princelasha

Elvin Jones / McCoy Tyner ‘Illumination’

There was a series of old television advertisements for Reese’s Peanut Butter cups where the meeting of a chocolate bearing individual and a peanut butter toting individual resulted in an initial moment of outrage:
Chocolate person: “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”
Peanut Butter Person: “Well, *you* got chocolate in my peanut butter!”
All was well moments later as the calming narrator’s voice assured us that “two great tastes that taste great together” was the outcome. That’s also what you’ve got with ‘Illumination!’ On this 1963 date for Impulse! John Coltrane’s famous rhythm section of Elvin Jones-drums, Jimmy Garrison-bass, and McCoy Tuner-piano, met up in the studio with the edgy frontline of Prince Lasha-clarinet/flute, Sonny Simmons-alto sax/English horn, & Charles Davis-baritone sax. While the frontline wasn’t nearly as well-known as Trane’s gang and came from a freer stylistic place, they are wonderfully simpatico with the rhythm section. They also brought their “A” game, playing adventurously but with tremendous swing. There aren’t blasts of atonality, deliberate attempts to drive melody from the room, or abrasive avant-garde games of “where’s the 1?”. Instead, the six tracks which play out over 30 minutes are chock full of killer solos that take flight over deep bluesy grooves. There are also drum/alto conversations that make any talk you had today seem comparatively boring, and some inside/outside playing that makes you want to explore the music of every player on this record even more deeply. Davis takes a more straightforward approach than Lasha/Simmons, but his playing is exemplary—I need to hear more of his work. Lasha/Simmons had already recorded the excellently edgy ’The Cry’ for Contemporary in ’62. While that record is pretty great, the MUST-HEAR record they made is the difficult-to-find-but-worth-searching-for ‘Firebirds,’ also recorded for Contemporary in ’67. Great stuff

Prince Lasha Ensemble ‘Insight’

Farewell London! It was a VERY memorable 36 hours. Feels appropriate to leave with another memorable UK session—a rare “in the box” session from Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute) who was living in Kensington in 1966 mixing it up with a British jazz cast including Stan Tracey & Mike Carr (piano); Rick Laird, Jeff Clyne, Bruce Cale & Dave Willis (bass); John Mumford (trombone), Joe Oliver (drums) and Chris Bateson (trumpet). However the SECRET SAUCE of the session is Dave Snell on harp which elevates this collection of standards and two Lasha originals into something truly special. It’s wild how the harp sounds so unexpected yet it fits perfectly. This is an amazing record, and for those who’ve struggled a bit with Lasha’s more challenging, edgy work (like the masterful follow-up ‘Firebirds’ with Sonny Simmons) this is something you could easily play without clearing the room. Much to my surprise, this session was for a big player—CBS Records UK (CBS-BPG 62409, stereo, issued 1966) though it never saw US release. The vinyl is elusive, the 2009 Dusty Groove CD reissue is around and a reasonable alternative. The two Lasha originals are the standout tracks but everything is really well played. Recommended

Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons ‘Firebirds.

Roaring with the fury of a contrapuntal tornado through the metaphorical trailer park of your mind, ‘Firebirds’ will leave you in a heap of happy, smoldering rubble. This album blew me away. I’d already been pretty enamoured of Prince Lasha & Sonny Simmons debut LP ‘The Cry’ but fast forward a couple of years and add secret weapon Bobby Hutcherson and they’ve lept from terrific to dazzling. Fair warning: this is not a kick-back, easy listen. There’s often so much going on simultaneously it can take a few spins to sort it all out but trust me, it’s worth your effort. The free-bop/modal foundation takes a myriad of twists and turns, swooping and diving through avant-tinged, hard bop tunnels. It’s like riding a jazz themed roller coaster in total darkness—you just don’t know when the next sudden drop will occur, how deep it’ll go or where you’ll wind up. It’s a helluva thrill ride. As far as acquisition, this seems to be a “regional rarity”, findable in some places, absent in others. The CD seems pretty common, the vinyl less so, and digital platforms totally absent save for YouTube but you LP collectors should keep your eyes open…this one is spongeworthy (Seinfeld fans will get the reference). Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute/alto clarinet) Sonny Simmons (alto sax, English horn) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) Buster Williams (bass) Charles Moffett (drums). Recorded 27-29 Sept 1967 and released 1968 as Contemporary S7617, stereo. First pressings have a green label, subsequent pressings have yellow or orange labels🎷