Friday, January 28, 2005

Praise the Lord! It's Mary Lou And Her Tree Of Jazz

Mary Lou Williams - Praise The Lord

In 1954, Mary Lou Williams finished a concert in Paris, put down the lid of her piano and, overwhelmed by a sense of evil all around her, quit music for the foreseeable future, devoting her energies to praying for the souls of those she felt were in danger. Over the next decade she did play in concert occasionally, but it wasn't until 1964 and the release of her LP "Mary Lou Williams Presents Saint Martin de Porres" that she finally felt she had successfully combined her spirituality with jazz in a meaningful way, an anathema to the belief of others that jazz was "the devil's music".

Now all this talk of saints, devils and lost souls is all very well, but what it doesn't prepare you for is how much "MLWPSMDP" rocks! The track posted here, "Praise the Lord" is a totally unique, awe-inspiring, and downright funky invocation of the Holy Ghost (with Budd Johnson on sax). The liner notes for the recent CD release of the album (on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and re-titled "Black Christ of the Andes", it's only a little easier to ask for in HMV) describe it as a "stirring, yet gentle hymn", but it doesn't sound too gentle to these ears: what I hear is the earth tearing itself apart, the dead rising up to dance around in their bones and, yes, the sky falling in, as vocalist Jimmy Mitchell and the George Gordon Singers call upon "you sea monsters, mountains, wild animals, creeping things and YOU WINGED FOWL!" to clap their hands and praise the lord! Meanwhile, all around, the most foot-stomping hybrid of gospel, blues, jazz and unimaginable funk is unleashed into your ears, instantly bypassing your brain and pulsing its way through every inch of your limbs, making it impossible not to dance. You'll be tapping your foot from the very start, but once the chorus picks up with an almighty "Ohhhh Yeeeaaah! Everybody clap your hands!", you'll be up joyously praising anything just as long as the beat goes on. I sometimes DJ this track with my coveted vinyl copy and it never fails to get people shaking their asses. Never. (By the way, its worth noting that it is a sin to listen to this quietly.)

The rest of the LP is equally bizarre, wonderful and terrifying, spanning a range of music way beyond any classification. Listen out especially for the equally danceable "Anima Christi" (as titles go, its not quite "Jumpin Jack Flash", but, damn, just listen to it!), Brothers Grimm style child-frightner "The Devil" and the midnight-beautiful rendition of "It Ain't Necessarily So".

I'll leave you to figure out Mary Lou's "tree of jazz" for yourself, but beware of the snapped-off, rotten branches on the left which have grown from the very roots of suffering, through the influence of the blues and into the doomed, lifeless twigs of cults, black magic and commercial rock. You have been warned.

Visit - Mary Lou Williams

Buy - Mary Lou Williams Presents Black Christ Of The Andes

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