I just didn't think it was possible: at the ripe old age of 46, an album grabs me and it is all I want to hear. I sit, transfixed, listening over and over.
Living as a collector in 2016 and owning thousands of albums at my stage of life--in a world of Youtube and unlimited access to music--is hardly the same as hearing The White Album or In The Court Of The Crimson King for the first time as a teenager; especially when there was no internet and your choices were limited to your local 1985 record store.
But hell does freeze over sometimes: I have found an album in my stacks that has, in the past month, become as important to me as those great Beatles and King Crimson monoliths. The recording is Paul Horn's Jazz Suite On The Mass Texts, arranged by Lalo Shiffrin. The suite was recorded in 1964 and released the next year by RCA Victor on the old black label.
Now, I am a secular guy who knows very little about the Catholic mass--or any kind of mass, although this album has had such an impact on me, I want to see a mass one day.
But what draws me in now is the music Horn and Schrifin created. Start with "Kyrie." Here is a piece that illustrates the many levels this album works on. "Kyrie," has the haunting spirituality of a choir the complex chord changes of the most advanced orchestral jazz, yet swings extremely hard. This track packs more dynamics into three or four minutes then most artists put on an album. Yet it is never over-complicated and always genuine.
"Interlaudiam"works as cinematic jazz--the type Schifrin would soon compose for films like Bullit and Dirty Harry. "Interlaudium" is celebratory--drawing you into both the sacred ritual of the mass and the secular drive of jazz. Religion as theatre? The sacred and the profane bound, never to be separated? Perhaps. But what is sure is the attraction you feel to the music. You are locked into Schifrin and Horn's grip, their flair for musical drama, and there is no turning back
"Credo" is Horn improvising with no tonal or time limitations, using elements of the free-jazz of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, spreading like wild fire in 1964. Notice how the vocals are used in the background to create a creepy, almost-chant like sound. Another texture among so many to absorb.
"Agus Dei," uses the vocal parts to create a more etherize feel. "Offertory"is a flute solo by Horn, reflecting Schifrin's love for flutes. Schifrinn would later use the instrument extensively in film and TV scores, such as Mission Impossible. "Prayer" works the same way, but without instrumental backing.
But the track that really drew me into the mass was "Sanctus." With its loud declarations, strange flute sounds, extreme rhythm abstraction, and wrath-of-God piano motif,"Sanctus" nails you to the ground, leaving you unsure of what you just heard. THe solution--listen again and again
I am glad that I could introduce you to the Jazz Suite On The Mass Texts.. I am glad Youtube gives access to this music. BUT! you really need to hear this piece in full on a good stereo. Issued in 1965, RCA Victor put out both stereo and mono versions of the mass. The stereo version is a bit louder--at least on my LP copy--and it is great to hear the voices and the instruments moving between your speakers. But there is an argument for hearing this massive wave of sound in mono--all that richness packed density into one channel. The Solution: get them both.
Amazon also offers the mass as an MP3. I have not heard it in digital. Frankly, I prefer the 1965 charm of the RCA Victor Dynagroove records, with their black labels, shiny lacquer, and inner sleeves, advertising the latest Broadway musicals and Jim Reeves albums.
And those were available in mono and stereo too--but for those, you're on your own,