PEOPLE GET READY: THE CURTIS MAYFIELD SONGBOOK.

People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

After the demise of The Impressions in 1970, Curtis Mayfield embarked upon a solo career. It spanned three decades and commercial success and critical acclaim were constant companions for the Chicago-born soul man.

Between his 1970 debut Curtis, and 1996s Â New World Order the former Impression released twenty-seven albums. This included seventeen studio albums, six soundtracks and four live albums. Five of these albums topped the US R&B charts while Curtis, Super Fly and Back To The World were certified gold in America. While these three albums offer a tantalising taste of the considerable talents of Curtis Mayfield the soul singer, he was also a producer and songwriter. 

Despite the success he enjoyed as a singer and also as a producer Curtis Mayfield always saw himself first and foremost as a songwriter. His songs were covered by some of the biggest names in soul, funk and R&B over the past five decades. Thos Many of his songs have been covered by other artists over the past five decades. This includes everyone from Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick,  Barbara Mason and Gladys Knight and The Pips to Isaac Hayes, Walter Jackson, Gene Chandler, Major Lance and Freddie Scott as well as The Jackson 5 and the group that Curtis Mayfield made his name with The Impressions. These artists are among the twenty-four that feature on People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook which was recently released by Kent Soul. It’s the latest instalment in their Songwriter Series and is the perfect introduction to the songwriting talents of Curtis Mayfield.

Opening People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook is a soul classic from The Impressions, Gypsy Woman. It was arranged and conducted by Leroy Glover, and  when it was released as a single on ABC Paramount in 1961 reached number two on the US R&B charts. This tale of unreciprocated love was one of The Impressions’ finest singles and sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.

Nineteen year old Jan Bradley recorded Behind The Curtains for the Night Owl label in 1962. Later that year,  it was released as a single in 1962 and by February 1963 it had charted. There’s a wistful quality to the vocal on a single that reached the top twenty in the US R&B and top fifty in the US Billboard 100. Sadly , this was the only one of Jan Bradley’s that charted  in the US Billboard 100.  However, this single is a welcome and worthy addition to the compilation.

Major Lance and Curtis Mayfield grew up together in the Cabrini-Green project in Chicago. They first worked together in 1960 when The Impressions backed Major Lance on his single I’ve Got A Girl. However, when the single flopped he didn’t record another single until 1963. That was the year he covered the Curtis Mayfield song Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um. It was released on  Okeh in 1963 and reached number five on the US Billboard 100. This was his third consecutive hit penned by Curtis Mayfield and for many people was the finest of the triumvirate.

I’ve Been Trying was released as a single by Jerry Butler on the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1964. This Calvin Carter production features an impassioned and soul-baring vocal from the future Cook County Commissioner.

In 1964, Walter Jackson was signed to Okeh and recorded It’s All Over. It was arranged by Riley Hampton with Carl Davis and Curtis Mayfield taking charge of production. The result was a beautiful ballad with a vocal full of emotion, sadness and hurt at the thought of telling his partner their relationship is over. It’s no surprise that the single reached number seven on the  US Billboard 100 in 1964 as it’s one of the best tracks on the compilation.

Over the years, People Get Ready has been covered  by many artists with varying degrees of success. One of the best is Dionne Warwick’s powerful, gospel-tinged reading of a song originally recorded by The Impressions. It featured on her 1968 album Soulful which was released by Scepter Records. The album was arranged by Mike Leech with Chips Moman coproducing the album with Dionne Warwick. People Get Ready is one of the highlights of Soulful and showcases a truly talented and versatile vocalist.

One of the most underrated female soul singers is Barbara Mason. She produced some of her finest albums during her time at Buddah Records. This includes her 1972 album Give Me Your Love which was arranged by Rich Tufo and  produced by Curtis Mayfield.  It reached number ninety-five on the US Billboard 200 and seventeen on the US R&B charts. 

When the title-track was released as a single it reached number nine in the US R&B charts. It’s one of the album’s highlights, and features a coquettish vocal from the Philly-born singer who breathes life and meaning into the lyrics.

In 1971, Isaac Hayes covered Need To Belong To Someone for his Black Moses album.  He takes the song in a new direction adding an element of drama as he adds layers of strings and soulful backing vocals that provide the perfect accompaniment to his vocal. When the album was released by Stax it reached number ten on the US Billboard 200 and  topped the US R&B charts. By then, Isaac Hayes could do no wrong and was enjoying the most successful period of his career.

For the compiler the hardest decision must have been which Curtis Mayfield song should feature on the compilation? Tony Rounce has opted for a UK single edit of  Keep On Keeping On. It was released in 1972 when Curtis Mayfield was signed to Buddah Records. The single features an heartfelt and hopeful vocal and is a poignant reminder of one of the great soul men. 

Leaving Motown was the best thing to happen to Gladys Knight and The Pips.  The Empress Of Soul was no longer in the shadow of Diana Ross and The Supremes. At Buddah Records Gladys Knight and The Pips’ career blossomed and they enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim and by 1974 had won two Grammy Awards. That year, they recorded On and On as a single. Hidden away on the B-Side was 

The Makings Of You which was arranged by Rich Tufo and  produced by Curtis Mayfield. It’s a beautiful ballad that showcases the combined and considerable talents of Gladys Knight and The Pips who were enjoying the most successful period of their career.

Another single edit on the compilation is Let’s Do It Again by The Staple Singers. It was arranged by Rich Tufo and  Gil Asked with Curtis Mayfield in charge of production. The single reached number twenty on the US Billboard 200 and  topped the US R&B charts. No wonder as it features The Staple Singers at their very best backed by a stunning arrangement that features dancing strings. This is another highlight of People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook.

The third single edit is Look Into Your Heart by Aretha Franklin. Rich Tufo arranged and orchestrated the single.  Curtis Mayfield also arranged and produced the single.  It was released in 1976, and by then Aretha Franklin was no longer was as popular. However, she unleashed an impassioned soulful vocal  which is accompanied by an outstanding orchestrated arrangement. The result was a hit single that helped to get the Queen Of Soul’s career back on track.

Keni Burke’s Never Stop Loving Me which the singer wrote with Deidra Burke and Curtis Mayfield. It was one of the highlights on the Never Stop Loving album which was released on RCA Victor in 1981. Despite its quality the song was relegated to the B-Side of Tripping Out. Those who flipped over to the B-Side discovered a hidden gem that sparkled brightly.

Closing  People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook is Hard Times by John Legend and The Roots featuring Black Thought. The song which was written in 1968 featured on the R&B stars 2010 collaboration with The Roots, Wake Up. It featured a selection of sixties and seventies soul songs with social themes that had been inspired by the election of President Obama in 2008. When the album was released by Columbia it sold 273,000 but still  reached number eight on the US Billboard 200 and three on the US R&B charts.  

It can’t have been easy choosing just twenty-four tracks for People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook as he was a prolific songwriter whose songs were covered by so many people.  The great and good of music covered Curtis Mayfield’s songs and there’s more than enough material for a double or triple album. However, compiler Tony Rounce managed to choose just twenty-four songs, and has chosen well.  

Legends of soul and R&B rub shoulders with what will be new name to many people on People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook. It features beautiful ballads and  timeless socially conscious soul. The result is a lovingly curated compilation and a welcome instalment in the Ace Records Songwriter Series.

People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook features twenty-four songs from the pen of one the greatest singer and songwriters of his generation and is a poignant reminder of the late, great soul man’s considerable talents.

People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook.

 

 

LONNIE LISTON SMITH AND THE COSMIC ECHOES-RENAISSANCE.

Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes-Renaissance.

Label: BGP.

Format: CD.

Innovative, influential and way ahead of the musical curve, describes the music of Lonnie Liston Smith, and specially the five albums he recorded with The Cosmic Echoes for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions between 1973 and 1976  This began with Astral Travelling in 1973 with  Cosmic Funk followed in 1974. This was just the start.

Expansions which followed in 1975 featured Lonnie Liston Smith at the peak of his powers on what was the most successful album of his career. He had brought onboard his brother Donald, whose vocals added a new dimension to the groundbreaking music.

Later in 1975, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Visions Of A New World. It was their penultimate album for Flying Dutchman Productions which was tailor made for pioneering artists like Lonnie Liston Smith. It was a smaller label where artists were encouraged to experiment and innovate and produce music the music that they really wanted. Often this resulted in albums of groundbreaking music. This included Reflections Of A Golden Dream which was released in 1976, and turned out to be Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ swan-song for Flying Dutchman Productions.

In 1976, there was a takeover of Flying Dutchman Productions by RCA. After some changes at the parent company it was decided to release Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ next album on RCA rather than Flying Dutchman Productions. It was the end of an era. However, Renaissance which has just been reissued by BGP, was another album of innovative music from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. 

Led by musical visionary Lonnie Liston Smith Renaissance finds him pushing musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes, beyond. That’s had been the story of his career which began a decade earlier. Since then, the man who had been born to make music had been establishing himself as a musician.

For Lonnie Liston Smith, it was almost written in the stars that he would become a musicians. He was born in 1940, into a musical family and his father was a member of Richmond Gospel music group the Harmonising Four. Growing up, members of gospel groups The Soul Stirrers and Swan Silvertones were regular visitors to the Smith household. With all this music surrounding him, Lonnie Liston Smith learned piano, tuba and trumpet in High School and college. After college, he headed to Morgan State University.

Inspired by Trane, Bird and Miles Davis, Lonnie Lonnie Liston Smith embarked upon a degree in musical education. Throughout his time at University, he continued playing the pianist in local clubs and singing backing vocals. He played with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz and trombonist Graham Moncur. This was all part of Lonnie’s musical eduction. Having completed his BSc in musical education at Morgan State University, Lonnie Lonnie Liston Smith walked straight into a job.

On leaving Morgan State University, Lonnie Liston Smith got a job with the Royal Theatre’s house band. For a young musician, this was would help turn them into a musical all-rounder. After all, they had to be able to accompany a wide range of artists. For Lonnie Liston Smith this was the next stage in his musical education. The next part of  his musical education took place in New York.

Having moved to New York, Lonnie Lonnie Liston Smith was luck enough to get a gig playing piano in Betty Carter’s band. This helped Lonnie Liston Smith get his name known in the Big Apple. Then in early 1965, he caught a break.

He joined Roland Kirk’s band and made his recording debut on March 14th 1965. That was when Here Comes The Whistleman was recorded live in New York  Lonnie Liston Smith only played on the title-track, Making Love After Hours, Yesterdays and Step Right Up. Then he featured on Roland andAl Hibbler’s 1965 live album A Meeting Of The Times. After this, he joined one of jazz’s top bands.

Over the last few years, The Jazz Messengers had established a reputation for young musicians looking to make a name for themselves. Lonnie Liston Smith joined in 1965. He shared the role with Mick Nock and Keith Jarrett. However, with The Jazz Messengers ever evolving lineup and only played three in concerts. These three concerts just so happened to be at the legendary Village Vanguard. For Lonnie Liston Smith, despite the prestigious venue, this must have been a disappointing time. Luckily, he was rehired by Roland Kirk. 

Lonnie Liston Smith rejoined Roland Kirk’s band in time to play on his 1968 album Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith. This established his reputation as the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a pianist. It was the start of period where Lonnie Liston Smith worked with some of the most innovative and inventive jazz players. Musical boundaries were about to be pushed to their limits as Lonnie joined Pharaoh Saunders’ legendary free jazz band.

Pharaoh Saunders had worked closely with John Coltrane right up to his death in 1967. The following year, Pharaoh Saunders formed a new band. Their music is best described as groundbreaking free jazz. Musical boundaries were pushed to their limits and beyond by one of the genre’s pioneers. Recognising a fellow believer in free jazz, Pharaoh Saunders asked Lonnie Liston Smith to join his band.

He went on to play on three of Pharaoh Saunders best albums. The first of this trio was 1969s Karma. It was followed in 1970 with Jewels of Thought and 1971s Thembi. The other Pharaoh Saunders album Lonnie Liston Smith played on was 1970s Summun Bukmun Umyun. which was released on Impulse. Just like the three albums Pharaoh Saunders recorded for Flying Dutchman Productions it was a innovative album that was way ahead of the musical curve.

During this period, Pharaoh Saunders and his band were constantly pushing boundaries and rewriting the musical rulebook. Their music was truly groundbreaking. Even Lonnie Liston Smith was challenged. On Thembi, Pharaoh asked Lonnie to play the Fender Rhodes. This was the first time that Lonnie Liston Smith came across an electric piano. However, he rose to challenge and wrote Thembi’s opening track Astral Travelling. Later, Astral Travelling would become synonymous with Lonnie Liston Smith and The Echoes. Before that, Lonnie Liston Smith would play with some of jazz’s maverick.

One of these mavericks was Gato Barbieri. He had just signed to Bob Thiele’s nascent label Flying Dutchman Productions. It was establishing a reputation for providing musicians with an environment where innovative and creative musicians could thrive.

Bob Thiele believed musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment like a major label. Their creativity was restricted meaning that were unable to experiment and innovate like they would like. So, he signed Gato Barbieri to Flying Dutchman and Lonnie  Liston Smith was asked to play on his 1969 debut album The Third World.

The next signing to Flying Dutchman Productions was Leon Thomas, and Lonnie Liston Smith played on his debut album Spirits Known and Unknown. Soon, Lonnie was a regular at Flying Dutchman sessions.

When the time came for Gato Barbieri to record his 1971 sophomore album Fenix, Lonnie Liston Smith was called upon. He played on Fenix and joined Gato Barbieri’s band. Je played on Gato’s 1972 album El Pampero and toured throughout Europe with the band. Then came the opportunity of a lifetime. After El Pampero, Lonnie Liston Smith got the chance to work with another jazz legend.

Liston Smith was a member of Gato Barbieri’s band when Miles Davis got in touch. He wanted the pianist to join his band. At this time, Miles Davis’ music was changing direction. The direction it was heading in was funk. Electronic instruments were the flavour of the month for Miles Davis and he was exploring their possibilities. However, he was doing this outside the studio environment. That’s why there are very few recordings of Lonnie Liston Smith playing alongside Miles Davis at that time. That came later when Lonnie Liston Smith subsequently worked with Miles. Meanwhile, he decided to move on with his solo career and his debut album Astral Travelling.

Astral Travelling.

When recording of Astral Travelling began, Lonnie Liston Smith had put together some of the most talented and innovative musicians. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section included bassist Cecil McBee, drummer David Lee and guitarist Joe Beck. Sonrily Morgan and James Mtume played percussion and conga, Gee Vashi tamboura and Badal Roy tabla. George Barron played tenor and soprano saxophone and Lonnie played piano and electric piano on Astral Travelling. Bob Theile produced Astral Travelling, which was released in 1973.

On its release in 1973, Astral Travelling was critically acclaimed. Critics were won over by Astral Travelling’s fusion of avant garde, experimental, free jazz and orthodox jazz. The music was variously beautiful, dramatic, explosive, ethereal, flamboyant languid, mellow, serene spiritual and urgent. It was as if Lonnie had drawn upon all his experience working as a sideman. He had worked with Pharaoh Saunders, Gato Barbieri, The Jazz Messengers, Leon Thomas, Stanley Turrentine and Miles Davis.

