Babatunde Lea 

Umbo Weti: A Tribute to Leon Thomas

The spirituality in John Coltrane's music was not apparent to many listeners, especially during his final years, when his performances became increasingly complex, cacophonous, and long. His spiritual vibe was made accessible to a wider audience two years following his death by his stylistic disciple Pharoah Sanders, on the 1969 album Karma. The song "The Creator Has a Master Plan," a distillation by Sanders of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" with lyrics and vocals about "peace and happiness for every man" by the previously little-known Leon Thomas, became a surprise hit. Thomas, who later sang with Santana, died in 1999.

Much of the essence associated with Coltrane, Sanders, and Thomas flows through Vallejo drummer Babatunde Lea's two-disc Umbo Weti, recorded a year ago at Yoshi's in Oakland with the alternately rhapsodic and ferocious Coltrane-inspired tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist Gary Brown, and Los Angeles vocalist Dwight Trible. The CD title is a pygmy word for yodeling, yet Timble's yodels are far less developed than were Thomas'. Trible's ringing baritone pipes are similar to Thomas', however, and his wordless interludes avoid the clichés of scat. The program consists of six Thomas compositions, some written with Sanders, along with two by Lea, one by Watts, Coltrane's "Cousin Mary," Horace Silver's "Song for My Father," and John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom," which is fitting, as Thomas began his career as a blues shouter with Count Basie. (Motema)


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