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Larry Young rediscovered

Larry Young 4When a friend asked me this week to name the most memorable gig I’ve ever attended, I could answer him in a heartbeat: the Tony Williams Lifetime at the Marquee on October 6, 1970. Nothing has ever felt more like the future exploding in the audience’s ears.

The organist Larry Young was a part of that band, along with John McLaughlin on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass guitar and Williams on drums. Earlier in the year I’d heard them at Ungano’s, a New York club, without Bruce but with Miles Davis leaning against the bar in a tan suede patchwork suit, listening intently, his silver Lamborghini Miura parked at the kerb outside on West 70th Street.

In such places, i.e. clubs with a capacity of around 200, Lifetime were mercilessly volcanic. And Young, the least-known member of the band, was a vital component of a sound that surged and howled and crashed off the walls.

This was no real surprise to those who’d heard his run of Blue Note albums, which started in 1965 with the release of Into Somethin’, on which he was joined by Sam Rivers (tenor), Grant Green (guitar) and Elvin Jones (drums). It’s one of those great recordings, like Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond, Grachan Moncur III’s Some Other Stuff, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure and Sam Rivers’ Fuchsia Swing Song, with which the label made a bridge between hard bop and the avant-garde, creating an inside-outside music that satisfied all kinds of demands.

Young came up in R&B bands, and it might have been expected that he would simply follow the example of Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, John Patton, Freddie Roach, Baby Face Willette and all the other Hammond exponents whose playing was strongly influenced by the organ’s traditional role in gospel music. Young’s playing was soulful, certainly, but he steered absolutely clear of cliché. His chosen tone was rounder and softer than that preferred by most of his peers, although it lacked nothing in attack; his nimbleness around the B3 keyboard was unexampled, enabling him to absorb the influence of the new music, and he could more than hold his own alongside McLaughlin and Williams at their most ferocious (listen to “Spectrum” from the first Lifetime album, Emergency!, which is much better than its reputation might suggest, and where, before Bruce’s arrival, he is still using his pedals to supply the bass line).

Miles Davis had included him in the Bitches Brew sessions in 1969, and he had jammed with Hendrix the same year (a track released on Nine to the Universe) shortly before joining Williams’s project. I last saw him in a revamped version of Lifetime at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1971, with Ted Dunbar on guitar and Juni Booth on bass: a much less overwhelming proposition.

By that time he had renamed himself Khalid Yasin. He died in 1978, in slightly mysterious circumstances. Complaining of stomach pains, he checked himself into a hospital, but died there, apparently of untreated pneumonia. He was 37 years old and had just signed a contract with Warner Brothers.

Any new evidence of his talent, then, is to be welcomed, and the 2-CD set titled Larry Young in Paris is a real gift. Recorded in sessions for the ORTF radio network in 1965, the majority of the tracks at the station’s studios but others at the Locomotive night club, it presents him in generally favourable circumstances, with sidemen including the trumpeter Woody Shaw, the tenorist Nathan Davis and the drummers Billy Brooks and Franco Manzecchi.

The music is hard-swinging post-bop spiced with a strong Coltrane influence, signalled by the titles of two compositions: Davis’s “Trane of Thought” and Young’s “Talkin’ About J.C.” (which he had recorded the previous year on Grant Green’s Talkin’ About). More conventional than anything Lifetime attempted, these 105 minutes of music nevertheless offer an extended view of his brilliant melodic imagination and the great sense of swing evident in his comping for the other soloists. Wayne Shorter’s “Black Nile” and Shaw’s “Zoltan” (which also appeared in a studio version on Young’s Unity) are among the tracks that inspire burning solos from Shaw and Davis. You can hear the music’s gathering sense of adventure starting to strain the seams of the players’ Italian suits.

Issued by Resonance Records with a well edited booklet featuring a great deal of valuable material from the sons of Young and Shaw, plus interviews with Dr Lonnie Smith and Bill Laswell, some background on the Paris scene, and photography by Francis Wolff and Jean-Pierre Leloir, this is a really wonderful discovery.

* The photograph of Larry Young was taken outside the ORTF studios by Francis Wolff.

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bill White #

    Tony Williams was at great pains to point out, post Lifetime(1), how important Larry Young was to that band and incidentally, those four great Blue Note recordings you mentioned (& you could have added Dolphy’s Out To Lunch) all featured the far sighted teenage drummer.

    February 2, 2016
    • Yes indeed. And I could have added Hancock’s Empyrean Isles, Moncur’s Evolution, and Tony’s own wonderful Life Time and Spring.

      February 2, 2016
  2. I too saw the Lifetime in Ungano’s, and before that in Slugs in the Far East on E. 3rd Street in New York (without Bruce). My previous listening exposure to McLaughlin was on Miles’ in A Silent Way, in which, as I recall, his contribution was relatively sedate. After hearing him in Slugs I needed a crane to lift my jaw off the floor.

