I'm not sure if there's a proper name for this genre, but I've heard the term "fire music" used on ILM and elsewhere. Anyone familiar with the era should know what I'm talking about: the key players include people like Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Lonnie Liston Smith, Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band, McCoy Tyner, Cecil McBee, Rashied Ali, maybe Art Ensemble of Chicago and Joe Henderson too, etc. The tunes are typically long, slow to mid-tempo, based on mantra-like, hypnotic riffs with bursts into free playing (but usually it's not totally free jazz in the Ornette Coltrane vein), applying non-Western elements and instruments (typically from India and Africa).
Anyway, I think this is my favourite type of jazz ever, and I wanted to discuss it. Like where did it come from and where did it go? I guess aside free jazz the biggest influences were Coltrane and Sun Ra, but I'm not familiar enough with their work to say how easily you can draw lineages from them. And what happened to this music? It seems a lot of the players moved on to fusion or to more traditional forms of jazz, but did some people continue doing fire music after mid-70s? Is someone still doing it today? Most of the records I have of this genre are from the years between 1969 to 1973, and I'd love to get a broader view of things.
― Tuomas, Saturday, 29 December 2007 15:02 (ten years ago) Permalink
Is this basically jazz's answer to the hippie era? So when the utopian dreams of late 60s died, the music changed too?
― Tuomas, Saturday, 29 December 2007 15:04 (ten years ago) Permalink
Whoops, I wrote "Ornette Coltrane" there when I meant Coleman.
― Tuomas, Saturday, 29 December 2007 15:05 (ten years ago) Permalink
I know fire music was contemporary to the civil rights and black power movements, but I think there's a more mystical/escapist tinge to it than with the soul and funk associated with those movements. So while it's impossible to imagine this music taking the form it did without black power and civil rights movements, I don't think it's that easily defined by them.
― Tuomas, Saturday, 29 December 2007 15:12 (ten years ago) Permalink
i am interested in this genre. but i'd feel like a d-bag if i said "fire music" out loud.
― GOTT PUNCH II HAWKWINDZ, Saturday, 29 December 2007 15:19 (ten years ago) Permalink
there is a POX "free jazz" thread that is really good about this, where we even sort of touched on the terminology of it all--why spiritual is silly, but free isn't always accurate, and bah blah..
FREE JAZZ: Pick Only Ten
lots of nice suggestions.
― ian, Sunday, 30 December 2007 06:37 (ten years ago) Permalink
I love this stuff. I have to think that Joe Harriot's Indo-Jazz Suite from the late 60s had to have been some influence. Miles Davis also has a few albums that are sort of like this, but maybe a bit angrier sounding.
― filthy dylan, Sunday, 30 December 2007 14:04 (ten years ago) Permalink
Tuomas, I second the suggestion to check out the POX thread, but fer chrissakes, what a shotgun approach yr question takes. "Anyone familiar with the era" would not consider the range of artists you mention to be monolithic and half of them would shudder at being thought of as "free" jazz--even with the looseness of the American v. the European working definition of "free."
I really would encourage more listening--and I apologize if it seems like I'm stifling your genuine attempt at a discussion. But, "where did it come from & where did it go"? It came from where all music comes from: creative musicians taking the basic stock (notes) and inventing ways to put them together in ways that expressed their creative efforts. This could be and was expressed by some as part of a spiritual inquiry, but it also was theoretical in terms of working out progressions through modal sequences (more applicable to Henderson & McCoy Tyner than to some of the others).
What happened to it? In the last few years we saw the reuniting of the Revolutionary Trio (who lost Leroy Jenkins this year), Rashid Ali is still active (and check out his work recovering the Ayler legacy with the Prima Materia band), Kahil El Zabar, Ernest Dawkins and a whole bunch of Chicago bands are front and center and those are just ones I know about. NYC has a vibrant, active scene with plenty of new work coming out in this same vein you find intriguing: William Parker with Hamid Drake, Suzie Ibarra, Jemeel Moondoc, Wadada Leo Smith. Bennie Maupin has put out some again, plenty, plenty, plenty. In my mind, it has never completely gone away, and the Balkanization of record companies has even seemed to work in the favor of the working artist. Cryptogramaphone and Pi are two labels off the top of my head that have been putting out amazing stuff.
