Azar Lawrence – Summer Solstice – Craft Recordings

by | Nov 24, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Azar Lawrence – Summer Solstice – Craft Recordings/Prestige CR00262 – 180 gm vinyl – 1975 – ****1/2

(Azar Lawrence – soprano and tenor sax, percussion; Raul de Souza – trombone; Albert Dailey or Dom Salvador – piano; Ron Carter – bass; Billy Hart or Guilherme Franco – drums; Amaury Tristao – acoustic guitar; Gerald Hayes – flute; Guilherme Franco – berimbau, cuica, agogo, panpeiro, reco-reco, caxixi, afuche (Brazilian percussion)  )

The decade of the 1970s was a fertile period for exploration of the genre of spiritual jazz. Led by the African American owned jazz label, Strata East, founded by Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell, spiritual jazz explored Pan African themes with heavy percussion, horn driven melodies, and a civil rights/militancy focus. The LP covers had  return to Africa, exotic color, or striking black and white graphics.

Although saxophonist, Azar Lawrence did not lead any Strata East sessions, he recorded albums with a similar drive. His long out of print, 1975 release, Summer Solstice, has just been re-released in 180 gm audiophile vinyl, with all analog remastering from the original tapes, by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio.

Azar was strongly influenced by John Coltrane, who immersed himself at the end of his life in spiritual jazz. Lawrence took Coltrane’s place in the quartet led by McCoy Tyner after John’s passing. Azar took over the mantle from many as the heir apparent to Coltrane. It was a heavy burden for anyone to take on..

On this 1975 release, Azar expanded the focus to heavily concentrate on Brazilian jazz. In addition to an ace rhythm section of pianist Albert Dailey, bassist Ron  Carter, and drummer, Billy Hart, Lawrence brings in trombonist, Raul de Souza, who later went on to playing with Sonny Rollins. Raul has a big meaty sound that fits right in with Azar’s soaring soprano and tenor sax.

Two tracks, “Novo Ano” and “Highway,” highlight percussion heavy Brazilian jazz with flute (Gerald Hayes), and acoustic guitar, (Amaury Tristao). Amaury provides vocalese as well. Dom Salvador has several sparkling piano choruses, while Guilherme Franco stirs the pot to overflowing with up to seven native percussion instruments utilized. It’s an intoxicating brew…

“From the Point of Love” opens with a wood flute intro by Azar. It’s a great tune and I felt the vibe of Lonnie Liston Smith, with its mix of several genres percolating. You really feel the passion that Coltrane brought to the soprano sax, when you hear Lawrence on the soprano sax. He combines the ethereal, with bluesy soul. You may also sense the influence of Pharaoh Sanders (as on “The Creator Has a Master Plan”) throughout the album.

“Novo Ano” with its flute, vocalese, acoustic guitar, and percussion galore, starts with a feeling of being in an Amazon forest, complete with bird calls. Raul de Souza’s trombone  provides a mixture of New Orleans front line, with Caribbean spice. “From the Point of Light” features Azar on both saxophones as well as Billy Hart’s dynamic drumming which propels the tune. The title track shows Coltrane’s influence on Azar, while the closing track, “Highway” lets everyone stretch out on a blues influenced Brazilian rhythmic composition, ending in a full on blowing fest driven by percussionist extraordinaire, Franco.

Lawrence partially dedicates the album to The Aquarian Spiritual Center, as well as offering this hopeful refrain, “May peace, joy, and beauty on the wings of faith and hope fly into your hearts, and heal and lift your souls towards the spiritual sun. And may celestial music help restore the plan on earth.”

Over four and a half decades later, these hopeful words still resound…

Side 1:
From the Point of Love
Novo Ano
From the Point of Light

Side 2:
Summer Solstice

—Jeff Krow

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