Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Booker T. - Go Tell It on the Mountain (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"The obsessive soul-searching that prods his work suggests affinities with John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. But unlike too many of the tenor saxophonists who have caught Coltrane and Ayler's fervor, Booker T. has an earthy sense of humor. This is a fascinating records that shouldn't be overlooked." 
Francis Davis, Philadelphia Enquirer, May 11, 1989

I remember thinking how wonderful it must be to be so expressive – not merely to string sounds together and then lend them to the evanescence of the top forty, but to make music – art, born of talent and determination and fuelled by a compulsion to share it. Booker T. is blessed with that gift. 

At first, I thought that Booker T. might be just another jazz musician skilled with his instrument and versed in the accomplishments of say... John Coltrane. So, in July of nineteen-seventy-five, my acceptance of an invitation to hear him play was half-hearted at best. Was I ever in for a surprise! It wasn't just his ease with complex material. Nor was it his effortless coaxing of spirited notes from that tenor saxophone. It was the exhilaration that you experienced. At once frenzied and riveting, you went away thinking that this music needs to be heard. Indeed, you felt privileged that you had heard it. 

Thereafter, I made it a point to hear Booker T. play whenever I could. I quickly learned that the label "jazz" was too narrow for his music. There was always an infusion of other types of music – popular, folk, classical, and most notably gospel. I can still hear his haunting and beautiful Go Tell It on the Mountain. 

Of all the years that I have known Booker T., he has never waivered on three points – his commitment to the family, his need to play and compose music, and his belief in God. These three ideas somehow come together and nourish each other. This album is dedicated to his father, a brother, and his grandmother, all now deceased. And when asked of his inspiration for most of the material on this album, he replied: "This music has been in me for years; it's through the grace of God that I can now put it on this album". In fact, he says that he is drawn even more closely to his mother after the tragedies of the past couple of years and has even composed music born of this resurgence.

If it is true that genuine interest in a particular subject generates boundless energy, then Booker T.'s music is without limits. He would say that his religion is the fulcrum and the music is merely a satellite, an orbit to accentuate the main force. Only he would really know, but consider this: on one visit to New York, as friends are inclined to do, I called Booker T. to meet for lunch and to catch up with what had been going on in our lives. We went to a restaurant just off Sixth Avenue and wound up talking from 2:30 pm until 8:00 pm. All those hours we talked about the saxophone, about music, and how this musician from Seattle was faring in The Apple

Another time, he called me at 2:00 am insisting that I listen to a new musical idea he had forged for himself. Next morning the telephone receiver was on the floor; I had fallen asleep. Embarrassed, I mustered what I hoped was a believable apology I don't think it mattered however. He'd played that night because he couldn't contain the energy, moved to share this wonderful gift of music.

His music, this gift, will inspire you. It's at once bold and incisive, spirited and alarming. Booker T. is daring enough to bring together in his own compositions things that are usually kept separate – jazz and religious music. It makes for a spritely, fun sound. The listener will be moved by the intensity, range and absolute beauty of the entire delivery.

But caution: do nut trust the titles, expect a surprise!! As music brings the warmth and light of beauty into our lives, this recording will warm our hearts and spirits. Through this light, perhaps we will see a little more of ourselves. Possibly, we will come to understand a bit more of each other. Either way, it is a wonderful gift. BookerT. is a colossal talent!

Gregg Gordon

1. Go Tell It on the Mountain 17:35
2. When Mama Cries I Cry 09:57
3. Hussen Kalie Mazeltov 12:29
4. Jesus Loves Me 07:43
5. What a Friend We Have in Jesus 05:40
6. St. Thomas 07:17

Booker T. tenor sax, alto sax
Saheb Sarbib bass
Andrew Cyrille drums