Oh, and I have omitted one of my favorite bands of the last couple of years: Burnt Sugar, the Arkestra Chamber. Combining the community-based ethos of Sun Ra with the impro-compositional style of Lawrence Morris's conduction system, this group has put out music that incorporates influences from Monk and Mingus to James Brown and Jimi Hendrix.
And yeah, I'd drop the "fire music" thing. No one I know would know what the hell you're talking about. GRP/Impulse put out a sampler trying to unite Mingus, Barbieri, Shepp, and Oliver Nelson all under a "fire music" banner. As far as I was concerned, just one more marketing ploy from suits.
― Soren Kierkegaard Existential Light Orchestra, Monday, 31 December 2007 04:16 (ten years ago) Permalink
kozmigroov - c/d
― jaxon, Monday, 31 December 2007 06:00 (ten years ago) Permalink
I didn't mean to say it was a monolithic range, just that to my ear they were doing similar things around the same time. I know AEoC and probably Herbie too belong to different scenes than the other folks on my list (though if I remember correctly, members of Herbie's Mwandishi band have played with some of the other on the list), but that doesn't necessarily mean there's no similarity at all, and the the rest of the people on my list have at least appeared on the same records in different combinations. Also, I never suggested that they were doing free jazz in any sense of the term, just that free jazz seemed to have influenced their playing.
As for the "where did it come from", I just meant that I'm genuinely interested in the social connections of the music, how it ties to the hippie/New Age ideas of the time, since especially Pharoah's and Alice Coltrane's are ripe with such imagery (sometimes to a confusing extent, such as mixing Muslim and Hare Krishna or Buddhist signifiers together). And I was wondering about the difference between these ideas and the more militant black power themes some other musicians (including jazz players) adopted, because like I said, to me these records often sound more mysticist and escapist than the "say it loud, I'm black and proud" type of stuff.
― Tuomas, Monday, 31 December 2007 08:13 (ten years ago) Permalink
I guess my comments were really kinda broad, because I admit that I'm not an expert on the subject, and I actually know little about the backgrounds of these musicians. Does anyone know if there are any books written about them and/or their scene(s)?
― Tuomas, Monday, 31 December 2007 08:16 (ten years ago) Permalink
where is phil to drop science
― BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Monday, 31 December 2007 08:23 (ten years ago) Permalink
A good book about the Black Artist Group movement in St. Louis is Benjamin Looker's Point From Which Creation Begins: The Black Artists' Group of St. Louis . BAG were a community-driven arts group that was integral with the black power movement and that association included Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Charles Shaw, J. D. Parran, Baikida Carroll.
George Lewis's A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music drops in April 2008. The AACM were largely the model organization that BAG followed, but that's not to say that BAG merely copied AACM. Instead, both were created in response to needs. The story of the origins of the AACM are well documented online.
Musicians who wanted to play their music faced a dearth of venues (and the same for poets, playwrights, dancers) but by organizing themselves, created awareness and opportunities. The AACM is still going strong and several of the founding members are still active: Muhal Richard Abrams, Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell come to mind. Nicole Mitchell (no relation to Roscoe) was one of the executive officers last I checked & her Black Earth Ensemble is worth checking out as is Eight Bold Souls, another AACM based group. The AACM site is under (much needed) reconstruction, so I'll point you to Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge site, where there are interviews with Fred and Roscoe available.
These groups and movements were quite linked with black empowerment political and social associations. While I am sure that musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner supported those aims, they were already part of the mainstream recording and performing media--although it is also well documented that at one time post-Coltrane, Tyner was driving a cab to support his family before resurrecting his career through his Milestone recordings.
