Michael White

The Land of Spirit and Light

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Released in 1974, Michael White's The Land of Spirit and Light is a spiritual jazz classic. Ambitious, outrageously creative, and aesthetically restless, it is simply one of the finest outings on the Impulse! label. Beginning with an unusual ensemble that included classical guitarist Bob King, bassist Cecil McBee, percussionist Kenneth Nash, Prince Lasha on woodwinds, and pianist Ed Kelly -- along with vocalist Stanley Nash and some unidentified others -- the set walks the line between improvisation and groove-based playing. The three-part title suite is a case in point, as McBee's bass creates a groove-based line and is flown over by White's violin and countermelodies by King. The melody from "Pt. 1" introduces "Pt. 2" and becomes a kind of freewheeling dance as soloists weave in and out and harmonic improvising becomes intuitive. "Pt. 3" changes directions entirely, as it is introduced briefly by percussion instruments cooking along to a speedy and pointed intersection with White and Kelly, the latter of whom solos in brief bursts before Lasha enters on flute and states an entirely new melody. The ten-minute "Fatima's Garden" is the hinge track on the disc, and is continually in the process of becoming as modal piano, bass, shimmering bells, and violin find a common ground about six minutes in before giving way to Lasha's flute as it meanders and wanders through the middle. There are Asian scales played by King, and the entire work comes off as a dreamscape. "Fiesta Dominical" sounds exactly like its title, with chanted vocals and Lasha's piccolo swirling about the mix. Even the thoroughly outside "O Ancient One," with its flamenco flavors courtesy of White, holds together because of its sparseness and inventiveness. No one player dominates, and the ensemble improvises as a whole until about three minutes in, when a groove rounds everybody up and Lasha's bass clarinet takes the improv groove in a loose contrapuntal exchange with White, whose deep Middle Eastern head covers the ground. The set closes with "Lament (Mankind)," a brief, mournful duet with White accompanied by McBee's bowed bass. It's startling, haunting, and an utterly unsettling way to end such a joyous recording, but it works because the sheer restlessness of the adventure has been so joyous. It adds a melancholy balance to the sounds of paradise. Wonderful.

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