Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: Freedom Rhythm & Sound

I picked up a wonderful new jazz coffee-table book. "Freedom Rhythm & Sound: Revolutionary Jazz Original Cover Art 1965-83," compiled by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker; published by Soul Jazz Records UK's publishing arm, SJR Publishing. It's available also at Dustygroove. Gilles Peterson of course is the English crate-digging jazz dance dj who spearheaded the acid jazz movement and who today specializes in finding stellar and fresh sounding material in the stacks of lost LPs from small independent spiritual jazz labels in America and Europe. Issued with a companion 2-cd set of super rare tracks, "Freedom Rhythm & Sound" shows the covers, including some back covers, of hundreds of rare LPs. Covering the labels treasured by spiritual jazz fans like Strata-East and Tribe records, it goes even deeper covering super-rare records from labels that released LPs in editions as small as a few hundred. An introductory essay puts "spiritual jazz" and small independent record labels in context, discussing the civil rights movement in the United States and the growing political and cultural black nationalist movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s that became fertile ground for challenging, innovative, spiritually- and socially-conscious jazz. Interspersed with the glorious artwork, much of it reproduced close to full size, are shorter essays about some of the musicians and music labels.

For a graphic designer like me this book is a treat. Most of the LPs shown here had a low-budget, DIY quality, and are incredibly evocative of the times they bore witness to. They're strikingly direct statements of the artists' intents, free of marketing department perversion. In this day of digital downloads and miniature CD-sized booklets it's a treat to see how impactful these original album designs were in a larger size.

As a music lover, especially one who has already discussed my love of a good freaky album cover, this glossy book is like a candy store catalogue. Gilles Peterson has excellent taste in music and many of the artists I know and love are featured repeatedly herein. I have to say I would be writing a different review of this book a couple years ago: once upon a time most of the rarities shown here were known only to dedicated collectors willing to fork out hundred of dollars for these rare slabs of vinyl issued in such small quantities; assuming they could be found at all. Now, a few years into digital music sharing blogs--the ones run by music lovers and collectors sharing out-of-print music, not the pirates trying to make a buck at the expense of music labels--I'm amazed at how many of these rare albums I've been able to hear. Labels like Soul Jazz Records in the UK who put out this book or P-Vine in Japan are also reissuing many of these recordings on CD or even on new vinyl; if global CD sales are down in the mass market, real music fanatics continue to buy quality stuff that has stood the test of time.

This volume has a bit of a hefty price tag -- it is a coffee table book after all -- but it really communicates the music's aesthetic. Recommended!

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