As far as the "mix of signifiers" in Alice Coltrane's music, bricolage was occurring spontaneously, organically in all art forms around that time--divorcing one influence from another is impossible. The Coltranes were known for their spiritual inquisitivity, and mixing these influences in the music seems natural to me--and of course they did not spring fully formed from Coltrane, Alice or John. Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Sun Ra, Dizzy Gillespie, even Duke Ellington were reaching out to Eastern (read: African, Indian, Asian) influences and incorporating them in their music. Certainly part of this was a call to recognize the unity all black, brown, yellow, red, and, if they would open themselves to it, even white peoples.
If you want to trace the arc of an artist who actively sought and incorporated these in his music and his life, check out Don Cherry. I won't belabor an already long post by expounding on Cherry's long, brilliant, and influential career.
As far as the spirituality expressed in some of these artists music, Herbie Hancock made no secret of his Buddhist beliefs. Sanders and Tyner both converted to Islam. Dizzie Gillespie was Baha'i, and the Baha'i faith influenced AACM members Doug Ewart and Hamid Drake at one time. Alice Coltrane followed the Vedantic teachings of Swami Satchitananda. But at the base of it, I don't think it is the religion or the spiritual belief that creates the music--or more, that the spiritual guiding beliefs of the leader rule the day. After all, Journey in Satchidananda has Muslims, Hindus (or Vedics, I am not sure how they would address themselves) and putative Christians (I've met Charlie Haden, but never have asked him his religious or spiritual background--because it really doesn't matter to me).
There've been many good books written on and in the jazz idiom and there've been threads here (I'm pretty sure) that have discussed them. But a short list of ones I can personally recommend would be the Lewis Porter and the Eric Nisenson books on Coltrane, Mingus's Beneath the Underdog, the Quincy Troupe book on Miles.
And speakinng of Miles--the man made amazing music, and couuld hardly be held up as a spiritual icon. Yet deeply religious men took prominent places in his bands.
I understand the drive to want to have a connection with the "spiritual" feeling you get when you hear this music and to want to have that also prove an underlying spiritual connection to the artists. I guess what I am trying to say is, don't work it that hard. Enjoy the music. There's plenty of it. And plenty more where that came from (my last post omitted David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, Nicky Skopelitis from current day examples of musicians still making the sort of music you found interesting in the 69-73 era). But if you look too closely for spiritual underpinnings, you will find that the musicians are human beings capable of all the flaws and missteps as the rest of us, and in my experience, those who set out to create purely spiritual, inspirational, motivational music that wears its affiliation as a badge (these days) create a sort of new-agey miasma not worth listening to.
― Soren Kierkegaard Existential Light Orchestra, Monday, 31 December 2007 13:13 (ten years ago) Permalink
That's a good point and an excellent post, thank you. I need to check out that AACM book when it comes out.
― Tuomas, Monday, 31 December 2007 13:20 (ten years ago) Permalink
I was wondering about the difference between these ideas and the more militant black power themes some other musicians (including jazz players) adopted, because like I said, to me these records often sound more mysticist and escapist than the "say it loud, I'm black and proud" type of stuff.
I think Soren answers this pretty well, but I'd add that the search for other spiritualities was itself in some senses political for many black musicians of the 60s and 70s as they looked for alternatives to Christianity, which had the taint of being a slave-master/imperialist religion and one that was forced on their ancestors. I don't want to oversimplify this impulse, as it led people to all different kinds of conclusions from afro-centrism to Islam to pan-theism to "new age" religions, but I do think it was very much there.
― Hurting 2, Monday, 31 December 2007 15:43 (ten years ago) Permalink
I don't have time right now, but this is a thread I promise to come back to, because I too am fascinated by the turn free jazz took in the early 1970s vs. the late 1960s - where Shepp and others had been all about Pentecostal blare, Sanders and Alice Coltrane and others were all about little bells and chanting and overt Afrocentrism and Indian spirituality all blended together in a really weird and cool way that I, too, love.
There was a pretty good (though obviously barely-scratching-the-surface and weirdly scattershot) compilation out earlier this year, King Britt Presents The Cosmic Lounge. I wrote it up here, and it's well worth picking up.
― unperson, Monday, 31 December 2007 16:11 (ten years ago) Permalink
cool thread, this is some of my favorite music also. I'd just like to say that Soren's evoking of Nicole Mitchell is right on and she is a great example of where this tradition is today.