The result was Lonnie Liston Smith’s unique brand of cosmic jazz. It went on to influence several generations of musicians and music lovers, and show that  Lonnie Liston Smith was no ordinary musician. Instead,  he was an innovator, who was determined to push musical boundaries to their limits and beyond. This was apparent on Astral Travelling, and its followup Cosmic Funk.

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Cosmic Funk.

Cosmic Funk featured six tracks, three of which Lonnie Liston Smith wrote. They were the title-track Cosmic Funk, Beautiful Woman and Peaceful Ones. The other tracks were Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, James Mtume’s and John Coltrane’s Naima. These six tracks were recorded by an all-star band.

For the recording of Cosmic Funk, Lonnie had put together some of the most talented and innovative musicians. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section included bassist Al Anderson, drummer Art Gore. Lawrence Killian played percussion and conga, while Doug Hammond, Ron Bridgewater and Andrew Cyrille played percussion. George Barron  soprano saxophone, flute and percussion, while Donald Smith played piano, flute and added vocals. Lonnie played acoustic and electric piano plus persuasion on Cosmic Funk. Bob Theile produced Cosmic Funk, which was released in 1974.

Cosmic Funk was released in 1974. Critics heard a different side to Lonnie Liston Smith on Cosmic Funk. It was a much more orthodox album. One thing remained the same, the reaction of critics. Just like Astral Travelling, plaudits and critical acclaim followed the release of Cosmic Funk. It turned out to be a a transitionary album Lonnie Liston Smith, which sadly, wasn’t a huge commercial success. 

Cosmic Funk proved to be a much more orthodox jazz album from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. Elements of jazz, funk, Latin and soul were combined on Cosmic Funk. The music veered between anthemic,  beautiful, ethereal,  experimental, flamboyant, funky, futuristic and wistful. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes was a stepping stone for Lonnie Liston Smith.

Despite  its much more orthodox jazz sound, Cosmic Funk found Lonnie Liston Smith and and The Cosmic Echoes one step nearer finding his trademark sound. They found his trademark sound on his third album, Expansions, which was released in 1975. For Lonnie, the first two albums of his career were part of a musical voyage of discovery. 

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Expansions.

By the time Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Expansions in early 1975, Bob Thiele had take Flying Dutchman Productions’ releases to RCA. This safeguarded Flying Dutchman Productions’ future. By then, Bob Thiele had discovered RCA wanted sales, and sales was what they got.

Expansions reached eight-five in the US Billboard 200, twenty-seven in the US R&B charts and number two in the US Jazz charts. This made Expansions one of Flying Dutchman Productions’ most successful albums. 

Meanwhile, club and radio DJs were spinning tracks from Expansions. Belatedly, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes were the flavour of the month among DJs, dancers and discerning record buyers. So, it’s no surprise that Bob Thiele sent Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes into the studio again, where they recorded Visions Of A New World.

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Visions Of A New World.

For Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ fourth album, Visions Of A New World, Lonnie penned seven tracks, including Lonnie Liston Smith’s hopeful anthem, A Chance For Peace. The other track, Devika (Goddess) was written by Dave Hubbard and Sarina Grant. These eight tracks were recorded at Electric Ladyland Studios, New York.

At Electric Ladyland Studios, Bob Thiele and Lonnie Liston produced the eight tracks that eventually became Visions Of A New World. Accompanying Lonnie were The Cosmic Echoes. Their rhythm section featured bassist Greg Maker, drummer Art Gore and Wilby Fletcher and guitarist Reggie Lucas. Percussionists included Michael Carvin, Ray Armando, Angel Allende who added bongos and Lawrence Killian who also played congas. Flautist Donald Smith also added vocals on three tracks. The horn section included soprano saxophonist Dave Hubert, trombonist Clifford Adams and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater. This was a very different lineup of The Cosmic Echoes that featured on Astral Travelling. Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards was the only constant. This constantly evolving lineup didn’t affect the reception of Visions Of A New World.

Just like previous albums, critics hailed Visions Of A New World was hailed an album of ambitious and groundbreaking music. Lonnie Liston Smith was seen as a musical pioneer, capable of creating music that was dreamy, elegiac funky, hopeful, ruminative, sensual, smooth and sultry. It was also ambitious and  innovative, and soon, was hailed a minor classic where elements of free jazz, funk, fusion, rock, smooth jazz and soul.  The result was another album that was way ahead of the musical curve. Visions Of A New World was also Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ most successful album.

When Visions Of A New World was released in the summer of 1975, it reached number seventy-four in the US Billboard 200, fourteen in the US R&B charts and number four in the US Jazz charts. Visions Of A New World was Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes’ most successful album.  After four albums, Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes’ music was reaching a much wider audience. Now Lonnie Liston and The Cosmic Echoes had to do it all again on Visions Of A New World.

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Reflections Of A Golden Dream.

For his fifth solo album,  Reflections Of A Golden Dream, Lonnie Liston Smith penned nine tracks, and cowrote Peace and Love with Leopoldo Fleming. The ten tracks were recorded by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes, which featured some top musicians.

Just like with previous albums, the lineup of The Cosmic Echoes seemed in a constant state of flux. The Cosmic Echoes’ rhythm section featured bassist Al Anderson and drummer Art Gore and Wilby Fletcher. Percussionists included Guilherme Franco and Leopoldo Fleming who also added congas and guaitar. Flautist Donald Smith also added vocals on three tracks; while Dave Hubert switched between flute and soprano saxophonist. The horn section also included tenor saxophonist George Opalisky; plus Joe Shepley and Jon Faddis who played trumpet and flugelhorn. Backing vocalists included Maeretha Stewart, Patti Austin and Vivian Cherry. They augmented this latest version of The Cosmic Echoes on Visions Of A New World Astral Travelling. 

Lonnie Liston Smith, played keyboards, piano and added vocals. He also co-produced Reflections Of A Golden Dream with Bob Thiele. However, it later became apparent that Lonnie Liston Smith more or less took charge of production on Reflections Of A Golden Dream. Bob Thiele’s role, was more of an executive producer. That didn’t seem to affect the reviews of Reflections Of A Golden Dream.

Critics, when they received their advance copies of Reflections Of A Golden Dream, found Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes combining dance-floor friendly music with social comment on Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace) and Peace and Love. Meditations featured a much more pensive, spiritual sound; while Journey Into Space saw Lonnie Liston Smith became a musical voyager. Just like previous albums,  Reflections Of A Golden Dream received plaudits and critical acclaim. That was all very well. However, would Reflections Of A Golden Dream ensure that Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes run of commercial success continued?

When Reflections Of A Golden Dream was released in 1976, the album sold well, but didn’t match the commercial success of Visions Of A New World. It remained the most successful album of Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ time at Flying Dutchman Productions. However, it turned out that  Reflections Of A Golden Dream was the last album that Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman  Productions.r-910451-1172042457-jpeg

By 1976, changes were afoot at Flying Dutchman Productions. Bob Thiele’s label had been taken over by RCA who had distributed the label since 1972. Straight away, RCA began a review of their latest acquisition.

Eventually,  RCA decided that the only artist from the Flying Dutchman Productions’ roster they wanted to keep was Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. This wasn’t good news for the label Bob Thiele had spent years building up. Worse was to come for him. He would be retained as a producer on a project-by-project basis. This began with  Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’s album Renaissance.

Renaissance.

For Renaissance, which was  Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’s debut for RCA Victor, the bandleader and pianist wrote five tracks. This included Space Lady, Mardi Gras (Carnival), Starlight And You, A Song Of Love and Between Here. He also wrote the music to Renaissance which features lyrics by Jeff Gaines. Meanwhile, Dave Hubbard had written Mongotee which would feature on  Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes sixth album of cosmic jazz, Renaissance.

Bob Thiele brought Horace Ott onboard to arrange the strings, woodwinds and backing vocals on Renaissance. It was another ambitious, innovative genre-melting album from Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.

When recording began, Harvey Goldberg was the engineer and would later mix the album with Bob Thiele. The latest incarnation of The Cosmic Echoes was a multitalented and versatile band who were capable of making groundbreaking music. It featured a rhythm section of drummer Wilby Fletcher and bassist Al Anderson. They were joined by Gene Bertoncini on acoustic guitar, Leon Pendarvis on clavinet, conga player Lawrence Killian,  percussionist Guilherme Franco and Ken Bichel on Moog synth. Two musicians who played an important role on David Renaissance were Hubbard who played flute, tenor and soprano saxophone while Donald Smith played flute and added vocals. Bandleader Lonnie Liston Smith switched between acoustic and electric piano and coproduced the album with Bob Thiele who had mixed Renaissance. 

When Renaissance was released it was to plaudits and praise. Critics were impressed with an album that combined cosmic jazz and jazz funk. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes had effortlessly combined to create a musical potpourri that was melodic, rhythmic and continued the spiritual consciousness of previous albums. Later, the album would be considered a cosmic jazz classic. That’s no surprise given  the quality of music on the album.

Renaissance opens with Space Lady where cosmic jazz and jazz funk are combined by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. They then unleash the jazz dance classic Mardi Gras (Carnival) which is one of the highlights of the album. Starlight and You which features a vocal masterclass from Donald Smith is a beautiful cinematic ballad that’s often overlooked and is one of the hidden gems on the album. Very different is Mongotee which heads in the direction of jazz. It’s all change on the dancer A Song Of Love which benefits from an emotive and heartfelt vocal from Donald Smith. However,  the thoughtful, pensive and spacey sounding Between Here And There is without doubt one of the album’s finest moments. Bringing Renaissance to a close is the title-track which features lyrics by Jeff Gaines. Originally the song was going to be an instrumental but a chance meeting resulted in the lyrics being written and a new ending to Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ sixth album and RCA Victor debut.

Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ sixth album and RCA Victor debut was an captivating and eclectic mixture of moods and musical genres. It finds the pioneering bandleader and pianist leading a band on Renaissance which later became a cosmic jazz classic. However, it’s not just a cosmic jazz that features on Renaissance. There’s also jazz funk and elements of avant-garde, experimental, free jazz, funk, fusion and jazz on what was a truly ambitious album.

Renaissance like the five albums that Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions was an innovative genre-melting album that is still influenced a new generation of musicians. That’s no surprise as Lonnie Liston Smith was a leader, not a follower, and pioneer whose music was way ahead of his time. Renaissance. and the albums that Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released on Flying Dutchman Productions feature a true musical visionary at the peak of his considerable creative powers.

Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes-Renaissance.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLOW MY MIND! THE DORE-ERA MIRA PUNK AND PSYCH LEGACY.

Blow My Mind! The Doré-Era-Mira Punk and Psych Legacy.

Label: Big Beat Records.

Format: CD.

During the fifties and sixtes many small record companies sprung up across America. Especially, in cities like New York and Los Angeles which were two of America’s musical cities.  One of these new labels was Era Records which was founded in 1955 by two cousins, Lew Bedell and Herb Newman.

The two cousins came from very different backgrounds. Lew Bedell had been a comedian but his career was at a crossroads. So he was on the lookout for a new career. Herb Newman was a music industry veteran who had started out as a West Coast sales rep for Mercury and later Decca. Having learnt the ropes, Herb wanted to form his own company. With his cousin looking for a new career, this seemed like the perfect opportunity for the two cousins.

Herb and Lew were like brothers. This had been the case since Lew’s parents split-up.  After his parent’s divorce, his mother took Lew and his sister to New York. They didn’t stay long in the Big Apple. Instead, they headed to Los Angeles where they stayed with Max Newman. Not long after this, Herb Newman was born. The two cousins were brought up together and later went in to business together.

With the financial support of Herb’s father Max Newman, they founded Era Records in 1955. Three years later, in 1958, Dore Records, an imprint of Era Records was founded. The rationale behind forming a second label was that it would double the chances of having a record played on the radio. Dore  Records would also allow Herb and Lew to release much more groundbreaking records. 

This was the case from the day Dore  Records opened its doors. Having released two singles, a young Phil Spector approached Herb and Lew with To Know Him Is To Love Him, by The Teddy Bears. When Herb heard the understated arrangement, he thought that if it was to be released on Era the record would be rerecorded. Phil disagreed. So did Lew. He heard the potential in the To Know Him Is To Love Him and agreed to release the track in its original form. It became a huge worldwide hit. However, for the next couple of years, Lew and Herbs opinions on music differed. Eventually, in 1959, Lew and Herb decided to go their own ways in May 1959.

It was an amicable spilt. Herb Newman continued with Era Records, but moved the company to new premises. Lew retained Dore  Records, which stayed at 1481 Vine Street, Hollywood.

Dore Records became Lew’s baby. He was a shrewd judge of character and transformed the label into one of the top independent soul labels of the sixties. However, there was more to the label than soul. 

That was despite Dore Records struggling to keep up with the changes in musical fashions. The British Invasion groups had taken America by storm and changed the musical landscape. Dore Records had started to released a more eclectic selection of music including pop and novelty discs. They were joined by psych and singles by garage proto-punk bands. However,  these releases failed to find an audience. 

It was a similar case at another label  founded by a music industry veteran. Mira was founded in June 1965 by Randall Wood, the former president of Vee Jay Records. It was the sister label of Mirwood but was a relatively short-lived enterprise. The label closed its doors for the last time in 1968. However, by then, just like Era and Dore Records Mira had released a number of hidden gems.

These hidden gems feature on Blow My Mind! The Doré-Era-Mira Punk and Psych Legacy which is a new compilation which was recently released by Big Beat Records. It features twenty-five tracks from the likes of The Syndicate, The Leaves, The Motion,  South Hampton Story, Yesterday’s Tomorrow,  John Winfield Jr,  Spencer’s Van Dykes,  The Search,  The Bees and The Tormentors. Some of the tracks have never been released before and make their debut on the compilation. 

Opening Blow My Mind! The Doré-Era-Mira Punk and Psych Legacy is My Baby’s Barefoot by The Syndicate. It was writen by Bill Rash and released as a single on Dore in 1965.  The group sneer and  swagger their way through what’s best described as a s slice of proto-punk that’s full of attitude.

Garage band The Leaves are best known for their cover of Joe. One of their lesser known songs is Do Me A Favor which has never been released before. It’s a stomping slice of garage rock with  a wailing blues harmonica that leaves a lasting impression.

The Lyrics feature twice on the compilation. This includes their single They Can’t Hurt Me which was released on Era in December 1965. The B-Side was the defiant sounding hidden gem So What!!. Both songs ooze quality and  have obviously been influenced by the British Invasion  groups. 

Another hidden gem which was only known amongst a select group of record collectors was Leave Me Behind by South Hampton Story.  It was arranged and produced by Christian Wilde and released on the In-Sound imprint in 1969. It’s trippy and atmospheric as fuzz guitars, Doors influenced keyboards and tight harmonies combine to make the world a better place. 

Yesterday’s Tomorrow released the John Greek production  Leave Me Behind on Dore in 1968. They were one of the garage bands signed to the label and the track is highly rated amongst connoisseurs of the genre.

