by Don Mizell*

Azar Lawrence’s Mystic Journey taps into the deep wellspring of Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ period when the music was modern modal but the conceptual framework was evocative of a kind of ‘spiritual’-oriented consciousness that rigorously explored the notion that music is a universal language which, at its best, is an expression of supra rational interpretations of metaphysical concepts such as ‘Love’, ‘Meditations’, ‘Ascension’, and so forth. The technical execution of the music by the musicians is in the direct service of the metaphysical inquiry, and, via a vigorous,disciplined, aggressive, yet free, spirited focus on mindfulness of the resulting inner existential experience, serves as a doorway to a further dimension of experience, more closely connected to the ‘Life Force’ which animates all living things; which is another way of referrring to the quintessential power of the ‘Breath of Life’. (It’s not a coincidence that Horn Players and Singers have carried this tuneful awareness most often, and best!)

In this respect, there is a vital connection between the consciousness that has produced such deep, vital music and the mindfulness consciousness that has brought forth the emergence and spread of Awareness disciplined practices of Yoga, Vegetarianism (and Organic Diets), the Green Revolution (and its myriad offshoots), Whole Earth technology, and Alternative Health and Lifestyles into an interconnecting affinity web, all sharing a commonly referenced affirmation of mindfulness of this Life Force as the key to our individual and collective well-being; and, as such, is precious and invaluable — because everything is interconnected and bound together by this mystical phenomena which, finally, cannot be entirely understood, experienced, or defined by mere rational analysis.

Coltrane and his proteges are in a sense the musical corollaries of this affinity consciousness network, in their ongoing quest to dig deeper, still deeper into the journey, not just the destination. In my view, Azar has,along with a few other others, has gone way deeper, and is now one of the most, if not THE foremost, explorers of this nexus between serious jazz musicianship in the service of ‘conscious’ explorations of related metaphysical concepts and the future of Jazz as a powerful force in the realm of cultural art. This devoted quest is where the phenomenal power and depth,velocity, and sheer vibrancy of this music comes from;and why, it stands arguably quite apart from other more sedate, mannered, and deliberate jazz styles in its unmatched virtoustic combination of controlled, but free rhythm, sound and fury in a swirling vortex of spirited expression.

Azar’s emergence now as a sort of ComeBack Kid may more accurately viewed as the Return of the Prodigal Son. He comes now to the point to point the way forward, back from the labyrinth detours that Bird, Miles, Trane , and so many others traversed,often to their personal detriment, but to our everlasting cultural benefit. As such, he appears to be best equipped, (and highly motivated) to re-ignite the Coltrane flame imaginatively, to carry it forward fearlessly, not to just regurgitate his past solos note for note,line by line.

It’s fair to say Azar is not only a protege of the musical quest of Coltrane’s spirited explorations,but, more precisely,a disciple of his musical world view, and not just his licks and grooves,because these licks and grooves are but a manifestation of his spiritual musical worldview; and in that way they are organically connected, so that you cannot fully and authentically evoke and explore one without the other. Why is why Azar is one of only a handful of devotees who not only carry the torch of the Coltrane well, as he most definitely does, but, also, because he has mastered both the worldview , the musical expression, and the interpretation of it; indeed has re-stated and re-encapsulated the entire spectrum of the arc of Coltrane’s musical journey over the course of his entire career into a compressed but fluid and focused framework that covers,conveys, and extends it all at once and all in in each solo, each song, each album, each live performance. It’s something Coltrane himself did not have a chance to do on any one single album before his early, untimely, unexpected death.

In Mystic Journey, Azar Lawrence, the re-dedicated disciple to the mission of Coltrane’s musical journey/quest, has with very great distinction, devotion, vigor, and flair very clearly done so. Which, in my view, makes him uniquely qualified at this starting point to present anew the spirit of Coltrane’s musical legacy without the need to either slavishly imitate or copy him,or, worse, ignore the common wellspring he has lead us to drink from.

The wonderful thing Azar is doing now is comprising and conveying the quintessential arc of the whole Coltrane musical legacy while at the same time setting the stage for the evolution beyond its untimely end, so tragically cut short. Close consideration of the substructure of Mystic Journey reveals very clearly this is album is a devoted homage to the Coltrane legacy in complex and subtle ways that honor in a way that is honorable.. The first two songs are Azar compositions ‘Mystical Journey’ and ‘Summer Solstice’; the next composition is called ‘ Quest’; the next title is a McCoy Tyner composition ‘Walk Spirit,Talk Spirit’; the next gem is ‘Say It Over Again”, a ballad Trane recorded himself on his ‘Ballads’ album (preceding his A Love Supreme period); then comes a Mingus type piece from Rashied Ali from Coltrane’s post ‘A Love Supreme’ era band; and the final tracks are MyCoy Tyner protege Benito Gonzales’ ‘Journey’s End’; and, at the very end, ‘Starting Point’. All in all, a supremely, fresh and inviting exploration of the arc of the evolution of Coltrane’s entire musical journey, albeit not immediately self-evidently so. Which,of course, is all to the good.

John Coltrane sought to point the way forward in his musical quest toward a heightened state of spiritual consciousness. Which makes the evolution of Azar Lawrence, now vigorously ‘Chasing the Trane’ into unknown dimensions, while moving straight ahead, all the more intriguing, and compelling.

— DON MIZELL is Co-Producer of MYSTIC JOURNEY (Album Concept and Sequencing)