The Sufi Choir s/t
The Sufi Choir s/t LP (Akashic, 1973)
The thing that makes and breaks religious psychedelia is the notion that everything can be incorporated into the music. The Sufi Choir is a perfect example of this idea.
The Sufi Choir was founded in 1969 in Berkeley, CA by William Allaudin Mathieu, a composer/arranger who had spent the early 60s with Stan Kenton and Duke Ellington and working with Chicago’s Second City Theater. Mathieu assembled a group of 20 or so people voices dedicated “toward the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty.” And this goal they try to attain with their music and the spread of Sufism, a libertarian, mystical branch of Islam.
Musically, the Choir alternates between traditional Western choir arrangements, Islamic chants, and Mamas & the Papas-style backing vocals. The choir sings over a pretty bare band, consisting mostly of bass, piano, and drums with a little addition percussion and occasional horns. The band definitely sounds like it has a jazz background.
At their best, the Sufi Choir is strange and seemingly off the cuff. Timed Air, without a doubt the best track on this record, is a mix of Dervish-style chanting and sparse music. For four minutes the song twists and turns around guttural heaves and flighty ahhhhs. It is a fantastic song and, unfortunately, the best the band has to offer.
Yes, the album starts out promising - some light tribal drumming with a few voices on top - but like most of the record, the song kicks into Choir mode, replacing inventiveness with too many damn voices doing too much or not enough or just plain boring song.
The Sufi Choir carried on until the 1980s when they split. A New Sufi Choir has emerged in its wake, but, from what I understand, operates more in the new age genre.
This record is pretty easy to obtain, especially on the West coast and should not be bought for more than $10.
Avoid all later records.
That sentence should have been re-phrased "the best the band has to offer to people with taste similar to mine."
Beauty is in the eye and ear of the beholder. That music was and still is incredible beautiful and inspiring to hundreds if not thousands of people.
--Someone who was around back then.