Singer-songwriter John Winfield Jr signed to Dore in mid-1965 and later that year recorded She Touched My Soul. The original version of this folk rock track has never been released before features makes a welcome debut on the compilation. It showcases a talented singer and storyteller who should’ve reached greater heights.

Ty Wagner was still a teenager when signed to Era in 1965. A year later, he recorded his composition Slander which was produced by Don Ralke. It’s a riotous screamer full of posturing, angst and attitude from the still rebellious teenager.

I’ll Blow My Mind was released on Dore in 1966 by Spencer’s Van Dykes. It’s driven along by the bass and features an energetic and enthusiastic performance that sounds as if it’s been influenced by the British Invasion groups. 

I’m Gonna Dance by The Wrench is a dreamy and slightly psychedelic track that features Ina Sharoff’s vocal. It was released on Dore in 1969 and this hidden gem is one of the highlights of the compilation.

The Search was a group from the San Diego area who signed to the In-Sound and cut two singles at Gold Star in 1967. This includes Climate which was released which was played by some DJs on the West Coast. They heard the potential in a track that features an impassioned vocal and carefully crafted stop start arrangement. Sadly, the single wasn’t a commercial success because by then, the label was suffering distribution problems. For the group it was a case of what might have been?

Shame by The Front Page and Her was released on Dore in 1968. The group from Torance was one of the lesser known names to release a single on the label. However, it’s a truly memorable genre-melting track where pop, rock and psych melts into one on a track that was ahead of its time.

Forget Me Girl by The Bees was released on Mira in 1965. This was one of two singles the group cut for the label.  Pop meets rock on a carefully crafted arrangement with a memorable hook.

Cobwebs was a slice of theatrical or horror psych that featured on the B-Side of Simon T Stokes1967 single for In-Sound. It’s very different to his other contribution She Touched My Soul. However, he was a versatile vocalist and his second contribution is the perfect way to close Blow My Mind! The Doré-Era-Mira Punk and Psych Legacy.

For collectors and fans of sixties garage, proto-punk and psych the twenty-five tracks on Blow My Mind! The Doré-Era-Mira Punk and Psych Legacy will be a veritable musical feast. There’s many tasty morsels amongst the unreleased tracks, obscurities, B and singles. Bon appétit. 

Blow My Mind! The Doré-Era-Mira Punk and Psych Legacy.

CAN I GET A WITNESS-STAX SOUTHERN GROOVE.

Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

Satellite Records was founded in 1957 by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton and four years later, in 1961, the label changed its name to Stax Records. The newly named label was then joined by Volt Records which was its sister label. This was the start of a new era.

Little did anyone realise that when Satellite Records became Stax Records in 1961 that over the next ten years it would become one of the most important, influential and successful Southern Soul labels.

That’s no wonder given the artists that were signed to Stax Records. It was home to everyone from Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes to Sam and Dave, The Soul Children, Eddie Floyd and William Bell to Booker T and The MGs. They played their part in the rise and rise of Stax Records which became one of the greatest ever soul labels.

Sixty years after Satellite Records became Stax Records, Kent Soul recently released a new twenty track compilation Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove. There’s eleven previously unreleased tracks from the likes of The Soul Children, Little Milton, The Emotions, The Sweet Inspirations, The Nightingales and Frederick Knight. The other nine tracks feature contributions from Eddie Floyd, R.B. Hudmon, The Rance Allen Group and Eric Mercury. There’s deep cuts, album tracks and dancefloor fillers on this compilation that’s full of rarities and hidden gems on the compilation.

After leaving Chess Records, Little Milton signed to Stax and began the next chapter in his career. One of the tracks he recorded and produced early in his time at the label was  Bad Water which opens Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove. He would go on to record two albums and a string of singles including several future soul classics. However, his cover this Jackie DeShannon, Jimmy Holiday and Randy Myers song was never released and makes its debut on the compilation. The arrangement is funky with a horn arrangement that could only have been recorded in Memphis. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Little Milton’s impassioned vocal as he combines blues and soul on a track that sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.

Eddie Floyd’s long and illustrious career began in 1956 and ten years later he enjoyed his biggest 1966 hit single Knock On Wood. It kickstarted his career at Stax when it reached number twenty-six on the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. Soon, the Detroit born singer was playing an important part in the Stax story. He was a prolific artist and many of his recordings were never released. This included Can We Talk This Over which lay unreleased until it featured on 5,000 Volts Of Southern Soul in 1998. It’s a hook-laden and memorable slice of dancefloor friendly soul that could’ve given the talented soul man another hit single.

There’s two previously unreleased tracks from The Nightingales who signed to Stax in 1964 when they were known as The Dixie Nightingales and three years later crossed over and started singing secular music. This resulted in a change in lineup with Quincy Billops formerly of The Mad Lads taking over lead vocal duties. That was the end of the changes as the group become known as Ollie and The Nightingales. Their contribution  to the compilation  is an unreleased track The Natural You. This rarity features a soulful vocal powerhouse and lush sweeping strings.

Later, Ollie and The Nightingales changed their name to The Nightingales and worked with producer Mack Rice. They recorded Burning On Both Ends and Slow Down which benefits from strings and horns and epitomises everything that’s good about Memphis soul. Sadly, neither track was released and make a welcome debut on Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove.

I Wanna Make Up (Before We Break Up) was released by Major Lance as a single on Volt in 1972. The hooks haven’t been spared by producer Don Davis who brought onboard the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section for the recording of what was one of four singles the Major recorded for Stax.

Nowadays, The Soul Children are regarded as one of the most important and were one groups on Stax. The group was brought together by Isaac Hayes and David Porter after the departure of Sam and Dave. They group went on to release four albums and were recording their fifth album when the label became insolvent. By then, the group had enjoyed a string of successful singles. However, one of the unreleased tracks from The Soul Children’s final session for Stax was You Ain’t Playing With No Toy which is a captivating reminder of the group at their soulful best.

Fredrick Knight signed to the Stax in 1972 but when he released the medley of Passing Thru/World Keeps Turning as a single it was on the Truth imprint.  The version on the compilation is an extended version with  the ballad and is quite different to much of the music Stax was releasing. Although Passing Thru is a ballad, there’s a slightly tougher, edgier sound in parts before it gives way to World Keeps Turning. The result is a a groundbreaking track that was ahead of its time.

The Emotions from the Windy City of Chicago signed to Stax in 1969 and enjoyed a five year spell with the Memphis-based label.  During this period, they recorded two albums and around a dozen singles. There was also a number of songs that were recorded and never released. This includes  Ain’t Enough Hours which was produced by Isaac Hayes and David Porter but was never finished. However, the song is still a tantalising taste of what The Emotions were capable of during their Stax years.

Originally,  the members of The Sweet Inspirations were top session singers in New York. The group was formed in 1967 and included Cissy Houston. By the time they signed to Stax and recorded Don’t Fight The Feeling with David Porter and Ronnie Williams they were a trio. It’s a soulful and funky song that makes its debut on the compilation and is a reminder of an underrated group whose Stax singles and albums are often overlooked.

Soulful and funky describes Jean Knight’s Helping Man which was released as a single by Stax in 1972. It wasn’t recorded in Memphis. Instead, the song was cut at Malaco’s Studio, in Jackson, Mississippi, with Wardell Quezergue arranging and producing this hidden gem.

Closing Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove is Leaning On Your Undying Love by Shack. This is a demo version of the song and one can only wonder what it would’ve sounded like if completed? Maybe it’s a case of what might have been for Shack?

For fans of Stax and its various imprints Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove will be welcome release which they will embrace and enjoy. It features demos, rarities, singles and also hidden gems aplenty among the unreleased tracks. There’s contributions on the compilation from familiar faces and others who played just a  walk-on part in the Stax story. They’re responsible for a mixture of ballads or dancefloor friendly tracks including  many which were good enough to release as a single. With a number of the tracks it’s a case of wondering what might have been if these tracks had been released as singles?

The quality of the twenty tracks on Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove prove that there’s a lot more music in the Stax vaults waiting to be unearthed. Hopefully, compiler Dean Rudland dig even deeper and Kent Soul will release a followup to Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove which is one of the finest soul compilation of recent months and to cherish and enjoy.

Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove.

GOOD GOOD FEELING! MORE MOTOWN GIRLS.

Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

During the sixties, Motown was fortunate enough to have an array of talented female vocalists and girl groups on their roster. Some went on to become household names. This included Brenda Holloway, Kim Weston, Martha and The Vandellas and Gladys Knight and The Pips. They were the lucky ones.

For every star that was born at Motown, many talented singers signed to the label never enjoyed the success their talent deserved. Part of the problem was so many artists were signed to the label and many were left waiting for their chance to become a star. This was frustrating for many artists and groups. Especially those that had recorded singles and were waiting for them to be released.

Often the Motown machine failed to get behind the singles which were released without any fanfare. These singles failed to trouble the charts and often the dream was over for the artist.  However, at least their single had been released. 

Other artists recorded tracks which were never released and their dreams were also crushed. Sadly, many had no option but to turn their back on music and return to the drudgery of the 9 to 5 life they had dreamt of leaving behind. Many of these artists never thought that the tracks they had recorded would ever be recorded. 

Then decades later reissue labels started releasing compilations from the Motown back catalogue. This included Ace Records who recently released Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls. It’s the latest instalment in their occasional Motown Girls series and features a mixture of familiar faces and new names on this twenty-five track compilation. Six of the tracks have never been released before and many others have only been released digitally. This makes Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls a compilation that will be of interest to fans of the label. Especially given the array of talent that features on the compilation.

Opening Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls is Martha and The Vandellas previously unreleased version of This Love I’ve Got. Originally, the song was intended for Ivy Jo Hunter and it’s thought that he recorded the song but the recording was lost. Later, the song was reassigned to Martha and The Vandellas who recorded it on the ‘19th’ August 1965 with producer by William Stevenson. The result was a hidden gem that could’ve been a sixties’ dancefloor filler.  

Gladys Knight and The Pips are another group that feature twice on the compilation. Nothing But A Fool  was recorded over three sessions between April and June 1966 with Ivy Joe Hunter taking charge of production. The result was a stomper with a vocal powerhouse from Gladys Knight. Sadly, the song lay unreleased until 2016 when it was released digitally.

Brenda Holloway recorded the hook-laden dancer Good Good Feeling in LA on the ‘6th’ of March 1968. Incredibly, the song lay unreleased and makes its debut on this compilation.

On December the ‘2nd’ 1966 Debbie Dean laid down her vocal for When I’m So Helpless (When I’m With You). This was the second time she had signed to Motown and she was working with producer Dennis Lussier (aka Deke Richards) who cowrote the song. Sadly, after the recording was complete the track lay unreleased until 2016. That’s a great shame as DJs and dancers on the UK Northern Soul circuit would’ve enjoyed this track. 

Irresistible and dancefloor friendly describes A Love So Deep Inside by The Velvelettes. Ironically the song wasn’t meant for the group. Instead, it was given to Ivy Joe Hunter but reassigned to The Velvelettes who recorded the song with William Stevenson on the ‘5th’ of January 1966. The song was never released and made its debut the CD The Motown Anthology in 2004. Seventeen years it returns for a well deserved encore.

In 1968, Gladys Knight and The Pips recorded  Show Me The Way with producer Richard Morris. They were following in the footsteps of Jimmy “JJ” Barnes who cut the song during his brief spell at Motown. However, the two versions are very different; with producer Richard Morris slowing the arrangement down. It becomes moody and seductive with Gladys Knight unleashing a vocal masterclass as The Pips provide complimentary backing vocals. Motown rejected the song which  lay which lay in their vaults until 2016 when it was released digitally. Belatedly soul fans were able to hear this soulful gem which features Gladys Knight’s impassioned soulful pleadings.

On the ‘10th’ of July 2020 Ann Bogan entered the studio with producer Harvey Fuqua who had also written Hold Me Oh My Darling. That day, she delivered a vocal that was a mixture of power, passion and emotion. Despite the quality of the song it lay unreleased until 2020 when it made its debut on a Cellarful Of Motown! A year later, this hidden gem makes a welcome return on Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls.

Kim Weston wasn’t the first singer to record Drop In The Bucket. That was Mary Wells who  left Motown when she turned twenty-one. The song was then given to Kim Weston who cut the song with its writer William “Smokey” Robinson.  By the ‘23rd January 1964, executives at Motown had high hopes for the twenty-four year old singer and hoped she would replace Mary Wells as the label’s most successful female vocalist. However,  when Drop In The Bucket was recorded it was never released. Thirty-three years later in 1997 it featured on The Complete Motown Anthology. It was a reminder of a truly talented singer went on to enjoy a string of hit singles including her duet with Marvin Gaye It Takes Two.

Chester and Gary Pipkin wrote Stuck Up which West Coast session singer Oma Heard recorded with producers Marc Gordon and Hal Davis in LA in 1965. It’s a catchy track with handclaps and horns playing an important part in the arrangement. They provide the perfect backdrop for a frustrated and almost defiant vocal. Sadly, the song lay unreleased for fifty years until it was released digitally in 2015. It’s so good it deserves another airing and will still fill a dancefloor in 2021. 

In Twenty Words Or Less was penned by Stanley Ossman and George Fowler who produced the song for LaBrenda Ben in 1963. His use of horns and backing vocals are particularly effective and compliment the vocal on a track that wasn’t first released until digitally in 2013. It’s regarded as a cult classic and a favourite of many soul fans.

Gospel meets soul on Brenda Holloway’s second contribution to the compilation, Keep Me. It was produced by the legendary Hal Davis in LA on the ‘28th’ June 1966. It’s the best of her two songs and features an impassioned and needy vocal on a vastly underrated track. It lay unreleased until 2016 and make a very welcome return on Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls.

Watching A Plane In The Sky was recorded in 1968 by actress and singer Barbara McNair. By then, she had spent three years at Motown and had already released four singles and two albums. When she entered the studio with producer Frank Wilson of Do I Love You fame she thought she was recording her next single. That wasn’t to be and the song was never released. Two years later in 1970 Barbara McNair’s acting career took off when she starred as Sidney Poitier’s wife in the film They Call Me Mr Tibbs. However, the hidden gem Watching A Plane In The Sky is a reminder of a talented singer whose Motown years are well worth revisiting.

In 1968, The Lewis Sisters recorded the original version of My World Is Crumbling. It was produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier and features a hurt filled vocal that sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics. The song was later was covered by Brenda Holloway and her version is now regarded as a soul classic. Sadly, the original was never released and commercially success eluded  the talented Lewis Sister who recorded just one more track for Motown. This however, was their finest and is a reminder of what might have been.

Closing Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls is Yvonne Fair’s version of All I Could Do Was Cry  which was originally recorded by Etta James in 1960. This powerful five-and-a-half minute cover was recorded in 1969 and wasn’t released until 2019. It’s a welcome addition to the compilation and the perfect way to bring the latest instalment in the series to a  close.

