Sweet Soul Music:

MR. P.C.

Byard Lancaster
Philly Jazz : 1977

BL, tenor, alto, electric alto, soprano sax,wood flute, bells; Skip Parnell, bass; Harold E. Smith, drums, wood flute.

We’ve been sitting on the remarkable Exodus album for a while now. We had originally planned for this to be a standard Lost Tones post, but recent events have forced the issue and turned this into an impromptu memorial to the late Byard Lancaster.

Lancaster made his mark playing with Sun Ra and McCoy Tyner, along with such free jazz luminaries as Bill Dixon, Sunny Murray, and Marzette Watts. He was a longtime staple of the Philadelphia jazz scene, forming Sounds of Liberation with Khan Jamal. The influences of Albert Ayler and especially John Coltrane loomed large on his saxophone playing, but he also had a passion for funk, soul, and straight ahead jazz. His personal motto and business card imprint: “From a Love Supreme to the Sex Machine.”

Recorded at the first annual WXPN Jazz Awards concert in Philly in 1977, Exodus is a brilliant showcase for Byard Lancaster’s soulful and keening tone, his skill as a bandleader, and his adventurous abilities as an arranger and composer. It’s focused, fiery, and frequently playful. The album opens with “Something Children Can Do,” which Lancaster describes as “a piece that should express to everyone that music can be fun. Wood flutes, bells, and things. The essence is of the spirit. Join in and produce music. Hum along if you care to.”

The blazing cover of John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.” sees Lancaster and Co. paying tribute to the tradition and putting their own stamp upon a classic tune. Lancaster says: “Respecting the Prophets, Seers, Dreamers, Workers, Warriors, and Poets that have gone before us.” The album closes with “Philly Jazz,” an homage to the city and namesake of the record label, and “brings into the open a World Renaissance in Jazz Music. The sound, pitch, and warmth shall increase daily.” The piece begins as a solo sax recital, but then Parnell and Smith sift into the mix and build the tune to a remarkably intense crescendo. You might hear echoes of Albert Ayler, but the execution is pure Byard.


Audio of interviews with Byard Lancaster

> Clifford Allen’s wonderful profile at All About Jazz

> WFMU’s Give the Drummer Some show from August 24th with a great hour devoted to Byard Lancaster

> This is just nuts (re Lancaster’s arrests and subsequent lawsuits against the city)

> A good obit, at Philly.com

> Byard Lancaster’s 1968 album It’s Not Up To Us was reissued a number of years back, remains for sale via MP3, and is highly recommended

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LOST TONES 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 them from his amazing archive so they can be enjoyed by more than just collectors. Each selection is something that we unequivocally love and feel deserves a wider audience. More of these will be coming soon. 

Category Byard Lancaster, Lost Tones, tributes