The Mark Harvey Group's 2-CD set A Rite for All Souls, released in 2020 by Americas Musicworks, received the following review by Donald Elfman, The New York City Jazz Record, July 2020 (page 19).
In the liner notes for John Coltrane’s Live At Birdland album, Amiri Baraka (then Leroi Jones) referred to the “daringly human quality” of his music and suggested that with ears open to it, a listener may think of “weird and wonderful things” and possibly “even become one of them.” This reviewer was reminded of those sensations and sense of becoming upon encountering Mark Harvey’s extraordinary “aural theatre” A Rite For All Souls.
The recording is a complete and unedited performance of a concert at Old West Church in Boston (at which Harvey was an intern minister) on Halloween Night 1971. It embraces explorations of sound, spiritual, social and political direction and activism, poetry, a sense of theater and, certainly, the colors and textures of jazz and improvisational music. The musicians are Harvey (oddly credited on “brasswinds”), Peter Bloom on woodwinds and both Craig Ellis and Michael Standish on percussion (alas, the latter two, so vital to the ultimate power of this music, are now deceased). There is a dazzling array of instruments at work and play here: trumpet, flugelhorn, conch shell, saxophones, clarinet, kazoo, mbira, brake drums, iron cookware ... and so on.
The 90-minute concert opens with “Invocation” and a recitation called “Spel Against Demons” (by poet Gary Snyder). There are mysterious sounds played on flute, a length of pipe and a saxophone mouthpiece. Immediately, Baraka’s words come into play as the resonances are otherworldly, yet, somehow inviting and pointing towards what else may come. Harvey is strange and wonderful on trumpet, punctuated by delicate percussion sounds. There’s a trap drum solo by Ellis and that shepherds in Bloom playing tenor saxophone in a full-throated and enfolding manner. Ellis takes on Snyder’s poem, a sort of anti-violence intonation, and it ends in an actual Sanskrit chant.
In the church, the four return in monk’s robes and blow into organ pipes for a “Fanfare”, which, evolving into a meeting of trumpet and tenor, leads to a recitation of William Butler Yeats’ noted “Second Coming” poem, recited by Standish. Bloom takes off on tenor again, eddying into a more lyrical section by Harvey, who spreads his palette on trumpet and makes intensely intimate use of silence as a kind of outlining device to highlight his distinctive sounds. And so, the first disc concludes.
In the second section, we hear again the deliberate and yet subtle interaction between group and individual. There’s a haunting prelude with cosmically unusual sounds that introduce Ellis reading his own “Napalm: Rice Paper”, which seems like a threnody to the suffering of children, from the Vietnam War and beyond—think of all war and the unique situation in our world at present. Bloom on soprano and Harvey on French horn express sorrow and compassion and then there is a devastating percussion duet seeming to encapsulate the violence and suffering the poem has amassed.
A Rite For All Souls is a deeply engaging series of improvisations, sound worlds and rich musical expression.
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