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December 2007

Sister Gertrude Morgan
King Britt Presents Sister Gertrude Morgan
Ropeadope

Nothing straightens out a DJ’s Concord stylus like an obscure record, and the dollar bin in any grimy record store basement holds within its milk crates the promise of the next great find. But while diggin’ in the crates with good taste is a dangerous combination, obscure for obscure’s sake can be equally dangerous. Thankfully, the records selected for DJ King Britt’s The Cosmic Lounge Volume One, an intensely eclectic mixtape compiling 11 “lost” intergalactic free-jazz explorations of the early ’70s, aren’t so obscure as to render this a vanity project (though that’s still basically what it is). Many of them are merely lesser-known tracks from the subgenre’s gatekeepers who aren’t named Sun or Ra or both. Britt, postmodernist that he is, submits each of these jewels of his record collection as the seeds for his personal cosmology.

What results is a surprisingly cohesive set, wisely sequenced, which manages to pay tribute to his beloved genre without sacrificing any of its inherent radical weirdness. Among the most inspired of his choices is the dizzying free-funk of Eddie Henderson’s “Scorpio-Libra,” from 1973’s Realization, which stands as the compilation’s centerpiece. Buster Williams’ insistent bass line keeps the track’s feet on the ground while Henderson and company keep reaching for the Dagobah system. Former Sun Ra Arkestra member Brother Ah contributes the set’s strangest tune, “Beyond Yourself,” from 1972’s Sound Awareness, a six-minute flute-strings drone piece that if you ran it through a distortion pedal would open up another dimension. This seems to be Britt’s point. And his “spiritual quest for higher sound” probably only cost him $11. Well spent.

Originally published in December 2007
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