Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Larry Young (a.k.a. Khalid Yasin)
Lawrence of Newark

Released 1973 on Perception Records
Reviewed by gogmagog, 09/07/2008ce

Larry Young (a.k.a. Khalid Yasin) - Lawrence of Newark (Perception Records, 1973).

According to various Internet sites it was mostly promotion-only copies of this LP that saw the light of day on Perception Records before it was withdrawn, making it a true jazz collectible on vinyl. Thankfully it is available now on CD and re-issued vinyl it would seem.

Larry Young was the Jimmy Smith-fixated free-jazz organist who draped his ethereal organ swells all over records by the Tony Williams Lifetime, Miles Davis, Santana, and John McLaughlin (that is after seeing his apprenticeship through with jazz giants like John Coltrane, Sam Rivers, and Elvin Jones). Make no mistake, people, this done be one serious jazz motherfucker! Indeed, this cat spent most of jazz-fusion’s golden years crouched behind a Hammond B3 dressed like Lawrence of Arabia, belching out chords so ghoulishly atonal as to make Robert Fripp blush like a convent-educated schoolgirl.

Check Young’s exquisitely ponderous, ever-searching, organ contributions on Carlos Santana’s and John McLaughlin’s “Love, Devotion, Surrender” LP if you need proof. So attuned is Young’s muse to that searching, psychedelic, wispy quality - that his organ line on that pair’s run-through of the Coltrane classic, “A Love Supreme,” leaves other Hammond pretenders to the throne - such as self-confessed ‘jazzo’ (wannabe) Rick Wright - standing stuck in the existential mud, utterly lost, and poring over an ordnance survey map of modern transcendental expression!

That said, before landing on this particular 1973 gem, I’d listened to some of Larry’s late-70s albums - as “Larry Young’s Fuel” - and was rather disappointed by his overly-technical, look-at-me-I’m-so-clever, clinical jazz-funk/spunk. Isn’t it odd? - technical virtuosity is such a dangerous..erm…virtue. However, for this 1973 free-jazz/earth-ritual, the commercialised veins of funk and disco had yet to poison the minds (and fill the wallets) of the free-jazz faithful. And like every wised-up black musician of this era, Young began infusing free-jazz styles with the spirit of Africana, cooking up a holy retro-futurist broth similar in flavour to Pharoah Sanders’ amazing “Village of the Pharoahs” LP from the same year. Indeed, said ‘mystery guest’ on sax on “Lawrence…” is said to be none other than Pharoah himself!

Opener “Sunshine Fly Away” begins amid bongos and kettle-drums whacking out a funky African beat as long fizzy cymbal strokes sluice across the stereo band; an effect akin to aural sunburn. A bass-line rolls lazily out of bed, muggy but purposefully strident (this bass line has shit to do today, and wants to get in an early start). The musical landscape gradually comes to life as melodic Rhodes piano rings out the glory of the morn. Young’s distorto-organ sound (a little like the Cricket TV theme tune) - has a fuzz-drenched, rusty sound - a lot drier than, say, the 'wetter' sound of the Canterbury organists. The tune breezes along on a cool, rhythmic wind - the reed instruments ringing out clear as a bell, as Young counterpoints them with his intricate little organ interjections. Its very Afro-Jazz, and serves up images of the galloping animal herds. The insistently melodic bass propels the whole thing, like some musical whip herding the clustered harmonies into vague harmonic modalities., as low sax oozes out of the rhythmic foundations. The drums are gloriously woody and ethnic - a rolling tumble of a sound - and as the sax starts to blow with more gusto, Young pulls some increasingly alien, mind-searing blasts from his B3, which, at this point, has begun to sound like some 'machina infernale' screaming out inter-planetary Morse-code.

