Larry Young

Lawrence of Newark

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The late Larry Young was an organist whose fairly brief career had lots of highs and very few middles or lows. Take this session from 1973 -- his first non-Blue Note date as a leader and post-Lifetime -- as a for instance. It is startling for its fresh look at how the organ is used in jazz and in improvisation, period. On Lawrence of Newark, Young enlisted a host of younger New York session cats who were hanging around the fringes of the funk and avant-garde scenes -- James Blood Ulmer, trumpeter Charles MacGee, Cedric Lawson, and about a dozen others all jumped into Young's dark and freaky musical stew. Made up of only five tracks, rhythm is the hallmark of the date as evidenced by the conga and contrabass intro to "Sunshine Fly Away." Deirdre Johnson's cello opens up a droning modal line for Young to slide his organ over in what passes for a melody but is more of an idea for a theme and a trio of variations. Armen Halburian's congas echo the accents at the end of the drum kit and Young's own tapering pronouncements moving back and forth between two and four chords with a host of improvisers inducing a transcendent harmonic hypnosis. The centerpiece of the album is "Khalid of Space Pt. 2: Welcome." Sun Ra's edict about all of his musicians being percussionists holds almost literally true in Young's case. The soprano saxophonist sounds as if it could be Sonny Fortune (billed as "mystery guest"), but he's way out on an Eastern modal limb. Young's right hand is punching home the counterpoint rhythm as Abdul Shadi runs all over his kit. Blood Ulmer is accenting the end of each line with overdriven power chords, and various bells, drums, congas, and djembes enter and depart the mix mysteriously. Young is digging deep into the minor and open drone chords, signaling -- à la Miles -- changes in intonation, tempo, and frequency of rhythmic attack. And the cut never loses its pocket funk for all that improvisation. It's steamy, dark, brooding, and saturated with groove. The CD reissue has fine sound and sells for a budget price; it should not be overlooked. The DJs just haven't discovered this one yet. Awesome.

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