Michael White

Spirit Dance/Pneuma

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Spirit Dance and Pneuma were jazz violinist Michael White's first two albums as a leader. Both were originally issued by Impulse in 1972. They'd been available previously only as Japanese imports, but this two-fer in Universal's Impulse! 2 on 1 series marks their first issue on the format in the West. Before recording Spirit Dance in 1971, White had worked with Pharoah Sanders on Thembi, and with Alice Coltrane when she overdubbed the strings on John Coltrane's infamous Infinity album. Previous to this, he'd recorded with John Handy, and with the early fusion group Fourth Way, which also included percussionist Kenneth Nash and pianist Mike Nock. Spirit Dance reveals White's arrival as a fully formed -- and very democratic -- bandleader, with a specific, uplifting vision. With pianist Ed Kelly, bassist Ray Drummond, percussionist Baba Omson, and Makeda & Wanika King on vocals, these seven original compositions offer White's prodigious soloing technique inside their post-Coltrane modalism. They differ, however, in that the rhythms on these tunes are all circular, and quite African in influence in that they return to a specific center. Kelly's piano, the chanted/sung vocals, and White's own violin serve the rhythm, rather than the other way around. Standouts include "John Coltrane Was Here," "Ballad for Mother Frankie White," and "Samba" (the latter with some gorgeous arco work by Drummond). Pneuma is a very different, but no less compelling, animal. Using almost the same band (Nash replaces Omson on percussion) and four vocalists, the set's first five tracks are a suite that took up all of the original LP's first side. The playing is, with the exception of "Pneuma IV," very free and outside, with rhythm playing a less specific -- and less dominant -- role. By contrast, the three compositions on the second side are much more song oriented. Rhythm is returned to its prominence and function. There's the pronounced influence of South African jazz on "Ebony Plaza," a hard swinging spiritual jazz on "Journey of the Black Star," and a spiritual form of soul-jazz on "The Blessing Song." On the last two selections, Kelly and the vocalists take the lead. In total, this two-fer makes complete sense and is a perfect pairing: it presents a true representation of White's wide-spectrum vision, and his criminally overlooked talent. Another reason to consider this is the sound; these are beautifully remastered recordings.

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