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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke


New Vocal Frontiers

RCA Victor Gold Series 09026638762

1 -9: Leon Thomas - vocal, percussion; James Spaulding - flute, alto saxophone; Lonnie Liston Smith - piano; Richard Davis, Cecil McBee - bass; Roy Haynes - drums; Richard Landrum - bongos.
3&4 Add Leon Thomas - African wood flute.
6, 8&9 Add Pharoah Sanders - tenor saxophone.
10 - 18: Leon Thomas - vocal; Alberto Socarras - flute; Lester Merkin, Toots Mondello, Paul Ricci, Romeo Penque, Stan Webb - reeds; Vernon Brown, Morton Bullman, Tommy Mitchell, Chauncey Welsh - trombone; Bernie Leighton - piano; Danny Perri, Artie Ryerson - guitar; Abie Baker - bass; Cliff Leeman - drums; Jala Divigard, Miriam Workman, Constance Treadwell, Helen Steiff, Pete Steiff, Bob McCulloh, Lou Herst, Lee Hale - vocal.

Tracks 1-9 recorded October 21 or 22, 1969 in New York City
Tracks 10-18 recorded November 12, 1958 at RCA Recording Studios, New York City.
Tracks 10-18 are previously unissued.

1. The Creator Has a Master Plan ( Peace)
2. One
3. Echoes
4. Song for My Father
5.Damn Nam ( Ain't Goin' to Vietnam )
6. Malcolm's Gone
7. Let the Rain Fall on Me
8. Um, Um, Um
9. A Night in Tunisia
10. Take the "A" Train
11. ditto
12. ditto
13. Walkin'
14. ditto
15. Willow Weep for Me
16. ditto
17. If it Didn't Hurt So Much
18. ditto

" The voice projection of the lyrics is good and full, and leads to a wordless yodel sounding not unlike an American Indian call - the moaning of spirits known and unknown " - this from the liner notes describing Leon Thomas' singing on the album "Karma " by Pharoah Sanders.
Leon Thomas along with James Spaulding, who is the principle soloist on many of the first nine tracks on this release, is one of the sadly forgotten and neglected musicians in Jazz. Thomas was a ground breaking vocalist as the music featured here will clearly reveal. He worked with such as Sanders, Booker Ervin, Randy Weston and Roland Kirk before he had records released under his own name and went on to record with Oliver Nelson and Johnny Hodges around the time of this disc ( 1969 ). His style of singing was highly unusual, blending Jazz, Blues and a form of yodelling ( heard in African music and in the vocalising of Eddie Harris ) which he blended to great effect to produce a sound peculiar to him.
Perhaps the most well known of his compositions is "The Creator Has A Master Plan " which was a collaboration with Pharoah Sanders . It is a mesmeric late 60's piece typical of its time and on this version has some highly effective flute playing from Spaulding. "One " is another Thomas composition -this time at a very bright swinging tempo with a scorching alto saxophone solo from Spaulding." Echoes" is a slow Jazz Waltz, heavy on the yodel style singing and with flute from Spaulding and African flute from Thomas . "Damn Nam " and "Malcolm's Gone " are very much reflections of their era, but they have stood the test of time. The Horace Silver tune "Song For My Father " is given a rhythmic and sensitive rendition and " Tunisia " is yet another worthy version of this classic.
Pharoah Sanders plays on three of the tracks but the real standout performer is James Spaulding. I heard Spaulding with the David Murray Octet and he was obviously held in some awe by the other musicians - he is one of Jazz's many well kept secrets both on alto and flute.
The last nine tracks are from a much earlier unreleased RCA big band session under Thomas' name and, quite honestly , this issue does not gain anything with their inclusion . Thomas had not achieved his mature style at this point in time and they are just journeyman versions of the standard repertoire. However, this disc is well worth a listen for the tracks that comprised the original " Spirits Known And Unknown " album.

Dick Stafford



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