It’s February 1st, which is the beginning of Black History Month here in the States. At the Raggy Waltz offices, we’re celebrating Black History Month by highlighting albums made by black artists. To kick off the official start of February, here’s quite possibly the most unpretentiously black album I own. With that, to the music!
The Tune: “Brilliant Corners”
Recorded: 28 March, 1965 at the Village Gate, New York City
- Charles Tolliver – Trumpet
- James Spaulding – Alto Sax
- Bobby Hutcherson – Vibes
- Cecil McBee – Bass
- Billy Higgins – Drums
- President Johnson signs legislation making it legal for black Americans to vote
- Malcolm X is assassinated on 21 February
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attempts to lead a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on 9 March. State police violently deny them access, beating and gassing them
This is music not for the faint of heart. From the jump, the music takes you right in for a wild ride. Recorded during the midst of the civil rights movement, the music on this album was recorded at a benefit concert for the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem, New York live at the Village Gate jazz club. The Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School has its own interesting history, which I encourage you to Google, but briefly it was founded by poet and writer LeRoi Jones, soon to become Amiri Baraka. He started it soon after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 as a place for the development and free expression of black talent and culture. To kickstart his initiative, there was a jazz concert held at the Village Gate, one of the hippest, most ‘avante-garde’ jazz clubs in New York City. It brought together a variety of the most progressive black jazz musicians and they played the most far-out, progressive jazz of 1965.
John Coltrane’s quartet is featured doing a brooding, searching version of “Nature Boy”. At least that’s what the title says. I didn’t actually hear the melody of “Nature Boy” played at all during the performance. It’s a modal vehicle for Coltrane; pianist McCoy Tyner doesn’t get any space to solo. The rest of the music is admittedly not my speed. Albert Ayler and his brother Donald get a performance of “Holy Ghost” is as out there as you can get. “Blue Free” features Grachan Moncur on trombone and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and is more conventional jazz. The guys still get pretty far afield and free with it though. Archie Shepp and company are hand for “Hambone”, which starts off tame enough before careening towards the galaxies. That leaves “Brilliant Corners”.
“Brilliant Corners”, written by Thelonious Monk, features the horns of Charles Tolliver and James Spaulding as well as the vibes of Bobby Hutcherson. Ubiquitous drummer Billy Higgins keeps things moving and Cecil McBee holds down the tonalities on bass. This track is the most conventional and swinging track on the entire album. There’s no piano on the track so the guys have nowhere to hide. Other than Hutcherson providing sparse harmonic seasoning, the soloists are on their own. Hearing Bobby Hutcherson in this setting is refreshing. His cool vibes (a cool instrument by nature) adds a stimulating shade of color for the music. The guys vary the song structure by playing alternating choruses with the tempo in half-time and in regular time, spinning tasty solos in the process.
There was more music recorded at the concert, and a few more tracks appeared on a CD release of this album. As a whole, the music is a great time capsule of sorts for the time and place in which it was made. 1965 was a tumultuous year. Many black Americans were anxious, frustrated, angry, disillusioned, etc. All of that comes through the music on this record. It’s music that demands to be listened to actively- this isn’t music to have playing in the background!
The liner notes are extremely expressive and contain numerous thought-provoking statements that do the music more justice than I could do with my own words, so I’ll keep my thoughts to myself. I will say that I wasn’t familiar with most of the musicians on this record. Guys like Granchan Mancur, Cecil McBee, and Charles Tolliver were foreign to me, among others. Then again, I usually stay firmly within the straight-ahead jazz styles, not dabbling much in the free jazz arena. Or, to quote Albert Ayler from the liner notes, “It’s not about notes anymore. It’s about feelings!” I don’t know about that…
Raggy Waltz Rating: C
This album cover is a blatant attempt to capitalize off of the stardom (worship?) of John Coltrane, from the picture to his name being the first in the lineup. As per usual with Impulse album covers, the cover art is pretty bland and minimalist. Not to say it’s bad. The rich maroon cover with the picture of Coltrane mid-performance is nice. But that’s it. It’s just nice.
One thing that I like about Impulse albums is their beautiful gate-fold style album jackets. Glossy, thick, and in bright technicolor, they truly stood out.
As I mentioned earlier, the liner notes contain some interesting tidbits. Some of it is delightfully poetic. Some of it is thought-provoking and even contentious. Some of it is still as relevant in 2019 as it was when it was penned in 1965. Here are some excerpts from the notes, written by LeRoi Jones aka Amiri Baraka and Steve Young:
“I have been writing in many places about this new black music. I have made theories, sought histories, tried to explain. But the music itself is not about any of those things. What do our words have to do with flowers? A rose is not sweet because we explain it so. We cd say anything, and no rose wd answer.”
– LeRoi Jones
“Albert Ayler is a master of staggering dimension, now, and it disturbs me to think that it might take a long time for a lot of people to find it out. (Except they knew it all the time, like that other shit you can’t explain.)
– LeRoi Jones
“But the album is also heavy evidence that something is really happening. Now. Has been happening, though generally ignored and/or reviled by middlebrow critics (usually white) who have no understanding of the emotional context this music comes to life in. This is some of of the music of contemporary black culture. The people who make this music are intellectuals or mystics or both. The black rhythm energy blues feeling (sensibility) is projected into the area of reflection. Intentionally. As Expression…where each term is (equally) co-respondent.”
– LeRoi Jones
“In order for the non-white world to assume control, it must transcend the technology that has enslaved it. But the expression and instinctive (natural) reflection that characterizes black art and culture, listen to these players, transcends any emotional state (human realization) the white man knows. I sd elsewhere, “Feeling Predicts Intelligence”. That is the spirit, the World Explanation, available in Black Lives, Culture, Art, speaks of a world more beautiful than the white man knows.”
– LeRoi Jones
“New Black Music is this: Find the self, then kill it”
– LeRoi Jones
“It is through the Black Man’s Music that the record of his Spiritual strivings are recorded for, from the time he was first introduced into this country as a slave he was allowed little more Freedom than the freedom of his Music.”
– Steve Young
Probably my personal favorite line from liner notes, and one that is 100000% as true and relevant today as it was then:
“…the social and historical record of where [the Black Man] was at any given moment during his life in America (in terms of his feeling, his conscious and unconscious social and cultural allegiances) can be found in his Music; Blues, R&B, Gospel, Jazz.”
– Steve Young
“This music, at the same time it contains pain and anger and hope, contains a vision of a better world yet beyond the present and is one of the most beautiful ever to come out of men’s souls or out of that form of expression called Jazz”
– Steve Young
That last line (and the last line in the liner notes) speaks not just of the jazz on this album but of the jazz recorded during those turbulent years of the 1950’s and especially the 60’s. What do you think of these quotes? Do you agree or disagree?
Recorded beautifully in living stereo by Rudy Van Gelder, this album was a fantastic and life-like listening experience. The club was acoustically blessed and it comes through the recording. The instruments are punchy and snap with life, and the stereo stage is perfectly set. Well done RVG.
The labels are snappy as well, and ‘VAN GELDER’ is stamped into the runnout wax of both sides. The vinyl has a serrated edge, which I’m sure means something special. I don’t know what that something is though. If you know, do chime in.
The Place of Acquisition
I found this album at my good old local record store, Vertical House Records. It was ‘only’ $20, which I gladly handed over for this album. For having been collecting records for over five years, this was my first original-pressing Impulse! album when I bought it last year. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more.