Reissued: Philadelphia Freedom

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Sounds of Liberation
  • Sounds of Liberation
Philadelphia has produced as many jazz greats as any American city of its size (Ethel Waters, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Hank Mobley, Jimmy Smith), but nearby New York has consistently leached away its talent. Despite this outflow, Philly has always maintained a strong local scene: though the Big Apple was the center of the free-jazz movement, there was still intriguing activity 90 minutes to the southwest. In recent years some of the most obscure documents of that scene have been resurrected on CD.

A few years ago Eremite Records reissued a 1972 record billed to vibist Khan Jamal called Drumdance to the Motherland, which was originally released on Dogtown Records—a tiny independent owned by reedist Byard Lancaster. As unlikely as it seems, the music mashed up free jazz, psychedelia, and even dub (thanks to live mixing by Mario Falana, brother of Lola Falana) to produce an otherworldly sound world on par with the interplanetary excursions of Sun Ra.

Many of the same musicians are present on a self-titled album by Sounds of Liberation, a studio effort originally released the same year on the same label. The record was recently reissued by Porter Records, which had already unearthed a few Lancaster albums. In the 60s and 70s he was an overlooked presence on the New York free-jazz scene, playing and recording with Sunny Murray, Bill Dixon, Marzette Watts, and Burton Greene, among others, and he spent part of the 90s in Chicago, during which time he was in Funkadesi for a while. Perhaps because it's a studio outing, it doesn't sound quite as bonkers as Drumdance to the Motherland, but its red-hot mix of free jazz and funk is equally compelling. Over deep grooves carved out by drummer Dwight James, bassist Billy Mills, and percussionists Rashid Salim and Omar Hill, a dazzling front line of Lancaster, Jamal, and extraordinary guitarist Monnette Sudler juggle meditative melodic passages and ecstatic improvisation, balancing fiery extroversion with spiritual cool.

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Lancaster, who plays alto sax here, taps into a post-Coltrane vibe, uncorking sinewy lines that veer between soul-stoked cries and furious sheets of sound, while Jamal lays down shimmering harmonies and terse countermelodies. But I'm most powerfully drawn to the playing of Sudler, one of the rare female instrumentalists in modern jazz at the time. She's cited Wes Montgomery, Bola Sete, Jimi Hendrix, and Sonny Sharrock as early influences, and her comping with Sounds of Liberation is subtle and soulful, with coolly articulated chords that bolster the music's irresistible rhythmic push. When she solos she boldly toys with harmony, playing wonderfully jagged, often dissonant patterns with great textural heft and deep bluesiness; heard against the funky grooves, they create a striking rhythmic disconnect.

Below you can listen to the album track "Billie One," where Sudler drops a concise but devastating solo.

Today's playlist:

Al "Cake" Wichard Sextette, Cake Walkin': The Modern Recordings 1947-48 (Ace)
Andreas Berthling, Tiny Little White Ones (Like Handfuls of Salt) (Mitek)
Javier Vercher, Wheel of Time (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Bo Diddley, I'm a Man: The Chess Masters, 1955-1958 (Hip-O Select/Geffen)
Massimo Biolcati, Persona (ObliqSound)

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