September 6, 2017

Henderson and Bartz, Spiritualizing the ‘70s


By Armand Lewis

In the late 1960s, jazz was in a severe slump and was beginning to re-define itself in a search for a more youthful audience. While some players like Miles Davis embraced a fusion of jazz, electronics and rock, others took a free jazz/spiritual approach or incorporated soul and world music rhythms and motifs into their sounds. This shift would sweep up most of the established modern jazz masters as well as the younger generation of jazz musicians coming up at the time.

Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson was not immune to this shift. A player with an instantly recognizable sound, Henderson was a regular on Blue Note in the 1960s — appearing on classic LPs such as Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, Grant Green’s Idle Moments and Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder as well as his own LPs including Page One and Mode for Joe. By the late 1960s, Henderson had switched to the Milestone label, where he would record a string of albums for the next eight years.

As part of their ongoing Jazz Dispensary series reissuing rare soul-jazz classics from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Concord Music Group has reissued on vinyl Joe Henderson’s soul jazz/spiritual LP The Elements which features his only recorded encounter with pianist/composer Alice Coltrane.

Consisting of four extended pieces, the LP presents Eastern influenced musical descriptions of “Fire,” “Air,” “Water” and “Earth” featuring Henderson and Coltrane along with violinist Michael White, bassist Charlie Haden, percussionist Kenneth Nash, drummer Ndugu Chancelor, and Baba Duru
Oshun on tablas.


Actually extended improvisations on individual musical themes, the four tracks on the album constitute a suite built around what could be termed early environmentalism with the strongly Indian influenced “Water” and the post-bop blues based “Earth” being the stand-out tracks.

Also making it’s return to vinyl is saxophonist Gary Bartz’ LP Harlem Bush Music – Uhuru (also on Jazz Dispensary/Milestone), which leans heavily in the direction of 1970s soul music. Featuring vocalist Andy Bey, the LP presents a portrait of African-American life and aspirations at the dawn of the ‘70s. Rounding out the group in this second LP of Harlem Bush Music is Juini Booth and Ron Carter on bass, Harold White on drums, and Nat Bettis on percussion.

Befitting the times in which the album was made, there is an anti-Vietnam war song (“Vietcong”) as well as stories of Black consciousness — notably “Blues (A Folk Tale)” and “Celestial Blues”, which have the sound and feel of Horace Silver’s spiritual LPs that were being made for Blue Note at the time. Not surprising, since lyricist/vocalist Bey was doing double duty — writing and singing on both Bartz’ and Silver’s LPs during that period.

The mixing of jazz with Black Power consciousness and protest music would turn out to be rather short-lived. By the mid-1970s, most jazz artists would embrace the smooth, FM friendly approach exemplified by Creed Taylors’ CTI label on the one hand and the emerging disco craze on the other. As such, The Elements and Harlem Bush Music – Uhuru represent something of a time capsule of a very specific moment as the 1960s gave way to the ‘70s.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare jazz LPs. He can be reached at


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