TIP OF THE TONGUE 05 AUGUST 2007
Norman Howard & Joe Phillips
Burn Baby Burn
OUT OF STOCK!
Back when The Wire ran a cover story based around unreleased purely-outside albums that still demanded to see the light of day, I chose Norman Howard's 1968 recording Burn Baby Burn/Signals as the single most important fire music album ever suppressed by The Man. Recorded in the wake of the Cleveland riots by one-time Ayler sideman trumpeter Norman Howard (who appeared on Ayler's Witches And Devils album, where he also penned the title track) it was deemed too primitive by Stollman and co at the time and remained on the shelf up until it briefly re-surfaced across two very limited cassettes issued by Scottish free jazz collector/booster Roy Morris via his Homeboy label in the 1980s, a label that was briefly distributed by bassist William Parker's similarly short-lived Stork Music. The last I heard was that the tapes had been purchased from Morris by Henry Rollins with a view to releasing them on his 2-13-61 label. Then out of nowhere comes this, an official reissue of part of the sessions on the label it was intended for in the first place. In the meantime both trumpeter Howard and saxophonist Joe Phillips (accompanied here by bassist Walter Cliff and drummer Corney Millsap) have reportedly converted to Islam and have had no further involvement with music, aside from Phillips' final appearance under the name Yusef Mumin as part of Abdul Wadud's Unity Trio in 1974 on Hat Hut. The music is classic post-Ayler fire music, albeit given a primitive lo-fi punk edge that feels extremely prescient. Indeed, it seems to point more towards the kind of reconciliation of avant and untutored improvised modes currently favoured by a host of sub-underground free jazz/noise operatives than anything that was happening at the time, signposting the way free jazz could have devolved if the lessons of Ayler et al circa 65 hadda been fully osmosed. Phillips and Howard play slow unison lines that have a broken, gospel feel that is extremely melancholic and the whole side has an ultra-DIY atmosphere, with a great, monosyllabic/cardboard drum sound over which rapid fire sax and trumpets launch triumphal melodies that work tongues of righteous anger into some beautiful melodic phrases as iconoclastic as the source material used by Ayler and Frank Wright. Howard's playing has a stubby, bluesy feel that's somewhere between Donald Ayler and Barbara Donald while the bass gets into some vocalised, weeping vectors that are extremely beautiful. If the whole culturally-accelerated feel of the late 60s post-ESP loft/tenement free jazz scene has ever struck a match in your heart then this is nothing short of necessary and outside of a DVD with alla the wiped BBC footage from the Ayler Orchestra's 1966 European tour it stands as the major unreleased document of late-60s energy music. Highest possible recommendation.