The Awakening-Hear, Sense and Feel.

Label: Real Gone Music.

Format: CD.

Of the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975, The Awakening’s Hear, Sense and Feel is a much prized rarity amongst collectors. Copies of the album change hands for hundreds of dollars. That is no surprise given the quality of music The Awakening recorded. It was a band that featured some top veteran musicians from the Chicago music scene. 

The Awakening was a sextet that was founded in the Windy City in the early seventies, and was the only Chicago-based band to sign and record for Black Jazz Records. Members of the band were drawn from the city’s R&B and jazz communities.

This included veteran R&B session players who had previously played on sessions at Cadet and Chess Records. They were joined by jazz musicians who were affiliated with the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians. 

Most of The Awakening were connected to the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians which was founded on the South Side of Chicago and had what was essentially a nine-point plan. In a time when musicians were singing about revolution, the nascent organisation had a revolutionary plan.

The Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians was committed to providing somewhere for musicians to play, had innovative ideas about composition and was even willing to help members build new instruments. It recognised the need to provide for schooling for up-and-coming and aspiring musicians. It also wanted to provide workshops for established musicians, find gigs for them and hoped that the concerts would stimulate spiritual growth. They also wanted to set moral standards for musicians and increase respect between musicians and booking agents, managers and promoters. This was revolutionary and ad the potential to change music.

When the members of the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians went to live and play in other parts of the world they introduced these concepts. This included the Art Ensemble Of Chicago when they went to live in Paris. However, in 1972 The Awakening wrote and recorded in the Windy City.

Four of The Awakening’s lineup were members of the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians. This included drummer and percussionist Arlington Davis Jr, bassist Reggie Willis, flautist and tenor saxophonist Richard (Ari) Brown plus trumpeter Frank Gordon who previously was the guitarist with Young Holt Unlimited. They were joined by two members of another collective.

Trombonist Steve Galloway and Ken Chaney were part of another musical and political collective, Philip Cohran and The Artistic Ensemble. Pianist Ken Chaney had also a been a member of Young Holt Unlimited and knew Frank Gordon. The nascent band began work on what eventually became their debut album Hear, Sense and Feel.

Members of The Awakening wrote seven tracks for their debut album. Ken Chaney penned Awakening-Prologue Spring Thing, Awakening-Epilogue and cowrote Brand New Feeling with William Keyes. Frank Gordon wrote Convulsions and Jupiter while Richard (Ari) Brown contributed When Will It Ever End. The other track on Hear, Sense and Feel was John Stubblefield’s Kera’s Dance. These tracks were recorded by label co-owner Gene Russell who took charge of production.

The Awakening headed to the Streeterville Studios, in Chicago, which was founded by engineer Jim Dolan in 1970. Joining the band was Richard Evans who was drafted in to play electric bass. Once the album was recorded, Hear, Sense and Feel was scheduled for release later in 1972.

Hear, Sense and Feel was the ninth album that was released by Black Jazz Records. When it was released in 1972, the album failed to find the audience it deserved. Just like so many albums the label released since 1971, it was a groundbreaking album that featured elements of modal jazz, R&B, soul-jazz and spiritual jazz. 

Opening the album is Awakening-Prologue Spring Thing, a joyful and optimistic sounding spoken-word recitation that calls for raising consciousness. It gives way to When Will It Ever End which references the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. This is because of the addition of the bells and whistles and somewhat dissonant solos from solos of saxophonist and flautist Ari Brown and trombonist Steve Galloway. Playing an important part in sound and success of this ambitious epic track is Reggie Willis’ single note vamps on his standup bass. 

Convulsions bursts into life and from the get-go there’s a degree of urgency as the rhythm section drive the arrangement along and the horns play a starring role. Later, they become dissonant as the track heads in the direction of free jazz before returning to its earlier joyous, uplifting and spiritual sound. 

Very different is Keira’s Dance which has a much more understated and shows the soulful side of The Awakening. They don’t eschew their jazz roots and later, heads in the direction of fusion. However, just like the previous track the horns play a leading role in this laidback and melodic ten minute opus. It’s the highlight of Hear, Sense and Feel.

Dramatic describes the introduction to Jupiter which initially seems to have been inspired by Sun Ra. Then drums signal The Awakening to up the tempo and kick loose as a stunning slice of jazz unfolds. As it does, they showcase their considerable skills and versatility. Pianist Ken Chaney unleashes a stunning fleet-fingered solo as his fingers dance across the keyboard and is at the heart of the arrangement. Later, he’s joined by the tenor saxophonist Richard (Ari) Brown before the drums and briefly the bass enjoy their moment in the spotlight as this breathtaking arrangement unfolds at breakneck speed and features The Awakening at the peak of their powers.

 Initially the tempo drops on Brand New Feeling which seems like another laidback sounding track. It also reflects where jazz was in 1972 and combines its past and the present. The horns represent jazz’s past and the keyboards take the arrangement in the direction of fusion, and after some dramatic interjections from the rhythm section and horns, jazz-funk. Later, the band jam and the horns play a starring role before the track reaches a crescendo. 

Closing Hear, Sense and Feel is Epilogue which lasts just fifty-one seconds. The Awakening combine a short spoken-word recitation with a dramatic arrangement where horns play a leading role and this is the perfect way to bookend the album.

Sadly, Hear, Sense and Feel wasn’t a commercial success despite being an ambitious album that featured innovative music that was optimistic, cerebral, sometimes soulful, joyous, uplifting and spiritual sounding music. It found The Awakening flitting between and sometimes combining free jazz, fusion, jazz-funk, modal, jazz, soul, soul-jazz and spiritual jazz. Seamlessly they switched between and fused musical genres on Hear, Sense and Feel. 

Just like any talented jazz musician the members of The Awakening enjoyed improvising and when the solos came around embraced the opportunity to showcase their considerable skills. That’s no surprise as members of The Awakening had enjoyed a musical education and were highly trained musicians. Their talent is apparent throughout Hear, Sense and Feel which is belatedly starting to find a wider and appreciative audience who understand what The Awakening were trying to achieve when they released this vastly underrated cult classic back in 1972. 

The Awakening-Hear, Sense and Feel.

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