As I did deeper and deeper for more records, I’ve shot off over the last few years to spiritual types of music. Whether it’s Folk, Gospel, Spiritual or Free Jazz, I’ve gravitated towards these releases. Maybe I’m maturing as a music person or record collector, but I’m glad I have taken up an interest in such genres. Growing up and getting forced to go to a Baptist church up until high school, I didn’t really have much interest in religion or spirituality. When I realized that I didn’t have to go anymore, I ran as far as I could away from any spirituality or church itself. As young person, that stuff was kind of force fed to me by strangers, and I rebelled and went the other way. As I got older, I checked out a lot of different religions, and I’d like to think in 2013, I am a spiritual person. I believe there is something out there, a combination of a lot of different practices. It’s no wonder that many musicians find God or some sort of enlightenment during their careers. This stuff comes out through their music eventually. This past year I dug up this classic Free Jazz record by Leon Thomas on Flying Dutchman Records: Songs Known and Unknown from 1969. Here’s a shorter version of the 32 minute opus he co-wrote with Pharoah Sanders on the Impulse! release Karma, the song “The Creator Has A Master Plan (Peace)”.
“The voice projection of the lyrics is good and full, and leads to a wordless yodel sounding not unlike an American Indian call–the moaning of spirits known and unknown.” – Will Smith, Jazz and Pop Magazine
Born in 1937 in East St. Louis, Illinois, Thomas studied music at Eastern Tennessee State, concentrating on Jazz and Blues with his talented tenor voice. His voice lent itself to choirs and gigs with Grant Green and Jimmy Forrest early on. Making the move to New York City like so many other Jazz heads in 1958, it was here he linked up with notable players like Count Basie, Roland Kirk and Mary Lou Williams among others. However he gravitated towards players like Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders who were heading back to the Motherland of Africa and putting out authentic African influenced Jazz. His unique “‘soularphone” vocal style, said to be developed when he lost some teeth, combined yodeling and guttural voice styles, closely resembling Native American or pygmy chanting. Thomas said of his style: “My voice is ancient. This person you see before you is controlled by ego, but my voice is egoless.” This record has some classic Flying Dutchman musicians on it. Producer Bob Theile enlisted the help of alto sax player James Spauling, bass player Cecil McBee, Lonnie Liston Smith on piano, Roy Haynes on drums, and Little Rock on tenor sax. Little Rock is an alias for the great Pharoah Sanders, who makes a sweet appearance on this LP. As far as Free Jazz goes, this entire record is the epitome of it, especially when Thomas rips into some yodel out of nowhere. It’s a great combination of free range vocals and music, and a far cry from a record like Horace Silver’s Silver ‘N Voices, where Silver tried to add some voice to his prolific Blue Note output in the 70’s. Thomas perfected this vocal style that he became famous for. He lent his style from Jazz to Rock as well, playing with Santana for a few years as well. On a whole, this record, Songs Known and Unknown is not for Jazz beginners, I’m sorry to say. It’s deep, spiritual, free, and all over the place…in a good way. This was a great dig, and a great record for all of you that may have been disappointed about certain events, are searching for something out there, or just want to plain get spiritual by yourself. The great Leon Thomas died in 1999 from heart failure as a result of leukemia. Gone is the physical man, but here to stay is the spiritual voice to guide whoever wants to listen.
Download it here.