Good Music We Can Know

Monday, August 16, 2010

Spiritual Jazz Obsession: Joe Henderson Featuring Alice Coltrane- The Elements (1973)

There's a lot about this album to make it special... not the least of which is that it features Alice Coltrane in a rare role as a sideman, on harp and piano. What else? Henderson's tenor is in the finest of forms (as it always is, including on Pete LaRoca's superb album Basra, featured here), trafficking in the kind of free-skronky, spiritually wild, high inspiration that Pharoah Sanders found on Alice Coltrane's Journey In Satchidananda (my favorite jazz record, probably).

Each track is named after and based thematically on one of the four elements, and for once a basic and often mediocre idea is executed in such a universal and inspired way that it really clicks, not just musically but also conceptually. The track "Water," an obvious highlight, finds Henderson treating his sax with a thrillingly mercurial effect, resulting in the aural impression of a saxophone being played under, through, or with water. It's delightful, but also fiercely experimental in the spiritual vein. This is one of the arguments for the incredible value of this period in time for spiritual jazz. This is one of the best records of its ilk. This is Jazz happening to the Universe! Brothers, this is the sound of Jazz Mattering.


Exotic Dream of an Andean Sun King: Elizabeth Waldo- Realm of the Incas (1961)

Here is a sublime record of Inca compositions, played on "Authentic Pre-Columbian Instruments" and served up wonderfully by Elizabeth Waldo, a so-called "Musical Archaeologist."

Have you ever found yourself listening to the wonderful records of Yma Sumac and begun to wish you could hear Les Baxter's lush, near-psychedelic, pseudo-Andean arrangements more or less straight, without Yma's hyperbolic vocal histrionics? This, perhaps, is the cure.

(Bless Ms. Sumac and her incredible gift, and may I never speak a bad word about her, but we all know her records aren't exactly "any time" records-- they take a toll. They're challenging in a way Exotica generally isn't.)

Nothing here is quite as strange as what you might find on an Yma Sumac record, but the beauty is uninterrupted and indeed also almost psychedelic in its swirling, crystalline instrumentation. This is a fantastic piece of work, and while I'm not qualified to speak to its anthropological integrity, I can attest, with vigor, that it is Musically Superb. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Closet of Curiosities for posting this one. Zip over there and check out the post (and thank the man), which reprints the back cover literature. Here's a quote:

I have found that the Indian of all areas leaves his stamp on his musical contributions as indelibly as the African leaves his mark on the better known Afro-forms. Above all, the Indian, of noble soul, strives his entire life to unite the forces of man and nature about him. -Elisabeth Waldo