As Black History Month winds down for this year, it seems an appropriate time to revisit an historic session involving musicians from St. Louis' original Black Artists Group of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Recorded in 1971 here in St. Louis, saxophonist Oliver Lake's album Ntu: The Point From Which Creation Begins was issued in 1976 on the Arista Freedom label, which was putting out a lot of avant-garde and "loft" jazz around that time. It's been out of print for years, but fortunately Ntu has been preserved online and can be downloaded, thanks in this case to the (seemingly now dormant) music sharing blog Botched Surgery.
Though delayed in reaching the public, Ntu actually is one of the earliest recordings involving the BAG crew, and shares some personnel and sensibility with another early session, Solidarity Unit, Inc's Red, Black & Green (which recently got a limited edition reissue on vinyl from the small label Eremite Records.)
In addition to Lake on alto sax, soprano sax, flute and "small instruments," Ntu features a number of musicians who were important parts of the Black Artists Group, most of whom went on to have substantial careers. (Interestingly, the LP's title also wound up serving as inspiration for author Benjamin Looker's 2004 history of BAG.)
The personnel on Ntu includes Baikida E.J. Carroll (trumpet, small instruments); Floyd LeFlore (trumpet, small instruments); Joseph Bowie (trombone, small instruments); Richard Martin (guitar); John Hicks (piano); Clovis Bordeaux, Jr., misspelled on the original cover as "Bordeux" (electric piano); Don Officer (electric bass); Charles "Bobo" Shaw (drums); and the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Don Moye (conga).
There are five tracks in all: "Africa," "Tse'lane," "Electric Freedom Colors," "Eriee," and "Zip." As you might expect given the parallel development of BAG and Chicago's AACM, the alternating sparse and dense textures and free-form improvisations of Ntu suggest some kinship with the Art Ensemble, but there also are passing resemblances to Sun Ra's Arkestra, the various "New Thing" recordings by Coltrane, Shepp and others on the Impulse! label, and some of the music Miles Davis was doing around the same time. If you have any interest in this period or style, it's certainly worth hearing for both aesthetic and historic reasons.
To download a free copy of Oliver Lake's Ntu: The Point From Which Creation Begins, go here, scroll down about a third of the way through the post until you see the text "Ntu: The Point From Which The Creation of Botched Surgery Begins," which links to a Rapidshare page containing the actual download.
The StLJN Audio Archive links only to recordings that are out-of-print or that never have been commercially available. The purpose of the Audio Archive is to encourage discussion, appreciation and knowledge of St. Louis jazz artists, and we urge you to support them (or their estates) by purchasing authorized recordings and merchandise and, whenever possible, attending live performances.