Compilers Keith Hughes and Mick Patrick have dug deep to unearth the twenty-five tracks on Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls. Six have never been released before and many have only been released digitally.  Throughout the disc that features contributions from familiar faces and what will be new names to all but the most devoted Motown aficionados the emphasis is on quality. There’s no filler whatsoever and often one wonders why the track wasn’t released? For fans of Motown or anyone with an interest in soul music this latest instalment in the Motown Girls’ series is one of the best and is well worth adding to their collection.

Good Good Feeling! More Motown Girls.

PSYCHEDELIC SOUL PRODUCED BY NORMAN WHITFIELD.

Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

In 1968, producer Norman Whitfield began to pioneer the groundbreaking psychedelic soul sound at Motown. This was a stylistic departure for the label and the start of a new and exciting chapter for Motown. 

By then, Norman Whitfield had been at Motown  for nine years and had risen to become one of the company’s top producers. However, over the next few years he would go on to even greater things at Motown and then when he founded his own label Whitfield Records where he continued to pioneer psychedelic soul. This he continued to do throughout the seventies and early eighties with an array of top artists and groups which feature on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield which was recently released on CD by Kent Soul as part of their Producer Series.

Cloud Nine.

Norman Whitfield experiment with psychedelic soul began in 1968, when The Temptations were recording their ninth studio album Cloud Nine. By then, Otis Williams of The Temptations had realised that the time had come for the group to update their sound. This came about after he had watched the progress of Sly and The Family Stone and discussed the changes in soul music with his friend Kenneth Gamble. The two friends were won over by the funkier sound and multi-lead vocals. This was the future of soul and Otis Williams knew it and it was a case of The Temptations adapting their sound to stay relevant.

Producer Norman Whitfield worked with The Temptations on their new album Cloud Nine where he pioneered a new genre, psychedelic soul. The album was its fusion of funk, soul and psychedelia and was seen as groundbreaking. It was also a stylistic departure for the group. Despite this, Cloud Nine found favour with critics and record buyers reaching reached number four on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B charts. This was just the start. 

The second single from Cloud Nine was Runaway Child, Running Wild, which reached number six on the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. By now, The Temptations were on a roll.

To top it off, Cloud Nine won  The Temptations a Grammy Award. The Temptations’ decision to reinvent their sound was vindicated, and their psychedelic soul era began.

Puzzle People.

Just seven months later, on September the ’23rd’ 1969, The Temptations returned with another album of psychedelic soul, Puzzle People. It was the followup to the live album The Temptations Show. Critical acclaim greeted the release of Puzzle People which reached number five on the US Billboard 200 and again, topped he US R&B charts. Things got even better.

When I Can’t Get Next to You was released as the second single from Puzzle People, it topped both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts. The Temptations’ decision to embrace psychedelia was continuing to pay off. They had placed their faith in pioneering producer Norman Whitfield and it had paid off. 

Psychedelic Shack.

On March the ‘6th’ 1970, The Temptations released their twelfth album Psychedelic Shack where they fully embraced psychedelic soul. The Temptations ad turned their back on the traditional Motown sound on what was their most psychedelic album. This groundbreaking album was released to widespread plaudits and praise reaching number nine on the US Billboard 200 and again, topping the US R&B charts. This was the third consecutive number one album in the US R&B charts since The Temptations embraced psychedelic soul. Despite this, not everyone was happy.

Some of The Temptations’ fans weren’t impressed by the band’s new psychedelic soul sound. One man in particular felt the backlash…producer Norman Whitfield. 

Some of The Temptations’ fans felt that Norman Whitfield was using the band, as his own personal plaything and that the band was taking part in what was essentially a musical experiment. These were ridiculous accusations as Otis Williams wanted to explore the new psychedelic soul sound. This didn’t seem to matter to the fans who didn’t understand the new psychedelic soul sound and preferred The Temptations’ older tried and tested sound. However, Otis Williams knew the group had to change their sound to stay relevant and Norman Whitfield had transformed the not just the group’s sound but their ailing fortunes.

The Undisputed Truth.

Norman Whitfield was stung by the accusation and criticism from the vociferous fans of The Temptations. So much so, that he decided to put together a new group which would allow him to continue to experiment with psychedelic soul.This new group was The Undisputed Truth, which featured lead singer Joe “Pep” Harris, while Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans contributed additional lead vocals and background vocals.  

The Undisputed Truth would release their eponymous debut album in July 1971. It was the first of six albums the group released between 1971 and 1975. On these albums producer Norman Whitfield continued to pioneer the psychedelic soul sound. 

Having first worked with The Temptations in 1968, Norman Whitfield went on to work with some of Motown’s other top artists later that year. This included with Marvin Gaye on his In The Groove album which featured I Heard It Through The Grapevine which topped the UK charts in 1970. This future classic opens Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield and sets the bar high on for the musical journey that follows.

In 1968, Norman Whitfield also worked  Gladys Knight and The Pips who were signed to Motown’s Soul SS imprint. The group had yet to make a breakthrough and hadn’t  worked with the producer often. This time he was going to take their music in a new direction when he produced their cover of Bacharach and David song’s The Look Of Love for their Silk ’N’ Soul album. It features a needy, pleading vocal full of longing while the arrangement glistens and shimmers and has an almost otherworldly sound that shows another side to a classic track. This hidden gem is a welcome addition to a compilation that features many a psychedelic soul classic.

This includes two by The Temptations who were pioneers of the psychedelic soul sound. The first to feature on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield is the single version with the intro of Psychedelic Shack which was released on Gordy in 1969. It was another groundbreaking single from The Temptations who in 1968 knew they had to reinvent their sound to stay relevant. 

The following year, 1970, Norman Whitfield worked with Edwin Starr producing his War and Peace album which was released on Gordy. It featured War which the producer had written with Barnett Strong for The Temptations. They passed up the opportunity to record the song fearing that the songs powerful  lyrics full of social comment would alienate many record buyers in middle America. When Edwin Starr released the single it reached number three in the UK and after selling over 500,000 copies topped the US charts. The anthemic psychedelic soul single then went on to win a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance and was the biggest hit of Edwin Starr’s career. None of this would’ve been possible without Norman Whitfield who had the Midas touch. 

By 1972, they were one of the leading lights of psychedelic soul movement when they released Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone on Gordy. The single would become a Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone and was one The Temptations’ finest produced by the genre’s architect Norman Whitfield.

By 1973, Norman Whitfield had been working with the rock group Rare Earth since 1960. The group had started off as The Sunliners but changed their name in 1968. Sadly, this didn’t result in a  change of fortune for a talented and vastly underrated group. Their contribution to the compilation is Come With Me a hidden gem from the Detroit based group.

1974 turned out to be turning point for Norman Whitfield. After producing The Temptations’ album Masterpiece the group decided to work without a producer. Their mentor would soon start to put together a new group The Undisputed Truth. Before that, he produced two more albums.

This includes Yvonne Fair’s album The Bitch Is Black which was released on Motown in 1974. Without doubt, the highlight of the album was It Should’ve Been Me which Norman Whitfield and William Stevenson penned. This underrated song was reissued in the UK in 1976 reaching number five. Sadly, that was as good as it got for Yvonne Fair at Motown. The problem was there were so many artists signed to the label by then. She was one of many artists who was lost in the Motown machine and at another label may have enjoyed the success her talent deserved.

By 1974, David Ruffin had just finished recording his fourth solo album Me’n Rock’n Roll Are Here To Stay with Norman Whitfield taking charge of production. The former Temptations’ frontman struts his way through the title track which is a string drenched slice of good time psychedelic soul. This was very different to his previous albums and was a stylistic departure from David Ruffin and sadly, his psychedelic soul experiment is all too often overlooked.

That wasn’t the case with a new group that Norman Whitfield was about to work with. He was no longer working with The Temptations and had  been stung by the criticism of their fans who hadn’t embraced their new sound. This resulted in the pioneering producer putting together a new group The Undisputed Truth. 

The new trio released three albums between 1974 and 1976. This included Higher Than High in 1975, which was their sophomore album and the last they released on Gordy. It featured the Norman Whitfield composition I Saw You When You Met Her which is one of the highlights of the album. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success despite the quality of music on the album. It was a case of what might have been as The Undisputed Truth signed to Norman Whitfield’s new label.

After leaving Motown the pondering producer founded Whitfield Records which he was determined would be a small label. However, he still wanted to record and produce groundbreaking music of the highest quality. To do that, he knew he could call upon the session players he knew from his days at Motown. They would play a part in the new label’s sound.

So would the new lineup of The Undisputed Truth. Only Joe Harris remanded from the original lineup when the group recorded the Norman Whitfield composition You + Me = Love. It was released as a single in 1976 and stalled at forty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-seven in the US R&B charts. This hook-laden soulful dancer featured on the album Method To The Madness and was one of the album’s highlights. It’s a welcome addition to the compilation and is a track that has stood the test of time.

By 1977, Norman Whitfield was working with Rose Royce. He had been introduced to the group in 1973 by Edwin Starr. Three years when they recorded the soundtrack for the film Car Wash Norman Whitfield took charge of production. The title track topped the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts in 1976 and launched their career.  This was just the start for the group.

A year later in 1977, Rose Royce returned with their much-anticipated sophomore album In Full Bloom. Norman Whitfield who was a prolific songwriter wrote most of the album including Ooh Boy. When it was released as a single in 1977 it reached seventy-two in the US Billboard 100 and three in US R&B charts. This oft-overlooked song features a beautiful vocal full of emotion from Gwen Dickey and an arrangement that benefits from lush strings and horns.

The other contribution from Rose Royce on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield is taken from their third album Strikes Again. Love Don’t Live Here Anymore is a  heartachingly beautiful ballad that’s one of the highlights of the compilation. It’s a tale of love gone wrong and features a soul-baring vocal from  Gwen Dickey who sounds as if she’s lived the lyrics. Incredibly when the single was released in 1978 it only reached thirty-two in the US Billboard 100 and five in US R&B charts. However, in the UK it reached number two and nowadays is regarded as a seventies soul classic.

It wasn’t just Rose Royce that Norman Whitfield worked with during 1978. Now running his own small independent label he had signed a number of artists and was writing and producing them. This included Willie Hutch who released his album In Tune on the Whitfield Records in 1978. It featured  And All Hell Broke Loose which was penned by Norman Whitfield. It’s a  moody, atmospheric and genre-melting example of psychedelic soul from another underrated album.

In 1978, the vocal group Masterpiece released their debut album The Girl’s Alright With Me on Whitfield Records. It was produced by Norman Whitfield and featured Love Is What You Make It which was penned by Robert Daniels. Sadly, when this beautiful romanic ballad was released as a single it failed commercially. Masterpiece never released any further albums and became a footnote in the Whitfield Records’ story. However, their finest hour was The Girl’s Alright With Me which sounds as good in 2021 as it did in 1978.

In 1978, Norman Whitfield was working with Spyder Turner on his album Music Web. It featured I’ve Been Waitin’ which was penned by Miles Gregory who had also written Love Don’t Live Here Anymore for Rose Royce. With Norman Whitfield who was by then a hugely successful producer Spyder Turner must have thought he had a hit on his hands when it was released by Whitfield Records as a single. Sadly, this stirring slice of string drenched slice of psychedelic soul never came close to troubling the charts

As the seventies drew to a close, Norman Whitfield was working with a familiar face Jr Walker, who he had worked with at Motown in the sixties. By 1979, the saxophonist had signed to Whitfield Records and was recording the album Back Street Boogie. It featured a gorgeous, sultry and wistful sounding cover of Rose Royce’s Wishing On A Star. So good is the song it’s worth seeking out a copy of what was Jr Walker’s only album for the label.

Norman Whitfield had enjoyed a great deal of commercial success with vocal groups since his career began in the sixties. In 1980, he produced two albums by Mammatapee which were both released that year. This includes their eponymous debut album which features the uber soulful ballad Good Lovin’.  It’s one of the highlights of an underrated and often overlooked album from the Whitfield Records’ back catalogue.

By 1981, Norman Whitfield had been working with Stargard since 1977 and had written their US R&B number one single Which Way Is Up. When It was released in late 1977 it launched the group’s career and four years later the Stargard and Norman Whitfield partnership was still going strong. They recorded their fourth album Back 2 Back which featured Just One Love. It’s a beautiful ballad with lush cascading strings that compliment the tender, heartfelt vocal. When the album was released in 1981 Stargard were still signed to Whitfield Records but the album was released via Warner Bros which was the label’s distributor. Despite this, the album failed to replicate the success of their debut album despite the quality of songs like Just One Love.

The eighteen tracks that feature on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield are a tantalising taste of the pioneering producer’s work. His career spanned thirty years and saw him work with some of the biggest names in music.  This included during his time at Motown and at his own label Whitfield Records where he continued to pioneer the psychedelic soul. 

Norman Whitfield was a prolific songwriter and groundbreaking producer who sadly is sometimes overlooked when music journalists write about the great producers. However, Norman Whitfield deserves to referred to as one of the great producers and the King of psychedelic soul a genre which he pioneered. Others followed in his footsteps but were unable to replicate the sometimes dark and orchestrated sound which became his trademark. His inimitable sound which features on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield has stood the test of time and is a reminder of one of the great pioneering producers who transformed music and dared to be different.

Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield.

CULT CLASSIC: HENRY FRANKLIN-THE SKIPPER.

Cult Classic: Henry Franklin-The Skipper.

When pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California, in 1969, the nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of their vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story and the label between 1971 and 1975 it released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz.

Black Jazz Records’ first release was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. This was just the start of a prolific year for the label.

Black Jazz Records second release of 1971 was Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys with Doug Carn’s Infant Eye, Rudolph Johnson’s Spring Rain and Calvin Keys’ Shawn-Neeq following later that year. The final release of 1971 was Chester Thompson’s Powerhouse. 

By then, other labels looked on enviously at the new label and artists were keen to sign to Black Jazz Records.

Cofounder Dick Schory had founded Chicago-based Ovation Records which was a successful country and western label. It was providing funding for Black Jazz Records and distributing its releases. This gave the label a much needed helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors.

The cofounders were determined that as wide an audience as possible hear the albums that the label was releasing so Gene Russell organised a promotional tour. In September 1971, Gene Russell and his Ray Lawrence who was his marketing consultant toured America giving interviews to newspaper journalists and featured on radio and newspaper where they showcased Black Jazz Records and its artists. This resulted in valuable publicity for the label.

As 1972 dawned, Black Jazz Records prepared to release Henry Franklin’s The Skipper. It was the label’s first release of the year and the seventh in a year. Black Jazz Records had a come a long way in a short space of time. And so had Henry Franklin.

Jazz double bassist Henry Franklin was born in Los Angeles, on the ‘1st’ of October 1940. His father was jazz trumpeter and bandleader Sammy Franklin, and It was no surprise when he decided to make a career out of music.

Just like his father, Henry Franklin was a prodigiously talented musician and when he was still attending Manual Arts High School he was already a member of Roy Ayers Latin Jazz Quintet. Around this time, he also worked Harold Lamb and Hampton Hawkes. During his teenage years, Henry Franklin also played alongside free jazz pioneers Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. This was good experience for the young, aspiring bassist.

In 1963, Henry Franklin made his recording when he accompanied Lou Rawls in a group put together by Curtis Amy. This was the first of many recording sessions that featured the LA-born bassist.

