Azar Lawrence- Prayer for My Ancestors
Azar Lawrence, whose work as a sideman (including with McCoy Tyner after Coltrane’s death) is well recognized, has been enjoying a recent resurgence -two of his albums from the mid-‘70s as a featured performer have been reissued by the Jazz Dispensary. This album seems to have been neglected so far and is worth seeking out, though I have only found it on CD (and even that has not been so easy to find). Released in 2008, Prayer for my Ancestors has a killer roster of players: Nate Morgan on piano, Henry Franklin (whose album, “The Skipper,” is one of the best in the Black Jazz label catalog) on bass and Alphonzo Mouzon, one of the founding members of Weather Report, on drums. The compositions vary, from hot jazz combo work to folk ballad to soul jazz to more exotic, Eastern influenced stuff. It’s varied enough to keep you engaged and recorded well.
“Open Sesame”- the magic words that open the sealed entrance to the treasure. And here, that’s a cooking opener.
“Under Tanzanian Skies”- a mellow reflection of endless possibilities, Lawrence’s sound on what I assume is a soprano sax has a nasal, reedy sound that is a perfect lead; Franklin, who apparently wrote the composition performs a “study” on bass before we return to the main theme. Beautiful song.
“Thokole”-guitar by Ibrihim Ba, who wrote and sings this piece. It’s an almost universal folk song—could be almost any culture, place or time. There’s a kora being played here, a multi-string instrument played by Amadou Fall. Just lovely.
“Prayer for My Ancestors”-full of soul from the open notes by Lawrence, juxtaposed against bowed bass, the song maintains a deliberately slow pace as Lawrence sails above the mass of instruments below. Those bass notes are a perfect counterpoint. Morgan’s piano is deliberately muted. The track ends too soon for me.
“The Baker’s Daughter”- this piece has some swagger and gives Lawrence room to wail. There’s a trumpet part that sneaks in, and Morgan shows his stuff on the piano, the drum solo is just right and we return to theme, a horn led trot that takes us out close to the edge, but the horn is never strident and the song fades to end.
“Swinging in Exile”- if I was hanging in a club in Tangier, watching the mysteries of life unfold in an exotic locale, I’d want this song playing — it’s hot jazz, played so coolly by Morgan and the band that it’s like a refreshing cocktail that warms and chills at the same time. Stunning sax work by Lawrence here—and that riff he plays could be the basis for a whole other song.
“Ode to Pharoah”- I guess Lawrence owes a debt to Pharoah Sanders as much as he does to John Coltrane. This is a lullaby- a slow paced ballad that unfolds easily- Morgan’s keyboard work in sync with the bass (credited to Tony Dumas) is a joy to hear.
“Linda G.”- swinging, hot paced riff that sets us up for some quality sax work by Lawrence, high-hat snapping and Morgan’s playing is grand—Linda Gordon is credited as co-writer of the song bearing her name. She should feel honored by this performance.
A stunning record that should be more accessible. It deserves a decent vinyl release. Well worth the trouble to find a copy on CD in the meantime.