― sleeve, Monday, 31 December 2007 16:54 (ten years ago) Permalink
Yes, I don't really have much to add, just love this stuff. It's weird how I usually just refer to it as "free jazz" even though a track like "The Creator Has A Masterplan" isn't really that free when you think of it, rather loose and repetitive.
Is Sun Ra supposed to "be part" of this? Some of his work during this time probably fits, and I think of Lanquidity perhaps as a further exploration of that sound...
― sonderangerbot, Monday, 31 December 2007 17:05 (ten years ago) Permalink
The only Sun Ra stuff I actually like is from the early '70s - the two Solar-Myth Approach albums, for example, and a couple of live bootlegs like Outer Space Employment Agency and Life Is Splendid from, I think, '73 and '74 respectively.
― unperson, Monday, 31 December 2007 17:07 (ten years ago) Permalink
Yes, sonder, the "free jazz" question is a matter of definitional difference btw europe & america (at least as far as musicians are concerned--maybe not so much of a "problem" for listeners). The Evan Parker/Derek Bailey school (of course not exclusive to them) is that the music or performance should be completely improvised and invented on the spot--no landmarks, no head, no chorus. The American (working) definition allows for heads, chords, and so on, such things as ostinato rhythm patterns with improvisatory leads played over, above, through, around.
My formative years were spent listening to and hanging around AACM bands who were called "free jazz" (among the printable names) and they would laugh about labels & categories. Mitchell, Jarman, et al., coined Great Black Music--Ancient to the Future to indicate an unbroken line from the first hominids banging rocks together to the present day, and included in that (obv.) African roots, New Orleans marching bands, minstrelsy, jazz, gospel, r&b, blues, Western and Asian classical, rejecting nothing, incorporating everything. It was common for them to be called unschooled and undisciplined, but whoever called them that had clearly never spent time with Mr. Mitchell or Mr. Abrams.
You ask if Sun Ra is part of this. From my perspective, the answer is "of course." Herman "Sonny" Blount, though an odd child in Birmingham, Alabama, fit right in the Chicago jazz scene. By the time that he became inhabited by Le Sun Ra, he had an orchestra that could play Ellington straight, out, or doubletime (inside or outside). Fred Anderson told me a tale of the days when Coltrane was in a sort of territory band (Vinson's? I'm not sure) with an extended residency in Chicago & he and Trane hung out with their contemporary John Gilmore, who taught them insider tips and techniques on the tenor. Perhaps Gilmore & Trane new each other from the Army? In any case, what Ra was putting out in the 50s was influential to others and he had continued the tradition of the territory bands of a sort of woodshedding school of the sort ultimately "institutionalized by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
Ra also from the beginning modeled the path to recording one's one music, releasing, packaging, marketing, distributing it in the absence of any major label attention.
I have to say that I have a much wider appreciation for Sun Ra--Art Forms of Dimension Tomorrow was an album I bought circa 67-68 after hearing "Lights on a Satellite" on a Chicago radio station. I was 14 or 15, and I would play that album over and over with headphones on, falling asleep to this one and then to others I picked up as a consequence: We Travel the Spaceways, The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra, Nubians of Plutonia. I picked them out for their covers and the "cosmic" poems penned by Ra. They were completely DIY--and I still have Art Forms on vinyl in the original cover--I guess what I'm saying is that I understand that Ra was guilty of excess and meandering in search of an idea for too many albums over too many years, but I saw him live so many times in so many different circumstances (his, mine, and the venue's) that I find something of interest in almost everything he does. Though I am far from a completist or an obsessive over him.
The spiritual component was present in his band/community. Even then he was known to operate as a "cult" though the insiders considered it a family and a family business.
