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FLYING DUTCHMAN

Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes

Visions Of A New World

    Pianist Lonnie Liston Smith began his true professional career with Pharoah Sanders and then moved on to the very electric Miles Davis band before embarking on his own journey -- one that took him deep into the waters of pop music and disco by the late '70s. On Visions of a New World, Smith, accompanied by his working unit the Cosmic Echoes, digs deeper into the soul-jazz vein that he had begun exploring on Expansions and Funk Extraction in 1973 and 1974, respectively. In 1975, Smith was looking for a smoother, more soulful groove than he had displayed previously. Elements of the earlier band are in evidence: Vocalist Donald Smith is still on board, as are Dave Hubbard and Cecil Bridgewater on horns. Reggie Lucas even helps out on guitar in one or two places, and Ray Armando helps the percussion section. Despite these fiery players, the music here is strictly a late-night seduction/meditation groove. Tracks like the opener, "A Chance for Peace," keep the funk in mid-tempo while rounding off the edges, but "Love Beams" sounds exactly like its name. "Colours of the Rainbow" is a duet between Donald and Lonnie on keyboard and vocals, and "Devika" is the first place where the groove exceeds the mood. Latin rhythms, loosely woven horn lines, funky backbeats, and a slinky melody bring the whole thing up a couple of notches. The only other place the album heats up is on the final two tracks: the second part of the title suite -- when Donald Smith stops singing -- and "Summer Nights," when the concentration is on pure movement and sweaty, shimmering late-night funk. 

    Leon Thomas' debut solo recording after his tenure with Pharoah Sanders is a fine one. Teaming with a cast of musicians that includes bassist Cecil McBee, flutist James Spaulding, Roy Haynes, Lonnie Liston Smith, Richard Davis, and Sanders (listed here as "Little Rock"), etc. Thomas' patented yodel is in fine shape here, displayed alongside his singular lyric style and scat singing trademark. The set begins with a shorter, more lyrical version of Thomas' signature tune "The Creator Has a Master Plan," with the lyric riding easy and smooth alongside the yodel, which bubbles up only in the refrains. It's a different story on his own "One," with Davis' piano leading the charge and Spaulding blowing through the center of the track, Thomas alternates scatting and his moaning, yodeling, howling, across the lyrics, through them under them and in spite of them. It's an intense ride and one that sets up the glorious "Echoes." This tune is Thomas at his most spiritual and uplifting, carrying the mysterious drift of his tune entwined with Spaulding's flute and a set of Pan pipes, fluttering in and out of the mix before his wail comes to the fore as a solo. The end of side one reaches into Thomas' past (he sang with everyone from Count Basie to Grant Green and Mary Lou Williams) for a highly original read of Horace Silver's classic "Song for My Father." Thomas imbues the tune with so much emotion, it's a wonder he can keep it under wraps. Side two is more free from in nature with "Damn Nam," a near rant, but one possessed with melodic vision and harmonic invention with this band. There's also the deeply moving "Malcolm's Gone," a co-write between Thomas and Sanders that features the latter's gorgeous blowing, hard and true in the middle of the mix, and a wildly spiritual Eastern vibe coming through in the improvisation. It's the longest track on the record, and one of the most criminally ignored in Thomas' long career. The album closes with Bell and Houston's "Let the Rain Fall on Me." It's a shimmering straight jazz number with a beautiful piano solo by Smith. It sends out a visionary album out on a sweet, soulful note. Ultimately, this is among Thomas' finest moments on vinyl, proving his versatility and accessibility to an audience who, for too long already, had associated him too closely with the avant-garde and free jazz.


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