Next stop for Henry Franklin was New York, where he spent a year working with Willie Bobo. That was how he met Archie Shepp’s pianist Lamont Johnson who he went on to work with.

By 1967, Henry Franklin was part of Hugh Masekela’s band when he recorded his number one single Grazing In The Grass. This resulted in Hugh Masekela appearing at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967.  Henry Franklin was part of his band and featured on three albums released between 1967 and 1969. 

The  first was Hugh Masekela Is Alive and Well At The Whisky in 1967;  1968s The Promise Of A Future and Masekela in 1969. By then, Henry Franklin had moved on and was part of The Three Sounds.

The group was founded in 1956 and by 1969 the lineup had evolved and included Henry Franklin who played on the soul-jazz album Soul Symphony. When the album was released by Blue Note Records later in 1969 it was well received by critics. However, Soul Symphony turned out to be the group’s swansong and Henry Franklin moved on.

In 1970, he played on John Carter and Bobby Bradford’s cult classic elf Determination Music which was released by the  Flying Dutchman label. It was two more years before Henry Franklin returned to the recording studio to record his debut album The Skipper.

Having signed to Black Jazz Records, Henry Franklin began work on his long-awaited debut album The Skipper. He wrote  Outbreak, Plastic Creek Stomp, Beauty and The Electric Tub and Little Miss Laurie. They were joined by Al Hall Jr’s Theme For JoJo and Bill Henderson’s The Skipper which lent its name to Henry Franklin’s debut album.

When The Skipper was recorded, the rhythm section featured drummer Mike Carvin, Henry Franklin on electric and double bass and guitarist Kenny Climax. They were joined by Bill Henderson on Fender Rhodes, percussionists Fred Lido and Tip Jones plus a front line of tenor saxophonist Charles Owens and Oscar Brashear on trumpet and flugelhorn. Just like previous Black Jazz Records recording sessions Gene Russell was recordist and producer of The Skipper.

When The Skipper was released in early 1972 it was Black Jazz Records seventh release and first of the year. Critics were won over by Henry Franklin’s much anticipated  debut album which was a mixture of funk, fusion, jazz and jazz-funk.  Seamlessly the talented and versatile band switched between and combined disparate genres on The Skipper.

Opening The Skipper is Outbreak which has a classic bop sound and is propelled along at breakneck speed by Henry Franklin’s bass which locks into a groove with drummer Mike Carvin. His hissing hi-hats also a play an important part before Charles Owens unleashes a sweeping, swirling, soaring saxophone solo that plays a starring role.  

Then it’s all change and Plastic Creek Stomp heads in the direction marked funk. Just like the previous track, Mike Carvin’s drums and the Henry Franklin’s bass lock down the groove and soon the track is swinging. The band move through the gears and soon this tight, talented and versatile band are in full flight. It’s an impressive sound  and shows another side to the band.

Percussion opens Theme For JoJo before Henry Franklin plucks his bass and is joined by a shimmering Fender Rhodes and wistful horns. Still, the arrangement is understated and drifts along as Mike Carvin the ride cymbal soars high above an arrangement. Later, it’s joined by  the ruminative horns combine with the glistening Fender Rhodes and bass as this beautiful track reaches a crescendo.  

Initially the tempo is slow as Beauty and The Electric Tub unfolds but gradually it rises as Henry Franklin and his band combine fusion and bop. They play with freedom and an inventiveness during a twelve minute epic that has a filmic and theatrical sound.

Very different is Little Miss Laurie has a much smoother, laidback sound. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat as the arrangement glides along with the horns and Fender Rhodes playing starring roles on this beautiful ballad.

The title-track closes The Skipper and is another track with a cinematic sound. It sounds like the theme to a seventies television show as the horns play a leading role. Especially the saxophone which is played with power and passion before the trumpet replies. Meanwhile, the unmistakable sound of shimmering Fender Rhodes meanders along augmenting the horns on a truly memorable track that’s one of the highlights of Henry Franklin’s much-anticipated debut album.

By the time Henry Franklin released The Skipper he was thirty-one and had been a professional musician since he was a teenager. He had worked with some of the biggest names in music, but never recorded an album. The Skipper was his debut and was well worth the wait.

Henry Franklin put together and led a tight, talented and versatile band who seamlessly switched between and combined funk, fusion, hard bop, jazz and jazz-funk. Playing an important part in the album was Gene Russell who produced The Skipper. When it came to mixing the album he wanted a wide sounding mix. He succeeded and the result was one of the best sounding albums that Black Jazz Records had released.

Despite the superior sound quality, The Skipper wasn’t a hugely successful album. It sold steadily but wasn’t one of Black Jazz Records’ success stories. 

It was only much later that the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975 started to find a wider audience amongst DJs and discerning record collectors.  This includes  The Skipper which  is a timeless album and a  cult classic that is one of the most accessible albums that Black Jazz Records’ released.

Cult Classic: Henry Franklin-The Skipper.

When pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California, in 1969, the nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of their vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story and the label between 1971 and 1975 it released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz.

Black Jazz Records’ first release was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. This was just the start of a prolific year for the label.

Black Jazz Records second release of 1971 was Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys with Doug Carn’s Infant Eye, Rudolph Johnson’s Spring Rain and Calvin Keys’ Shawn-Neeq following later that year. The final release of 1971 was Chester Thompson’s Powerhouse.

By then, other labels looked on enviously at the new label and artists were keen to sign to Black Jazz Records.

Cofounder Dick Schory had founded Chicago-based Ovation Records which was a successful country and western label. It was providing funding for Black Jazz Records and distributing its releases. This gave the label a much needed helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors.

The cofounders were determined that as wide an audience as possible hear the albums that the label was releasing so Gene Russell organised a promotional tour. In September 1971, Gene Russell and his Ray Lawrence who was his marketing consultant toured America giving interviews to newspaper journalists and featured on radio and newspaper where they showcased Black Jazz Records and its artists. This resulted in valuable publicity for the label.

As 1972 dawned, Black Jazz Records prepared to release Henry Franklin’s The Skipper. It was the label’s first release of the year and the seventh in a year. Black Jazz Records had a come a long way in a short space of time. And so had Henry Franklin.

Jazz double bassist Henry Franklin was born in Los Angeles, on the ‘1st’ of October 1940. His father was jazz trumpeter and bandleader Sammy Franklin, and It was no surprise when he decided to make a career out of music.

Just like his father, Henry Franklin was a prodigiously talented musician and when he was still attending Manual Arts High School he was already a member of Roy Ayers Latin Jazz Quintet. Around this time, he also worked Harold Lamb and Hampton Hawkes. During his teenage years, Henry Franklin also played alongside free jazz pioneers Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. This was good experience for the young, aspiring bassist.

In 1963, Henry Franklin made his recording when he accompanied Lou Rawls in a group put together by Curtis Amy. This was the first of many recording sessions that featured the LA-born bassist.

Next stop for Henry Franklin was New York, where he spent a year working with Willie Bobo. That was how he met Archie Shepp’s pianist Lamont Johnson who he went on to work with.

By 1967, Henry Franklin was part of Hugh Masekela’s band when he recorded his number one single Grazing In The Grass. This resulted in Hugh Masekela appearing at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967.  Henry Franklin was part of his band and featured on three albums released between 1967 and 1969.

The  first was Hugh Masekela Is Alive and Well At The Whisky in 1967;  1968s The Promise Of A Future and Masekela in 1969. By then, Henry Franklin had moved on and was part of The Three Sounds.

The group was founded in 1956 and by 1969 the lineup had evolved and included Henry Franklin who played on the soul-jazz album Soul Symphony. When the album was released by Blue Note Records later in 1969 it was well received by critics. However, Soul Symphony turned out to be the group’s swansong and Henry Franklin moved on.

In 1970, he played on John Carter and Bobby Bradford’s cult classic elf Determination Music which was released by the Flying Dutchman label. It was two more years before Henry Franklin returned to the recording studio to record his debut album The Skipper.

Having signed to Black Jazz Records, Henry Franklin began work on his long-awaited debut album The Skipper. He wrote  Outbreak, Plastic Creek Stomp, Beauty and The Electric Tub and Little Miss Laurie. They were joined by Al Hall Jr’s Theme For JoJo and Bill Henderson’s The Skipper which lent its name to Henry Franklin’s debut album.

When The Skipper was recorded, the rhythm section featured drummer Mike Carvin, Henry Franklin on electric and double bass and guitarist Kenny Climax. They were joined by Bill Henderson on Fender Rhodes, percussionists Fred Lido and Tip Jones plus a front line of tenor saxophonist Charles Owens and Oscar Brashear on trumpet and flugelhorn. Just like previous Black Jazz Records recording sessions Gene Russell was recordist and producer of The Skipper.

When The Skipper was released in early 1972 it was Black Jazz Records seventh release and first of the year. Critics were won over by Henry Franklin’s much anticipated  debut album which was a mixture of funk, fusion, jazz and jazz-funk.  Seamlessly the talented and versatile band switched between and combined disparate genres on The Skipper.

Opening The Skipper is Outbreak which has a classic bop sound and is propelled along at breakneck speed by Henry Franklin’s bass which locks into a groove with drummer Mike Carvin. His hissing hi-hats also a play an important part before Charles Owens unleashes a sweeping, swirling, soaring saxophone solo that plays a starring role. 

Then it’s all change and Plastic Creek Stomp heads in the direction marked funk. Just like the previous track, Mike Carvin’s drums and the Henry Franklin’s bass lock down the groove and soon the track is swinging. The band move through the gears and soon this tight, talented and versatile band are in full flight. It’s an impressive sound  and shows another side to the band.

Percussion opens Theme For JoJo before Henry Franklin plucks his bass and is joined by a shimmering Fender Rhodes and wistful horns. Still, the arrangement is understated and drifts along as Mike Carvin the ride cymbal soars high above an arrangement. Later, it’s joined by  the ruminative horns combine with the glistening Fender Rhodes and bass as this beautiful track reaches a crescendo. 

Initially the tempo is slow as Beauty and The Electric Tub unfolds but gradually it rises as Henry Franklin and his band combine fusion and bop. They play with freedom and an inventiveness during a twelve minute epic that has a filmic and theatrical sound.

Very different is Little Miss Laurie has a much smoother, laidback sound. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat as the arrangement glides along with the horns and Fender Rhodes playing starring roles on this beautiful ballad.

The title-track closes The Skipper and is another track with a cinematic sound. It sounds like the theme to a seventies television show as the horns play a leading role. Especially the saxophone which is played with power and passion before the trumpet replies. Meanwhile, the unmistakable sound of shimmering Fender Rhodes meanders along augmenting the horns on a truly memorable track that’s one of the highlights of Henry Franklin’s much-anticipated debut album.

By the time Henry Franklin released The Skipper he was thirty-one and had been a professional musician since he was a teenager. He had worked with some of the biggest names in music, but never recorded an album. The Skipper was his debut and was well worth the wait.

Henry Franklin put together and led a tight, talented and versatile band who seamlessly switched between and combined funk, fusion, hard bop, jazz and jazz-funk. Playing an important part in the album was Gene Russell who produced The Skipper. When it came to mixing the album he wanted a wide sounding mix. He succeeded and the result was one of the best sounding albums that Black Jazz Records had released.

Despite the superior sound quality, The Skipper wasn’t a hugely successful album. It sold steadily but wasn’t one of Black Jazz Records’ success stories.

It was only much later that the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975 started to find a wider audience amongst DJs and discerning record collectors.  This includes  The Skipper which  is a timeless album and a  cult classic that is one of the most accessible albums that Black Jazz Records’ released.

Cult Classic: Henry Franklin-The Skipper.

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: CHESTER THOMPSON-POWERHOUSE.

Cult Classic: Chester Thompson-Powerhouse.

During the late-sixties and early seventies, many small independent jazz labels were founded in towns and cities across America. Sadly,  many were short-lived affairs with some releasing just one album and others closing their doors having released just a couple of albums. However, Black Jazz Records released twenty albums 1971 and 1975.

The story began in Oakland, California, in 1969, when pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records. Its raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of the cofounders vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school and traditional jazz that was popular at the time. Their new label would release albums that featured music that was influenced by politics and was also spiritual. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story. 

The nascent label would release everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz over the next five years. Black Jazz Records released six albums during 1971 and plans were in place that jazz fans across America could buy the albums.

Cofounder Dick Schory had founded Chicago-based Ovation Records, which was a successful country and western label which  was providing funding for Black Jazz Records and was distributing its releases. This gave the label a helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors.

Record shops across America could stock Black Jazz Records’ releases. This included its first release which was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction. Five more albums were released during 1971

This includes Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys, Doug Carn’s Infant Eyes, Rudolph Johnson’s Spring Rain and Powerhouse the debut album from twenty-two year organist Chester Thompson.

Chester Thompson was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on the ‘11th’ of December 1948 and began playing the piano at the age of five. Whilst at elementary school he learned to play the flute and read music. However, aged eleven Chester Thompson decided that he wanted to learn to play the drums.

To learn the basics, Chester Thompson took lessons and his teacher was professional jazz drummer, James Harrison. Having learnt the basics, he practised along with albums by the jazz greats. Initially, this was Miles Davis as well as two drummers Max Roach and Art Blakey. Later, he discovered Elvin Jones who along with Tony Williams were the drummers that would influence him and his playing style.

By the time he was in high school, Chester Thompson was receiving private lessons with Tony Ames of the National Symphony Orchestra. This lasted a semester and during this period, the young drummer was determined to master the rudiments of a book published by the National Association of Rudimental Drummers. 

His practise paid off and two years later, Chester Thompson played his first live gigs. However, there was a problem. He was still underage and this worried the club owners. To make himself look older, he took to drawing a moustache on his upper lip with an eyebrow pencil. 

Soon, Chester Thompson was playing up to three jam sessions in local clubs. This was good practice for him and was part of his musical apprenticeship. He was putting in the musical equivalent of hard yards.

Having turned professional, one of his first gigs was touring Canada with soul singer Ben E. King. Then in 1970, Chester Thompson toured with Jack McDuff and played in various local groups. He also spent time in Boston where he worked keyboardist Webster Lewis. However, the following year, 1971 was a big year for Chester Thompson as he released

Having signed to Black Jazz Records the twenty-two year organist began work on his debut album Powerhouse. He wrote the four tracks Mr. T, Trip One, Weird Harold and Power House and recorded them with a quartet.

Joining bandleader and organist Chester Thompson were drummer Raymond Pounds, saxophonist Rudolph Johnson and trombonist Al Hall. Producing the album was label cofounder Gene Russell. Just like all of the Black Jazz Records’ sessions the album was recorded quickly and released late in 1971.

By then, the cofounders had already organised a promotional tour to introduce Black Jazz Records’ releases to a wider audience.

In September 1971, Gene Russell and his Ray Lawrence who was his marketing consultant toured America giving interviews to newspaper journalists and featured on radio and newspaper where they showcased Black Jazz Records and its artists. This resulted in valuable publicity for the label.

