Larry Young - Unity
Mar 24, 2021
The History of The Albums – n°313

While Jazz in 1966 was dominated by Avant-Garde and Free Jazz when looking back at the best works of the year, only Post-Bop was a strong opponent to these musical styles, simply because it also managed to stand out with its experimentations. At the same time, and this is often the case with jazz, the popular and commercial reality of the time was the complete opposite of today's opinions. However, you should know that it was the popular Herb Alpert and his band the Tijuana Brass that occupied the charts with traditional pop jazz that we listen to today in elevators or in underground parking lots. In short, history has finally given reason to all these Post-Bop and Avant-Garde artists who blessed us during the 60s with absolutely crucial or at least terribly fantastic albums. The example that we are going to study today is also recognized for having brought his stone to the building of the Jazz heritage, I named Larry Young. This native of Newark, organist and composer so important during 2 decades, from 1960 until his death in 1978 is contrary to most of the avant-garde artists of the time, rather attached in the first part of his career to the structures and the development of this one. Although this did not prevent him from improvising, Larry Young is mainly known for the development of his own modal formulas on the organ, with a very expressive, very warm and particularly emotional approach. A leader and creator at heart, Larry Young worked mostly for his own account, even though he also participated in Miles Davis' Bit*** Brew in 1969 or was a member of The Tony Williams Lifetimes for a few years. Although he sadly passed away at the age of 38 due to pneumonia, Larry Young had started with a formula mixing Soul Jazz and Post-Bop before moving on to the lands of Jazz Fusion and Free Jazz in the 70s.

Born in 1940 in New Jersey, Larry Young studied in an art school and started in R&B bands in the 50s. Influenced by Soul Jazz pioneers like Horace Silver, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Smith and Jimmy Forrest, expanding his musical horizons to the modal jazz of George Russel, Bill Evans and Miles Davis, and not forgetting the enormous influence of the avant-garde John Coltrane, it didn't take Larry Young many years to find his own formula and to install his innovations. He first started in 1960 with Testifying, with a fake trio under the New Jazz label, offering a first honorable demonstration, relying on 2 original compositions and accompanied by covers. After a rather timid passage at Prestige, it is finally at Blue Note that Larry Young will finally pass a course when he records Into Somethin' in 1964 and released in 1965, with a beautiful quartet formation composed of Grant Green, Elvin Jones and Sam Rivers. Obviously being accompanied by the producer Alfred Lion with a better disposition greatly facilitated his evolution and his artistic blossoming, however he learned a lot in 1962 and 1964 by participating in Grant Green's groups (although he did not contribute to Idle Moments) or with the Love Shout experience of the legendary singer Etta Jones. Not only that, but the album Into Somethin' also marks the contribution to his Soul Jazz of the Coltranesque Post-Bop.

Unity, his second album for Blue Note, remains his best Post-Bop/Soul Jazz work of his early period before he moved into Jazz Fusion in the late 60s. Recorded in November 1965 and released in 1966, Larry Young accentuated on Unity his musical openness towards Avant-Garde Jazz and Post-Bop which immediately gave more depth and richness to his music. Accompanied by Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Elvin Jones on drums, Larry Young emphasizes on Unity the interpretation and his role of bandleader. Unlike his previous album Into Somethin' where he had composed the majority of the tracks, this one has none. On 6 tracks as formidable as ambitious, half of them are composed by Woodie Shaw, only 1 by Joe Herderson and the rest are re-imagined covers. This choice is crucial because it allows Larry Young to put himself in the best position to contain his band, to offer the best of himself in his interpretation and to let better composers on the moment to propose better schemes. This non-pretentiousness and this purely personal judgement which is not given to everyone is quite simply bluffing. When you go from the more intimate Into Somethin to the sultry Unity, you sometimes have the impression that it is not the same person anymore. Leading the band with his famous Hammond B-3 organ, Larry Young didn't give much direction and opened the door to improvisation, but the coherence and mutual understanding of the quartet was so solid and natural that the result seemed to be entirely written. I love Zoltran, as much in his construction as in his elusive outbursts of improvisation and soloing, which makes it sound so close to free jazz. Yet this is precisely the charm of Unity, it respects this balance between structure and improvisation, while implementing experiments that since Unity are implemented in Jazz. Quite similar, Beyond All Limits is not as great as the Zoltran introduction, because it gives a bit of a rough and tumble impression, but the frantic rhythm and the madness of this one are still quite remarkable. I recommend it to you because it remains a very amusing track as if there was a race between the Gospel and the Jazz. In other shades, the composition If highlights perfectly this fusion of Soul Jazz and Post-Bop through a hectic and intensely emotional ballad. And finally there is this tribute to John Coltrane, called The Moontrane which is a true and sincere "love letter" to the one who influenced the quartet as a whole. On this one Woody Shaw plays the game until the end by imitating Coltrane's techniques, pleasantly successful while playing them with the trumpet. To conclude, Unity is a 60's Jazz reference to own, because not only is it divinely original but it also allowed Larry Young to become one of the most recognized Jazz organist in history

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