Interstellar Overdrive

Larry Young
Lawrence of Newark
Perception : 1973
CD Universe / iTunes

LY, organ, bongos, vocals; Pharoah Sanders [credited as ‘Mystery Guest’], saxophones and vocals; James Blood Ulmer, guitar; Charles Magee, electric trumpet; Dennis Mourouse, sax and electric sax; Cedric Lawson, electric piano; Deirdre Johnson, cello; Juni Booth, bass; Don Pate, bass; Art Gore, drums and electric piano; Abdul Shahid, drums; Jamma Santos, tom tom, cowbell, conga, whistle, tambourine, hi-hat; Howard T. King, drums; James Flores, drums; Stacey Edwards, conga; Umar Abdul Muizz, congas, Armen Halburian, congas, bells, percussion.

Meet Ze Monsta: For those who aren’t familiar with the stupefyingly great “Khalid of Space, Part Two,” prepare to be awestruck. It’s a roiling slab of cosmic funk that pushes into the free jazz stratosphere. A heady mix of Terry Riley’s elastic drones, Sun Ra’s mental tones, and James Brown’s sense of groove – interlaced with some serious psych rock textures. It’s a monster. One of the defining kozmigroov tracks. For those who already know, spin it again. Then tell your friends to check it out.

Not So Fast with the Underrated: While “Khalid” is the clear highlight of Lawrence of Newark, the entire album is killer. It’s status has slowly grown over the years, partly thanks to being featured in The Wire’s influential 1998 list of “100 Records that Set the World On Fire (While No One Was Listening).”

A Little Backstory: Those who know Larry Young primarily from his elegant post-bop Unity joint may wonder how the hell he ended up in the day-glo nebula of outer space. Here’s Edwin Pouncey’s astute appraisal from that Wire issue:

Jazz hepsters may have deeply dug Larry Young’s numerous vibrant Hammond organ workouts for Prestige and Blue Note, but those who longed to hear him stretch out that massive sound of his more imaginatively on record would have to wait until the early 70s. Young’s new found freedom, which took off on John McLaughlin’s Devotion and the records he made with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, soared on Lawrence of Newark, where his playing entered another creative dimension. The beating heart of the record is “Khalid Of Space Part Two” — 12 minutes of Sun Ra-inspired cosmo jam that pushes Young and his ‘Arkestra’ toppling over the edge of free jazz freakout to tear a mind-bending solo from the primal fretboard of James Blood Ulmer.

Landscape as Metaphor: The album cover sports Young decked out as a sheik. Beside the obvious Lawrence of Arabia theme, there’s also the subtle insinuation of Newark as a giant desert, a lawless terrain still to be properly mapped. After the riots of the late 60s, this wasn’t an untenable metaphor for the city. The theme also makes this something of a sister record to McCoy Tyner’s great Sahara from the previous year. Instead of the titular desert, that album cover features a rubble yard in the middle of a city.

Afro-Futurism: Then there’s the space theme of the album and the music’s clear cosmic yearnings. The conception owes a debt to Sun Ra, but Young puts his own particular stamp on the proceedings. It reminds us that there isn’t nearly enough African and African-American science fiction. “Khalid” suggests a freaky narrative you might find germinating inside Greg Tate’s long promised sci-fi novel.

Even Nick Cave Digs This Shit: In a recent interview about his Grinderman project, Nick the Knife talks up the influence: “We were doing Nocturama and it was plodding along in this gentle way and then someone downloaded Lawrence of Newark and cranked that up in the studio and it was like, fucking hell. You know, ‘Khalid of Space.’ That’s extraordinary, that piece of music. It basically changed that record. We had a long piece that was trembling on the edge of being used for Grinderman but it sounded so much like ‘Khalid’ we just couldn’t use it.”

The Fabulous Sequel: Sadly, part one of “Khalid in Space” remains missing. But this is one case where it’s hard to imagine that the original could touch the sequel.

Mysterioso: We assume Pharoah Sanders wasn’t officially listed on the album for contractual reasons. Anyone know for sure?

