A white 47 year-old fan of swing music may not have been the most likely proprietor and driving force behind a radical independent jazz label, but that is a fair description of Bob Thiele. As a teenager he hung out at all the latest jazz joints in New York City, letting his studies flounder as he indulged his love of music. He started his own record label and magazine before going on to be a successful A&R man for Coral and Brunswick in the 1950s, working on many pop hits before signing Buddy Holly and Jackie Wilson. It was in the 60s that his reputation became fixed when ABC Records asked him to head up their Impulse jazz label and become the producer of John Coltrane. Out of touch with the latest developments in jazz, working with Coltrane was initially a shock, but the pair developed a friendship and understanding that allowed Coltrane to realise his greatest artistic statements on record.
Coltrane introduced Thiele to many of the rising stars of jazz’s so called new thing or avant-garde. In doing so, the producer was exposed to fresh and exciting players and the politically charged world they inhabited. He signed several of the players, making stars out of Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders. As a consequence, by the time he was ready to launch his Flying Dutchman label an important component would be the radical sounds and voices of black America. Although the early release schedule included straight-ahead and pop jazz, it was the mix of spoken word, black politics and progressive spiritual jazz in its catalogue distinguished Flying Dutchman from other labels, and it’s that aspect on which “Liberation Music” focuses.
We have extracted some words by Angela Davis and H Rap Brown from their Flying Dutchman albums. They were important proponents of black radicalism and are contrasted against the more conciliatory voice of Carl B Stokes, the first black Mayor of a major US city. A further contrast exists with Thiele’s most important discovery, Gil Scott-Heron, whose words are on an entirely different level. Gil is present as lyricist on Stokes’ ‘Paint It Black’, his own ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and as a backing vocalist on ‘Toast To The People’ by Black and Blues, the group he had formed in college. It was thought the group had not been recorded, but a tape has turned up giving us a unique glimpse of them for the first time.
Much of the music is not directly political, but is so outside of the mainstream that it became so. Horace Tapscott, the LA-based pianist, is only now being recognised as the important figure he was, while fellow West Coast-based jazzer Chico Hamilton offers up a coruscating outing. Ornette Coleman is represented by a track from his rare outing recorded at his fabled live performance space in a loft inNew York’s Prince Street. Oliver Nelson and Thiele himself offer up tributes to key black figures of the 1960s. Nelson’s salute to Martin Luther King is lushly orchestrated, while Thiele’s ode to John Coltrane is clearly heartfelt, with the presence of Trane’s drummer Elvin Jones providing added poignancy.
“Liberation Music” isn’t an easy listen but it has a depth of purpose and feeling that makes it worthwhile.
By Dean Rudland