Lost Gems and Melancholia: Sounds Of Liberation, Dorothy Ashby, Andy Bey

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Philadelphia’s Sounds Of Liberation

(Photo: Courtesy Dogtown Records)

Pianist Jack Wilson unfortunately is known better for his famous protégé, vibist Roy Ayers—whom he first met when they played together in Gerald Wilson’s Big Band—than for his own work, including a handful of classic Blue Note sides. The previously unissued live quartet performance captured on Call Me: Jazz From The Penthouse (Century 67 003; 65:41 ***) was taped in Seattle two weeks before most of the same players cut his 1966 Something Personal—which deftly imprinted an introspective gloss on soulful grooves. But since the band was working as the opening act for bawdy comedian Redd Foxx, it isn’t surprising that the music reveals a more mainstream vibe, with a preponderance of chill midtempo swingers and ballads. Still, there’s no missing his easy rapport with Ayers, finessing a sound that soon would grow more popular in jazz.

Ordering info: lightintheattic.net

Before her ’60s records for Cadet and Argo became a sampling favorite among DJs, Dorothy Ashby masterfully adapted the harp for jazz, laying down sweet vamps, sparkling arpeggios and overtone-rich solos with a guitar-like clarity in post-bop settings. In A Minor Groove (Real Gone 0847; 39:43 ***1/2) is the second of two 1958 albums she made with famed Count Basie reedist and flutist Frank Wess, and the agile rhythm section of drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Herman Wright. As the title suggests, all eight pieces are minor-key vehicles, mixing Ashby originals, like the spry “Rascality” and the brisk title track, with standards, like “Yesterdays,” given a shot of lapidary brilliance thanks to the harpist’s crisp articulation.

Ordering info: realgonemusic.com

Shades Of Bey (Ko Ko 001; 55:49 ****) was the second studio transmission from sublimely nuanced singer Andy Bey after a 22-year absence from recording, part of a stunning late-career revival revealing a new strain of contemplative beauty and undiminished range. Supported by a stellar cast including saxophonist Gary Bartz, the singer remakes a couple of standards in vocalese treatments—flashing rhythmically fleet flexibility on “Get It Straight (Straight No Chaser)” and levitating sophistication on “The Last Night Of Evening (Blood Count).” His command of the blues on “Dark Shadows” conveys plenty of weight, but the performance itself is lighter than air. And it’s hard to top his gorgeous, string-swaddled take on Nick Drake’s “River Man,” which imbues the tune’s melancholia with soulful resplendence.

Ordering info: andybey.bandcamp.com

It remains startling that French pianist Michel Petrucciani was only 36 when he died in 1999 of a pulmonary infection. From a young age, he expressed an incredible maturity and sophistication in his playing, and his 1988 performance on One Night In Karlsruhe (SWR JazzHaus 476; 77:35 ***) in the company of bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Roy Haynes is no exception. Earlier that year the same rhythm section appeared on the pianist’s Michel Plays Petrucciani, a collection of original compositions, five of which are included here along with a few standards. The pianist’s romantic streak is on display throughout, with the snap and sensitivity of Haynes’ playing a bulwark against sentimentality.

Ordering info: swrmusic.de

Philadelphia’s Sounds Of Liberation toggled between free-jazz, funk and soul during its early-’70s existence, focusing more on bringing music to underserved parts of the local African-American community than to career development. The group included reedist Byard Lancaster, vibist Khan Jamal and criminally overlooked guitarist Monnette Sudler, and the session featured on the previously unissued Untitled (Columbia University 1973) (Dogtown/Brewerytown Beats 02; 31:04 ***) casts a broad net, starting with the warmly bubbling grooves and chattering three-way dialogue of “Thoughts” and concluding with the slinky r&b sermonette of “New Horizon (Back Streets Of Heaven),” as Lancaster comments with choruses of gospelized alto cries. DB

Ordering info: brewerytownbeats.com



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February 2023
Lakecia Benjamin
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