Rediscovering Larry Young's forgotten jazz recordings in Paris


  • Photo via Resonance Records
Jazz has a history and is a mystery and Larry Young is a great example of this claim. He's often referred to as "the John Coltrane of the organ" because he didn't stick to the soul-jazz standards set by other organ greats like the Incredible Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff. 

Young found kindred spirits in Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, whom he recorded and performed with. If you really know Young's career, you know he was a master of not just the B-3, but anything with a keyboard (Fender Rhodes, Moog and Arp synthesizers, to name a few) — it's his brooding piano riff that's looped on Nas' classic "New York State of Mind." He was an integral part of the progressive side of Blue Note Records. As a member of Tony Williams Lifetime, Young played a key part in John McLaughlin's and Santana's heyday. Sadly, his legacy goes largely unsung. Add to that the fact that he met a strange demise that didn't leave much closure for family or fans and you have the makings of a mystery and a music legend. Until ...

Resonance Records released Larry Young in Paris this year! There's so much to say about this for the casual listener and serious fan, but first let's take a moment to mention the label. This nonprofit group has been on a mission these last few years, putting out great unheard sessions from the likes of Bill Evans, Charles Lloyd and Sarah Vaughn. Resonance has caused quite a stir among jazz aficionados and Larry Young in Paris is no exception. Like those other releases, this one will appeal to anyone who loves music; the tunes are amazing, burning bright with high swinging energy, capturing the excitement and change that was happening in jazz at the time.

These recordings date from the winter of 1964-'65, during Young's stint in France with a rookie Woody Shaw in tow as part of the Nathan Davis Quartet. Young is the predominant composer for the outfit, along with Shaw, who's playing trumpet with Sonny Grey, drummer Billy Brooks, and a European lineup of Jean-Claude Fohrenbach, Jack Dieval, Jacques B. Hess, Franco Manzecchi and Jacky Bamboo.

The real cause for excitement, besides the music, is how the reissue has been packaged. It's like a document or dossier giving diehards the most detailed information ever gathered on Larry Young, connecting the dots of his career and tying up many of the loose ends that the jazzerati have wanted since his strange death of "stomach pains" in 1978.

The loving archival efforts of Zev Feldman and Michael Cuscuna have left no stone unturned. All the stops were pulled; every important surviving part of the Larry Young tale is included. The release is graced with beautiful photos from the time of these recordings and interviews from those who knew him and those he inspired: Larry Young III, Pascal Rozat, John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Bill Laswell, John Medeski, Woody Shaw III, Dr. Lonnie Smith, the band members themselves. Most impressive is an essay on the Young's place of birth, Newark, New Jersey, the Mecca of the Hammond B-3 organ (which is another whole story on its own). 

The music is at the crossroads of Young's hard bop classic "Unity" and his later avant-garde work, like "Mothership." In full bloom is Young's departure from the "organ combo" sound to his newfound inspiration from John Coltrane, exemplified in "Talking About J.C.," which he recorded stateside years previously. The tune gets stretched to new heights with the large ensemble, with Shaw and Young really taking off from their soul-jazz nest and into the cerebral stratosphere that both artists would become known for following these sessions.

Larry Young in Paris is pleasing to the hard-core fan, and to new ears as well. Resonance Records is on a roll and this release should definitely not be passed by.

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