Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Radical Art For Radical Music

Perfectly timed for the start of the holiday shopping season, which officially begins on "Black" Friday (November 27), the UK-based Soul Jazz Records has put out Freedom Rhythm & Sound (SJR Publishing) a spectacular compendium of vintage sleeve images from some of the most prized spiritual and free jazz recordings ever released that's sure to delight the hardcore jazz fanatic on your gift-giving list.
The large format (30.8 cm x 30.8 cm) hardbound coffee-table book was authoritatively compiled by Soul Jazz boss Stuart Baker in conjunction with celebrity DJ Gilles Peterson presents a well-balanced selection of the most aesthetically pleasing, bizarre, obscure, creative and iconic sleeve art from LPs issued between the years 1965 and 1983, primarily on independently-owned operations and often in editions of 1,000 copies or less.

That includes the album sleeve designs associated with such revered figures as John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Sun Ra alongside lesser-known artists like The Frank Derrick Total Experience, Dadisi Komolafe and Lloyd McNeill. While the labels Strata-East, ESP-Disk', Tribe, Delmark, Nessa, Black Fire, BAG, El Saturn, Nimbus, Actuel/BYG, Perception, Im-Hotep, Baystate, Asha, Mustevic Sound are each well-represented, the one notable exception is Black Jazz. Whether or not this has anything to do with the dispute Black Jazz had with Soul Jazz over the Universal Sound sub-label release The Best Of Black Jazz Records (see link below), is difficult to say but their achetypal cover images are conspicuously absent. 
Even though it would certainly have been a much more comprehensive overview had a sampling of the consistently dope designs of Black Jazz been included, the 179-page volume is still a worthwhile and wholly enjoyable document that doubles quite nicely as a collector's checklist.

As a musical companion, Baker has compiled a suitable survey of tunes from the albums depicted as the Freedom Rhythm & Sound 2CD set which ideally would've come attached to the inside of the book's back cover. But of course, this is a Soul Jazz release, not a lavish Numero Group production, so the double-CD package, with choice tracks from Steve Colson, Horace Tapscott, The Pharaohs, Philip Cohran, Roy Brooks & The Artistic Truth, Sun Ra, Oliver Lake, Ralph Thomas, Stanton Davis, Gary Bartz NTU Troop, Errol Parker, Joe McPhee and others, is being sold separately. No word as yet whether a vinyl version is planned.
Soul Jazz Records
Black Jazz

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