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Larry Young - Lawrence of Newark CD (album) cover


Larry Young


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.02 | 14 ratings

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3 stars Son of Ra catches some rays from the deck of the new Ark

For those of you who like your Hammond organ pulped through a blender prior to its fondant strains navigating your ear canals, welcome to heaven. The spirit of Sun Ra permeates this record like a sweet smelling smog, but rest assured Young, in contrast to his mentor, knew it was only astronomers that get paid to stare into space. So no stupefied hippy cosmic world-view here thank you very much. There are moments on Lawrence of Newark when Young appears to unwittingly ape the tacky strains of Joe Meek's Telstar', when his organ is mutated and cajoled into a rather twee psychedelic stylophone on steroids. Together with what sounds like the entire staff of Perception Records plus their immediate families and pets contributing percussion, this album is one heady groove led trip from start to finish. It does sound older than the '1973' indicated on the cover, as the sort of sonic landscape this inhabits would appear to be firmly rooted in the trippy late 60's. There is some jaw-dropping playing from Young and his collaborators here, and you can certainly trace in his phrasing, sounds and note choices the source that would inspire the likes of Rod Argent, Keith Emerson, Dave Greenslade et al to assimilate these ideas into a more accessible form in the prog domain.

Cluster Headaches - don't reach for the medicine cabinet just yet

One of the many hurdles to overcome when listening to this challenging music (apart from it being just really weird sh*t) is Young's frequent use of tonal clusters. Go to a piano and play C - C# and D as a chord. Yuch! it sounds like one of Henry Cowell's farts released from a jam jar after 40 years. It may surprise you that this device has been around as early as Jelly Roll Morton's Tiger Rag and Scott Joplin's Wall Street Rag. (Blimey Guvnor!) Later developments in keyboard jazz by Thelonius Monk, Horace Silver, Cecil Taylor and Dave Brubeck amongst others, would further exploit these dissonances during their improvisations and eventually paved the way for the free-form jazz* that was to follow. (*a.k.a Cowell's Gastric Disorder) On an instrument with a relatively short sustain i.e. the piano, the effect is that of a brief jarring frisson. When transposed to a Hammond Organ however, with controllable sustain and filtered through a multitude of freaky outboard effect gizmos, the experience cannot be dissimilar to being witness at the aural autopsy of a (still breathing) cat.

Guitarist James 'Blood' Ulmer will be a name familiar to many but I confess that his playing has always left me cold, be it on his own solo work Are You Glad to be in America? or that contributed to the 'harmolodics' era output of Ornette Coleman. His ragged and spiky guitar here comes across as mainly textural and the wah-wah saturated effects that much of his playing is buried under, merely serves to date the recording horribly.

There is a distant echo of America by the Nice on the underlying groove that percolates beneath Sunshine Fly Away but the melodic vocabulary over the top is firmly that of an eastern inflected modal bop flavour. This features a beautiful and plaintive strand of saxophone that snakes and slithers its way in and out of the febrile and hypnotic pulsing accompaniment. Abdul Shahid and Howard T King are listed on drumkit on the sleeve, and judging by the welter of percussive salvoes that assail us on just this track alone, it is not inconceivable that both gentlemen may have manned the traps here and elsewhere?

The Khalid of Space Part Two references one Khalid Yasin, the politicised version of Young's own name (as was de rigeur for those African Americans citing 'expanded consciousness' and feckless enough to fall for the racist bile of Louis Farrakhan) . The sorts of reference points I hear during this could include On the Corner by Miles Davis, a smidgen of 'mystical phase' Graham Bond, 'spacey' Krautrock in general, Sun Ra and some of Arthur Brown's excitable hallucinatory moments. If you listen closely to this number you can hear what at first, sounds like the sort of bubbling sequencer effect that the dance fraternity would have us believe they patented. Not so, as it is the cello of Diedre Johnson that produces this wonderful and enervating phenomenon. Pity you can't sue for smugness aforethought.

Organ lovers should be frogmarched in front of a stereo and forced to hear Saudia whereupon they will break down into inconsolable sobbing at just how much of this track has been plagiarised by the prog keyboard giants. (Dave Greenslade in particular must be squirming in his front row seat at the Colosseum, bought with a forged ticket) The playing, texture and compositional heights this little critter reaches are sublime. Nuff said.

No experimental fusion album would be complete without a little 'scooby snack' clocking in at under two minutes and obviously culled from a monster jam that involved sleeping bags and a shift roster. Alive displays a healthy resilience in its truncated form and proves that judicial editing can reap huge dividends. You don't have to eat ALL the jaffa cakes in the box to prove you like them.

Hello Your Quietness - Yet another example during the intro of a manual sequencer (sic) ostinato on this record that steals a march on dance music yet some 20 years hence. Given the brazen eschewal of traditional jazz rhythms that preceded it, this develops rather incongruously into a familiar Latin hued groove. A tad noodley in places yes, but in a genre where Noodle is God, Hello Your Quietness is at the very least agnostic. Lovely breathy sax appears to placate some agitated and neurotic trumpet on this one, with the dialogue being very, very human and heart warming. Thinking man's cacophony.

Lawrence of Newark is not for those of feint heart or head, as it can be both forbidding (in its dissonances and lack of traditional structure) and frustrating (in its liability to disintegrate at any moment and production flaws) but is well worth some of your time if you are of an adventurous spirit and willing to cast aside some of your habitual perceptions of what constitutes 'form'

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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