Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images LLC
As much as I love the traditional jazz organ sound immortalized by the likes of Jimmy Smith
, Baby Face Willette, Big John Patton
, Jack McDuff
, and Charles Earland
—that funky mixture of sanctified and greasy—I've always preferred the music of Larry Young. In the 60s Young radicalized jazz organ, deploying a modal approach that built on the innovations of John Coltrane—his pianistic style used relatively fluid and sophisticated lines compared to the dominant sound of the time, which was more percussive and chordal. His 1966 Blue Note classic Unity—
with trumpeter Woody Shaw, saxophonist Joe Henderson, and drummer Elvin Jones—is a bona fide postbop masterpiece that boldly reimagined what the Hammond B-3 could do in a jazz context.
Young went on to innovate in other ways in the following decade, playing in protean fusion group Lifetime with drummer and bandleader Tony Williams and guitarist John McLaughlin and also appearing on McLaughlin's album with Carlos Santana, Love Devotion Surrender
. He also released a series of overlooked, often bizarre solo records, such as his 1975 effort Fuel
(Arista). Young died in 1978 at age 38, two days after checking into a hospital in Newark, New Jersey, for stomach pains, and according to his son Larry Young III his cause of death was never explained. A fantastic two-CD set called In Paris: The ORTF Recordings
(Resonance), which drops today, collects ten previously unissued tracks made in France in 1964 and '65 for French radio, and the performances capture Young on the brink of his creative breakthrough—he would soon return to the U.S. and begin his affiliation with Blue Note. (Before going to France, he'd made a pair of solid but relatively conventional organ records for Prestige.)
The new set contains a handsome 68-page booklet packed with vintage photos from Young's time in Paris as well as essays and remembrances from saxophonist Nathan Davis (who was largely responsible for Young's French sojourn, and who plays on nearly every track), bassist Bill Laswell, keyboardist John Medeski, B-3 star Dr. Lonnie Smith, and various figures from French radio. Young cut the earliest material for a program called Jazz aux Champs-Elysees
, hosted by pianist and French broadcasting legend Jack Diéval. These performances focus on simple blues themes—including the Young classic "Talkin' About J.C.," the title of which nods to Coltrane and which he'd just recorded on a Grant Green Blue Note album titled Talkin' About
—in part because they weren't cut with a working band, though Shaw and Davis are present. For me, however, the most exciting material is the quartet stuff cut under Davis's leadership in early 1965, which also included drummer Billy Brooks, an old Newark running buddy of Young and Shaw.
Below you can listen to the quartet tear through the Davis composition "Trane of Thought," yet another title paying homage to Coltrane. The collection also includes a ripping version of the Woody Shaw tune "Zoltan" (the indelible piece that opens Unity
) and Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile," both recorded live at the annual awards ceremony for L'Académie du Jazz, a French music association formed in 1955; it closes with an unusual piano trio performance of Young's own "Larry's Blues," which illustrates his terrific skill on the acoustic instrument. But it's Young's organ work that truly mesmerizes me. He was great at playing bass lines with the foot pedals, and while he sometimes provided meaty fills and surges with chords, his elegant, extended single-note runs still impress more than five decades later.
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