New Life Trio - Visions Of The Third Eye LP
Vinyl buyers have been most fortunate that the past two decades have witnessed a urge in the rediscovery and recontextualization of mind-opening music that went under-recognised when originally released, and the wellspring of musical content produced by a generation of brilliant lesser known musicians. One such musician was the late great drummer Steve Reid, whose reissued eclectic recordings on his own Mustevic Sound label gave his career a second wind.
Though teased on a well-received compilation, one Mustevic release never saw reissue: New Life Trio’s Visions Of The Third Eye, a tremendous collaborative effort between Reid, guitarist Brandon Ross and bassist David Wertman.
Early Future Records and Finders Keepers are proud to announce the ultra deluxe archival re-issue of this classic, final Mustevic recording for the first time on limited-edition vinyl release since 1979. The recording has been remastered by the legendary engineer Michael Fossenkemper and comes complete with a 20-page written zine featuring an in-depth testimonial and interview with Brandon Ross, and an explorative essay by Andy Votel, as well as a wealth of archival photos, scores and reviews.
Reid’s long and varied career began in his native New York City, where he was involved early on as a member of the Apollo Theater House Band and the R&B scene of the 1960s, including recordings with Martha Reeves and James Brown. In the late 1960s, Reid spent three years in West Africa absorbing musical traditions and experimenting with artists such as Fela Kuti, Guy Warren and Randy Weston. After a stint in prison for dodging the draft as a conscientious objector, the drummer came out swinging in the 1970s. He worked regularly as a session and Broadway musician even while immersing himself into the jazz world, from the straight-ahead styles of Freddie Hubbard and Horace Silver to the otherworldly sounds of Sun Ra and Charles Tyler.
The do-it-yourself ethos of the New York Loft Scene inspired Reid to create his own label, Mustevic Sound, on which he began releasing his own recordings and those of a couple of friends. One of these trusted friends was David Wertman, a young bassist from New York who released his own Kara Suite on Mustevic in 1976.
New Life Trio’s story began when Wertman moved from New York to the more sedate but creatively vibrant town of Northampton, Massachusetts. Here Wertman met Brandon Ross, a young guitarist from New Jersey who had relocated there with his brother to join a coterie of New York expats who had found a comfortable, collaborative environment amidst the liberal college towns in the area, including avant-garde legends Archie Shepp and Marion Brown. Wertman and Ross became friends and began to perform together regularly, both formally and informally.
A string trio of Wertman, Ross and violinist Terry Jenoure was set to record, but Jenoure dropped out just prior to the date. This led Wertman to call his friend Steve Reid to come join the two at the Tin Pan Hollow Studios in Vermont to record what would become Visions Of The Third Eye on December 6, 1978. Originally conceived as an all-acoustic date, the recording would morph slightly when Ross added electric guitar muscle on a number of pieces. Reid would then take the helm and release the recording in 1980, giving a very auspicious birth to what has now become a classic spiritual jazz recording.
Fast forward to 1995… New Life Trio gets a belated second wind from Stuart Baker’s inclusion of the Ross-voiced “Empty Streets” on his Universal Sounds of America compilation. The brief, haunting lead track just hinted at what the full Visions Of The Third Eye album had to offer. Audience awareness resulted in the pursuit of out-of-print original LPs, thus the rarity of Visions Of The Third Eye led to it becoming a kind of “holy grail” record for collectors of jazz and creative music. The album’s cover image was even incorporated into the cover of Freedom, Rhythm & Sound (SJB, 2009), a wonderful coffee table book presenting album covers from those revolutionary decades in Black creative music. The recording’s legend was cemented.
The music on Visions Of The Third Eye remains as vital as ever. The compositions are balanced between pieces written by Ross and Wertman. The bassist’s eastern leaning “Egypt Rock” relies on a repeating groove before building to arco-bass freakout, while Ross’s insistent “Sculpture” provides space for Reid’s intense drum feature. Wertman’s “Chinese Rock” begins with pointillistic guitar and drums before settling into a bluesy yet bent swing. Ross’s lovely “Prelude To Grace” begins a soft, swaggering ballad before churning itself into off-kilter group improvisation. The recording concludes with the trio’s impromptu “Love Cipher,” a short, melancholy fading out from the group’s tempestuous program.
New Life Trio’s legend continues to grow partly due to the brevity of its existence. The triumvirate of Reid, Ross and Wertman would never work together again. Each member would continue along his own path, finding success in numerous projects. Reid’s career was reinvigorated with the reissue of the bulk of his Mustevic Sound recordings in the early 2000s, which led him to a rewarding partnership with Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden until Reid’s untimely passing in 2010. Wertman balanced life between Florida and Massachusetts as a regular in the local jazz scene, recording numerous projects with his wife, Lynne Meryl, before passing away in 2013. The fantastically creative Ross has remained active in the New York creative music scene with a number of projects, most notably with Henry Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson and Harriet Tubman, a wildly eclectic co-led band with underpinnings of rock, dub and free jazz.