By the mid-1970s, the spiritual jazz scene, which had
achieved its greatest prominence from the late 60s through 1972 thanks to
labels like Impulse, Flying Dutchman, and ESP, was suffering as jazz
musicians increasingly turned to rock and funk rhythms in an
attempt to court commercial success. Those who did not desire
to cross over were left in a precarious situation and many artists found
new life in Japan, which had always exhibited a strong love for jazz.
One of the labels there that offered musicians the freedom to
record the kind of music they enjoyed without pressure to conform was
Baystate. Although very little seems to be known about the company
or its background, they did have an enviable roster of artists that
included Roy Brooks, Max Roach, and Billy Harper. Their most
infamous release was Harry Whitaker's Black Renaissance, which they
issued with the wrong recording date and without paying Whitaker any
Their catalog seems to be in the process of being
reissued, and Freedom Jazz Baystate is the ideal way for
sampling their wares. A disc that crams 20 songs into 74
minutes, the songs are edited to focus on key moments and presented
with a flow like you might hear from an abstract jazz dj.
Featured songs include multiple apperances
by Charles Greenlee and Archie Shepp ("He's Gone," "Steam," and
"Crusificado"), Art Matthews ("5/4 Thing" and "Samba Ebony"), and
Robert Ruff ("Shaza-Ra" and "Ruff's Blues"). Beaver Harris and Roy
Brooks are represented with several tracks also.
An interesting sidenote is that the Black
Renaissance tracks are credited to Woody Shaw and Azar Lawrence,
who played on the session but under Whitaker's direction. I guess
there is still some bad blood between the two parties.
Nonetheless, Freedom Jazz Baystate comes recommended to
anyone interested in exploring some soulful expatriate jazz.
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