The sixth volume in Jazzman's Spiritual Jazz series presents a plethora of examples denoting the shift of the vocalist's role in ensemble play commensurate with the evolution taking place in the music itself as explored by acknowledged masters and young lions alike. Compiled and annotated by Gerald Short, these tracks are sequenced aesthetically rather than chronologically, offering a varied and satisfying roots-and-branches approach. The emergence of the Civil Rights movement's embrace of early soul and gospel, as well as an international view of that struggle, is made plain by "Tears for Johannesburg," from Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite with Abbey Lincoln on lead vocals. Charles Mingus' title track to 1974's Mingus Moves, written by Doug Hammond, features the composer and Honey Gordon upfront. The tune weds modal jazz to African rhythms. This approach is underscored by Sadaka's "African Violet" from 1981, reflecting the full fruition of a Pan-African approach to jazz. Clifford Jordan's "John Coltrane," from 1973's Glass Bead Games, offers chant-like vocals by the saxophonist/composer and his quartet -- bassist Bill Lee (Spike's dad), Billy Higgins, and Stanley Cowell. And no collection of spiritual jazz vocal music would be complete without Leon Thomas. "Prince of Peace" features him in the company of Pharoah Sanders from Sanders' 1969 Izipho Zam. "The Ladder," by the Singers and Musicians of Washington High School in Los Angeles, is from a private-press album issued in the '70s, while Haki Madhubuti's spoken word "Rain Forest," from 1984's Medasi, underscores the depth of the links between modal jazz, African rhythms, and the oral tradition in poetry. "African Sunshine" is the A-side of a single by Eddie Gale, recorded in 1972 and issued three years after his classic Blue Note albums. Gary Bartz and NTU Troop, with vocalist Andy Bey, create vibrant, spiritual soul-jazz on "Celestial Blues." There are two cuts by Byron Morris & Unity from 1972 and 1974; this fine group was almost completely overlooked by anyone outside the N.Y. Loft scene. The final track, "Spirits Up Above," is by Vibration Society, a loose-knit group dedicated to playing the music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk that featured Steve Turre, Hilton Ruiz, Junior Cook, and Leroy Williams in its lineup. It was produced by Will Friedwald, who also lends a socio-historical liner essay to introduce the album. All of the music here has been painstakingly remastered by Colin Young, and Spiritual Jazz, Vol. 6: Vocals is one of the more diverse and well-balanced collections in the series.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek