Saturday, January 31, 2009

Right on the one: Harmonium, "Vert" (1975) & Larry Young, "Khalid of Space: Welcome" (1973)

This is pure candy-floss stuff, but damn if it isn't immaculately made. Harmonium was a Québécois group that trafficked in a spotty sort of proggy psych-folk: I've never heard the entire album from which this originates, Si On Avait Besoin d'une Cinquième Saison ('if a fifth season were necessary'), but the only other track of theirs that's made my acquiantance was some pretty spotty faux-Dixieland stuff not unlike the lower points of Skip Spence's Oar--you know, the moments in which he forgot to be mentally ill and clung to his duty, as a former member of Jefferson Airplane, to be boring. I cannot, uh, celebrate the entire catalogue, but the harmony vocals and flute arrangement on this one are kee-ler dee-ler.

And to regain a bit of skronk cred:

Larry Young was for a while the Next Big Thing in the jazz organ world: until he came along in the early '60s, virtually every Hammond B3 player copped Jimmy Smith's signature combination of R&B licks and bebop runs (hell, they even ripped off the positions of his drawbars), so when Young's brand of modal, linear, intellectually-skewed playing came along, Jimmy had his first serious challenger for jazz organ supremacy. Some jazz critic--you know, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, Ralph J. Gleason, one of those guys who wrote everything--said that if Smith were the Charlie Parker of the B3, Larry was its Coltrane, and the comparison is apt: he shaved the good-timey blues inflections and chicken-shack greasiness from his forebear's sound, leaving a diamond-hard, fiery harmonic and melodic conception that owed as much to India and modern classical music as to Groove Holmes, Brother Jack McDuff, or any of the soul players from whom Smith drew considerable influence.

After playing in the first several lineups of Tony Williams' Lifetime and contributing to John McLaughlin's early psych-rock collaboration with Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies rhythm section (Devotion, which isn't exactly a great album but is worth seeking out for fans of McLaughlin and Hendrix), Larry's involvement in Black Power and the Nation of Islam spurred a name change to Khalid Yasin (he also referred to himself as Abdul Aziz on occasion), and his solo dates moved from the exploratory, eccentric post-bop of dates like Into Somethin' and Unity! to an electrified spiritual-fusion sound that tended to function like a grittier, more ghetto-conscious counterpart to Pharoah Sanders' exultant mysticism. Unfortunately, he also had a tendency for curious mismanagement of his career, and by the time of his death at 37 from undiagnosed diabetes (in March 1978), he was, if not alienated from the 'jazz world,' then certainly considered a marginal figure within it.

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