Despite this, Powerhouse wasn’t a hugely successful album. It was well received by critics upon its release but sadly, Chester Thompson’s debut album wasn’t the most successful album that Black Jazz Records released. 

Powerhouse was one of the most underrated albums that Black Jazz Records released during the five years it was in business. It’s a mixture of bebop, funk, hard bop, jazz-funk and soul-jazz. 

The album opens with Mr. T which swings from the get-go as the band play as one. Meanwhile, Chester Thompson’s Hammond organ takes the track in the direction of soul-jazz. Playing a starring role is saxophonist Rudolph Johnson. His playing is emotive before he passes the baton to trombonist Al Hall. He also plays his part in the sound and success of the track. As if inspired, the young bandleader who unleashes a breathtaking solo his fingers dancing across the keyboard during this marriage of soul-jazz and what’s best described as Nu Bebop

Classic jazz is reinvented for an early seventies’ audience on The Trip. Again, saxophonist Rudolph Johnson plays a leading role as it bobs and weaves above the arrangement as it’s is played with power, passion and control. Meanwhile, the rest of the band play supporting role. Later, trombonist Al Hall takes centrestage before it’s the turn of Chester Thompson as he plays with speed and confidence. Each member of the band seems to inspire the next who raises their game. However, it’s the saxophone and then the bandleader’s Big Burner that steal the show on this trip as it swings towards a crescendo.

It’s all change on Weird Harold which is much funkier than previous tracks. The band locks into a groove and saxophonist Rudolph Johnson plays with a power and ferocity that’s reminiscent of Eddie Harris. He unleashes blistering bursts before Chester Thompson jabs and stabs at his keyboard as drums pound and drive this fusion of soul-jazz, funk and jazz-funk. It’s the highlight of the album.

Powerhouse closes with the title-track. It’s a mid-tempo track with the sultriest of grooves. Black Jazz Records had high hopes for the track when they released it as a single. Sadly, it was the one that got away for Chester Thompson.

When Chester Thompson released Powerhouse it was the sixth release that Black Jazz Records had released during 1971. Just like the title-track, the album wasn’t a commercial success. Despite  having a distribution network and a budget to promote the album it failed to find the audience it deserved. 

This left the cofounders of Black Jazz Records and Chester Thompson wondering what went wrong? The young bandleader had led a band that combined bebop, funk, hard bop, jazz-funk and soul-jazz.  It was album that combined the music of the past and the present. Chester Thompson was looking to the future. However, the future of jazz was fusion which he would soon embrace.

Maybe Powerhouse had been released on a label like Blue Note Records it might have been more successful and reached a wider audience? It was maybe a case of the wrong label for Chester Thompson’s debut album? 

Fifty years year later, and Powerhouse which was once an underrated album is belatedly starting to find the new and wider audience that it deserves.

Cult Classic: Chester Thompson-Powerhouse.

CULT CLASSIC: RYO FUKUI-SCENERY.

Cult Classic: Ryo Fukui-Scenery.

Ryo Fukui, who was born in Biratori, Hokkaido, in Japan, on the ‘1st’ of June 1948, was a late starter when it came to the piano and unlike most of the musicians he encountered during a career that spanned five decades, had never learnt to play the instrument as a child. Instead, Ryo Fukui had just turned twenty-two in 1970, when he announced that he wanted to learn to play the piano, and was going to teach himself.

If Ryo Fukui’s friends thought that his decision to teach himself to play the piano was bound to end in tears, they were soon proved wrong as he turned out to be a talented pianist. So much so, that the self-taught pianist was good enough to embark upon a career as a professional musician, playing the music that he loved…jazz.

As September 1976 dawned, twenty-eight year old Ryo Fukui was living in Sapporo, where he led his own trio who were a familiar sight in local jazz clubs. Ryo Fukui had also just signed to Trio Records, and was preparing to record his debut album Scenery, which is a reminder of a remarkable musician.

Scenery.

For his debut album Ryo Fukui had written the title-track Scenery, and the rest of the album comprised cover versions. This included Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s It Could Happen To You, Billy Eckstine’s I Want To Talk About You, Hideo Ichikawa’s Early Summer, Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep For Me and Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert’s Autumn Leaves. These tracks became Scenery, which Ryo Fukui planned to record at Yamaha Hall, Sapporo.

The recording of Scenery took place at Yamaha Hall, Sapporo, on the ‘7th’ of September 1976, pianist Ryo Fukui leading a trio that featured drummer Yoshinori Fukui and bassist Satoshi Denpo. Taking charge of production were Masataka Ito and Ryo Fukui who worked well together, and Scenery like many jazz albums was recorded quickly, with just a day spent laying down the tracks. This was how countless classic albums had been recorded during the fifties and sixties.

Scenery was released in late 1976, and was regarded as an important album by Japanese jazz critics, who called the album a game-changing release that was one of the finest of the seventies. Despite receiving widespread critical acclaim in Japan, Scenery passed American jazz fans by, and they missed out on hearing what was a remarkable debut album.

Ryo Fukui opens his 1976 debut album Scenery with It Could Happen To You, which was the first of four oft-covered classics that he set about reinventing. It was a similar case on I Want To Talk About You, Willow Weep For Me and Autumn Leaves where with the help of drummer Yoshinori Fukui and bassist Satoshi Denpo, pianist Ryo Fukui ensures that these classics take on new life and meaning. This isn’t easy given who often these tracks had been recorded by 1976. However, the twenty-eight year old pianist who had only been playing for six years by the time he recorded Scenery, plays with maturity that belies his relative inexperience. 

For much of the time, his playing is smooth, subtle and effortless as his fingers glide and flit across the piano keyboard as he plays with fluidity ensuring the songs swing. Other times, he plays with speed and energy, and isn’t afraid to improvise and innovate. Stylistically, Ryo Fukui sometimes sounds like Bill Evans, and especially during the energetic modal rework of Early Summer. By then, Ryo Fukui and his trio play with a newfound urgency, before closing the album with the title-track Scenery. It was Ryo Fukui’s only original composition on Scenery and is a reminder of a talented bandleader, composer and pianist as he began his career with game-changing album which is a glorious fusion of bop, cool jazz and modal jazz.

Buoyed by the critical reaction and success of Scenery, Ryo Fukui continued to hone his skills as a pianist, and before long, he was already beginning work on his sophomore album Mellow Dream.

Following the success of his sophomore album Mellow Dream, Ryo Fukui continued to hone his skills and mature and improve as a musician, but made the decision to concentrate playing live. This included in the Slowboat jazz club in Sapporo, which Ryo Fukui owned and ran with his wife Yasuko. With Ryo Fukui concentrating on playing live, it was eighteen years before he returned with a new album.

Ryo Fukui returned with My Favorite Tune in 1995, and followed this up with Ryo Fukui In New York in 1999. It was another sixteen years before Ryo Fukui released A Letter From Slowboat in 2015, which proved to be his swan-song.

Sadly, Ryo Fukui passed away on March the ‘15th’ 2016, aged just sixty-seven. That day Japanese jazz was in mourning at the loss of one of its great pianists, who although self-taught was a masterful performer who played with grace, fluidity and invention during a career that spanned five decades.

Although Ryo Fukui enjoyed a long career, he only released five albums, including Scenery and Mellow Dream which are his finest outings, and a reminder of a bandleader, composer and pianist Ryo Fukui who sadly, was and still is one of jazz’s best kept secrets outside of his native Japan. Hopefully, that will begin  to change and belatedly Ryo Fukui’s music will be discovered by a new, wider and appreciative audience.

Cult Classic: Ryo Fukui-Scenery.

CULT CLASSIC: DOUG CARN-INFANT EYES.

Cult Classic: Doug Carn-Infant Eyes.

Although Gene Russell and Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in 1969, two years passed before the nascent label released its first album. This was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. It was the first of twenty albums by a label that was very different from other new indie jazz labels that were being founded across the America.

Gene Russell and Dick Schory wanted their new label: “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” That was only part of the story.

Black Jazz Records’ cofounders were determined that their nascent label would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. This included albums that featured political and spiritually influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story.

Between 1971 and 1975 the label released twenty albums that included everything from spiritual jazz and soul-jazz to free jazz and funk. Eclectic described the music that the label released.

That described the albums that Black Jazz Records released during 1971. Its second released was Walter Bishop Jr’s cult classic Coral Keys. 

Later in 1971, Doug Carn released Infant Eyes which was the first of three albums he released for Black Jazz Records. It features vocals from his wife Jean Carn who features on each album and played an important part in the sound and success of 1971s Infant Eyes, 1972s Spirit Of The New Land, 1973s Revelation and 1974s Adam’s Apple. That was still to come. 

Doug Carn who was just twenty-three when he signed to Black Jazz Records. He was born on July the ’14th’ 1948, in St. Augustine, Florida, and growing up music was all around him and was part of the culture around him at home. His mother was a musician, while his uncle was a bebop DJ who could scat the Dexter Gordon solos. It was no surprise that growing up, Doug Carn started listening to jazz and later, decided to learn an instrument.

Initially, Doug Carn took piano lessons and proved to be a quick learner and was soon able to play Bach Two-Part Inventions. That was when it was discovered that he wasn’t reading music and playing by ear. This resulted in Doug Carn being given an alto saxophone which he also mastered was able to play well. Already he was well on his way to becoming a multi-instrumentalist and it was no surprise when Doug Carn decided to study music at university.

He enrolled at Jacksonville University in 1965, and for the next two years studied oboe and composition. When Doug Carn graduated in 1967 he headed to Georgia State University where he completed his musical education in 1969. Later that year he made his recording debut as bandleader.

The twenty-one year old multi-instrumentalist was still living in Georgia and had founded the Doug Carn Trio. However, the new combo needed gigs and the young bandleader decided to visit a friend who ran a booking agency. When he entered the office he was greeted by the receptionist and secretary who was also a singer. This was Jean Carn who later become his wife. Before that, she started singing with the Doug Carn Trio who were about to make their recording debut.

Through the owner of the booking agency, Doug Carn was introduced to Herman Lubinsky the founder and owner of Savoy Records. This introduction turned out to be a gamechanger for the bandleader.

It turned out that the label had a session booked in Atlanta which was going to be produced by Fred Mendelsohn, the President of Savoy. He explained that there was every chance that there might be some spare time after he had recorded the gospel album, and if there was, they would use the time to record the Doug Carn Trio. That turned out to be the case.

That day in 1969, the Doug Carn Trio recorded what became their eponymous debut album. It was released later in 1969 on Savoy Records but wasn’t a commercial success. However, for Doug Carn recording the album was an invaluable experience as he prepared to move to LA as the sixties gave way to the seventies.

When he arrived in LA, Doug Carn started spending time with the members of Earth, Wind and Fire and this resulted in him playing on their first two albums. He played Hammond organ on Earth, Wind and Fire which was released on February 1971 and was certified gold. Doug Carn also played on The Need Of Love which was released in November 1971. By then, his solo career was well underway.

Earlier in 1971, Doug Carn had signed to Black Jazz Records. Not long after this, he began work on his debut album Infant Eyes.

For his debut album, Doug Carn wrote Moon Child, recorded John Coltrane’s Welcome and McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance. The twenty-three year old bandleader added lyrics to Bobby Hutcherson’s Little B’s Poem, Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes, John Coltrane’s Acknowledgement and Horace Silver’s Peace. Doug Carn put together a band and spent the best part of a year practising and then when he signed to Black Jazz Records recorded the album.

The rhythm section featured drummer Michael Carvin, bassist Henry Franklin and bandleader Doug Carn who switched between electric piano, organ and piano. Meanwhile his wife Jean added her unmistakable vocals. George Harper played tenor saxophone and flute and was joined in he front line by trombonist Al Hall Jr and Bob Frazier who played trumpet and flugelhorn. This talented and versatile band  worked their way through the seven tracks which became Infant Eyes. The session was engineered and produced by label owner Gene Russell and the album was scheduled for later in 1971.

When Infant Eyes was released in 1971, Doug Carn still regarded the album as a demo. It wasn’t the polished album that he had envisaged. Despite that, it was well received by critics and hailed as a groundbreaking album. 

On its release in 1971, Infant Eyes became Black Jazz Records’ most successful album. It was a similar case with the other two albums Doug Carn released for the label. He was the label’s biggest selling artist. That was no surprise given the quality of the three albums he released. The first was Infant Eyes.

Opening Infant Eyes is Doug Carn’s interpretation of John Coltrane’s Welcome. It lasts just 1:15 and features what are best described as big and beautiful washes of sound where the flute and cymbals combine with Jean Carn’s vocal during this homage to a jazz legend.

Doug Carn added lyrics to Bobby Hutcherson’s Little B’s Poem and they’re delivered by his wife Jean who scats. Initially the arrangement is intense and almost frenetic before the band lock into a groove. By then, the scat disappears as unleashes an impassioned vocal. Later, a stunning saxophone solo from George Harper plays a leading role and the organ weaves in and out of the arrangement as cymbals hiss and ring out during this captivating reinvention of wha’s a familiar track for many jazz fans.

On Moon Child Doug Carn switches to piano, and his playing is moody and melancholy. Meanwhile, the horns add an atmospheric backdrop during this eight minute epic which is an emotional roller coaster.

Having added lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes,Doug Carn’s adds a dramatic introduction before the keyboards become understated. They’re effective and combines with subtle cymbals and Jean’s vocals which soars high above the arrangement as the Carn’s play a starring role on the track that closes side one.

Side two opens with a cover of McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance. It made its debut on The Real McCoy Tyner which was released by Blue Note Records in April 1967. It’s as if Doug Carn is paying homage to the great Blue Note Records’ releases of the mid to late sixties on this vigorous instrumental workout. Horns are to the fore as the organ sweeps and swirls and join with the cymbals in playing a crucial role in the sound and success of the track.

Acknowledgement featured on John Coltrane’s 1965 classic album A Love Supreme. However, six years later Doug Carn added lyrics and his wife Jean takes charge of the vocal. Backed by this multitalented and versatile band they remake Trane’s spiritual jazz classic.

Horace Silver originally recorded Peace for his 1959 album Blowin’ The Blues Away, and then in 1970 it featured on his That Healin’ Feelin’ album where Andy Bey takes charge of the vocal. Doug Carn added new lyrics full of social comment which are delivered by Jean. She plays a leading role in the success of  breathtaking, powerful and poignant take on a familiar track from the late, great jazz pianist.

When Infant Eyes was released in 1971, it was Doug Carn’s debut solo album. Despite that, it was the most successful album that Black Jazz Records released that year. So was the followup Spirit Of The New Land when it was released in 1972, 1973s Revelation and 1974s Adam’s Apple. Although the four albums didn’t sell tens of thousands of copies they were successful for a small independent label like Black Jazz Records was. It was also a label that had a vision.

Black Jazz Records that wanted “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.”  Doug Carn was only twenty-four when he released Spirit Of The New Land and his was Jean Carn was twenty-five. They had created an album that was an alternative to what Gene Russell and Dick Schory referred to as old school jazz. 

