Album of the Day: Bubbha Thomas & The Lightmen, “Energy Control Center”

Spiritual jazz rarely gets as funky as Bubbha Thomas & The Lightmen. Originally self-released in 1972, Energy Control Center is one of four albums drummer and bandleader Bubbha Thomas wrote after returning from the Vietnam War. Back home, he split his time between gigging on the local Houston underground jazz scene and becoming involved in activist politics (the city mourned the police murder of Black Panther Carl Hampton in 1970). This mix of musicality and political protest becomes the heart of the seven-song album: The first sounds you hear on opening track “Wench” are the mocking, demonic cackle of a slave owner laughing as a whip cracks—but the harrowing noises are successfully drowned out by a blend of bluesy electronic keys and defiant brass fanfares that go down over Thomas’s steadfast, funk-fueled backbeat.

After that heady start, Energy Control Center explodes into a cult cosmic trip. “Blues For Curtis” sashays along at a jazz-dance tempo with Virgil Solomon’s chirping flute riffs and a truly swinging bassline provided by Ed Rose. The same bass player’s low end flourishes set a meditative tone for “Cold Bair,” a song which could pass as a lost outtake from saxophone giant Pharoah Sanders’s days recording for the Impulse! label.

Most daring and forward-thinking of all is the album’s title track: Abrasive sax stabs pan from left to right, ARP synths swirl around, electric bass marauds through the cosmos, and the Lightmen take turns improvising and fading in and out of the mix. It’s like some alien power is curiously turning the dial on an interstellar broadcast. After five minutes of this livewire instrumentation, “Energy Control Center” crescendos and then ends abruptly with the sound of a click. The power is pulled and you’re back to reality.

-Phillip Mlynar

 

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