Sandy Bull’s early music is available again. Exhilarated, ecstatic, and nearly overwhelmed with grateful disbelief am I. Re-inventions offers material selected from Sandy’s first two Vanguard recordings, which are to be counted among his finest works. For holding such legendary stature among the countless musicians following and being influenced directly by him, Sandy Bull’s music has not yet received the wider exposure deserving of such visionary creations. Because he was so far ahead of everyone back in the early sixties, it might be that we all needed sufficient time to catch up.
Here’s our chance with his Re-inventions. Back then in 1963, Vanguard was recognizably hip to have Sandy come by and record his “Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo.” In 1965, Sandy went back into the studio and created his beautiful “Inventions.” Difficult to describe Sandy’s music to anyone back then other than to say “eclectic” in the proper reverential tone and try to come up with phrases like beautifully connected musical inner spaces. Sandy glides effortlessly from folk to jazz to R&B, and begins weaving his sonic tapestry with Middle Eastern and Arabic rhythms, playing a startling array of instruments in virtuoso style. Here is Sandy’s original “Blend,” which has been duly and endlessly praised as a visionary piece, an exquisite improvisation, “a guitar raga” some 22 minutes long. Here, the music pulses and flows back in on itself in gently shifting rhythms in such a remarkable voyage, with no lesser person than jazz great Billy Higgins on drums.
Sandy then slides into a soothing dip into the dreamy bossa nova of “Manha de Carnival”, followed by German composer Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana Fantasy” which Sandy elected to play on banjo. He’s a masterful musician and can play anything he wants whenever he wants, always does so with his own perfect sense of timing and understatement. This record has so many of Sandy’s treasures, including the heavy reverb vibrato on “Gospel Tune” and here Sandy is actually fingerpicking his electric Stratocaster. All while accompanying himself on the foot cymbal. How much better can this possibly get until Sandy starts playing “Memphis.” That’s the one. There’s that vibrato electric guitar again, and Billy Higgins can barely contain himself as he starts drumming his way into the intro and he starts shout-singing soft jazzy jumbled phrases of encouragement, like some jazz drummers do, and the mood for that one is definitely on the upswing. Followed by “Triple Ballade,” a 14th century piece by Guillaume de Machaut presented on banjo. Drawn from Sandy’s 1972 album Demolition Derby, the final cut is “Carnival Jump,” which is accentuated with spare change percussion and hand drums (played by St. Croix-born jazz drummer Denis Charles, to whom Sandy dedicates his “Re-Inventions.”)
In the mood for fusion and world music before those were words in the musical dictionary? That’s what Sandy Bull gifted us with back in the early ‘60s and I can’t encourage you enough to hear it now.