Aug 2, 2010
Few jazz musicians have the varied resume of Azar Lawrence. Since he burst on the scene in the early 1970’s as a sideman for artists as varied as Frank Zappa and McCoy Tyner, his Coltrane-esque sax qualities have been in great demand. He faced off with David Liebman on Miles Davis’ fascinating (if obtuse) Dark Magus live album, and with Woody Shaw on the classic Moontrane album. He collaborated with seminal seventies soul starts like Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire, Eric Burdon in the original War, Marvin Gaye. and the influential Watts 103rd Street Band. His releases as a bandleader were that rare combination of spiritual searching and melodic control.
After a lengthy time away from recording as a jazz leader, Lawrence has returned with a vengeance, releasing two solid CDs in just over a year. The latest of these two, Mystic Journey, is a diverse album, not only a revisiting of some of his earlier career highlights, but a presentation of new material worthy of his best work more than thirty-five years ago. Sadly, the CD also represents the final work of the legendary percussionist Rashid Ali, who passed away earlier this year.
Click here to listen to Podcast 188, a conversation with Azar Lawrence, along with musical selections including:
Azar Lawrence – “Summer Solstice” from Mystic Journey. This was the title track for Azar’s second solo album, here redone by the band of Azar on sax, Dr. Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass and Rashid Ali on drums/ Ali, who rose to fame for his work with John Coltrane, passed away shortly after these sessions.
Azar Lawrence – “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit” from Mystic Journey. Written by McCoy Tyner for the Montreux concert performance that ended up as his Enlightenment album in 1973, the original version was a twenty-four minute mindbender. Azar revisits and shortens this take without losing its spirit and drive.
Azar Lawrence – Title Track from Bridge Into the New Age. Azar and Woody Shaw were the stars of Azar’s first album as a bandleader, recorded in 1974. In addition to the pair on saxophone and trumpet, the band was Woody Murray on vibes, Jean Carn on vocals, Clint Houston on bass, Billy Hart on drums and Guilherme Franco and Ken Nash on percussion.
Earth, Wind & Fire – “Spread Your Love” from Powerlight. Maurice White was introduced to Azar and they hit it off immediately, leading Azar to offer him two or three songs that ended up on the Powerlight album in 1983.
Woody Shaw – Title Track from The Moontrane. One of Shaw’s great sessions was held in New York from December 11-18, 1974. The resulting album, The Moontrane, moved Shaw to the top of the list of post-bop trumpeters in the business. The band is now acknowledged as a group of true all-stars: Shaw on trumpet, Azar on sax, Steve Turre on trombone, Onaie Allen Gumbs on piano, Buster Williams on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums.
Miles Davis – “Tatu, Pt. 2” from Dark Magus. Azar and David Liebman were handling saxophone duties in one of the densest, heaviest jazz recordings ever made. Miles was playing mostly organ by this time, and three electric guitarists – Pete Cosey, Reggie Lucas and Dominique Gaumont – were the center of the band’s sound. Michael Henderson plays bass, Al Foster is on drums and Mtume on percussion.