Azar Lawrence: Summer Solstice (1975) Fantasy

LJC is going off-piste again, venturing into the mid-70s, and Brazilian-influenced free spiritual jazz fusion or something. You can do this if, like me,  you are a Time Lord. Post intended for new year, but just didn’t happen that way. Not even a Time Lord can fix everything.  Gosh, is that the time?  Must dash, I’m fifty years late.

The cover dates it – animalism: a pervasive 70s graphic meme, the carnal appetites of the natural world reveal our inner selves. Not me anyway, but at the time, I  did have a pair of snake-skin boots, and a sheep-skin coat.Saving grace, I  think the  jumper was polyester.

Selection: Novo Ano Brazilian for “New Year” (A Tristao)

.  .  .

Artists

Azar Lawrence, tenor, soprano sax, percussion; Ron Carter, bass; Billy Hart, Guilherme Franco, drums; Raul De Souza, trombone; Gerald Hayes, flute; Don Salvador, Albert Dailey, piano; Amaury Tristao, guitar; recorded Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA, April 29 and unspecified date May, 1975; engineer, Tony May.

Who was (correction, is) Azar Lawrence?  some might say, and that would include me, being light on the evolution of jazz in the ’70s.

Azar was a late arrival on the modern jazz scene, slipping into Coltrane’s shoes on McCoy Tyner’s Enlightenment (Milestone 1973) and others in Tyner’s mid 70s ensemble. Woody Shaw’s Moontrane (Muse 1974, great!) ticked all the boxes, Miles Davis Dark Magus (1974) offered a prestigious but unfullfilled liason, before Azar led a series of titles for Fantasy-owned Prestige producer Orrin Keepnews, including  Summer Solstice, and  Bridge into the New Age (pictured below)

LJC cover art critic reporting for duty.

Summer Solstice‘s stylistically 70’s cover. The artist photo/ typography 50s-60s genre gave way to the illustrator’s art. Reality was no longer enough. It had to be enhanced by a surreal collage of colorful graphic images, animal motifs, landscapes and implied or actual influences of hallucinogenic substances. The music is soulful, funky, fusion-leaning. With hindsight, the New Age was not quite as New as it liked to think, but in transition from the Old Age, reached for an identity of its own.

Mid-70s Fantasy/ Prestige was a different animal from Bob Weinstock’s  50s and 60s jazz.  The Prestige catalogue and label was sold to Fantasy Records in 1971, and within a few years Fantasy’s artist roster featured mainly soul jazz and funk artists, including  Patrice Rushen, Charles Earland, Bill Summers (The Headhunters) Gary Bartz,  a few “old guys” and later line-ups of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

Brazilian music in 1970’s USA was of course a genre in its own right,  one I know very little about, apart from some Eumir Deodato electric piano funk. Perhaps something to look into at a future date.

After his Fantasy titles, Azar went on to pursue a behind-the-scenes commercial career, his main contribution to bring a jazz voice into more popular music. Azar was nothing if not a survivor. Two decades of appearances on other artists albums followed, including Earth Wind and Fire, Freddie Hubbard (in his funky mode), and multi-Grammy-award winning rapper Busta Rhymes.  However, soon after the turn of the new century, the Coltrane legacy re-gained some of its currency, According to Azar’s own  website:

“In the early 2000s, Azar surged back onto the jazz scene and continues to roar, electrifying audiences with outstanding original compositions inspired by his intense spiritual feelings, as well as songs from the Coltrane songbook: The Legacy and Music of John Coltrane, 2007, Speak The Word Revelations, 2008, Prayer For My Ancestors, 2009, Mystic Journey, 2010, The Seeker, Live At The Jazz Standard, 2014, which featured Azar’s own “Lost Tribes of Lemuria,” and McCoy Tyner’s signature, “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit (Youtubes below). Azar’s 2018 album, Elementals, hit #2 on the Jazz Weekly charts.

A new generation of listeners ready to discover Coltrane, good for them.

Lost Tribes of Lemuria was new to me, worth a listen if you can get past the drawn out opening theme.  Azar’s playing puts me in mind of Harold Land (which is a good thing). The McCoy Tyner live at Montreux Walk Spirit Talk Spirit however has much more the right period feel.

As an aside, contrast what a Youtube/CD transfer sounds like (below) with the vinyl rip of the Selection. Surprising insight! Even over 320kbps digital / PC speakers, the vinyl is crisp, clear, wide stage, The Youtube is wooly, dull … nothing. Imagine the gap on a full high-end system.

