Review: Cozzetti & Gemmill, Voyage of the Mummy
Cozzetti & Gemmill, Voyage of the Mummy
Jazz enthusiasts got a taste of how successfully jazz and Middle Eastern music could be combined when Duke Ellington’s orchestra first recorded “Caravan” back in 1936, but it was with the modal post-bop explosion of the late 1950s and early 1960s that the use of Middle Eastern, Indian and North African elements became such a high priority in the jazz world. Modal jazz, as envisioned by trailblazers like trumpeter Miles Davis, tenor/soprano saxophonist John Coltrane and tenor saxophonist Yusef Lateef, involved the use of “modal” or “scalar” playing (which is what one finds in traditional acoustic music from the Middle East, North Africa and India as well as parts of Eastern Europe). And that modal influence continued in the jazz world in the 1970s. Some post-bop of the 1970s was totally acoustic (McCoy Tyner’s work, for example), while other post-bop reflected fusion and soul-jazz’ use of electric instruments. Voyage of the Mummy is a pleasing example of the latter.
In the 1970s, soprano saxophonist Tim Gemmill and keyboardist Bob Cozzetti had a quartet called Rorschach. The group started in 1972 and had been in existence for five years when Voyage of the Mummy was recorded live at the Gerdes Folk’ City in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1977. Rorschach could play either acoustic or electric, but they favor an electric approach on Voyage of the Mummy with a lineup consisting of Gemmill on soprano saxophone, Cozzetti on electric keyboards, Wes Jensen on drums and the late Midge Pike on electric bass. And while these performances include electric keyboards and electric bass, they are clearly in the spiritual post-bop vein of Coltrane, Lateef, Tyner, Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Voyage of the Mummy gets off to an intriguing start with a performance of Coltrane’s “Cousin Mary,” and it is clear that when Rorschach took the stage at Folk City in 1977, the last thing they had in mind was emulating Coltrane’s original 1959 version. Coltrane’s influence is quite strong on this CD, but instead of approaching “Cousin Mary” as Coltrane approached it in 1959, the improvisers go for an approach that is closer to the modal Coltrane of 1963 and 1964. In 1959, Coltrane was still playing hard bop: “Giant Steps,” recorded that year, is the consummate hard bop blowing tune. But in 1963 and 1964, Coltrane was recording for Impulse Records and was fully immersed in modal post-bop. And it is that period of Coltrane’s career that Rorschach identify with on their live interpretation of “Cousin Mary.” Of course, the quartet that Coltrane had in the early to mid-1960s with Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones was strictly acoustic. But the use of electric instruments on this album doesn’t erase the fact that Rorschach get a great deal of inspiration from Coltrane melodically, rhythmically and harmonically.
“Cousin Mary” is the only song on Voyage of the Mummy that Cozzetti and Gemmill didn’t write: the other selections (which include the 17-minute “Red Valley,” the 15-minute title song and its brief info) are all Cozzetti/Gemmill originals. And the influence of Middle Eastern, Arabic and North African music comes through loud and clear on their original material. It comes through on the placid, good-natured “Red Valley,” which recalls the more mellow side that Coltrane showed on “Central Park West,” “Naima” and the standard “My Favorite Things.” It comes through on the more aggressive and hard-swinging title track. Cozzetti and Gemmill, it should be noted, wrote the title track after seeing the King Tut exhibit at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (the exhibit opened in November 1976).
The sound quality on Voyage of the Mummy isn’t of audiophile quality, but it is decent sound and captures the energy and passion of Rorschach’s performances. Voyage of the Mummy is an enjoyable document of Rorschach’s appearance at Gerdes Folk City 37 years ago.
Review by Alex Henderson
3.5 stars (out of 5)