Here's a little side tale to show how those threads and connections travel in quite interesting ways (to me anyway, and I hope to some readers). In Sun Ra's bands of the 60s was a trumpet, zither, and kalimba player, Phil Cohran. (Phil is in his 80s now.) When Ra moved the "family" to NYC and later to Philadelphia, Cohran stayed behind. He had his own young family, and needed steady work, something he didn't foresee happening with Ra. Cohran was an early member of the AACM also, but left over conflicts in style and theory. At the time, the AACM were determined to break with the mainstream and were damn near as serious about everything as teh Fruit of Islam members, who frequented a lot of the same neighborhoods on the South Side. Cohran was an early adopter of mixing funk with free, and his (recently rereleased thank god) recordings of Malcolm X Memorial and On The Beach had an astounding group of young musicians, some of whom would record a couple of great deep funk albums as The Pharaohs, then splintered to become the Phenix Horns, who backed Earth Wind & Fire.
Phil Cohran was a mentor to a generation of Chicago musicians--not competing with but complementary to the AACM. Fred Anderson, likewise, supported a number of young musicians through the years, not the least of whom is the drummer Hamid Drake, who started playing with Fred as a teenager (Fred's own son was more interested in other music, but was also a drummer) and still plays with Fred whenever the occasion arises.
I've babbled on far too long.
Check out the newly available Cohran disks. And though I question the legitimacy of the Soul Jazz label (I frankly don't know anything about their business practices, but I will admit to being skeptical) I would recommend picking up their release of the disk by Maulawi Nurrudin, originally released by Strata Records (an artist run collective related to Strata East records). Soul Jazz call the style here "soul jazz" thus their interest, but it is part of that same exuberant street spirit that informed the artists that sonderangerbot began this thread asking about.
On the disk is also Adam Rudolph, who was then 16. He and his friend Hamid Drake joined with Foday Musa Suso to form the Mandingo Griot Society, who invited Don Cherry to guest on their debut album. Some of the Griot Society also backed Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper on his Comin' and Goin' (including both Hamid and Don Cherry on that date).
Ok, Ok. Enough for now. That ought to give anyone a start on following the thread of this genre of music from at least 1956 (Nubians of Plutonia) through 2007 (From the River to the Ocean--Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake).
― Soren Kierkegaard Existential Light Orchestra, Monday, 31 December 2007 22:04 (ten years ago) Permalink
Phil, I enjoyed your words on Ranelin et al; obviously, I'd add Maulawi and Cohran to those lost classics
sonderangerbot, my apologies; thread started by Tuomas
seconded on the kosmigroov connection proffered by jaxon
― Soren Kierkegaard Existential Light Orchestra, Monday, 31 December 2007 22:28 (ten years ago) Permalink
Yeah, I have the earlier reissue of On The Beach from a few years back. And I've had many great conversations over the last 7-8 years with Drake, Anderson, and NYC-area players (Shipp, Ware, Parker, Roy Campbell - I highly recommend the new 2CD live set by Other Dimensions In Music, with Drake as drummer). Both it and From The River... made my Top Ten for this year's Village Voice jazz critics' poll, which I believe will be online on Wednesday.
― unperson, Monday, 31 December 2007 22:42 (ten years ago) Permalink
I guess a few years back counts as "recently" for me.
I had the great opportunity to get to know Fred in the early 70s. I stop by to see him on the rare occasions I'm back in Chicago.
― Soren Kierkegaard Existential Light Orchestra, Monday, 31 December 2007 22:48 (ten years ago) Permalink
In the end ALL of this stuff worked to making the music much more friendly and less 'in-your-face', at least to an extent ("Magic City" is hardly a favourite with many though I do love it). Euro improv school took some of the music with a shared militancy (in some quarters) but with an amplified scepticism to pretty much everything ever - not exactly endearing qualitites to people listening to this stuff for the first time.
― xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 1 January 2008 13:25 (ten years ago) Permalink
It's a shame the Other Dimensions In Music disc doesn't have Rashid Bakr on drums. I've seen him knock the corn out of the shit on numerous occasions. I like Drake, but I'm a little tired of watching him push everyone around drum-wise onstage.
Personally, I've always preferred the churchier sounding players to the new-agey ones. I don't think it's always an accurate critique, but I recall the Penguin Guide referring to a Pharoah Sanders record as mainly being about wearing funny hats. I think the quip could sometimes extend to David S. Ware, as well.
