November 3rd, 2014


Title: Richard’s Tune

Artist: Don Pullen

Label: Delmark

Format: CD

Release date: August 19, 2014


This disc, originally released by Sackville in 1975 as Solo Piano Album and now reissued by Delmark, was not only Don Pullen‘s first solo piano album, but also the first album of any kind released under his leadership.  By the time of this recording, Pullen had been on the scene for over 10 years, recording briefly with ESP-Disk avant-gardist Giuseppe Logan in 1964 and then, in a typically huge stylistic shift, serving as accompanist to a variety of R&B singers.  Pullen joined Charles Mingus’ band in 1972, contributing strongly to the great bassist’s acclaimed Changes One and Changes Two albums and fitting in beautifully with Mingus’ mélange of social-consciousness, gospel, swing, and freer styles.

All of these influences are on display in this wonderful debut.  The opening “Richard’s Tune,” dedicated to Muhal Richard Abrams, combines a hummable melody with fleet stride- and bop-inflected elements before shifting into wild, dissonant tone clusters and percussive attacks.  “Big Alice,” one of Pullen’s best known compositions, is a funky, bluesy tune that Mingus had added to his band’s book and also recorded during the Mingus Moves sessions in 1973, although that version remained unreleased until Rhino’s CD reissue of Mingus’ album.  “Suite (Sweet) Malcolm,” Pullen’s tribute to Malcolm X, opens with bell-like intervals tolling in the treble register, and unfolds a haunting, lovingly harmonized melody before opening out into some extended spicy, free playing.  “Song Played Backwards,” as the title implies, is the freest track on the disc, featuring dense, dissonant chords played over various shifting rhythmic patterns.  The bonus tracks include “Kadji,” a majestic theme played over a two-chord vamp and somewhat reminiscent of “Big Alice” (which perhaps explains its omission from the album’s original release) and an alternate, slightly faster take of “Big Alice.”

Stuart Broomer, in liner notes dating from the 2000 Sackville CD reissue, describes the 1974-era Mingus band with Pullen as “…perpetually pitched at the edges of R&B and chaos,” an apt description of this music as well.  Taken as a whole, this solo recital shows the reach of Pullen’s far-ranging, creative, and musically mature mind.  It’s good to have this music back in circulation again, especially with the addition of the two bonus tracks.

Reviewed by Terry Simpkins

Review Genre(s): Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Funk


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