Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Leon Thomas - Spirits Known and Unknown [1969]

Jazz Yodelling

Listening to Eddie Harris' Silver Cycles has prompted me to listen to more of his and other jazz of the time, including Leon Thomas' album. This is a superb debut release, with opening track Creator Has A Master Plan [Peace] - a much truncated version compared with the full side from Sanders' Karma album - featuring Thomas' distinctive vocal delivery, which is a scat-yodel, and the flute of James Spaulding. Second track One is a live recording and foregrounds the vocal dancing even more, and is accompanied by the tenor saxophone of 'Little Rock', aka Pharoah himself. The next two tracks, Echoes and Song For My Father, are smooth and soulful, spotlighting the greater dynamic of Thomas' full vocal range. But it is the yodelling that continues to mesmerise.

Fifth track Damn Nam [Ain't Goin' to Vietnam] is again a live recording and a rousing, adamant rejection of the war, full of anger and emotion. This is followed by another passionate and political track Malcolm's Gone with Sanders again on sax, Spaulding on flute, and Thomas pouring his creative energy into the lyrics and vocal of this moving tribute, the warble breaking to a growl of loss and sadness, and the track playing out to the wild lamentations of percussion and saxophone before returning to the final lines I know he's gone but he's not forgotten/I know he died just to set me free/Yes Malcolm's gone but he's not forgotten/He died to save me; gave me my dignity. The album ends on the energetic Night in Tunisia with its saxophone battling and a closing return to Thomas' vocal pyrotechnics, and appropriately as I write near the end of 2011, there are shouts of Happy New Year in the background of this further live offering.

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