Sun Ra Sez: “All my musicians are drummers.” One of the silent mantras of this album.

Category Larry Young

22 Responses to Interstellar Overdrive

  1. kinda hate to agree with nic cave, but this is amazing! thanks for posting.

    were any of young’s other 70s solo joints as good as this one? thought he went all straight funky, but maybe i’m thinkin someone else??

  2. Brothers, this one’s a mother. I’ve been hitting people over the heads with this since I got it five years ago. His other records under his own name from the 70s, Fuel and Spaceball do not achieve the same high heights as Lawrence, but what could?

    As far as Sanders goes, I could imagine his Impulse deal precluding him appearing elsewhere, but I am just speculating….allmusic credits Sanders on Lawrence of Newark, but in the review, Thom Jurek speculates Sonny Fortune is the mystery guest, and doesn’t mention Sanders. I feel pretty good about mystery guest = Pharoah, but I’ve been wrong before.

  3. Yeah I noticed that too. Undoubtedly DO said Saunders for a reason, but anyway it sure sounds more like him than Fortune to me.

  4. Wow, I’ve no idea where Thom Jurek is coming up with Sonny Fortune. I question whether there were any reedsmen in this era who were more idiosyncratic than Pharoah.

    Much respect to D:O for the reference to Tyner’s Sahara. I’d never considered that angle for Lawrence.

    Cherise, you may wish check the Love Cry Want CD on (prolly out of print, given the now unrelated website address.) A live trio set recorded just prior to Lawrence and the two are similarly aligned. I can also assure you that it’s far less funky and far more fiery than his Fuel project.

    Young also did Double Exposure [Muse, 1978], a duet album with Joe Chambers. Pleasant enough, though not nearly as somatic as his work from five years earlier.

  5. hey doug – thanks for that recommend . never heard of love cry want but i’m on the search for it now! sounds amazing.

    and nick thanks for details on fuel and spaceball (mel brooks link? or just terrible title?). even though i got nothing against the funk, i truly dig the larry young that rips the top of my head off.

    i think tom jurek must have been listening while he vacuumed to come up with sonny fortune for this track. no disrespect to either of them, of course.

  6. The only place I’ve ever seen copies of Love Cry Want is at Downtown Music Gallery. I have one, and yeah, it kills.

    Lawrence Of Newark is in print, btw – it was reissued on Sanctuary a couple of years ago (though Sanctuary’s US operations are about to cease, so move fast). I don’t remember whether you guys have an out-of-print-only policy, but I thought I’d mention it in case some folks wanna hear the rest of the record.

  7. More of a strong out-of-print tendency than firm policy, I guess, but we will include links to buy whenever something is reasonably available, and try to get permission on in-print items whenever feasible.

    Btw, thanks for coming around, pdf.

  8. …and, also, I’d like to take this opportunity to plug yet another L.A. musician: Joshua Spiegelman, a very passionate Pharoah stylist, who plays with Dwight Trible, when Dwight isn’t singing with Pharoah.

    BTW, about that Don Bolles link on the right (of interest to me, anyway): I posted it in comments at Alice Bag’s blog, and it turns out that the soap company is paying his legal fees. More at Punk News.

  9. I got hold of a copy of Love Cry Want a few years ago and thought it sounded rather dated — hence my failure to rush out and buy Lawrence of Newark (easily available over here) from around the same early 70s period.

    I am very grateful to you for the opportunity to check out the music and decide whether I really do want to own a copy of this one. At the moment I am not convinced — the track starts out brilliantly but gets pretty boring towards the end after a few listens. I think of this as Bitches Brew syndrome, which opened the doors to hours of overlong ‘stuck in the groove’ tracks…

    The Larry Young CDs that really hit the spot for me are ‘Of Love and Peace’ and ‘Mother Ship’, both from the 1960s Blue Note period when he was starting to move from tne mainstream towards the edges. Great stuff.