Frank Wright's great! His Center of the World discs, "Uhuru Na Umoja," the new issue on ESP, are all awesome.
― Usual Channels, Tuesday, 1 January 2008 21:03 (ten years ago) Permalink
this is pretty great - http://archive.org/details/BlackClassicalSpiritualJazz19552012
― tylerw, Wednesday, 17 April 2013 17:14 (five years ago) Permalink
― four Marxes plus four Obamas plus four Bin Ladens (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 17 April 2013 17:19 (five years ago) Permalink
― Tom D (Tom D.), Wednesday, 17 April 2013 17:20 (five years ago) Permalink
whatever track is playing at 1:30:00 is like some serious krautrock funk shit oh man
― four Marxes plus four Obamas plus four Bin Ladens (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 17 April 2013 20:07 (five years ago) Permalink
I wish epic wasn't such an overused word cos um
― dschinghis kraan (NickB), Wednesday, 17 April 2013 20:25 (five years ago) Permalink
bummed I can only guess at what is what from the tracklisting, given that this is just one 12-hour long MP3
― four Marxes plus four Obamas plus four Bin Ladens (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 17 April 2013 22:23 (five years ago) Permalink
some serious judeo-christian themes set in around the 8hr mark (there's one track with a guy reciting the sh'ma?!), odd strain I had not really given much thought to before
― four Marxes plus four Obamas plus four Bin Ladens (Shakey Mo Collier), Friday, 19 April 2013 18:07 (five years ago) Permalink
there's a tracklisting up in the comments section....
― m0stlyClean, Friday, 19 April 2013 18:32 (five years ago) Permalink
I just picked up Max Roach's "We Insist!" which I really like.I'm also looking for more Afrocentric revolutionary type jazz stuff.I'm imagining Art Ensemble of Chicago with more vocals and chants
found the following by accident. looks like a free jazz doc is coming out soon:
― nicky lo-fi, Wednesday, 16 March 2016 18:48 (two years ago) Permalink
this is also a pretty cool box on Spotify:
― nicky lo-fi, Wednesday, 16 March 2016 19:01 (two years ago) Permalink
how bad are Horace Silver's early 70s "United States of Mind" albums
― Οὖτις, Monday, 25 September 2017 21:24 (seven months ago) Permalink
turbans count as spiritual jazz hats, right?
― Οὖτις, Monday, 25 September 2017 21:45 (seven months ago) Permalink
I didn't know where else to put this, but Billy Harper should be much more well known than he is. His mid-70s albums: Soran-Bushi B.H., In Europe, and of course Black Saint are lights out. He is a tremendous player and extemporaneous thinker. just phenomenal stuff...
― Scam jam, thank you ma’am (Sparkle Motion), Friday, 13 April 2018 20:26 (one week ago) Permalink
all his 70s stuff is great. and he's on a ton of great albums. i wish all those live recordings with the max roach quartet were easier for people to hear. mostly came out on japanese vinyl pressings in the 70s.
― scott seward, Friday, 13 April 2018 20:32 (one week ago) Permalink
thanks, I've never heard of them, let alone listened to them. Harper is just a special musician, I can't really put my finger on it.
― Scam jam, thank you ma’am (Sparkle Motion), Friday, 13 April 2018 20:35 (one week ago) Permalink
i love the album on horo too. tons of stuff to dig into with billy harper!
― scott seward, Friday, 13 April 2018 20:36 (one week ago) Permalink
he was doing cool stuff with lee morgan too before lee's sad end.
― scott seward, Friday, 13 April 2018 20:38 (one week ago) Permalink
Yes! I love The Last Session, especially Angela and Capra Black. Lee had put together a great band at that time.
― Scam jam, thank you ma’am (Sparkle Motion), Friday, 13 April 2018 20:56 (one week ago) Permalink
billy harper "capra black" just got reissued ...
― the late great, Friday, 13 April 2018 21:10 (one week ago) Permalink
guess I was looking at the turban rather than the words because I read the title of that Horace Silver album as THAT HAT FEELIN'
― niels, Saturday, 14 April 2018 09:04 (one week ago) Permalink