Friday, August 13, 2010

Byron Morris (sax; b. 1941)
Blow Your Mind (reissue on Soul Jazz Records, original release on EPI; 1974)
Vincent McEwan (trumpet) Milton Suggs (bass) Jay Clayton (vocals)
Tony Waters (percussion) Mike Kull (piano) Abdush Shahid (drums)

Well the term "soul jazz" doesn't always have to mean it's based around funky themes. The music of Virgina native, Byron Morris is something that encapsulates both funky, soul and more importantly spiritual themes. Byron Morris learned saxophone from his father, James, who was a saxophonist and band leader during '50s and '60s. Byron Morris later developed an early style with his first group Unity that resembled the more ethereal work of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Pharoah Sanders. Morris is expressive and entertaining and his group Unity while symbolising the energy and feelings of the black community during the 70s.

Unity's first album Blow Your Mind (EPI Records) was the result of a year long set of performances that helped evolve the bands communal style. The first track, "Kitty Bey" with a forceful and driving rhtyhm from Morris, Kull and McEwan and some great vocal improvisation by Clayton. Jay Clayton vocals are prominent throughout the proceedings and her poetic vocal delivers gives the session a lovely spiritual vibe.

Blow Your Mind isn't as psychedelic or eclectic as some of the other material of time period but it does hold your interest for the entire experience. The other centerpiece here is "Reunion" which see Morris and Suggs deliver some awesome solo work as well their own interplay. This is good piece of modality that anyone a fan of contemporary, free, or spiritual jazz would enjoy immensely. "Transcendental Lullaby" is a ballad that wonderfully and surprisingly ends the session with some delicate playing by Kull and beautifully evocative vocals from Clayton. A touching end to a journey that blow your mind.

Blow Your Mind is slightly hard to find nowadays but it is worth seeking out. If you can't find it, there is a compilation of Unity's three albums with its original members called Vibrations In Time that is still widely available and I highly recommend it. Byron Morris still records and teaches to this day (mostly in the Washington DC area). His playing is still big, vibrant and entertaining and the material may be more tempered and mature but his attitude isn't.

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