Infant Eyes was very different to old school jazz and was new type of jazz album. It featured everything from avant-garde and even elements of free jazz, funk, fusion, soul, soul-jazz and spiritual jazz. These genres were combined by Doug Carn and Jean Carn who unleashed her five octave vocal on Infant Eyes which introduced the pair to the record buying public across America.  This was just the first chapter in the Doug and Jean Carn story.

Infant Eyes was the first of four critically acclaimed albums that Doug Carn released between 1971 and 1974. These albums are now regarded as cult classics, and amongst the best that Black Jazz Records released during the five years it was in business. 

Cult Classic: Doug Carn-Infant Eyes.

HARD BOP CLASSIC: ART BLAKEY AND THE JAZZ MESSENGERS-THE WITCH DOCTOR.

Hard Bop Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-The Witch Doctor.

When The Jazz Messengers were formed in 1954, the collective was led by Horace Silver and Art Blakey when they played live. However, it wasn’t until November the ‘23rd’ 1955 when they recorded At the Cafe Bohemia, Volumes 1 and 2. That night, the lineup featured  drummer Art Blakey, bassist Doug Watkins, pianist Horace Silver and a front line of trumpeter Kenny Dorham and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. However, this lineup would evolve over the next six years and even the name had changed.

After Horace Silver’s departure in 1955 the collective became known as Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. The original lineup that feared on Cafe Bohemia, Volumes 1 and 2 never recorded another album together. However, over the next six years some of the greatest jazz musicians joined the Jazz Messengers. The collective was akin to a finishing school for jazz musicians with many becoming bandleaders and recording classic albums.

On March the ’14th’ 1961, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers travelled to Van Gelder Studio to record a new album. This was The Witch Doctor which featured one of the classic lineups of the Jazz Messengers. By then, it had already recorded a string of classic albums. 

Bandleader and drummer Art Blakey had recruited bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons plus a front line of trumpeter Lee Morgan and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The new lineup made their recording debut on The Big Beat on March the ‘6th’ 1960. 

Five months later, sessions took place on the 7th’ and ‘14th’ August 1960 and this resulted in two albums. Like Someone In Love and A Night In Tunisia would both become jazz classics. This latest lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers could do no wrong.

February the ’12th’ was the first of three sessions at Van Gelder Studio where and Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers that would result in in two further classic albums, The Freedom Rider and Root and Herbs. A second session took place on the ‘16th’ February 1961 where Walter Davis Jr stood in for Bobby Timmons. This was the first time when the lineup changed since the quintet made their recording debut on The Big Beat. However, the lineup were reunited when Roots and Herbs was completed on May the ‘27th’ 1961. By then, the quintet had also recorded The Witch Doctor.

When Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers arrived at Van Gelder Studio March the ’14th’ 1961 they were about to record six tracks. The frontline contributed four of the six tracks on the album. Lee Morgan wrote The Witch Doctor and United while Wayne Shorter penned Those Who Sit and Wait and Joelle. Bobby Timmons wrote A Little Busy, and the other track was a cover Clifford Jordan’s Lost and Found. These tracks would become The Witch Doctor and were recorded by this class lineup of the collective.

Although this lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had only been recording together for a year, it seemed like they could do no wrong. The five albums they had already recorded would all eventually be regarded as jazz classics. It’s no wonder given the lineup. 

Bandleader and drummer Art Blakey was joined by bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons plus a front line of trumpeter Lee Morgan and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The Witch Doctor was recorded and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder with Alfred Lion taking charge of production. It took just a day to record six tracks that became The Witch Doctor. 

It turned out that The Witch Doctor was the last album that this classic lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers recorded. However, their swansong lay unreleased for six years and wasn’t released until 1967. This wasn’t unusual at Blue Note Records and six years passed before Like Someone In Love was released in 1966. Just like The Witch Doctor it featured Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers during a run of six albums where they could do wrong. However, things were very different by the time The Witch Doctor was released.

On May the ‘15th’ 1964, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers completed  Indestructible which was their final album for Blue Note Records. It was the end of an era.

So was the departure of Wayne Shorter from Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers in September 1964. He joined Miles Davis’ band and became part of the Second Great Quintet. This was a huge blow for Art Blakey who watched as Jazz Messengers left to join other bands.

Despite the changes in the lineup, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers signed to Limelight Records, which was an imprint of Mercury which was run by Quincy Jones. However, during their time with the label Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers only released two albums during 1965, ‘S Make It and Soul Finger. After this they left  Limelight Records and wouldn’t release another album until 1970.

With no recording contract, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers concentrated on touring. They toured Europe and spent time in Japan. The only problem was that the lineup continued to change. No longer was their a settled lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. It was very different from when the classic lineup recorded six classic albums during 1960 and 1961.

By 1967, music and jazz had changed. Rock music was the most popular genre and jazz musicians were experimenting with free jazz and fusion while soul-jazz was growing in popularity. However, the hard bop that Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had pioneered was no longer as popular as it had once been. This was worrying as Blue Note Records had decided to belatedly release The Witch Doctor in 1967.  

When The Witch Doctor was released to critical acclaim in 1967. Although hard bop was no longer as popular as it had once been critics recognised the quality of the music on the album. It was the last album that the classic quintet had recorded and would eventually be regarded as a jazz classic.

The Witch Doctor opens with the title-track which was written by Lee Morgan. He and Wayne Shorter play a leading role while pianist Bobby Timmons plays a supporting role. They all play their part in the sound and success of this memorable hard bop shuffle.

It’s all change on Afrique where just Bobby Timmons’ piano plays and adds a degree of drama as the Jazz Messengers switch to 6/8 time and Art Blakey is responsible for the choppy, clave Latin beat. Soon, things change and the arrangement starts to swing as Wayne Shorter delivers a breathtaking tenor saxophone solo. This seems to lift the rest of the band when they delivered their solos. Especially Bobby Timmons and then Art Blakey who pounds his drums as unleashes one of his trademarks thunderous solos. After that, the band briefly revisit the earlier themes before this captivating track comes to a close after seven magical minutes. 

Art Blakey’s drums ring out as Those Who Sit and Wait unfolds and soon the front line of Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter take charge. Again, pianist Bobby Timmons plays an important part while the rhythm section power the arrangement along and ensure it swings. The result is a truly memorable example of hard bop from one of its pioneers as he leads one of his finest groups.

Bobby Timmons wrote A Little Busy. Unsurprisingly it’s a piano led track. The pianist is at the heart of action and combines with the front line of Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter as the rhythm section power and drive the arrangement along. It’s fast, funky and has a joyous and uplifting example of hard bop that sometimes heads in the direction of soul-jazz.

Joelle is the second Wayne Shorter composition on the album, and just like The Witch Doctor the front line and piano play leading roles. Their spellbinding solos are some of the finest on the album.

They play effortlessly as the arrangement reveals its secrets and subtleties. Then when the band play as one they reach new heights as they head for home and what’s the finest track on The Witch Doctor.

Closing The Witch Doctor is a cover of Clifford Jordan’s Lost and Found. It’s tailor-made for Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers and features their straight-ahead trademark sound that was a favourite of jazz fans for thirty-five years. The playing is tight on a track that’s upbeat and joyous which is a fitting swansong from this classic line of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers.

Sadly, The Witch Doctor was the final album that this classic lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers recorded. They recorded six albums for Blue Note Records in the space of a year and nowadays, every one of them is regarded as a jazz classic. That is no surprise given the all-star lineup of the Jazz Messengers. 

They were hand-picked by Art Blakey who allowed them to shine and play a starring role. Especially the front line of Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter as well as pianist Bobby Timmons. The three musicians play their part in the sound and success of The Witch Doctor which nowadays is regarded as a hard bop classic. 

Sadly, it was the swansong from this classic line of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers who recorded six albums in the space of a year. This began with The Big Beat in March 1960 and a year later Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers signed off in style in March 1961 with The Witch Doctor where they cast a spell with this captivating and majestic album of hard bop.

Hard Bop Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-The Witch Doctor.

CULT CLASSIC: KOHSUKE MINE-FIRST.

Cult Classic: Kohsuke Mine-First.

Nowadays, the most important period in the development of  J-Jazz is between late-sixties through to the early eighties. That’s regarded as a crucial period in the development of modern jazz in Japan. During that period, many Japanese composers and musicians and bands released ambitious and innovative music that astounded those who heard it. 

When critics, cultural commentators and record buyers heard the albums that were being released they were amazed just how far Japanese jazz had come in such a short space of time.

Just over twenty years earlier Japanese music fans were banned from listening to jazz during World War II. However, after Japan’s defeat and unconditional surrender in August 1945 the wartime ban on jazz was lifted. 

Jazz fans were now able to hear jazz on the radio and watch the allied forces bands play jazz in concert halls across Japan. Some of the bands featured some of the top American jazz musicians who were serving their country. Sometimes, these musicians spent time collaborating with local jazz musicians who were keen to learn from some of the names they had only heard on the radio. 

By the time  the allied forces left Japan in 1952 and returned home, musicians like Frank Foster, Harold Lamb and Oliver Nelson had formed firm friendships with local jazzers. They had played an important part in the cultural rebirth of Japan.

Left to their own devices, a new era began for Japanese musicians who were determined to make up for lost time. Musically there had been no winners after six years of war. While jazz had been banned in Japan during the war, many British and American jazz musicians had been called up and were serving their country. Many jazz musicians had spent the war in army bands where they were usually out of harm’s way. Now they had returned home, and like their Japanese counterparts were making up for lost time.

By the mid-fifties, a jazz scene had developed in Japan, during what was later referred to as the “funky period.” However, much of the jazz music being made in Japan had been influenced by American jazz and particularly the West Coast cool jazz and East Coast hard bop. Many Japanese musicians were collecting albums on Blue Note and Prestige which heavily influenced them. It would only be later that some would find their own voice. 

Meanwhile, many of the top American jazz musicians no longer serving in the US Army, and had returned home. Some joined new or existing bands while some musicians put together new bands. Initially, they returned to their local circuit where they tried to pickup where they had left off. This changed a few years later.

In the late-fifties and early sixties, many of these musicians who had played in Japan during World War II were keen to return to a country where so many loved and appreciated jazz music. They made the long journey to Japan where they were reunited with some old friends.

During this period, Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and  Horace Silver all made the long journey to Japan where they received a warm and enthusiastic welcome. Whether any of these legendary musicians were aware at the time, they were playing a part in the cultural rebirth of Japan. Soon, many Japanese jazz musicians weren’t just content to copy Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver sonically, but were determined copy them stylistically. Before long, Japanese  jazz musicians were soon sporting the same preppy Ivy League clothes as their American counterparts. 

Despite many people enjoying the visits of American jazz musicians, the Japanese authorities heard that some musicians had been arrested on drugs offences. They tightened the law as they didn’t want musicians with drug convictions visiting the new Japan and corrupting their youth. However, with the laws tightened, much fewer American jazz musicians visited Japan. Those that visited, played in packed concert halls and continue to influence Japanese jazzers. 

However, not all Japanese jazz musicians were inspired by their American counterparts by the mid-sixties as homegrown musicians were making their presence felt. This continued as the sixties gave way to the seventies.

In 1970, twenty-six year old saxophonist Kohsuke Mine released his sophomore album Mine on the Three Blind Mice label. By then, he was already an experienced musician.

Kenji Wakabayashi aka Kohsuke Mine was born in Yushimo, Ueno on February the ‘6th’ 1944. With the country at war, he was evacuated to Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture, which was home until his first year of elementary school. During that time, he didn’t hear much music. 

This changed when Kohsuke Mine returned to Tokyo. By the time he was seven or eight he was given a radio. He also heard his father sing rokyoku which is a kind of Japanese narrative music. However, it wasn’t until he joined the school choir that the young Kohsuke Mine began to participate in music. This was just the start.

Soon, he decided that he wanted to learn to play an instrument. The chance came when started high school and joined a brass band. Not long after this, he decided to learn the clarinet which he studied during his second year of college. That was still to come.

One day at high school, Kohsuke Mine was playing his clarinet when he one of his friends heard him and invited him to a local jazz cafe. Soon, the two friends were heading to Mama, a jazz kissa in Yarakucho on a regular basis. This was where Kohsuke Mine discovered jazz and this was the start of a lifelong love affair.

By the time he was in the second year of college, Kohsuke Mine was studying clarinet. At the time, there was a big cabaret scene and he joined a dance band. It turned out that the bandleader also loved jazz music and would influence the new recruit who soon had switched to alto saxophone which he preferred the sound of. 

The only problem was that Kohsuke Mine couldn’t read music. In a dance band there’s no room for improvisation and everyone has to stick to the “script.” Soon, he was able to read music and could seamlessly switch between different genres of music including Latin and swing which was music people could dance to.

Jazz was still the music that Kohsuke Mine loved and he remembers listening to Tory’s Jazz Game on the radio. The first record he bought was Paul Desmond’s With Strings. However, he also was listing to Art Blakey, Donald Byrd and Horace Silver.  This was all part of Kohsuke Mine’s musical education.

Having switched to alto saxophone he decided not to take lessons and had to find a place to practice. He couldn’t practise at home  and ended up sitting in the changing rooms of the clubs he was playing in practising. It wasn’t ideal but he soon improved and got his first job playing alto saxophone.

This was in Ashikaga and Gunma and only lasted a month. However, this was how he Kohsuke Minei met Kinoshita Circus and he played with them. After this, he was part of the band backing singer Akira Matsushima. All this was good experience for a young aspiring musician.  

By the time Kohsuke Mine was eighteen he had joined Hisashi Kato’s band and played in a Club Milan, in Milanza in Shinjuku. It  was around this time he became friendly with the leader Kato-san.

After a gig in a club in the Pony jazz cafe in Shinjuku Mr Kato arrived at the club and explained he was looking for an alto saxophonist. Kohsuke Mine played Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee at the audition and got the job in Kato-san’s band.

This was the start of a six year spell with the band where Kohsuke Mine matured and evolved into a versatile musician. He left the band around 1968.

It was around this time that Kohsuke Mine met Takehiro Honda who had a weekday residence at the Pitt Inn. The two men became friends and played three gigs including at the Pitt Inn, the US Air Base and the Nido nightclub in Niroo. Soon, it was time to move on and join a prestigious band. 

After this, there was a spell with Kikuchi’s band. This coincided with a period when Japanese jazz was modernising between 1968 and 1969 with the arrival of fusion. 

It was around this time that Kohsuke Mine made the move from sideman to bandleader. He made his debut on Live In Tokyo was recorded on the ‘30th’ of August 1969 and featured a variety of artists. It was released by Nippon Columbia. The following year he released his debut album on Phillips. 

This was First which features six tracks. The only Kohsuke Mine composition is Morning Tide. Four tracks were written by band members. Keyboardist Masabumi Kikuchi wrote Love Talking and Little Abbi while drummer Lenny McBrowne contributed Bar’ L’ Len and bassist Larry Ridley penned McPhee. There was also a cover of Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser. 

First was recorded at Victor Studio on the ’17th’ and ‘18th’ June 1970. Bandleader and alto saxophonist Kohsuke Mine is joined by the American rhythm section of drummer Lenny McBrowne and bassist Larry Ridley who were joined by virtuoso keyboardist Masabumi Kikuchi on electric piano.  Producing twenty-six year old Kohsuke Mine’s debut album was Masaharu Honjo.