    February 2, 2016
  3. John Kieffer #

    Larry was definitely a one off. The last few weeks I’ve been revisiting his run of Blue Note records, so this release sounds essential. And with Nathan Davis and Woody Shaw too. You mentioned Blll Laswell in your post and it seems crazy that his excellent ‘redux’ of Lifetime’s Turn It Over has never been officially released. Wonderful stuff as ever Richard. Thank you.

    February 2, 2016
    • Thanks. I’ve never heard the Laswell remix, which he discusses in the booklet. I must try to find it.

      February 2, 2016
      • John Kieffer #

        I was working in New York for a few months in the mid 00’s and for a while there copies of the Laswell Turn It Over remix CD around. It looked very much like an official release with a cover by Russell Mills and liner notes by John Szwed. And then it just disappeared! Unfortunately I never managed to snag one. What I do remember is it was that the remix was less radical than the Miles Panthalassa, Santana Divine Light or Bob Marley records. It sounded fantastic however – particularly Larry and that no longer teenage but still remarkable drummer.

        February 3, 2016
  4. Mick Steels #

    Same time he was in Lifetime Young recorded the fascinating “Mothership” session, with the neglected Herbert Morgan playing with the broad toned intensity reminiscent of Booker Ervin,the ever attentive Eddie Gladden on drums, some explorative Lee Morgan, and, of course, the ever questing Young this was something of a neglected masterpiece

    February 2, 2016
  5. Jeffery Gifford #

    Tony Williams Lifetime with Jack Bruce at the Marquee on October 6, 1970. Sounds like a dream come true. And then Miles at the bar at Ungano’s in NYC. Wow! Nice catch on both occasions.

    February 3, 2016
  6. Funny you should say that, Richard. I saw this Lifetime line-up on what must have been the same UK tour, at the Royal Court. They were, indeed, phenomenal. I remember bouncing off the sheer joy the musicians were exuding – they were clearly loving every minute. Bizarrely Lifetime’s support at the RC was Atomic Rooster – but in an era when Peter Maxwell Davies would pop up at the Roundhouse in front of 1,000 very stoned hairies, I guess anything was possible. Thanks for the post and the memories.

    February 3, 2016
  7. Tim Hinkley #

    Hi Richard, I disovered Larry Young on his Blue Note album “Of Love And Peace”. I had been listening to the great B3 players, McDuff, McGriff, Freddie Roach, Big John Patton and the Master, Jimmy Smith but Larry Young was taking the organ in a different direction. I had been listening to the post bebop music by Coltrane, Dolphy, Waldron (The Quest) and was looking for a player being more adventurous playing of the mighty Hammond organ. I went to see Tony Williams Lifetime play at The Country club on Haverstock Hill, Hampstead. Towards the middle of their set Jack Bruce’s bass amp broke down and Larry took over playing the bass parts on the B3. Now I love Jack’s playing but when he stopped It started to take off…McLaughlin and WIlliams let loose and flew into the stratosphere. I was completely blown away and it was that experience that influenced me to form Jody Grind, B3, Drums and Guitar. I have reformed Jody Grinds as “Jody Grind 2”. To be launched very soon😉

    February 4, 2016
  8. Jonathan Spencer #

    Slugs? The Marquee? The Royal Court? Hmmph – what about, Bournemouth Winter Gardens, November 1970? Tony Williams like a coiled spring, furiously letting loose for what seemed like an hour without even drawing breath. Astonishing.

    A night to set the tea-cups rattling.

    February 4, 2016
  9. hamertheframer #

    I was inspired to listen to Emergency! driving to work today after reading this, and got caught in a swarm of blue lights of police outriders escorting VIPs to Westminster in emergency vehicles. Spectrum is the best track. Then I realised Jack Bruce was missing. I remembered Jack’s Travelling Band from Escalator Over The Hill (John McLaughlin electric guitar, Carla Bley piano & organ, Jack Bruce electric bass, Paul Motian drums). I’ll listen to that driving to work tomorrow and imagine I’m at the Marquee in 1970.

    February 4, 2016
  10. David M #

    Richard, thanks for reminding me of the Lifetime concert at the Marquee. I was on a course in London from home in the north west and as an 18 year old fan of Cream I turned up at the Marquee primarily for Jack Bruce’s appearance. I was stunned by Lifetime’s performance and it sent me off to listen to Miles and many others. I am always grateful for that night.

    February 5, 2016
  11. A few years ago in Cheltenham I caught Dylan Howe’s Unity Quartet with Tony Kofi, Mike Outram and, in the unenviable Young role, Ross Stanley. The band used the “Unity” album as a jumping off point (opening with “Zoltan”) and kept the spirit alive. Great gig.

    March 8, 2016

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