Bill Lewis & Khan Jamal’s
The River

Bill Lewis & Khan Jamal
The River
Philly Jazz : 1978

BL, vibraphone; KJ, marimba.

Welcome to the latest installment of  LOST TONES, which features tracks from hyper-rare recordings that aren’t available anywhere else on the web. These treasures are courtesy of George Scala, who runs the invaluable Free Jazz Research site. He’s generously shared these recordings from his amazing archive so that they can be enjoyed by more than just collectors. Each selection is something that we unequivocally love and feel deserves a wider audience.

Right, right, so you’re probably thinking — a vibes and marimba duet?!? But put aside those preconceptions, because this shit is straight-up sublime.

For those who dug our post of Sun Ra and Walter Dickerson duets, we’ll go so far as to say that The River ups the ante for sheer beauty. We’re not generally fans of the vibes in a jazz context — too smooth, too cocktail lounge — but the exceptions loom large. “The Waterfall,” this album’s epic lead-off track, is a 17-minute masterpiece of shimmering minimalism, dexterous interplay, and sustained drama. It’s also jaw-dropping gorgeous.

There are echoes of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Chinese folk music, classical counterpoint, and African rhythms. Just to scratch the surface. What’s most remarkable is how “The Waterfall” sounds like the undiluted root source of all these musics rather than some pale amalgamation of their influences. It may be a chicken, but it sounds like an egg.

“The Waterfall” was composed by Bill Lewis, who wrote in the liner notes:  “The music on this album is called Jazz or Black Classical Music or The New Music or Avant-Garde. The name is not important; it is grassroots, the music of the people….” Right on. Fittingly, this music of the people was recorded live at St. Mary’s Church Parish Hall in Philadelphia and broadcast via WXPN-FM. August 8, 1977. We like to think that the quality of the art eventually elevates it from obscurity, but this essential music has remained grassroots for far too long.

Student & Teacher: Bill Lewis was an educator in Philly for many years. One of his students was none other than Khan Jamal. Perhaps that long association accounts for their sympathetic interplay on this album.

Whither Philly Jazz?: The label Philly Jazz had a fairly scant output, but all of it is essential, or close to it. The most high-profile of the label’s few LPs was Sun Ra’s Lanquidy, which saw remastered release on CD in 2000, via Evidence. Totally worth your time. Ra’s other Philly Jazz album, Of Mythic Worlds, has been put out on hi-grade vinyl. Sunny Murray’s Apple Cores remains in out-of-print limbo. Here’s hoping The River sees an official reissue soon. The entire album is killer. (Hello, Porter Records…?)

Even rarer still: A second set of material was recorded from the same concert as The River, but it was never released. Wonder if those tapes still exist? Any leads out there?

Drumdance to the Motherland: For an amazing record featuring Khan Jamal that you can actually purchase, we highly recommend Drumdance to the Motherland (1974, originally on Byard Lancaster’s Dogtown label), out now on Eremite Records.

What are some of your favorite jazz performances that evoke classical and minimalist music?

Category Bill Lewis, Khan Jamal, Lost Tones Tags , , , , , ,