Strut presents the first full international release for another lost classic from the Black Fire Records archives, ‘Southern Energy’, the only album recorded by R’n’B and jazz collective Southern Energy Ensemble in 1977.
Strut continue their in-depth archive reissues from the Black Fire label with a definitive edition of JuJu’s ‘Live At 131 Prince Street’, recorded in 1973 at Ornette Coleman’s gallery in New York. After forming in San Francisco while working on the Marvin X theatre piece ‘The Resurrection of the Dead’, JuJu began to hone their uncompromising fusion of Afro-Latin rhythms with free and spiritual jazz before signing to Strata-East for the ‘A Message From Mozambique’ album in 1972.
Lancaster had initially cut his musical teeth with the avant-garde on New York’s Lower East Side in the 1960s and in Paris during the ‘70s but, throughout his career, his path was built around community engagement, positivity and “the Philly jazz sound, Germantown style.” He became an ambassador for the music of the City Of Brotherly Love, starting his own Dogtown label, helping launch the Philly Jazz imprint and campaigning tirelessly to improve the circumstances of the city’s street musicians. Lancaster’s sessions for Black Fire were planned following a gig at Caverns Jazz Club in Washington DC. “Jimmy Gray of Black Fire and I originally met during the ‘riotous blisters’ of the late Sixties there,” explained Lancaster. “We became the best of friends.” Backed by a band of Philly musicians including percussionist Keno Speller and Baba Robert Crowder (drummer for Olatunji and Art Blakey), the album also featured the Drummers From Ibadan led by Tunde Kuboye, another influential figure dedicated to community jazz with whom Lancaster had bonded while teaching in Lagos. The result was a free-flowing set of spirituality and positivity, built around full band groove workouts, solo pieces and heavy African roots. “We had big fun documenting this music,” remembered Lancaster. The message of the album remains as relevant today as ever, “I dedicate this album to all African Americans in the USA. To the youth, I ask ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’”
Black Fire was an influential spiritual jazz and conscious soul label that is now the subject of a first ever compilation. It has been put together by Strut and covers the years 1975 to 1993, showcasing a rich mix of jazz, deep African polyrhythms and empowering lyrics across plenty of classics and rarities. The highlights are plentiful and the comp also comes with extended sleeve notes around the black-owned label’s rich history, as well as a reprint of one of the original Black Fire magazines published by founder Jimmy Gray. This is a real piece of black music history.