CANNONBALL ADDERLEY — The Black Messiah (review)

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY — The Black Messiah album cover Live album · 1971 · Soul Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Recorded in 1972, before more busy and frilly styles of fusion kicked in, “Black Messiah” is in the more rootsy early style of fusion similar to “Bitches Brew”. Like other jazz musicians in the late 60s and early 70s, Cannonball and his crew on here mix hard bop, that verges on free jazz, with modern rock and a touch of psychedelia to create what was becoming known as fusion. This is early fusion where the emphasis is still on the jazz, the rock backbeat is implied, not bludgeoning you on top of the head. Freedom is the key word here, these jams sprawl out in a relaxed fashion and allow plenty of room for exploratory solos and breakdown sections where soloists can workout with the percussion players. Especially nice are solo sections where the musicians can create their own environment; George Duke uses a ring modulator and echoplex to create Stockhausen inspired icy electronic soundscapes and later Airto uses his voice and percussion to take us back to music in its earliest forms.

All of the soloists on here are great, but its possible that George Duke steals the show as he so often did in the early 70s as a sideman. Using his Fender Rhodes and a couple of effects, Duke’s solos on here build to intense torrents of electronic sound and dissonant jagged scales. Nat Turner uses his flugelhorn to channel the “angry” horn sound of Miles and Freddie Hubbard that was popular at the time, but as has been pointed out by other critics, usually easygoing Nat’s anger may not be entirely convincing. It might would have been interesting if Nat had topped this fusion with his more typical high flight bop style. All the same, if you enjoyed Miles’ blasting conversations with Chick Corea’s harsh distorted electric piano on the Live at Fillmore sessions, Duke and Nat’s interactions on here will definitely give you a sense of déjà vu. If there is one flaw on here, it’s the two tracks that feature rock guitarist Mike Deasy. More than likely the couple of mundane blues-rock numbers that were tacked on to the set were supposed to appeal to the trendy California rock crowd that usually hung out at The Troubador.

Once again, if you enjoy that early freedom-loving style of fusion similar to Les McCann’s “Invitation to Openess”, the first Weather Report album, Tony Williams’ first Lifetime or Miles’ early 70s work, you will probably enjoy these wide open hippy-jazz excursions.
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