Monday, August 9, 2010

Soul Jazz Week: Harry Whitaker

This week JazzWrap looks at a few rare and new soul jazz albums which helped shape the genre and moved them it forward.

Harry Whitaker (piano; b. 1942)
Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit
(reissue: Luv N' Haight; originally released: 1976)
Woody Shaw (trumpet) Buster Williams (bass) Billy Hart (drums) Howard King (drums)
Mtume (percussion) Earl Bennett (percussion) David Schintter (sax) Azar Lawrence (sax)

As mentioned in the liner notes (written by DJ Giles Peterson), Harry Whitaker's Black Renaissance is the "holy grail of soul jazz records" for collectors. I originally heard the album at a neighbors house as a kid but never really paid any attention because I thought it was too out-there. Somehow I thought swirling grooves, a smokin' trumpet, funky bass and trippy vocals were not for me. Idiot.

Harry Whitaker, was born in Florida and spent time in the Detroit jazz scene before finally landing in New York. After a number of stints with successful jazz and R&B outfits (including Blood Sweat & Tears), Whitaker landed what would the gig that his most famous for with Roy Ayers Ubiquity. With Roy Ayers, Harry Whitaker was integral part of the success of the band. Whitaker also wrote and produced for Roberta Flack and produced and the soundtrack for the blaxploitation film Coffy. All this is the short pan of about five years.

Amazingly, it wouldn't be until 1976 that Whitaker would go into the studio and recorded his first album as leader. Black Renaissance consist of two very long tracks, "Black Renaissance" is a reflection of the times. It is funky and spiritual with some truly soulful playing from Whitaker. The performances from Woody Shaw, Azar Lawerence and David Schnitter are rich, dynamic and very fluid. Shaw really shows why he was a natural successor to Miles Davis.

The second track, "Magic Ritual" is a real journey into Afro-American psyche. With some wonderful interplay between Shaw, King, and Howard King, "Magic Ritual" takes on a real spiritual vibe reminiscent of the best Impulse records recording of a decade earlier. The bass solo from Buster Williams that takes this to the closing bars is simply fantastic is its emotion depth.

While Whitaker's playing is understated throughout this session its really the arrangements that you will undoubtedly focus in on. Most this session was improvised but you get a strong sense these musicians had great reading on each other which makes this all joy to listen to. Black Renaissance is not only an opening onto the Black Cultural movement of the 70s it's solid jazz album built on a lot rich ideas from a pianist and arranger with a serious and grossly under-rated reputation.

Whitaker has recorded three albums since (Thoughts Past and Present, The Sound Of Harry Whitaker, and One Who Sees All Things). All recorded in last eight years and are more straight ahead contemporary jazz albums which you should also seek out. But Black Renaissance is definitely an album monumental funk proportions that is worth it's tag as the "holy grail" of soul jazz.

No comments:

Post a Comment