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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Dear Prof. Leary

Promising Music 1702481




1. The Fool on the Hill
2. Dear Prof. Leary
3. Ode to Billie Joe
4. Dur Dur Dur
5. Why Do You Keep Me Hanging On
6. Lonely Woman
7. Respect.
Barney Wilen - Soprano sax, tenor sax
Mimi Lorenzini - Guitar
Joachim Kühn - Piano, organ
Günter Lenz - Bass
Aldo Romano, Wolfgang Paap - Drums

Barney Wilen was a French saxophonist who grew up in the USA but spent many years in Paris. He worked with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey, and he played on Miles Davis's soundtrack for the film Lift to the Scaffold. From recordings I had heard up to now, I imagined that he was basically a lyrical tenorist, rather in the style of Lucky Thompson. I hadn't realised until now that, in the 1960s, he explored a much freer style which incorporated elements of rock music, with his "Amazing Free Rock Band". This 1968 album (originally on MPS) shows Barney's wilder side, uninhibitedly interpreting four current pop tunes, two originals and a piece by Ornette Coleman. It is rather a culture shock to those of us who only knew the gentler side of Barney Wilen.

The opening Beatles song, The Fool on the Hill, starts fairly unremarkably, with Barney playing tenor sax over a jazz-rock beat. Mimi Lorenzini's electric guitar is fairly prominent in the background and becomes fiercer when she takes a solo which might be the work of (say) Jimi Hendrix. Barney Wilen returns on soprano sax, introducing deliberate discords before the track fades away.

The title-track underlines the group's allegiance to the ideas of Professor Timothy Leary, the darling of the psychedelic counter-culture and an enthusiastic advocate of drug use, especially LSD. Leary's message was "You must turn on, tune in and drop out" and the band here seems determined to drop out of conventional jazz and experiment with the sort of sound that could be called "mind-blowing" - noisy and unrepressed.

Ode to Billie Joe is like the opening track in starting without excess. Barney's tenor sax and Joachim Kuhn's Hammond organ seem quite disciplined until Joachim goes a bit wild and Barney joins in the excitement, although his solo has the blues at its heart. Wilen's devotion to the blues explains the presence of two drummers: one (Wolfgang Paap) chosen as a rhythm-and-blues specialist; the other (Aldo Romano) more familiar with free improvisation. This track gradually develops (or degenerates) into musical anarchy.

Dur Dur Dur - like the title=track - was composed by Wilen, Lorenzini and Kuhn, and is based on an ostinato pattern which is in danger of becoming tedious. Again, the tune descends into virtual chaos at the end. Why Do You Keep Me Hanging On is the Supremes' 1966 hit tune (whose title lacked the first two words added on here). To be honest, you may not recognise the melody, since it is submerged beneath a welter of conflicting sounds. Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman is also not easy to pick out among the jumble of sounds, which include bowed double bass, tinkling piano, wailing soprano sax and two separately-recorded drum tracks faded in and out of the music.

The final Respect is much easier to follow, with a funky boogaloo beat and Barney Wilen blowing up a storm on tenor sax. Mimi Lorenzini's guitar solo stays clearly in touch with the original tune, although the ending is another free-for-all.

I was glad to hear this album, showing a different side to the Barney Wilen I thought I knew, but I think I still prefer him in more mainstream jazz mode.

Tony Augarde





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