Byard Lancaster was a composer / multi-instrumentalist born in Philadelphia in 1942. He started playing alto saxophone at an early age and later took up flute and bass clarinet. While attending Berklee College of Music, Lancaster and pianist Dave Burrell organized late-night jam sessions with fellow students and touring musicians. In 1965, he moved to New York and quickly became part of the city’s burgeoning scene—playing with jazz luminaries such as Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, Bill Dixon and Marzette Watts.
It’s Not Up To Us, Lancaster’s 1968 debut as a leader, was originally released on Vortex, a subsidiary of Atlantic responsible for first albums by Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Sonny Sharrock. Featuring guitarist Sharrock (another Berklee alum), It’s Not Up To Us is true fire music—fusing elements of free jazz, soul / R&B and traditional folk song.
On the opening title track, Lancaster’s luminous flute draws the listener in, while bassist Jerome Hunter grounds the tune with a simple descending theme over Keno Speller and Eric Gravatt’s syncopated rhythms. “John’s Children,” a reference to the group’s status as post-Coltrane players, showcases the modal strumming of Sharrock’s steady drones as Lancaster cries into the void. After repeated listens, Lancaster’s original compositions become visceral aural memories ingrained in the ear, while the standards (“Misty” and “Over The Rainbow”) sound the most avant-garde pieces on the album.
This first-time vinyl reissue is recommended for fans of Albert Ayler, Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders.