1973: Frank Lowe - Black Beings

Often lost in the pantheon of Bernard Stollman’s ESP label is the last batch of recordings they released just before closing their doors. While there are several dozen “essential” ESP recordings from the late-’60s, releases from the early-’70s by Ronnie Boykins, Donald Garrett, and others often get lumped in with posthumous records by Bud Powell and Billie Holiday (which do deserve some attention of their own). Among these is Frank Lowe’s debut, Black Beings, certainly one of the most quintessential ESP releases.

The death of Coltrane and Ayler put a small muzzle on American free jazz, ultimately causing it to branch out and take on new forms. By the early-’70s, many American players had left the country, seeking out a more receptive European audience. European natives had already established their own take on free jazz. While not soulless, the deliberate lack of rhythm and melody heard from European’s like Peter Brötzmann, Albert Manglesdorff, and Paul Rutherford were far cries from the Pan-African influences pouring out of those like Archie Shepp and Pharaoh Sanders. But in the midst of all this change, Frank Lowe remained one of the last to carry on the “Fire Music” tradition in its truest form. Mixing post-bop influences, African heritage, and the experimentation of late-period John Coltrane, Black Beings remains one of the most soulful and extreme albums of its ilk.

Beginning with “In Trane’s Name,” Black Beings takes off like a shotgun blast, bearing a sense of urgency rarely captured on recording. Over the interlocking static-like rhythm section of William Parker (one of his earliest appearances on record) and Rashid Sinan, Frank Lowe, Joseph Jarman and Raymond Lee Cheng race through the “head” with intense prowess, a sort of formality before jumping into full-on improvisation. Lowe begins with some staccato melodic phrasing similar to Shepp, but quickly soars into an overblown, multiphonic scream/skronk that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Essentially just a recording of a live show, Black Beings encapsulates what’s great about improvisation at its very core: harnessing spontaneity in a way that can never be recreated. Aside from stellar, moment-to-moment playing, Black Beings also documents a pivotal time in music. Lowe takes free jazz to its fiercest and rawest states, while remaining deeply invested in the same roots as the previous generation of jazz experimenters. As avant-garde as Black Beings gets, it is indeed pure soul music, without a trace of pretension or self-indulgence that often cripples free jazz.

While this album has been reissued several times by various questionable sources, the latest reissue is significant for two reasons. Aside from being an official release on Stollman’s recently revived ESP label, Black Beings also has bonus material that is pretty much essential to the release. Previously “In Trane’s Name” had ended with Rashid Sinan’s sharp snare drum crack, which seemed to mark the end of the piece. But to make the original album fit within the sides of an LP, Raymond Lee Cheng’s impressive violin solo was left out, along with the entire finish of the song. (It should also be noted that up until this release, Raymond Lee Cheng had always been credited as “The Wizard.” Maybe some people knew who it really was; however, I had always assumed it was a moniker for Leroy Jenkins.) Additionally, the final track, “Thulani,” originally faded out on a high note but now plays out until its definitive ending, in which you can hear an audience of about 10 devoted fans clapping. (How fucking sad is that?) The fidelity of the recording has benefited from a superb remastering job as well. Where previous versions heard the mix obviously in the red, full of lo-fi analog distortion, the latest version keeps the all the grit, while adding a great deal of clarity. Bass notes that were once buried in the mix are brought out to the surface, and no longer do the drums drown everything out in an overdriven haze.

Black Beings is an essential release for anyone interested in the history of free jazz, and those already fond of the album will without a doubt appreciate the upgrade.

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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