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