Lucian Ban

Somethin' Holy

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Kara Rusch's catchy original cover art, entitled Holy Happenin', attracts your attention from the outset by evoking a saxophone splitting a sea of piano keys. She properly captures the spiritual essence of the recording, for which the music is at least in part a memorial to the late bassist Wilber Morris, as evidenced by the dedication of the opening "Invocation to Wilber" that sets an introspective, if not somber, tone for the recording session. Ban calls this a "soulful ballad album," which is as good a description as any. The sober mood slowly passes (though it emerges regularly throughout), and by the time of "Somethin' Holy," the powerful braying of Alex Harding overwhelms with its muscular force. Most of the pieces were written by the little-known Ban, whose classical music roots are evident in the structures and in his improvisations. It is Harding's baritone saxophone, though, that impresses the most with its larger-than-life presence. Almost half the album is taken up by two lengthy tracks, the lovely "Time for Trane/Night on Earth," which evokes Coltrane's spirit without being too obvious, and the more esoteric "African Blutopia," with Harding's distorted tones the centerpiece. The only track which Ban did not have a hand in writing is Ellington's "African Flower," the closing number, which is mostly a feature for the pianist and which only cryptically alludes to the melody. Somethin' Holy is Ban's first release as a leader on an American label (he has a couple on the Romanian label Green Records), and it reflects a sensitive spirit at peace with the world who is unafraid of confronting radical challenges.

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