 

Poking around in Azar’s recent history, first I discovered happily he is still with us, and second, I saw a birthday that needed to be celebrated! We are rapidly running out of legends to form a supergroup –  Pharoah Sanders, a key figure in 70s Impulse outward-bound  spiritual journey. The Creator Has A Master Plan. Well I’m glad someone has, precious little sign of one elsewhere today.

More Pharoah in a forthcoming post. Good head of hair for his age (Pharoah, not Azar).

Apart from echoes of Coltrane, Azar revisited Pharoah, musically sounds promising, and whetted my appetite for more Pharoah.

 

Handy Factoid:

For the astronomically inclined, Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, falling between June 20 – 22 in the northern hemisphere. Nothing to do with the music, but may come in useful on a Zoom quiz-night. (Welcome, but turn the mute off!)

Music

Bright and upbeat, West Coast sunshine, lots of Bahia woowoo, woowoowayah and rainforest percussion,  the tunes a simple backcloth for extended solos. .  Azar on alto is a little bit David Sanborn at times,  reaching for those top notes, but on tenor delves into harder and grittier areas.

Amazon’s editorial review of Summer Solstice highlights the art of writing pithy teasers, like pitching  the plot for a Netflix original in just a few sentences, which is how things seem to operate in commissioning entertainment. Savour this:

“Azar Lawrence’s seminal album, originally issued in 1975, this spiritual free jazz album remains one of the highlights of the illustrious career of Azar Lawrence, who is one of the only artists from the legendary Prestige Recordings era who is still touring and putting out new music”.

Not a bad effort in music journalism, superficially correct, but “from the legendary Prestige Recordings era” is a stretch  There was indeed a legendary Prestige era: Coltrane, Miles, Monk, Rollins, which has little to do with the period of Fantasy ownership, but why spoil a good story?  “It is an enjoyable listen“, understated truth, doesn’t sell.

Vinyl: SMJ 6125

Japan Victor issue of Prestige 6015 – promo (cover sticker). Sounds crisp and clear, a respectable transfer.

Black cover says “spiritual”. I’ll take it.

Collector’s Corner

I picked up Summer Solstice on the strength of walking into a record store,(those were the days!)  liking what I heard playing on the sound system. Enquiring who it was, my host said “Azar”.  I looked blank. Azar … who? Lawrence Azar? No, Azar Lawrence. His last name is a first name, and vice versa.  He’s very well regarded, you know. What’s in a name? Judge by what you hear.

Discogs offers sight of the missing OBI, and attributes this edition to 1975. Plausible.

Audiophile reissues are coming at us thick and fast. Another initiative from Universal is the Verve  Acoustic Sounds series, kicking off with Getz/ Gilberto

Getz/Gilberto will be released as the first title of Verve/UMe’s new Acoustic Sounds series. Seeking to offer definitive audiophile-grade versions of some of the most historic and best jazz records ever recorded, the series, supervised by Chad Kassem, CEO of Acoustic Sounds, the world’s largest source for audiophile recordings, utilizes the skills of the top mastering engineers and the unsurpassed production craft of Quality Record Pressings. Mastered from the original analog tapes, the album will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl and packaged by Stoughton Printing Co. in high-quality tip-on gatefold jackets.”

Concord Records, current owners of the Fantasy/Prestige catalogue, make their own pitch: Summer Solstice, November 2019 “audiophile 180gm reissue”. Maybe they are paying attention to Blue Note, and intend to monetize their back catalogue too. In which case they need to go further than just “180 gm audiophile!”. Calling vinyl audiophile doesn’t make it audiophile. Neither does it weighing 180gm. We have read this schtick for 20 years on rubbish digital transfers.  Re-mastered by whom? From what source? All-analogue processes? Pressed where?  If Concord don’t understand this, what are the chances they are doing all the right things, and just keeping quiet about it? Occam’s Razor.

