So Pete La Roca follows up one of the decade's best jazz records with... another one of the decade's best jazz records. I'm serious, the guy did it again. Pete's second and final release is a powerful and elegant entry into the intimidating post-bop canon.
Both albums feature a tight quartet playing eastern-tinged tunes, but each group has a distinct character. Joe Henderson lead Basra with commanding melodies and intimidating solos, matched by La Roca's incessant rhythms. Turkish Women hands duties to Sun Ra's sax disciple John Gilmore, who wrings impressive inspiration out of Pete's compositions. Gilmore's solos are more direct than Henderson's, he delicately slaloms scales to craft infectious melodies and evolves grooves around the entire band.
John's presence runs a current through the group but it's Chick Corea who's most conductive. Not yet corrupted by Scientology, Corea delivers cascades of keys which give Gilmore's spine-tingling solos a harmonic backbone. Chick's playing here is particularly percussive, hammering up and down the piano in an odd fusion between frenzied hard-bop and slower modal styles. Of course this all matches perfectly with La Roca's cymbal-driven momentum and bassist Walter Booker's anchoring low-end.
The opening title track showcases Corea's ornate harmonics and the first of Gilmore's blistering solo moments. The group's sound is heavily reminscent of Coltrane but differentiates itself when repetitious grooves climax into some wonderful bass and piano interplay. The Dancing Girl and Love Planet are up next with some of Pete's finest compositions, defined by an incredible percussive breakdown and John's otherworldly sax lines. Gilmore's horn dominates the latter and shines, inspiring the rhythm section through biting melodies that culminate in an explosively tense jam.
Sadly, disappointment arrives at the end of each side with piano-led interludes And So and Majoun. Short run times stunt the potential of each track and I'm left either wanting more or just feeling empty. Majoun is partially saved by Corea's burning virtuosity but cuts off before it can really go anywhere. Luckily, these underwhelming moments are far outnumbered by the album's numerous jaw-dropping performances.
Bliss slows things down with yet another gorgeous piano display. Twinkling arpeggios coalesce into a knotty bass breakdown courtesy of Booker. It's a nice cool-off before Sin Street breaks down your door and reminds you just how sharp this group can be. John Gilmore once again proves his prowess atop Pete's organic grooves, kicking things off with a raw melody before returning to blow the hinges off La Roca's rhythms. It's a knockout punch to end a staggering album, rendering the final track irrelevant.
In my eyes, Turkish Women At The Bath tops Basra, earning both a place in history next to countless mid-60s classics. Pete La Roca's performances with both groups is near impeccable, a testament to his diverse playing and significant compositional skill. Financial incentives saw Pete go on to pursue a career in law but his near-flawless catalogue lives on. I just wish the guy stuck around.
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