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Sunset Painter

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Album Review

Vibist Lynn Blessing is best known for his membership in the jazz-rock band Advancement, who recorded a single, self-titled album in 1969, and as a member of Bill Plummer's Cosmic Brotherhood and Gabor Szabo's studio band. Previously, however, he and Plummer were also an integral part of cornet master Tommy Peltier's Jazz Corps, one of the house bands at the famed Lighthouse between 1963 and 1967. Blessing was a Midwesterner who met Freddie Hubbard in high school and formed his first jazz group with him at that time (Blessing played drums). He also worked with Paul Horn, Martin Denny, Tony Bennett, and Fred Katz. Sunset Painter is Blessing's only date as a leader and was originally issued on Epic in 1969. Produced by Paul Horn, the LP also features pedal steel guitar whiz Sneaky Pete Kleinow, bassist Wolfgang Melz, drummer Mel Telford, and guitarists John Beck and Robert Hirth. Sunset Painter is deeply influenced by sounds coming from Los Angels and San Francisco at the time, particularly those of Laurel Canyon. As such, this is not a "jazz" record per se. It is a collection of almost entirely instrumental pop tunes, four of which were written by the rock icons of the day: "Mother Nature's Son," by Lennon and McCartney; "Pinball Wizard," by Pete Townshend; "Country Pie," by Bob Dylan; and "Child of the Universe," by Roger McGuinn. The rest were either self-penned or by the sidemen on the date; Melz and Hirth wrote one apiece. The sound is loose, breezy, laid-back, and full of Eastern tinges (acoustic guitars played like sitars with open droning lead and rhythm parts as on the title track with its shimmering 12-string, and Blessing's single-note melodies). Then there is "Mother Nature's Son" done country-raga style — no kidding. The warm feel of the set offers the same feel as many of Gary McFarland's sides on Skye but is less pop-oriented and more psychedelic in texture. The opener, "Cosmic Cowboy," features Blessing on a pair of harmonicas playing one just behind the other, a popping electric bassline, and breakbeats skittering around the middle before Blessing's vibes enter, resembling something cut out of the hoedown section of Aaron Copland's Billy the Kid. The lithe openness on most of this recording is caught perfectly in "Anacalyspsis," where the pedal steel — playing more like a slide guitar — engages with Blessing's vibes, and the drums widen out in a slippery country stroll given dimension, texture, and depth by Blessing's solo and sophisticated melodic improvisation. And while it's true that the album is relatively brief, clocking in at exactly 38 minutes, it is a minor masterpiece. It's very much of its time and stands in stark contrast to so much of the jazz that was being recorded on the American side of the pond at the time. In some sense, it's not a jazz record, but neither is it a pop, or psych or folk or rock record either. It is all things at once and none of them, but its sense of order, focus, and attention to melody, atmosphere, and brevity make it a wonderfully focused listen. While Charles Lloyd was messing about trying out his singing in trying to bring the rock and blues sensibilities to his records, he might have tried hanging out with Blessing, who had the boundaries down and was interested in integration more than extrapolation. Fallout Records in the U.K. reissued this gentle treasure in 2007, and it is well worth seeking out as an experiment that succeeded aesthetically, even if it failed commercially.

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Sunset Painter, Lynn Blessing
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