding out.  The heat will pass but this music shall remain.  Dig it.

As you can tell by the cover, this is not your typical coffee shop jazz record. Azar Lawrence is best known for his work with McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis, but his records as a leader were just as powerful and innovative. Bridge into the New Age is the first of three records the sax player recorded for Prestige and I feel it's his most dynamic and interesting to listen to as a whole. His other records get more recognition because of their inclination towards a jazz-dance feel, but this record shows a young player (he was 21 when this record was recorded) taking in the history of jazz and updating it into a time period focused on Afro-centrism, peace and love.

The first thing that I have to say about this record is that for the time period, it's astounding to hear this much experimentation and musical abstraction without the use of ANY electric instruments, it is a completely organic acoustic jazz experience. Not to say this is a free jazz record, because it definitely is not - it's a new-jazz record, a sound just as challenging and interesting at a time when people like Miles and Herbie began making jazz marketable by adding synthesizers and electric guitars. Instead of going electric, he looks towards his contemporaries Keith Jarrett (he was also in Miles' band) and Carlos Garnett to achieve a sound which was rich and experimental but still acoustic.


There are a lot of great players on this record, firstly the amazing Jean Carn who is known for her immense breadth of work including records with Earth, Wind and Fire, Doug Carn, Dizzy Gillespie, and Norman Connors as well as her solo work on Philly International and Motown. Other stand-out musicians include Woody Shaw, Billy Hart, Ndugu and the legendary Mtume. An interesting note here is that Eddie Harris engineered these recording sessions which is pretty wild.

The sound on here is "new jazz" but the use of multiple percussionists keep the music earthy, and Azar's solos are never too far-out, just wild enough to show you he's playing from his heart. "Bridge," "Warriors," and "Forces" are all faster numbers that truly take you into a new age of jazz, while "Fatisha" and "Beautiful" are more contemplative spiritual jazz tracks. Overall a fantastic listen. For those interested, Azar is still playing and in fact released a new record last week with the late Rashied Ali on drums. I haven't heard it yet, but  2009's Prayer For My Ancestors was great and I'm sure the latest one wont disappoint.

Enjoy the Beautiful Omnipresent Love!

1 comment:



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