Barney McAll – Precious Energy (2022)

Barney McAll - Precious Energy (2022)
Artist: Barney McAll
Album: Precious Energy
Label: Extra Celestial Arts
Year Of Release: 2022
Format: FLAC (tracks)
Tracklist:
01. Precious Energy – Homage to Leon Thomas and Pharoah Sanders
02. Sweet Water
03. Wild Horses In The Morning Sky
04. Sweet Sweet Spirit – Homage to Doris Akers
05. Sun Rays
06. Stevland – Homage to Stevie Wonder
07. John Coltrane – Homage to Strata East

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Australian pianist, composer, and arranger Barney McAll has long been a first-call resource for musicians including Gary Bartz, Billy Harper, Fred Wesley, Dewey Redman, and many others. He’s released over a dozen albums and played on over 100 others. His own work juxtaposes post-bop, modal, and contemporary jazz with folk forms, electronics, pop, classical, funk, fusion, and spiritual soul. Precious Energy is a deeply personal project, a balm in the aftermath of the pandemic. McAll’s cast includes his country’s sensational soul and jazz-funk ensemble Hiatus Kaiyote, saxophonists Gary Bartz and Julien Wilson, singers Rita Satch, Laneous, Belle Bangard, and others. These tracks reflect his search to reconnect with the same source of universal energy he experienced as a child.

The title-track opener is a reimagined cover of Leon Thomas’ and Pharoah Sanders’ “Sun Song” from 1992’s criminally underrated Shukuru. Amid synths, programmed percussion, and electric piano, a four-voice chorale offers the lyrics with joy and reverence. Layers of percussion and piano frame Wilson’s fat tenor solo evoking Sanders’ own tone, as Satch freely improvises on the lyric. McAll’s exchanges with Wilson are canny, spirited and breezy. The track showcases a democratic bandleading style that makes ample space for his collaborators improvisations. The interplay between Satch, Wilson, and Laneous’ guitar on “Sweet Water” is breathtaking. Under McAll’s guidance, they seamlessly meld stirring soul-jazz, airy funk, and contemporary gospel. “Wild Horses in the Morning Sky” features Laneous on lead vocals and Satch as his chorus. Its sound and production point directly at Parliament-Funkadelic. Bartz appears on the gospelized “Sweet Sweet Spirit” penned by folk singer Doris Akers and arranged by McAll. He pairs Satch with Banguard, while drummer Hamish Stuart double- and triple-times the band with funky breaks and syncopated fills as Bartz wails on alto and soprano. The pianist and bassist Paul Bender fluidly guide them all. The saxophonist appears in a radically different capacity on the slippery, fingerpopping “Stevland” (a co-write with Greta Gertler) in tribute to Stevie Wonder. As JaceXL’s lead vocal slips around Bartz’s tender, digitally delayed alto, Satch acts as vocal chorus. The rhythm section flows around and through the voices with syncopated yet danceable embellishments. “John Coltrane” was written by bassist Bill Lee (Spike Lee’s father) and is offered as a tribute to the spiritual jazz label Strata East. McAll and Simon Mavin play keyboards with Bartz poignantly soloing on soprano and alto atop a chorale of chanting vocalists. This simple modal melody is given added depth and dimension with organic and synthetic percussion, reverb, ambient effects, and extremely inspired playing.

Though Precious Energy offers homages to outside inspirations, it nonetheless beautifully articulates the mercurial nature of McAll’s iconic musical and aesthetic personas. Though he has released many fine albums, Precious Energy is virtually peerless in expressing creativity, spirituality, and generosity. It is a magnum opus that belongs alongside the kaleidoscopic 21st century jazz-inspired sounds emerging from London, Chicago, and Los Angeles, though it towers above most of them.

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