Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rakalam Bob Moses on Jim Pepper and The Free Spirits

By Sean Aaron Cruz

The Free Spirits were the first jazz-rock fusion band in the history of music, the cutting edge of jazz groups experimenting in rock music and rock bands experimenting in jazz in 1966-67. Their LP, “Out of Sight and Sound”, pre-dated Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and the formation of Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and other similar fusion bands by several years.

The quintet consisted of:

Larry Coryell, guitar and vocals
Jim Pepper, tenor saxophone, flute and vocals
Columbus Chip Baker, guitar and vocals
Chris Hills, bass and vocals
Bob Moses, drums

Primarily jazz musicians, The Free Spirits formed in New York City with a commitment to take the music in new directions and performed on bills with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Doors and Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground.

Rakalam Bob Moses recently had this to say about Jim Pepper:

“Jim Pepper (Flying Eagle) was the heart and soul of The Free Spirits. For me, in terms of being touched, moved and healed by his soaring, majestic, instantly recognizable sound, he is in the top four saxophonists of all time.

He was an absolutely unique, soulful, visionary musician who had a way of playing on changes that was all his own and borrowed nothing from Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins or anyone else.

He was also a great composer, who was able to draw on his Native American roots in a most original way, his best known piece of many being WitchiTai-To, which is still played by people all over the world. To my ears, he excelled at all styles, particularly jazz ballads, R&B/fund and free playing. He had the most beautiful scream I’ve ever heard on the saxophone.

We often started our sets with a 10-minute unaccompanied free saxophone solo, which was quite radical for rock clubs. I remember people like Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Jack deJohnette coming to our gigs, mostly to hear Jim Pepper.

He was also a great dancer, a consummate ladies’ man and a proud, defiant and profoundly hilarious individual…To this day, he is one of the few musicians who can bring me to tears with the heart-piercing beauty of his sound.” Bob Moses, liner notes, The Free Spirits Live at The Scene, February 22, 1967

The Free Spirits Live at The Scene, February 22, 1967, has been recently released. Two tracks include Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker and the late Joe Beck sitting in on the band’s second set. 

For those of you who read down this far, we are working on a historic reunion concert of The Free Spirits to kick off the first annual Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival in late summer 2013.

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