The drummer Pete (La Roca) Sims has been a favorite of mine for many years, ever since I first listened to Basra, his sole album as a leader for Blue Note. Thanks to a review in Down Beat, I also knew that in the late 1960s he had recorded Turkish Women at the Bath for Alan Douglas’s eponymous Douglas label. Apparently, that label had spotty or even non-existent distribution; I don’t think I ever saw a copy or I would have snapped it up. Later, because it featured a young pianist named Chick Corea, Turkish Women was reissued by Muse as Bliss, a Corea album. By that time, La Roca (he picked up that part of his name while working in Latin bands) had abandoned jazz for law school. That made it easier for him to sue Muse successfully in re: failing to give him credit for the recording. Unfortunately, Muse never reissued it under its rightful name and leadership. It finally came out on CD thanks to Joel Dorn and 32 Jazz, a fine and much-missed reissue label.
Now that the history is out of the way, I can spend a little time praising Turkish Women as what I think is a neglected masterpiece. Inspired by the Jean Baptiste Ingres painting “The Turkish Bath,” La Roca composed some remarkable, Eastern-influenced compositions and brought Corea, John Gilmore (another neglected tenor player who spent most of his career with Sun Ra), and bassist Walter Booker together to play them. Collectively, they conjure up an Orientalist vision combined with post-Coltrane improvisation and coloring. The use of repeated piano figures in compositions like Bliss and Dancing Girls, supported by La Roca’s intricate percussion are incredibly absorbing. Gilmore’s thick-toned, original tenor playing (often mentioned as an influence on John Coltrane) adds another ambiguously cross-cultural tinge to the music, which ends with And So, a slightly funkier reprise of previous themes, with Corea sounding almost like Vince Guaraldi. It adds a touch of reality to the preceding gorgeous fantasy in a most satisfactory way.
Here are Bliss and Dancing Girls, but please listen to the whole album if you can.