In the same vein is track two: “Khalid of Space Part 2” which begins with the most soul-wrenchingly brutal scream ever to emerge from a Hammond B3 - as if Young has grasped inside and ripped out the instruments very innards. A slow space-rocky “Hawk-Floyd” tune woozily gropes into our earshot. At one point, morphing into what can only be described as the free-jazz version of the Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” (indeed, at one point the organ tone is scarily close to Ummagumma’s live version), before segueing into a section serving up huge dollops of funk-driven skronk and fried (Hammond) organ viscera. Diedre Johnson’s cello solo brings the track to a peak before mad vocal jabbering and screams of transcendence are flung at our senses, as the reeds get increasingly irascible with one another and Young’s organ howls at the moon! All this would be pretty formless where it not for Juni Booth’s gloriously minimal, Michael Henderson-esque two-note bass line securing the whole thing to terra firma. However, by the end Young’s organ explosions at the end sound like huge tectonic plates of low-end aural landscaping, breaking off to drift into the inky blue harmonic nothingness that has threatened to engulf this track from the very start. It’s a rampant free-jazz jam with much in common with Miles electric period, of course, but also Herbie Hancock’s early-seventies Mwandishi band (Boy, have I been tanning his "Sextant" Lp from 1972 - fucking phenomenal!!!)

In contrast, the (relatively speaking) short track: “Saudia” is a little drift-piece - as if the organist from the Blackpool Mecca Bingo has been shot off into space with only their Hammond B3 and Ekkerhard Jost's book, Free-Jazz. to keep them company. A smooth, bluesy chart - similar to Live-era Colloseum at times - covers a-rumbling and a-bumbling rhythm section that eventually propels this tune into the stratosphere. This number also gives Young a chance to play with some of the more orthodox tones of this most versatile of instruments. Gradually, huge swathes of rusty Hammond are introduced, alternating with hyper-nimble runs up and down the keyboard - guitarist, James Blood Ulmer (no less) spiking the track with occasional shards of chromium steel. Overall, the vibe here is like Brain Auger spending his salad days drifting through space, all the while dematerialising before our every eyes.

The beginning of “Alive” sounds the most Miles-like of all - very-Agartha-esque - (that is, for about 5 seconds), then slips almost immediately back into a slower groove that resembles the preceding track - maybe its intention was as a kind of coda. Ulmer’s back with occasional Wah-Wah notes and the intricate percussion impresses momentarily before this two-minute musical vignette comes to an abrupt halt.

Track 5 “Hello Your Quietness” is perhaps the most structurally intricate piece on the LP - Young’s wavy organ arpeggios waft across a bed of electronic whistles and shrieks, whilst elastic bass notes stretch out underneath, walking through those elongated octave shifts that Richard Sinclair always did so well. Wooden percussion beats out as flowery trumpet runs enter into a call and response with Young’s organ. Again, there is a slight Miles flavour here - this time a little earlier, say, his beautifully intricate arrangements on the "Filles de Kilimanjaro" (1968) LP. This last track is remarkably chilled however, Young’s organ lines falling and flowing into one another, while Booth’s bass merrily skips through its octaves - Charles Magee’s trumpet line perhaps out-Miles Miles here for that gloriously melodic sensibility and tuneful pathos that often erupted from The Dark Prince at times. Young’s blasts of Hammond often mimick bird-calls as they cheekily intervene into the brass lines. There’s an absurd jolliness to this track (and album) that never fails to make me smile, and the tune’s lazily-drawn tempo certainly in no rush to go anywhere.

Fans of the burgeoning early 70s Afro-Jazz scene and fusion in general, as well as anyone interested in musicians who took the Hammond B3 to its REAL extremes of aural expression, will be doubly interested in this highly recommended LP. You've only gotta check the line-up!!

Personnel: Larry Young (vox, organ, bongos); Dennis Mourouse (saxophone); Charles Magee (trumpet); Jumma Santos (whistle, congas, drums); Cedric Lawson (eelctric piano); James Blood Ulmer (guitar); Don Pote, juni Booth (bass); Howard King, James Flores, Abdul Shahid (drums); Abdul Hakim (bongos); Aremen Halburian (congas, percussion, bells); Stacey Edwards, Ulmar Abdul Muizz (congas); Poppy La Boy (percussion); Mystery Guest (saxophone);

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