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Unity (1965)

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Woody Shaw

On Unity, jazz organist Larry Young began to display some of the angular drive that made him a natural for the jazz-rock explosion to come barely four years later. While about as far from the groove jazz of Jimmy Smith as you could get, Young hadn't made the complete leap into freeform jazz-rock either. Here he finds himself in very distinguished company: drummer Elvin Jones, trumpeter Woody Shaw, and saxman Joe Henderson. Young was clearly taken by the explorations of saxophonists Coleman and Coltrane, as well as the tonal expressionism put in place by Sonny Rollins and the hard-edged modal music of Miles Davis and his young quintet. But the sound here is all Young: the rhythmic thrusting pulses shoved up against Henderson and Shaw as the framework for a melody that never actually emerges ("Zoltan" -- one of three Shaw tunes here), the skipping chords he uses to supplant the harmony in "Monk's Dream," and also the reiterating of front-line phrases a half step behind the beat to create an echo effect and leave a tonal trace on the soloists as they emerge into the tunes (Henderson's "If" and Shaw's "The Moontrane"). All of these are Young trademarks, displayed when he was still very young, yet enough of a wiseacre to try to drive a group of musicians as seasoned as this -- and he succeeded each and every time. As a soloist, Young is at his best on Shaw's "Beyond All Limits" and the classic nugget "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise." In his breaks, Young uses the middle register as a place of departure, staggering arpeggios against chords against harmonic inversions that swing plenty and still comes out at all angles. Unity proved that Young's debut, Into Somethin', was no fluke, and that he could play with the lions. And as an album, it holds up even better than some of the work by his sidemen here. ~ Thom Jurek