  10. Hi- A friend recently lent me Love Cry Want and I love listening to Young’s playing on there. It’s recorded live in front of the Whitehouse, isn’t it?

    John in England: Just curious if you include Bitches Brew in its own syndrome? (don’t want to get Lee started, but I’m interested).


  11. Peter B: re. Bitches Brew, I do include it as far as the studio sessions go (far too much tape and not enough editing…). BBC Radio broadcast a Jazz on 3 special during their last Miles Davis celebration featuring an archive recording of a splendid live gig in Rotterdam at which the Bitches Brew music sounded so much more focused than it did in the studio.

  12. Re that Rotterdam concert from Nov 1969, there’s another from a few days before available here:
    Just scroll down for Miles Davis 1969-11-05.

  13. well, it ain’t sun ra but it’s definitely hip :)

    man there were a lot of cats back then trying to sound like miles. this is for sure one of the better ones i’ve heard. i have mixed feelings about what little larry young i’ve heard – i love unity with elvin and woody shaw & joe henderson, but into somethin’ (which i really bought cos of sam rivers) is well below my tolerance limit for cheese: and that’s one of the albums often fondly recalled by young’s fans. i have heard a few other things (radio 3 did a jazz legends on him last year) but nothing as way out as this (although the sessions with jimi are kinda going for the same effect). john’s right that it does go on a bit – like i say it ain’t sun ra and larry’s funk licks don’t always quite take me there – but it’s still a pretty arresting recording. some of the mixing is almost worthy of sun ra and the keyboards, for a brief moment, do sound a little like him too.

    ps any gig by that miles lost quintet has to be worth hearing i reckon – yet to hear a duff one. some of them are ferocious, and even those which are (relatively) meditative are very exploratory. amazing band.

    ps i heard first utterance by comus today for the first time. you guys will doubtless want to raise a glass to the sound of such a cherry being popped ;-)

  14. ah yes, and thanks for the tip about the wire 100 list. interesting…

  15. Nice post. I’ve always loved this album and have been searching for the Larry Young/Hendrix recordings. Anybody got any ideas where to find them?

  16. Re: endless “stuck in the groove” jams…The expanse of the music lends it a part of its charm for me. There’s a sort of roiling vastness and impressionistic aimlessness to it that I’ve always enjoyed. The soft focus, non-goal-oriented nature of it. The so-called Lost Quintet is killer, but the songbook approach and the forced transitions from tune to tune are surprisingly staid, given what was to come. It’s interesting to hear Bitches Brew still “blamed” for what lesser lights did afterwards.


  17. Centrifuge: I agree that some earlier stuff like Into Somethin’ (from 1961) is pretty underwhelming. Last year’s Jazz Legends programme was one of their not very good second takes on an artist they had covered once before (JL was dropped a few months later because it had run out of steam). JL’s first profile of Larry Young was much more interesting and included material from Of Love and Peace (out of print at the time) which made me eager to buy that one when it resurfaced on CD in 2004. Meanwhile in 2003 Blue Note had reissued Mother Ship (recorded in 1969) which I bought after listening to the first few notes of it in a record shop.

    Does anyone else out there know these two albums and enjoy them as mucb as I do?

    Peter B: following on from the above, I have no problem at all with very long tracks or relaxing into a groove (track times are up to 12.51 on Mother Ship and 14.11 on Of Love and Peace), but I think the wider debate about focus and orientation (or lack of same) opens up all sorts of questions about minimalism and ambient music that I have no wish to get into here. I don’t ‘blame’ Bitches Brew for anything, just thought it was a convenient allusion to throw in since Larry Young had been involved in the studio sessions (and maybe, just maybe, that experience had helped to whet his appetite for sticking in aimless grooves). I feel that I earned my right to have an occasional moan about Bitches Brew after buying it second time around on CD to check whether I had misjudged the original LPs.

  18. Correction, 1964 for Into Somethin’, of course…. I just noticed my Spanish-origin CD has got the date wrong on the back insert.

  19. Thanks, Nona. Excellent tip; all Young fans: go to!

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