Updated: Mar 15, 2020
Right at the beginning of the album you hear Richard Davis clearing the way with his double bass. There is no doubt he's taking control conducting the jam, contributing his experience and energy from his last recordings on Eric Dolphy's "Out to lunch" and Andrew Hill's "Point of departure". The two most iconic "free jazz" albums of that time. Naturally and very easily, everyone joins him, improvising on top of his line, painting the landscape for the object of the picture - Van Morrison. At first it sounds as if Morrison has bumped into these guys in a recording studio in New-York and just sang along with them jamming at the back all the way through the album. Well, in a lot of ways, it is not completely wrong. Lewis Merenstein, the warner bros. producer, had a vision for Morrison's second solo album. Inspired by his liberated timeless style of singing, he thought grouping him with this bunch of professional jazz musicians might be the best way to bring out his talent, even though he didn't know any of them. And He wasn't wrong. Just after a few notes you come to understand that Van Morrison is not just passing by there by mistake. Exactly Like his lyrics portraying life as a journey of countless experiences with colourful people leading by their endless emotions, he takes the band along with him for his own made up adventure. Step by step, instrument by instrument, they are all carried away on the same path as he, seeking together something only Morrison knows he's searching for. In some parts he gives in to them, in some he takes the lead, one way or the other, they are all marching together to the unknown. But what is this thing he is searching for? Is it the meaning of life? Is it the meaning of death? Is it some kind of purpose?
Many ways, we human beings, had developed for ourselves to try and find answers for all of that. We prey, we meditate, we use consciousness expanding drugs, escape to the wild, join a cult. This album, on the other hand, suggests another way, a better way. an artistic one which uses music as a tool to fall into a trance. It is said, the best way to practice improvisation is listening to yourself from the outside, balancing the right amount of concentration between playing and listening. A good exercise for that would be singing the notes while playing them. Not an easy task, but when you master it perfectly, amazing stuff may happen, sometimes you will even get the feeling of exiting your body. Two examples for that really happening in the recording are the two songs I like most in it - "Beside you" and "Madame George". In"beside you", the second track of the record, Jay Berliner, who also took part in the famous Charles Mingus record ״The black saint and the sinner lady״, takes the lead with his delicate sphere like classical guitar strumming. He starts, plays a phrase and then Morrison answers. He prays and Morrison preaches. And It seems like they communicate on a complete different level, listening to each other and to themselves simultaneously - out of time, out of place, rising slowly out of their bodies. "Madame George" is a 10 minute story, and the band leaves the stage completely for Morrison to tell it, as he does like a great poet who mirrors the every day life instead of inventing it. For me, it doesn't matter who is the character behind this stream of consciousness fairytale, but the way Morrison executes the story about her (or him), starting from nowhere, without any structure, no home, no chorus, nothing; only a key and some damn good players behind him to back him up if he falls out of his game. The story is about a boy and his exotic encounters with strangers - the night, the streets, the love, The life. A story of a boy freeing himself without fear, without a sense of an ending. And the music tells the exact same thing. The song never really starts and never really ends. It is as if it was torn out of time. If I would imagine another take of that same song, it would be completely different. Morrison takes us to see what he saw at that night and he carries us in every sentence away from our present time, emphasizing life's ups and downs by the rapidly changing dynamics. Critics Say "Astral weeks" can't be a concept album, because the songs were written in different periods of time. To me it has a concept no matter what. And much more than a concept it has a massage - Let go! Do every thing you can to be born again in every single day. Less than 20 years ago, can't remember exactly when, I repeatedly had maybe 10's of out of body experiences - astral journeys. I was scared. I felt like I'm seeing something I'm not suppose to see. I thought I was going to die. Now, looking back, I think this dream-like state of mind I was into, when feelings became tangible, took me to a place of great knowledge. I knew something I did not understand. From the far side of the ocean If I put the wheels in motion And I stand with my arms behind me And I'm pushin' on the door Could you find me? Would you kiss-a my eyes? To lay me down In silence easy To be born again To be born again