It’s not an immediately enticing prospect. Rufus Harley: jazz-funk bagpiper. Yes, really.
Harley originally studied saxophone and flute, but his musical career was changed by the death of JFK, as he was fascinated by the ominous potency of the Black Watch, the Scottish infantry bagpiper corps accompanying Kennedy’s funeral procession. He acquired his own set of pipes and began to record as a bandleader, releasing albums which gradually steered from improvisational jazz through covers of pop hits by The Byrds and The Association to a form of spiritual jazz-psychedelia. By 1972’s Re-Creation Of The Gods, Harley had turned to heavy jazz-funk, with devastating results.
This is a raw, hard-hitting record, reminiscent of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Volunteered Slavery and Blacknuss, in which soul and pop melodies were given a post-bop overhaul. By 1972, Harley was modulating his playing so the pipes sounded less like the threatening howl of a Scottish army and more like the Middle Eastern dynamics employed by Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, but that doesn’t take away from the elemental force of his instrument. Anchored by solid drumming and electric bass, Harley trades solos with organist Bill Mason and occasionally provides wails of electric soprano sax, and the result is refreshingly eccentric and unexpectedly uproarious. Despite being a loose concept album about freedom, church and community, in its own curious way Re-Creation Of The Gods is an out-and-out party record.
The reissue by Transparency weaves four complementary bonus tracks into the original release, and replaces the original psychedelic sleeve with a portrait of Harley draped in the stars and stripes, and wearing his favoured Viking-style horned helmet. Until his death in 2006, Harley’s answerphone apparently featured a blast on the bagpipes and the note: “You have reached Rufus Harley, the international ambassador and messenger of freedom.” On Re-Creation Of The Gods, the message comes through loud and clear.