Monday, August 15, 2016

Philly Sound

The avant garde's leading exponent of free funk, the late Byard Lancaster, seen in 2007. Lancaster was a fan of both Archie Shepp and James Brown. Photo by Lester David Hinton 

Here's a record I bought in a little record store just off Central Square in Cambridge back in the mid-'70s. The place was only open for a summer and didn't have much stock, but it did have a quirky jazz section that had a surprising number of musician-produced LPs. You know – the music that gets called "spiritual jazz" for some reason these days. This album caught my eye because its saxophonist was a sideman on a Sunny Murray record I'd recently purchased. His name was Byard Lancaster and he played screaming alto in an intense, take-no-prisoners style. The album was on Dogtown Records, a company based in Philadelphia, Lancaster's hometown. I put down a couple of bucks and took it home.

Co-leading the group presented on the LP was James Roland "J.R." Mitchell, also a Philly native and a percussionist with whom Lancaster had attended Berklee College. I'd never heard of Mitchell, but I was pleasantly surprised by his powerful, tasteful style. He was more straight-ahead than Sunny Murray or Steve McCall, but he could also go out, following Byard (spelled "Bayard" on the cover) wherever the flamboyant saxophonist took the music. One thing I wasn't expecting was to hear Lancaster solo on trumpet. I don't recall if he plays that instrument on any other records of his that I've acquired over the years, but he does a competent job here. He also serves up solos on flute, bass clarinet and soprano in addition to his regular alto. The saxophonist and drummer are joined by bassist Jerome Hunter and pianist Sid Simmons, both also from Philadelphia, comprising a quartet which the album liner notes call the "Experience." 

Oddly, most of the music heard was recorded in concert at MacAlester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Why J.R. and Byard chose to record so far from home is a mystery, but maybe the school offered to professionally record the performance as part of the deal. Whatever the story was, the recording quality is first rate (not always the case with "spiritual jazz" albums). One other selection was recorded closer to home in Boston, in 1970 when Lancaster and Mitchell were Berklee students.

So here's the J.R. Mitchell/Byard Lancaster Experience live in concert. Sound quality is very good with little cleaning required. As always, ripped from the original vinyl, I kid you not!

J.R. Mitchell/Byard Lancaster Experience
Live at MacAlester College '72
Dogtown Records (no #)

Byard Lancaster, as, fl, b cl, sop; Sid Simmons, p; Jerome Hunter, b; J.R. Mitchell, d.
MacAlester College, St. Paul, MN; 1972; Boston, MA; 1970*

1. 1324*
2. Last Summer
3. War Lord
4. Live at MacAlester

Find it here:


  1. A very rare record no doubt. I bet that Sunny Murray album w/ Byard was An Even Break (Never Give a Sucker) on Byg. In any case, many many thanks.

    1. Ha! Not that one, rev.b, though you're right that Byard plays on that LP of Sunny's on BYG. The one I had just bought back all those years ago was Murray's eponymous ESP release, ESP 1032. Lancaster's on that one, too.

  2. Thanks David.Something totally new to me.

  3. I would like thanks to David for this unique collection.

    The Gypsy Jazz Student site of the music of Django Reinhardt

    1. You're most welcome, GJS. I'm a big Django fan myself!

  4. Great post - this album has been issued on CD with two bonus tracks from "The J.R. MITCHEL EXPERIMENTAL UNIT"