Thursday 12 May 2022

'Milt Ward & Virgo Spectrum' by Milt Ward & Virgo Spectrum

Milt Ward & Virgo Spectrum have their one-&-only, self-titled release newly-reissued by the fine gatekeepers of forgotten treasures, Frederiksberg Records.

Founded by Danish video journalist, Andreas Vingaard, the New York-based label has managed to unearth some incredible projects since its inception in 2013.  Originally striving to celebrate unsung Scandinavian jazz, as epitomised by the very first project the label ever presented - saxophonist Carsten Meinert Kvartet's 1969 album 'To You' - Frederiksberg's scope has significantly expanded unearthing treasures from further-reaching corners of the globe.  To highlight the point, we previously covered the excellent 1984 album release 'Sons of Ethiopia' by Admas which showcased the compelling story of a collective of musicians who were exiled from Ethiopia during the Derg regime before they would ultimately go on to settle in the US.

Milt Ward & Virgo Spectrum finds Frederiksberg returning to the US for this wonderful piece of spiritual soul-jazz that sees trumpeter Ward taking centre stage for what was his only headlining release.  There are other projects to find from this era that feature Ward's trumpet, like saxophonist Milton Marsh's 'We Are Not Separate From Spirit, We Are In It', but this project with the line-up that comprised Virgo Spectrum is Ward's definitive masterpiece.  

Born in Michigan and raised in New Orleans, Milton Ward would eventually find himself in the midst of Boston's thriving jazz scene in the early 1970s.  A graduate of the revered Berklee College of Music, Ward would become an impassioned live performer whether the situation was him playing as part of a backing ensemble or whether it was recruiting musicians to his own Ultra Modern Quintet Plus Two.  Ward's dedication to his craft would ultimately see the launch of his own Twin Quest label that provided the original home for his 1977 bestowal.  Interestingly, 1977 would also see the release of the only other Twin Quest release in Sharon Brown's 'Musick Sure Sounds Good, Pts 1 & 2'; credited to simply 'Sharon', the single was produced by Ward and featured music by him and Virgo Spectrum.  Marking Sharon's debut solo single, the soul singer would actually go on to have a thriving post-Twin Quest career with further solo releases on Profile and Taz Records and appearances as a part of Family Tree.

Milton Ward clearly had a keen eye for talent - outside of his signing of Sharon Brown, we only need to look at the line-up that comprise Virgo Spectrum and the incredible achievements many of the band members would go on to in their own careers.  Saxophonist Carlos Garnett and bassist Cecil McBee earn themselves a front cover "featuring" credit due to some exquisite playing throughout as well as the fact that the two had already solidified themselves as esteemed and respected musicians - McBee through his work with Alice Coltrane, Andrew Hill and Yusef Lateef, and Garnett through his collaborations with Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders and Norman Connors.  Amongst the incredible musicians that play throughout the album, saxophonist Bill Pierce would find success later as a member of The Jazz Messengers while Glenn Barbour would go on to join The Whole Darn Family. 

The six tracks presented throughout the album are a real joy born of a variety of styles and influences, from tracks infused with a high-energy spiritual-jazz-meets-soul-fusion aesthetic like the 'Mr Cheese' and 'The Foreignor' opening numbers or the more introspective and sublime 'Morning Glories'.  The infectious jazz-funk of 'The Charle' also warrants special mention for its otherwordly sonics and undeniable groove.

Frederiksberg Records hold the distinction of presenting the first and only authorized reissue of 'Milt Ward & Virgo Spectrum' available now through vinyl and digital releases.  Sadly, as fantastic a record as this is, the album didn't cement Ward as the luminary he perhaps should have become but to see the record being embraced nearly five decades later holds hope that the music here can live on for new listeners.

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