HUBERT LAWS — In the Beginning (review)

HUBERT LAWS — In the Beginning album cover Album · 1974 · Pop/Art Song/Folk Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Hubert Laws is a monster of the jazz world when it comes to the flute, and if you glance over his discography and guest appearances, you’ll see he’s lent his talent to more than a few albums over the years. His other great love is classical music, and one of the features common to many of his jazz releases, is a classical composition or two. Partially this is the old CTI formula too, but it’s quite suited to Laws, who often expands these pieces or at the very least, gives them an alternate reading simply by virtue of using jazz instrumentation.

‘In the Beginning’ represents a high point in his 1970s output, drawing from a variety of styles he’d explored in the past, giving the listener a bit of classical, a hint of the Latin world, a good dose of funk and an overriding pop sensibility. While this album is hardly tame, its pop/crossover label is apt indeed, though I’d argue that this release is both more eclectic and adventurous in terms of material and instrumentation than others from the period. And it’s also true that ‘In the Beginning’ doesn’t have much of the snap of his early post-bop releases, but Laws remains inventive and thoughtful throughout and there’s a different energy to album.

Part of that energy comes from Gadd, who might be accused of cramming a bit too much into the pieces, but he makes for lively listening and knows how to relax when he needs to. Laws’ brother Ronnie features on tenor, and Bob James on keys, but perhaps more so than either player (including the usually highly distinctive Airto) the other attention grabbing instrument might just be Dave Friedman’s vibes, which are often quite prominent. In terms of arrangement, there’s a fair bit more going on than a typical ‘head, solo, head situation,’ and the opener typifies this with its tempo changes, swinging in the middle, before closing on some funk. The listener gets another good shot of funk on the closer, where Laws returns to ‘Mean Lene’, expanding it from its original form on as heard on his debut, both smoothing it out and complicating its structure.

Laws is so effective in a gentle setting, but on many of the pieces here he’s speedy and flowing, such as in the full-steam ahead rendition of Coltrane’s ‘Moment’s Notice’ or the duet with Gadd, ‘Airegin’, which is a great showcase for Laws. While ‘Reconciliation’ almost floats by without making much of a mark on me, my only serious concern is the reading of the traditional piece ‘Come Ye Disconsolate’ which is just too earnest – unlike the subtler ‘Restoration’ where the vibes and piano take a bit of the spotlight.

A grand surprise was the interpretation of Satie’s stunning ‘Gymnopédie No. 1’ which, as a solo piano piece, is one of my favourite moments in the history of classical music. Before hearing it, I was worried that in the CTI setting, its beauty might be buried, but while there is guitar, bass, strings, piano and flute, the arrangement allows a delicate trading of lead roles, with unobtrusive backing. Played a little slower than I am used to hearing the piece, Laws gets the most out of the emotional impact of those signature notes.

Perhaps his finest work from the 1970s, and my preferred album over ‘Morning Star’ and ‘Afro-Classic’ or his equally well-known, more classical themed, ‘Rite of Spring.’
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zorro007 wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Very Good album
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