Various Artists

Universal Sounds of America

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Universal Sounds of America is one of the early compilations for Great Britain's Soul Jazz label that made a case for a separate imprint that later became Universal Sound. Artists like Pharoah Sanders, drummer Steve Reid and the Master Brotherhood, Byron Morris & Unity Ensemble, David Durrah, New Life Trio, Marcus Belgrave, and last but not least, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Sun Ra all on the track listing for this set focus, one way or another, on "space being the place." Numerous cuts here employ the word "space" in their titles and one references it directly. Belgrave, Reid, Morris and the Art Ensemble all had titles reissued on the Universal Sound label (and Reid recorded afresh for Soul Jazz). While the focus here is on the diversity of, to borrow a term from the AEC, "Great Black Music Ancient to the Future," it is deeply rooted in '70s out jazz, with only Belgrave and Morris providing deeper, wider visions. Morris' nearly twelve-and-a-half minute "Kitty Bey" replies on modal jazz and Latin rhythms to get his killer track across. Likewise, Sanders uses an electric piano to position himself in space on the gorgeous "Astral Traveling," and Belgrave take nearly ten with his "Space Odyssey," that reflects on funk, electronic abstraction and Detroit soul-jazz to get his rather elegant point across. The rest is all beautifully played and constructed, but the sheer diversity of the sequencing -- though intentionally constructed in this way -- can be a bit much. Still, there isn't anything here not to recommend.

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