Monday, August 07, 2006
Lest we forget... Prince Lasha... Sonny Simmons... Franke Lowe...
When you are looking for inspiration – surf the net. Over on Orgy in Rhythm I noticed an album by Elvin Jones-Jimmy Garrison (scroll down a way) – with a frontline that consisted of Prince Lasha, Sonny Simmons and Charles Davis. I remembered Prince Lasha (and Simmons to a lesser extent) but haven't listened to his music for years - So: a quick net search brought up this interview. There is a brief interview with Sonny Simmons here as well
and a longer one here
Re: Lasha – here is a more extensive interview that also details his relationship to Sonny Simmons - they both seemed to take similar trajectories in and out of obscurity. (More here on a site devoted to Simmons). Lasha famously went to school with Ornette in their mutual birth place, Fort Worth (Lasha a few months older) and played together early on. Yet he travelled a different road... As did Simmons, originally from Louisiana but who beached on the West Coast – which was the forcing ground for all of them before the necessary treks to New York... and back...
Two tracks from 'The Cry' recorded in 1962 – The first is a boppy blues, 'Red's Mood.' Lasha plays flute with a trilling fluency. Simmons comes in to solo – sounding a little Ornettish, although basically issuing a couple of straight blues choruses. Followed by a bouncing bass duet over the steady almost bebop cymbals of Stone - leading into a brief drum solo which holds up his traps credentials. Nothing very 'out' here – yet the lack of piano and the two bass lineup provides a flowing space that hints at further potential freedoms.
'Lost Generation' is a showcase for Simmons and starts with him playing unaccompanied – a powerful emotional tone and fluent soaring lines, he stretches out a lot more here. An unusual start to a track... The band come in after a couple of minutes – bass thumps, drums and cymbals as Simmons skates over them. An earthy, bluesy quality to his playing that is also a feature of Lasha's music – and Ornette's of course. Stone plays some busy cymbals...
Because I have hardly any Lasha to hand – here's a track by Sonny Simmons, leading his own group on 'Intergalactic Travellers' in 1966. Slashing straight into a fast, squally solo after the theme – you can again hear that bit of Ornette in his playing but the slurring vocalisations he utilises take him somewhere else. A brief unison statement – then Barbara Donald comes out with a fiery, bouncing trumpet solo.One of the pleasures involved in excavating buried or partly forgotten music is in (re)discovering not just the headliners but the other participants. Barbara Donald fits into this post too well as – unfortunately - yet another musician with more of an underground reputation. A woman, a free jazz trumpet player – and white at a time of rising black nationalism and a certain amount of resulting scene schism. This is an edited track unfortunately (taken from an old Wire ESP compilation) and fades out after 4.45 mins – but gives a further flavour of Simmons – and his wife of the time. (They separated in 1980). Simmons, although having had a chequered life as a musician and some hard times, has been on the up these last few years, luckily – playing round the West Coast, his band is also in Europe very soon, I notice – appearing in Paris at the end of September. Prince Lasha, similarly, is happily back in the game...
Frank Lowe is another sax player who came through the West Coast free jazz scene – tutored by Donald Raphael Garrett and Sonny Simmons in San Francisco, he encountered Ornette Coleman - who advised him to head for New York. A career of sojourns with Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane followed by sporadic recording and too much underacclaim was unfortunately to follow - until he disappeared from music to resurface triumphantly in the nineties – only to die tragically from lung cancer in 2003. Supposedly under the shadows of Coltrane and Ayler, in the often grid-like manner of some critical delineation, nevertheless throughout his career Lowe forged his own distinctive voice, playing out of the traditions of both mainstream and free – in this interview, for example, he identifies Gene Ammons as a strong influence...
'I heard Gene Ammons solo ... and I was flattened. It destroyed me, totally destroyed me and I was no more good. I was a tenor saxophone freak, probably before then, but that certified it. '
'Brother Joseph' is a solo performance featuring Lowe on tenor, taken from his debut (for ESP) in 1973. A simple tune that he slowly rotates and comes at from fractionally different timbral angles – from straight tone to gravelly vocalised blurs and pointillistic phrases and upper-register squeals back again to a plaintive purity... This track stands in contrast to the wilder blowing on the rest of this album, yet moves with the same freedoms...
'Duo Exchange part 2' is also from a session recorded in 1973. It starts with ringing cymbals and fluttering Japanese flute from Lowe. Ali sets up a bumping rhythm while clusters of small bells rattle. As the flute continues the drummer switches to brushes, lightly stroking. One of those tracks that breathe easily, offering space for the two musicians to combine (minimal) melody and timbres – some of which remind me in places of Tony Oxley's customised kit. Ali returns to the bumping rhythm as voices mutter and burble and various ironmongery is struck. Flute and lowing voice, a brief percussionary chatter – and finish. This track offers the most radical and free music in this selection – a relaxed creativity, where two musicians create and explore a temporary soundscape, loosely held together by the simple flute lines and recurring rhythms...
Other themes unite these musicians. They developed their individual sounds and techniques throughout careers that, although containing long periods of obscurity and neglect, came through in the end – with the sad exception of Wright whose death brought his resurgence to a tragic halt. They were all linked to the West Coast – and Ornette Coleman, by varying degrees. Which is perhaps worthy of future exploration. And, lastly, they all demonstrated the ability to play both outside and inside the tradition, in the process enlarging that often disputed area of jazz that lays between. Maybe this mutual breadth of vision contributed to giving them the strength for the long haul...
Prince Lasha Quintet
(Prince Lasha : flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Gary Peacock, Mark Proctor : bass. Gene Stone ; drums. )
Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Barbara Donald : trumpet. John Hicks : piano. Teddy Smith : bass. Marvin Patillo : drums.
Frank Lowe/Rashied Ali
(Japanese fl,perc; Rashied Ali-d,perc).
Duo Exchange Part 2