August 17, 2017

Prince Lasha & Sonny Simmons - Firebirds (1967)

Firebirds was recorded in 1967, but not released until 1968 or 1969 (I've seen both years listed). It's worth mentioning that this is not the only album released by these guys. Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons put out an album called The Cry in 1962, but even after years of meaning to check it out, I still haven't listened, so I can't speak about that album. Actually, I haven't heard any of Prince Lasha's other works either (other than maybe Dolphy's Iron Man, if he's on that), but that obviously doesn't mean this album is weak--it instead shows that I'm a lazy dumbass for not getting around to his discography.

Prince Lasha and drummer Charles Moffett were high school classmates of Ornette Coleman, so as you'd imagine, this music is pretty similar to that stuff and even more closely related to Eric Dolphy's catalog. The general cadence is almost identical to the shared-personel Iron Man, but Firebirds is even better than that because of a closer focus and better interactions within the band. Lasha and Simmons primarily stick to alto saxophone for this album, but they each also pick up other winds from time to time. Mid-album instrument changes are usually a pet-peeve of mine, but these guys change gears so seamlessly and make the switch-ups worthwhile; almost like it's completely different band members joining in. In the spirit of Ornette Coleman, the band doesn't really work in a traditional melody/solo basis other than when the horns drop out to let each rhythm section instrument have their go at things. Simmons and Lasha set a key and play at the same time; dropping out and joining in whenever they please. I say that, but there's really no telling how calculated all those changes are. I've said that same thing about Cecil Taylor as well, and I should mention that the title track in particular is close to the general mood of his albums Conquistador and Unit Structures. The music, starting with Lasha and Simmons, is loose but clean and easy-going; proving that free jazz doesn't need to be loud and totally abrupt to do justice to the style. Supporting band members Charles Moffett and Bobby Hutcherson are complete game-changers for this album. Hutcherson is a legend and has achieved cult status, so I'm sure most people won't pass up an opportunity to hear one of his obscure albums. Charles Moffett is a legend in my eyes for his work on Ornette Coleman's Live at the Golden Circle, almost single-handedly changing that session from a style-over-substance live date to a truly legendary free jazz date. He goes to work in the same way for Firebirds too, commanding the band with a unique and compelling ride & hi-hat rhythm. Even if you're normally not into crazy free jazz for its usual dissonance, I will still highly recommend this to you because of how it is so wisely tamed and focused.