Clifford Thornton The Panther and the Lash

Unless you’re a diehard free jazz fan you probably won’t have heard of the late Clifford Thornton, but this reissue of his only album for the America label reveals an impressive, underrated musician. Recorded live in 1970, it offers a near-perfect balance of the best characteristics of classic free jazz: it’s an earthy, engaging mixture of populist, World music and avant-garde elements, often explicitly politicised by titles like "Huey Is Free” and "Tout le pouvoir au peuple.” Thornton, originally a trumpeter, moves here between cornet, shenai, valve trombone and piano without a hitch, playing with a singing, melancholic eloquence that suggests a player schooled on Miles, Booker Little and Lee Morgan rather than the bat-squeak idiosyncrasy of Don Cherry. The band is marvellous, too; there’s plenty of soulful drumming from expatriate American Noel McGhie and fine work from two foundational figures of the early French free jazz scene — pianist François Tusques and bassist Beb Guérin. The Panther and the Lash is that rare thing — a legendary, hard-to-obtain album that, on reissue, turns out to live up to the hype. This is a stone classic. (America)