Pure Pleasure Records pays homage to Strata-East Records with a vinyl re-mastering of the second Handscapes album.
The Piano Choir – Handscapes 2 – Strata-East Records SES-19750 (1975)/Pure Pleasure Records (2022) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 33:30 **** 1/2:
(Ron Burton – piano, electric piano, synthesizer; Stanley Cowell – piano, electric piano, synthesizer; Nat Jones – piano, electric piano, synthesizer; Hugh Lawson – piano, electric piano, synthesizer; Webster Lewis – piano, electric piano, synthesizer; Harold Mabern – piano, electric piano, synthesizer; Sonelius Smith – piano, electric piano, synthesizer; Mutume – percussion; John Lewis – percussion; Jimmy Hopps – percussion)
When you put together 7 jazz pianists with a rhythm section, things are bound to get interesting. In 1973, Ron Burton, Stanley Cowell, Nat Jones, Hugh Lawson, Webster Lewis, Harold Mabern and Sonelius Smith electrified the jazz world with The Piano Choir – Handscapes. This multi-textured collaboration explored a variety of musical expression and exotic motifs in a unique and refreshing manner. Jazz archival label Pure Pleasure Records released a 180-gram vinyl of the first album. Now Handscapes 2 has been re-mastered to updated vinyl. The results are equally satisfying. Side A opens with keyboard/piano opening on “Ballad For The Beast From Bali-Bali”. The song develops with synthesizers and electric piano with freewheeling aesthetics and funky grooves. There is an energetic acoustic piano interlude that eventually folds back into synthesized music. Tempo and instrumental flourishes capture the artistic vision and passionate joy of this project. The music is melodically complex, but is rendered cohesively. It is like a seven-minute symphony. Dialing back the intensity, “The Need To Smile” is ethereal with a simpler arrangement featuring acoustic piano lead, electronic rhythm and atmospheric shading. There is a gentler flow with delicate touches underscored by a repeat vamp. “Barbara Ann” is simply a gorgeous ballad with hypnotic chords and jazzy intonation. At approximately the 3:00 mark, the song transitions to Latin-infused soul with halting breaks, crescendos and arpeggio-laden finish.
Side B kicks off with the jaunty “In What Direction Are You Headed”. There are relentlessly tight rhythm patterns with soul/rock piano. A hard-driving acoustic piano lead frames the straight-ahead jam that includes electric piano and muscular percussion. The tandem of piano and electric piano create a fusion-esque texture. Another unique arrangement, “Prayer For Peace” begins with a highly syncopated template with keyboards that resemble woodwinds. Like most of the tracks, it is different than the others. It utilizes a variety of synthesized tones, but the mid-song solo is on piano. The final part sparkles with affirmation and includes an electronic funk groove.
Kudos to Pure Pleasure Records for shining a light on the contribution of Strata-East to the 1970’s jazz landscape. In just over 33 minutes, a jazz statement is fully realized. The sound mix is vibrant with excellent stereo separation.
The Piano Choir – Handscapes 2
Side A: Ballad For The Beast From Bali-Bali; The Need To Smile; Barbara Ann
Side B: In What Direction Are You Headed; Prayer For Peace
Available through Acoustic Sounds or Pure Pleasure