JAZZ DISPENSARY PRESENTS AZAR LAWRENCE’S SUMMER SOLSTICE ON 180-GRAM VINYL AS PART OF “TOP SHELF” VINYL REISSUE SERIES

 

 

“Top Shelf Series”?  In 70’s argot, that is where they put the lads mags, so lads couldn’t reach them – until they grew tall enough (or had a taller friend) Still, Concord’s pitch has greater authority

“Highly regarded as one of Lawrence’s finest solo albums, Summer Solstice is a transcendent journey into his Brazilian influenced free-jazz fusion musings. Having started his journey in the jazz realm as a very young man, Lawrence honed his skills among luminary giants such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, followed by a five-year stint of work with the great McCoy Tyner where he found his voice as a performer and composer.

According to an article on Lawrence by Chuck Koton for All About Jazz, “…his ascent to the peak of the jazz world at times lead Lawrence to wonder how he could be playing with these giants and it was Tyner who reassured Azar that as a young man that he belonged in such company because he could not only play the hell out of the horn, but because he felt the same way about the music as Coltrane did.

Recorded during a prime period of exploration and adventure for modern American jazz music, Summer Solstice finds Lawrence leading a team of international virtuoso… The result is an album that operates in the sonic space halfway between the influence of the American jazz standards of the 50s and 60s and the free spirit of the Brazilian jazz made popular by artists like Hermeto Pascoal (flute) and Egberto Gismonti (multi-string guitar).

LJC: So there you have it: “Coltrane-feeling,sonic half-way space, transcendent journey into Brazilian-influenced free-jazz fusion musings. Great music word-salad. I’ll have the Salpicao de Frango, with mustard dressing. Take-away, of course.

LJC

Though the Azar encounter was interesting, it was more useful in reaquainting myself with Pharoah Sanders. What’s your take on Pharoah? Asking for a friend.

 

19 thoughts on “Azar Lawrence: Summer Solstice (1975) Fantasy

  1. Hi, wonder if anyone could help me ? I have two copies of Miles Davis – Kind of Blues Lp’s but don’t know how old they are, here are the numbers on both Lp’s if anyone can help me date them.

    LP 1. FRONT COVER – is CS – 8163
    Side 1 – 88862 2A DA001

    Side 2 – 88862 2B DA001

    LP 2. FRONT COVER – CL – 1355
    Side 1 – XLP47324 – 1AJ
    Side 2 – XLP47325 – 1BJ
    This LP has a number 4 on the back righthand conner.
    Thank you in advance.
    M Hope.

  2. I think Pharoah is one of the great post Coltrane voices, that tone alone books in a place in the pantheon. The last time I heard him live, in New York, in 2011 he hardly played – on every number he joined in with the head of the tune, played a solo and then sat down to the let the rest of the quartet do its thing, before rejoining at the end. He was getting old, but boy was that tone still there and it was a thrill to hear it…
    The reason I was on my own in New York and sitting at the bar at Birdland was because I was just sorting out a deal on the Flying Dutchman catalogue and trying to locate the tapes. This deal meant that I ended up working with Lonnie Liston Smith who played piano in the great Sanders group of the late 60s. Lonnie told me the story of how he, Leon Thomas and Pharoah got together in 1968 and really did think they were hot stuff. Early on they had a gig – at Slugs I think – and they were on the bill with Dexter Gordon, who was coming on before them. Our young guns were laughing and joking amongst themselves about going up against an old ‘has been’ like Dexter. Lonnie told me they were laughing for precisely as long as it took Dex to get into his first solo, he was blowing them away and it was going to be a very long evening…
    I really like Bridge Into The New Age as my favourite Azar Lawrence record.

    • Very nice post, DR. TY. Lonnie Liston Smith played on many great records, including Gato Barbieri’s Flying Dutchman albums. THE THIRD WORLD is a favorite of mine, FENIX another one – and with Ron Carter on electric bass (beautiful tone)! Gato was an interesting figure in jazz – very much influenced by Coltrane and Sanders, but with his own South American (“third world”) slant and Antonio Das Mortes/El Topo mystique – he even inspired the “look” of the Muppet, Zoot, in the band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem – how cool is that!! Other favorites – on Cherry’s COMPLETE COMMUNION and with Mantler/Bley. I saw Gato many years ago as a guest soloist with a big band – one of Toshiko Akiyoshi’s – and it was an unforgettable experience – he set the band on fire.

