When jazz met black power

DJ Gilles Peterson's stash of jazz album cover art has been made into a book. Charlotte Cripps flips through some of the best
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The Independent Culture

A collection of rare jazz cover artwork of the 1970s has been brought together by the DJ Gilles Peterson and independent jazz label boss Stuart Baker of Soul Jazz Records.

Their new book, Freedom Rhythm & Sound, includes Don Cherry's quilt cover for his record Relativity Suite in 1973, which was lovingly made by his wife Moki Cherry, as well as some homemade cover art from Afro-visionary Sun Ra, who released jazz records on his own label, Saturn Records.

The sleeves, which were selected from their combined extensive collections, reflect a new jazz era, when many of the African-American artists turned away from the mainstream both musically and economically. They embraced the ideas of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and took control of their musical destiny, which resulted in DIY record sleeves.

"Many of the sleeves in the book are pretty hard to find as there were so few made; 500 or 1000 copies," says Peterson. "My favourite is the Coltrane sleeve Cosmic Music. He released it independently whilst he was in dispute with Impulse and the artwork is from a sketch of his. The Sun Ra sleeves are totally DIY. Many of them are plain white sleeves which the band would draw on whilst on the road!"

Other gems in the book include the brightly coloured abstract painting by the jazz musician and painter Lloyd McNeill of The Lloyd McNeill Quartet, which adorns the cover of his 1969 album, Asha. Muhal Richard Abrams, who was the figurehead of the Chicago avant-garde jazz scene in the 1960s, painted a red figure carrying mystic symbols across a desert for his debut album, Levels and Degrees of Light, in 1968.

As many musicians were self-financed, the artwork is often strikingly raw – many were black and white, with hand-drawn graphics and very basic typesetting – in contrast to the artwork of jazz albums released by the mainstream music industry.

The Tribe's Message from the Tribe (1973) shows a simply drawn globe, with climate change, drugs and noise pollution mapped out across continents. Elsewhere, the jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who was signed to ESP-Disk, the first independent label to release avant-garde jazz music, designed the cover of Pharoah Sanders Quintet with a simple black and white drawing of Icarus flying too close to the sun.

'Freedom Rhythm & Sound' is published by SJR Publishing at £19.95