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Norman Howard & Joe Phillips 

Burn Baby Burn (ESP-DISK')

Burn Baby Burn is a lost treasure of Cleveland avant-garde jazz. Trumpeter Norman Howard was a contemporary of saxophonist Albert Ayler; the two worked together on one of Ayler's earliest discs, Witches & Devils. The title track, one of the sax legend's signature pieces, was actually composed by Howard.

For some reason, these 1968 recordings never got the attention they deserved. Released as a limited-edition cassette in the '80s, they're just now coming to CD, long after Howard converted to Islam, changed his name, and disappeared from the jazz world.

But better late than never. Burn Baby Burn is an unsparingly raw document. Its eight compositions fuse raucous blare and innocently joyous melodies, especially on "The Sound From There" and a brief spasm titled "Time and Units." With a bass that's often bowed and primal drums kicking the ensemble forward, Howard's trumpet and Phillips' saxophone swirl around each other like frenzied sharks.

The disc's meaty liner notes tell tales of racism and police brutality in 1960s Cleveland. The pain Howard experienced during that era is reflected in this music and helps explain Howard's eventual silence. Lucky for us, the music survives and now has a chance to reach the larger audience it has always deserved.

Speaking of CD Review

More by Phil Freeman


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