Sounds of Liberation

Sounds of Liberation

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Sounds of Liberation Review

by Thom Jurek

Sounds of Liberation were a Philadelphia-based vanguard jazz septet founded by vibraphonist Khan Jamal. The group also included alto saxophonist Byard Lancaster, guitarist Monnette Sudler, drummer Dwight James, percussionist Omar Hill, bassist Billy Mills, and conguero Rashid Salim. The collective also credited George Gilmore as its spiritual advisor. Sounds of Liberation released one self-titled record in 1972. It reflected the African American spirit of self-determination in an era that also birthed independent labels like Detroit’s Tribe Records, Oakland’s Black Jazz, and Charlies Tolliver's and Stanley Cowell's Strata East. SOL was long sought on the collector’s market and thought an all but lost grail until Jamal and Lancaster approached Porter Records' Luke Mosling; he agreed to release it unheard. SOL's reputation as a classic of vanguard spiritual jazz is well-founded. Its six selections reveal a remarkable interplay between rhythmic instruments, and the incredible technical facility of Lancaster in particular. Jamal is a master bandleader; his vibes bridge musical traditionss -- African trance music, free jazz, and funk -- as well as electric and acoustic instruments, creating a unified whole from the parts. One listen to the nearly 20-minute opening cut, “Happy Tuesday,” is evidence enough. The interplay between James’ drums, congas, and hand percussion is astonishing. Lancaster solos over the top with a remarkablee depth of emotional and technical facility, while Sudler’s guitar and Jamal’s vibes create two textures: the former, a dense fiery Wall of Sound, and the latter, a fluid melodicism way inside the music. “New Horizons II” finds Jamal’s reverbed vibes leading the pack as Lancaster fills the the top layer with uplifting and rousing solo breaks, but it is the Latin rhythms percolating ito a volcanic eruption that push it over the top. “Billie One” is also a Latin-inspired funk-rock groover with a terrific solo by Jamal, but it is Mills' startling electric bass playing that startles. “New Horizons I” picks up where its predecessor left off with Cuban, Panamanian, and even Afro-Brazilian polyrhythms juxtaposed against crying spiritual saxophone by Lancaster, and a stinging lead guitar break by Sudler, who also plays grooved-out funk vamps with Mills. The unearthed Sounds of Liberation is a treasure of '70s jazz certainly, but it is also a spiritual jazz classic.

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