There’s an excellent new album out from Emanative (an alias for drummer percussionist and producer Nick Woodmansey). The Light Years of the Darkness is full-on spiritual jazz, giving modern spins of old tunes expressed in a way that honors both the original renditions and the artists who penned them. Woodmansey scoops up a nice assortment of musicians from the UK scene to help his vision along.
The album opens with a rendition of Alice Coltrane’s “Om Supreme.” The wavering serenity constructed by the ensemble is a wonderful lead in to their rendition of Pharoah Sanders’ “Hum-Allah,” which dials down on the original’s intensity but holds nothing back on the spiritual infusion. This, too, sets the table nicely for the easy-going groove of Don Cherry’s “Makondi.” Catchy as all hell, it features Four Tet on thumb piano.
Tamar Osborn’s Collocutor has been raved about previously on this site (and is a former Pick of the Week from my old Wondering Sound column). Here she guests on a rendition of Joe Henderson’s “Fire.” A joyful sing-song melody winds about the dense rolling hills of the rhythm unit. It’s a similar disposition expressed by the ensemble on their rendition of Arthur Blythe’s “As of Yet.”
Two takes on Sun Ra’s “Love In Outer Space” yield some enjoyable variations. The alternate take is a space-station jingle that digs into a thick groove. The other rendition bounces happily along, a buoyancy that is revealed by the way the ensemble jumps up to scratch at the surface of clouds as well as how it returns to earth by slamming its feet back down with authority. They also take a spin on Sun Ra’s “Rocket Number Nine,” which opens with random dispersal before suddenly coalescing into a focused stream of thought, growing increasingly determined and intense before a peaceful outro.
The album ends with “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe.” Emanative’s dance hall version diverges from Albert Ayler’s vision of the song, and yet, in some ways quite essential, the distance between the two is not as great a chasm as might seem at first blush. The same can be said about the song’s relationship to the rest of the album. It’s an intriguing way to close the show… a different way of expressing the joyful spirituality embodied by the album in its entirety.