Originally posted 25 October 2006
Clifford Thornton & The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra
The Gardens of Harlem
JCOA : 1975
CT, cornet, trombone, babassa; Carla Bley, piano; Bob Stewart, tuba; Charles Stevens, trombone; Janice Robinson, trombone; John Thompson, French horn; Gregory Williams, French horn; George Barrow, flute; Pat Patrick, tenor sax + soprano sax; Roland Alexander, tenor sax; Carlos Ward, alto sax + flute; Dewey Redman, alto sax + tenor sax; Michael Ridley, trumpet; Marvin Peterson, trumpet; Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; Ted Daniel, trumpet + flugelhorn.
Ritmo Africano: Kobena Adzenyah, nnawuronta, apentima, oprenten, ntrowa, conga, sogo, atsimevu; Jerry Gonzales, kÃ³nkolo bata, kaganu, quinto, tumba, bell, palos; Milton Cardona, itÃ³tele bata, tumba; Gene Golden, iyÃ¡ bata, tumba, palos; Vincent Jorge, tumba, axatse, conga; Asante Darkwa, gankogui, nnaronta, bell; Laxmi G.Tewari, axatse, kidi, ntrowa; Art Lewis, trap set; Andy Gonzales, bass.
For us, the title evokes images of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Thereâ??s an air of the exotic about it â?? the hidden green spaces in the city, the small oases, the magnificent coulda-been urban greeneries. And although the album isnâ??t quite one of the seven wonders of the world, it did take a heroic effort on the part of Clifford Thornton to see his magnum opus created and then shepherded into the world. The exoticism is also borne out in the music â?? itâ??s a massive conglomeration of players and styles that blends Latin, Gospel, Arabic, African, and blues aspects with jazz and free improv.
Chock full of all-stars, the album was considered a disappointment on its eventual release. Partial culprit: too much hype. Culprit, part two: The album works better listened to as a whole than in parts. You know, the suite thing. The album requires the sort of slow unwind that you donâ??t get by listening to single tracks. The sprawl, more than individual moments or details, is whatâ??s impressive.
That said, here are the second and third tracks from the record. Together we hope they present a chunk of the album to chew on. The first one has a straight-up Latin vibe with some lovely trumpet soloing by Leo Smith. The next track finds the band heading toward the Pyrenees, salting the proceedings with hints of Middle Eastern and African flavor, shades of things to come later in the album. Some more free playing here, a nicely sustained ensemble effort.
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Also recommended by Thornton and appearing here in the future: Communications Network and Ketchaoua. Universal/America recently released a deluxe edition of Thornton’s Panther and the Lash, disappearing quick from your finer record stores. Restructures hosts a splendid Thornton discography, compiled by Jason Guthartz, here.
There is a good but not uncritical review of this album by guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, over at allmusic.com.
This album was Thornton’s last major recorded statement; he died in 1983.