  3. Pharoah has produced a wonderful catalogue of diverse music over the years well worth exploring. In the early period I particularly like Don Cherry Symphony for Improvisors with Sanders and Barbieri on Blue Note and the majestic Kulu se Mama with Coltrane .Interesting to note that RVG did the Tauhid session but no further Impulse recordings as far as I could see. I do have a soft soft for the Live at the East Impulse from 1971.I think Pharoah also suffered at the hands of Impulse in the latter stages. How Lee Young ( Lester Youngs brother) ended up producing some albums escapes me ,Wisdom through music for example has a sound drop out on Love is everywhere which is not present when the same track is issued on a later album titled Love is in us all. Again on Wisdom the titles track and Golden Lamp are one continuous track just faded and cut to produce 2 tracks. Plus some albums have no artists listed. I could go on forever about Pharoah but here are a few other points worth checking out. His beautiful soprano sax work on Thembi and 2 Timeless albums Moonchild and the above mentioned Welcome to love.I would add Rejoice to the Theresa recordings along with Heart is a melody with a 22minute version of Coltrane’s Ole. Finally , back in the day I used to get cut out lists from the US ( on real paper etc) which had the Sanders for sale continuously for $2.98. It has come a long way since then price wise ,as far as the music goes , I never play it .

  4. Your mention of David Sanborn reminded me of his wonderful 1990’s U.S. TV program “Night Music.” A veritable musical chameleon, Sanborn would assume the style of his guest, sometimes sounding more like the artist than the artist did himself, such as in this clip with Pharoah. There are many more of Sanborn’s videos on YouTube, which are great fun to watch.

  5. My copy of TAUHID has the dubious honor of being one of the most “worn” of my albums, as there was a time when it was one of my favorite and most played. I very much liked most of Sanders 1960’s work – the first three Impulses (TAUHID, KARMA, JEWELS OF THOUGHT) and his many appearances (~ a dozen) on Coltrane albums, the work with Don Cherry (WHERE IS BROOKLYN), the Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, etc. Part of the attraction was the notion that he, like Albert Ayler, reflected the Zeitgeist of the times – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as representatives and reflections of black empowerment and spirituality. As a novice sax player I also found Sanders’ and Ayler’s (and early Gato Barbieri’s) emphasis on “alternative” techniques of great interest. As Sanders entered the 1970’s, I pretty much lost interest in his work but comments here suggest we might profitably revisit his later work.

  6. To me, all Pharoah is essential Pharoah. And as for Azar, both this disc and “Bridge Into the New Age” are incredible.

  7. Pharaoh Sanders work with Coltrane I haven’t managed to acquire a liking for. Live At The Village Vanguard Again gave me a headache, overblowing to the point of willful disharmony isn’t my thing.
    That said he uses the technique to great effect on many later recordings like this one for example..

    But a lot of his work subsequent to JC’s untimely death is wonderful. Particularly the two LPs with Alice and a couple he recorded a long time later.
    Journey To The One on Theresa Records 1980 imo is essential. I acquired a copy at a bricks & mortar jazz record shop in New Shaftesbury Ave., what on earth was it called?
    There’s also one called Pharoah on India Navigation from 1977 which I’d love to have but it sells for silly money and I understand that the pressings can be very bad – a combination that means I’m unlikely to hear this on my turntable..
    Look forward to reading your take on Sanders.

  8. Yes, it’s a superb piece of bass playing

    .He sounds like he’s de and re tuning the strings for effect, as part of the solo Not sure..Whatever he’s doing , he is in complete control of the instrument..No doubt some of the bassists out there will know exactly what he is doing .

  9. Well, the Pharaoh’s birthday slipped under my radar so thanks for highlighting it. Late last year I scored a trio of Impulse “spiritual jazz” records featuring Sanders in one batch: Alice Coltrane’s “Ptah The El Daoud” and “Journey Into Satchidanada” as well as his own “Jewels of Thought”.

    Now there are some flaky and difficult moments on these dates but overall I was really impressed and some of the tracks are absolutely outstanding. Well worth your closer attention Andy. As are “Karma” and “Tauhid”. I don’t have “Thembi” (yet) but I am aware of Cecil McBee’s extraordinary bass solo track “Love” from it.

  10. Pharoah Sanders , a very interesting listen , sometimes a challenge .His album Thembi is a good album. African rhythms, disonance and abstract sound. Not exactly background music for when the neighbours drop round for a drink..Excellent recording quality on Impulse. His work with Alice Coltrane is also excellent.

  11. I saw/heard this artist at the Detroit Jazz Festival a few years ago and just loved his live performance! Picked up the album not too long ago and was impressed.
    Thanks for your reviews!
    Dave

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