Barney Wilen – ‘Zodiac’ – London Jazz News
Barney Wilen– Zodiac
(We Are Busy Bodies, LP. Review by Phil Johnson)
Best known for his work with Miles Davis on the soundtrack to Louis Malle’s film noir “Lift to the Scaffold” (“Ascenseur pour l’échafaud”) released in 1958, and other collaborations with Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke and a crowd of Americans in Paris, Bernard ‘Barney’ Jean Wilen (1937-1996) was a saxophonist of great subtlety and expressive power, and one of the giants of European jazz. It is also now painfully, albeit belatedly, fashionable.
This reissue of a 1966 LP originally on French Vogue and never officially reissued, follows an extravagant vinyl reissue of Wilen’s 1987 album “La Note Bleue”, and an earlier deluxe reissue of “French Ballads” of the same year.
‘Zodiac’, however, is something else entirely: a satisfying exploration of free jazz in the form of a suite dedicated to the signs of the zodiac, and recorded with Wilen’s regular band around the time of Carl Heinz Berger to vibrations and the piano; Jean-Francois Jenny-Clarkdouble bass and Jacques Thollot, drums. Wilen plays tenor saxophone throughout, seemingly dueting with himself on one of the twelve tracks, “Gémeaux” (Gemini). The freedom of the performances is pleasingly varied and European-sounding, incorporating influences from serialism and classical avant-garde alongside blues bits and odd jazz quotes, with a remarkably fluid rhythm section in its time changes. and emphasis.
“Zodiac” is also, of course, another addition to the tradition of jazz dedications to astrology, joining Mary Lou Williams, John Dankworth, Cecil Payne and the Nat Adderley Sextet in the canon. Its twelve titles cover the waterfront of astrological signs, from the opening ‘Pisces’ (Pisces) to the closing ‘Aries’ (Aries), and as befits a document of what may perhaps be called ‘ high’ hippy-jazz, the music can sometimes seem fuzzy and indulgent, though that can also be part of its period charm.
Then there is the cover and the packaging. Remastered from Barney Wilen’s home copy of the album (they probably didn’t get access to the tapes, though the release was “officially licensed”?), the LP is encased in a facsimile of the artist Sinus Original cover art by (Maurice Sinet) and includes inserts of photographs and text by Wilen’s collaborator Jean Lariviere, documenting the original idea for the project to include both film and music. Whereas Siné’s cover may seem more Gilbert Shelton (creator of the Furry Freak Brothers comics) than Robert Crumb, this ‘Zodiac’ reissue is clearly a far superior product.
LINK: The vinyl and digital limited edition can be ordered from We Are Busy Bodies’ Bandcamp