It’s rare to hear a recording so full of life and movement as Alan Braufman’s 1975 release Valley of Search. Recorded live from the first floor of a loft in downtown NYC (pianist Cooper-Moore rented the whole floor for $140 a month), these five Berklee-trained musicians played from their heart and left it bare to tape, all in service of exploring non-linear melody and ever-changing rhythms. Always engaging and never dull, it’s an album of wonder and mystery: one that every record collector should own.
The album begins with “Rainbow Warriors,” an Eastern-tinged piece with Cooper-Moore on dulcimer and Cecil McBee bowing the bass. David Lee is on drums while Ralph Williams handles additional percussion, which is plentiful throughout the record. After a short bit of improvisation, we come to “Chant,” the only spoken-word track on the album. Bells and flute lay the framework while Cooper-Moore recites a powerful Bahai prayer.
We next find Braufman’s first solid piece with “Thankfulness.” The bass and piano follow Braufman’s strong sax playing, before hanging back and letting the percussion do its thing. Cans clang, a train whistle howls, cymbals crash; every new sound is as unique and defined as the last. “Love Is For Real” follows that same pattern while allowing Braufman to really push his sax playing to its limit, with Williams adding in some loud whistles to great effect.
“Miracles” is a piece where McBee finally gets to shine. His bass playing and vibrato is hypnotic, with notes coming and going before you have time to fully register their place in the song. When the full band comes back for “Ark of Salvation,” you get the sense that you’re traveling somewhere. The music moves like a caravan over sand, climbing peaks and falling into valleys, with the heat of a percussive shaker beating down while they traverse the desert. It’s moody and atmospheric; a clear highlight of the record.
The album ends with “Destiny,” a somber piece featuring Cooper-Moore’s best piano performance placed over Braufman’s haunting alto sax. It’s a fitting end to a powerful record, leaving the listener to ponder over the last few bows from McBee’s bass as the music fades away.
While the digital copy of Valley of Search sounds perfectly fine, this is an album that needs to be experienced on vinyl. The mastering by Joe Lambert is nearly flawless and with just the right amount of stereo spacing. This is a live record the feels like a live record, capturing the rawness of the performance without letting anything overpower the mix. If you have the means to buy it on vinyl then I would highly suggest it.
The packaging on Valley of Search is minimal but sufficient. It’s a straight reissue so expect the same cover art and vinyl labels as the original; as far as I can tell, the only real difference here is the inclusion of extensive liner notes, which are a welcome addition. The cover art was done by Lucia Haskell McBee and is simple yet tasteful, with the back cover featuring photos of the group. The vinyl itself feels to be 180-gram.
Valley of Search is available on vinyl at Bandcamp.