When First was released by Phillips later in 1970 only a small amount of albums were pressed. The album was well received but they didn’t realise the importance of this groundbreaking release. It found Kohsuke Mine and his band combining contemporary jazz,  fusion and modal over six tracks.

The album opener Morning Tide was written by bandleader Kohsuke Mine. He delivers a breathtaking performance on alto saxophone. His playing is emotive, imaginative and full of enthusiasm. Not to be outdone bassist Larry Ridley and Masabumi Kikuchi on electric piano unleash stunning solos on a track that sets the bar high.

Love Talking is a sprightly sounding track that swings. Masabumi Kikuchi who wrote the piece plays a starring role on electric piano.His playing his rhythmic and he uses pauses to a degree of drama. Stealing the show is Kohsuke Mine whose playing starts off smooth and becomes impassioned as he paints pictures with music on this modernist modal piece.

Straight No Chaser is a jazz classic and the band seem to raise their game as if paying homage to Monk. This time, Kohsuke Mine unleashes a blazing bluesy saxophone burns brightly while Masabumi Kikuchi’s adds some subtle modal movements on electric piano. Later, he gets the chance to stretch his legs and  plays with an inventiveness before a bass solo takes centrestage. Then there’s a return to the main theme on this tribute to a jazz legend.

McPhee swings and grooves the rhythm section power the arrangement along. The playing is emotive and expressive and has made in America written all through it. That’s despite Kohsuke Mine and Masabumi Kikuchi both plays leading roles. So does bassist Larry Ridley during what’s a flawless piece from the quintet.

Masabumi Kikuchi wrote and named Little Abbi after his young daughter. His playing is at the heart of everything that’s good about the track. It’s poetic and expressive while beauty is everpresent during Masabumi Kikuchi’s solo during this J-Jazz ballad.

Closing First is one of the highlights of the album, Bar ‘L’ Len. Partly this is because of the interplay between the band. They’re playing is tight but still the arrangement swings and the album closes on a high.

While First wasn’t released to critical acclaim and wasn’t a commercial success it was later recognised as one of the most important albums of regional modern J-Jazz. Nowadays, the album is a cult classic and original copies of the album are much-prized rarities. 

First is also the album that launched Kohsuke Mine’s long and illustrious career. He was one of the pioneers of fusion in Japan and released a string of critically acclaimed albums. However, First was the album that saw Kohsuke Mine step out of the shadows  and into the spotlight as he made the move from sideman to bandleader a role that he was perfectly suited and handled with aplomb.

Cult Classic: Kohsuke Mine-First.

CULT CLASSIC: IAN CARR-BELLADONNA.

Cult Classic: Ian Carr-Belladonna.

In 1969, thirty-six year old Ian Carr who was born Dumfries, in the South West Scotland, formed Nucleus who would become one of the top British fusion groups. By then, the Scottish trumpeter was a familiar face on the London jazz scene.

He had been member of the Emcee Five, co-led the Rendell–Carr Quintet, played with the New Jazz Orchestra and the Joe Harriott and Amancio D’Silva Quartet. However, Nucleus was a new beginning for Ian Carr.

Within a year, Nucleus had signed to the Harvest label and released their groundbreaking debut album Elastic Rock in March 1970. The album sounded as if it had been inspired by Miles Davis 1969 albums Filles de Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. However, Ian Carr later admitted that he hadn’t heard In A Silent Way. Elastic Rock was an ambitious and innovative album but sadly wasn’t a commercial success.

It was a similar story when We’ll Talk About It Later was released by Vertigo in 1971. Nucleus’ sophomore album failed to find the audience it deserved. It must have been frustrating for Ian Carr as the group were one of the pioneers of British fusion. Meanwhile, British record buyers had been won over by American fusion and especially Miles Davis’ 1970 classic album Bitches Brew which was was certified silver in Britain.

Later in 1971 when the group returned with a new album Solar Plexus and this time, they were billed as Ian Carr with Nucleus. Despite the new name and another groundbreaking album of ambitious fusion it also failed commercially. For founder Ian Carr this was hugely disappointing and resulted in a rethink for the thirty-eight year trumpeter.

After the commercial failure of Nucleus’ first three albums the group decided to call time on their career. They had been together just two years and released three unsuccessful albums. By then, Nucleus were experiencing financial problems and the group disbanded. It looked like a sad end to the story of one of the groups who pioneered fusion in Britain.

Ian Carr decided to change tack and began work on his debut solo album. It became Belladonna which was released by Vertigo in 1972 and featured some of the top British jazz musicians. This included percussionist Brian Smith who by 1972 was the only remaining original member of Nucleus.

For his much-anticipated debut album Ian Carr wrote four of the six tracks. This included Belladonna, Summer Rain, Mayday and Suspension.  Remadione and Hector’s House were written by reeds player Brian Smith. These six tracks  were recorded at Phonogram Studios, in London, with engineer Roger Wake.

Ian Carr played trumpet and flugelhorn on Belladonna. He was joined by a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Clive Thacker, bassist Roy Babbington and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. They were joined by Brian Smith who switched  between tenor and soprano saxophones plus alto and bamboo flutes. Augmenting the band on some tracks were percussionist Trevor Tomkins, Dave MacRae on Fender electric piano and Gordon Beck on Hohner electric piano. This all-star band played accompanied Ian Carr as he embarked upon his solo career.

Although Belladonna was well received when it was released in 1972, the album wasn’t a commercial success. This was hugely disappointing for Ian Carr given the quality of music on the album.

The music on Belladonna was atmospheric, ethereal and sometimes headed in the direction of avant-garde and experimental music. Other times the music is broody, moody, dark and dramatic. However, most of the time it’s fusion by one of its pioneers in Britain, Ian Carr. He really understands how to combine jazz and rock and leads a band who do this seamlessly. Sometimes this all-star band combines fusion and funk to good effect. 

Opening Belladonna is the title-track which is a slice of funky fusion that’s been heavily influenced by Nucleus. However, at the end it’s all change as Ian Carr’s lone trumpet is accompanied by steel percussion. 

Then on Summer Rain the introduction of an electric piano plays an important part in sound and success of the track. It meanders along and a stunning example of fusion unfolds as the band showcase their considerable skills. 

Initially, Remadione has a late night smokey jazz sound thanks to Ian Carr’s trumpet. Space has been left in the arrangement allowing it breath as a glistening electric piano drifts in and out before there’s a nod to Dexter Gordon on Round About Midnight. At 1:49 it’s all change as the arrangement takes on a much more traditional fusion sound. Playing a starring role is guitarist Allan Holdsworth who unleashes one of his finest performances on the album. He’s accompanied by the electric piano and the transformation of the track is complete. From there,  the band move through the gears heading for home on one of the album’s highlights.

The hissing hi-hats and wah-wah chords during the funky introduction to Mayday are reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. Soon, the horns combine with the rhythm section and shimmering Fender Rhodes and is later replaced by Allan Holdsworth’s rhythm guitar. Along with Brian Smith’s saxophone that play leading roles before Ian Carr’s trumpet rejoins as this example of funky fusion reaches a crescendo.

Very different is Suspension which is atmospheric, moody, haunting and cinematic. It sounds like part of the soundtrack to horror movie. That’s still the case when the horn takes centrestage and is accompanies by a plodding base, chirping guitar and stabs of electric piano. When all this is combined the result is a haunting filmic track  that shows another side to Ian Carr and his multitalented and versatile band.

Closing Belladonna is Hector’s House which was also the name of a British children’s television show in the early seventies. Once again, the band enjoys the opportunity to stretch their legs as the tempo rises and showcase their skills during solos. Saxophonist Brian Smith looks like playing the starring role. Then Allan Holdsworth unleashes a spellbinding guitar solo played with speed and accuracy. The rest of the rhythm section and electric drive the arrangement along before it reaches a crescendo. By then it’s obvious that Ian Carr and his band have saved the best until last.

Although Belladonna wasn’t a commercial success the album later started to find an audience and nowadays is regarded as a cult classic. It was Ian Carr’s debut album and sadly he only released one more solo album Old Heartland in 1989. However, Belladonna was his finest solo album and is a reminder of one of the pioneers of British fusion at peak of his powers.

Cult Classic: Ian Carr-Belladonna.

CULT CLASSIC: KEITH MANSFIELD-VIVID UNDERSCORES.

Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Vivid Underscores.

Composer, arranger and musician Keith Mansfield nowadays is recognised and regarded as one the doyens of library music and original copies of his albums are now highly collectable. This includes Vivid Underscores which was released in 1977, a year after his other genre classic Contempo. Both albums are now rarities like so many of the KPM Records’ releases. That’s no surprise

Everyone from sample-hungry hip hop producers and crate-digging DJs to film producers collect library music. They remember hearing library music in cartoons, documentaries and quizzes as they growing up in the seventies and eighties. So will many other people who listen to a KPM Records’ releases including Vivid Underscores which was released nearly two hundred years after the company was formed.
The Rise and Rise Of KPM.

Robert Keith founded a comp[any in 1780, to make of musical instruments, and fifty years later, in 1830, entered into a partnership with William Prowse, a music publisher. The newly formed partnership was named Keith Prowse Music (KPM), and over the next hundred years, the company grew and expanded into other areas,

By the early twentieth century, Keith Prowse Music was selling sheet music and concert tickets, but it was the invention of the gramophone that proved to be a game-changer.

Demand for sheet music and concert tickets grew, and in 1955, Keith Prowse Music was decided to diversify, into one of the most profitable areas of music, music publishing.

One of the reasons behind the decision to diversify into music publishing, was to feed the demand for soundtracks for radio, television and film. Previously, music libraries supplied classical music, which was what was required. By the mid-fifties, and the birth of television, the world and music were changing, and changing fast.

Four years later, in 1959, Associated Rediffusion bought another music publisher Peter Maurice and merged it with Keith Prowse Music. The newly merged company became Keith Prowse Maurice, which became known as KPM Music.

The newly named KPM Music was a much bigger player in the world music publishing. However, in the mid-sixties, a new name took the helm at KPM Music, and transformed the company into one of the biggest names in library music.

When Robin Phillips joined KPM Music in the mid-sixties, he proved to be an astute and visionary businessman. Two decisions Robin Phillips made demonstrate why. His first decision was that KPM Music should switch from the old 78 records to the LP, which made sense, as LPs were what people were buying. They were less prone to breakage, which meant less returns and more profit. LPs could contain more music, and could be released in limited editions of 1,000. The other decision he made was to hire the best young British composers and arrangers.

Among the composers Robin Phillips hired were Keith Mansfield and Johnny Pearson, whose talent and potential as composers he recognised. Robin Phillips managed to hired them before they’ had established a reputation, although they were known within music publishing circles.

Later, Robin Phillips managed to hire some of jazz musicians of the calibre of John Cameron, Syd Clark, Alan Hawkshaw and Alan Parker. Their remit was to provide him with new music, which was referred to as production music. Many of their remits was to write music which matched themes or moods, which initially, wasn’t isn’t easy, but soon, the composers were able to do so. Almost seamlessly, the composers created themes for many well known television shows and films.

For the composers and musicians involved in writing and recording library music, they were part of what was one of the most lucrative areas of music. When EMI realised that KPM Music had one of the best and most profitable music libraries and decided to buy the company. Executives at EMI had spotted the profitability of library music and the consistency, quality and depth of KPM Music’s back catalogue. However, not everyone within the music industry approved of library music.

Other songwriters looked down on writers of library music, and the British Musician’s Union wasn’t fan of library music. They banned their members from working on recording sessions of library music. Somewhat shortsightedly, the Musician’s Union thought that eventually, there would come a time when there was no need for any further recordings. Their fear was that the sheer quantity of back-catalogue would mean no new recordings would be made, and their members would be without work. Fortunately, KPM Records thought of a way to subvert the ban.

KPM Records would fly out composers, arrangers and musicians to Holland and Belgium, where local musicians would join them for recording sessions. This meant that often, the same musicians would play on tracks that were penned by several composers. For the musicians involved, this proved lucrative and some were reluctant to turn their back on session work for companies like KPM Records.

Still the Musician’s Union’s draconian ban continued, and it wasn’t until the late seventies that they lifted their ban on new recordings of library music. By then, the Musician’s Union realised that they were fighting a losing battle and had no option but to concede defeat.

Meanwhile, the music that was being recorded in Europe and once the ban was lifted in Britain, found its way onto albums of library music released by KPM Music. Again, KPM Music were innovators, and released limited editions of library music. Sometimes, only 1,000 albums were released, and they were sent out to film studios, television and radio stations and advertising agencies. However, by then, interest in library music had grown.

Although the albums of library music were never meant to be commercially available, a coterie of musical connoisseurs had discovered KPM Music’s albums of library music and were determined to add each release to their collection. They weren’t alone.

Later, DJs and sample hungry hip hop and house producers discovered the world of library music. This was a boon for many of these producers who were musically illiterate, and could neither read music nor play an instrument. with lots of practise the musically challenged “producers” were eventually able to sample albums of library music for their latest “production” and very occasionally, this resulted in a hit single for the musical pirates. However, most of the credit should’ve gone to those who made the music that had been sampled.

This included Keith Mansfield who recorded some of the best library music was ever recorded in the UK. Especially the music they recorded for KPM which has ‘inspired’ several generations of musicians. One of the albums of library music that Keith Mansfield recorded for KPM was Vivid Underscores, which is part of the legendary KPM 1000 series.

Vivid Underscores features Keith Mansfield at his best on a cohesive and truly timeless album of library music. The music is funky, soulful, sometimes dramatic, mesmeric, joyous and uplifting. Strings and horns are deployed and put to good use during a series of cinematic and filmic soundscapes from a musical master craftsman, Keith Mansfield.
Side One.

Opening Vivid Underscores is High Velocity where driving horns join forces with wah-wah guitars, a funky bass and synths to create a dramatic and filmic all-action track that transports the listener to the seventies.

Crash Course is akin to a mini soundtrack in three parts. The first part paints pictures as the drama builds and jazz, funk and fusion combine as what could be the backdrop to a car chase. It’s the type of track that could be heard during The Sweeney after a blag. Echo is added to the horns during the second part before the big finish in the third part where the good guys say: “you’re nicked.”

Horns play an important part during Matter Of Urgency. It’s a slow burner that’s uber funky, jazz-tinged and cinematic with aggressive undertones.

There’s two parts to Dawn Of Aquarius which is a futuristic sounding track with sci-fi sounds. It sounds like the type of soundtrack that Kraftwerk would’ve written circa 1977 and has plenty of material for sample hungry producers. During the second part, the drums and percussion drop out leaving more room space-age and sci-fi sounds.

Staying Power is very different from the two previous tracks. It’s dramatic, moody and almost menacing as elements of funk, jazz and rock are combined by Keith “The Man” Mansfield.
Side Two.

The second side opens with the first of four parts of Trucking Power. This is the introduction and akin to a scene setter. The tempo rises as synths and strings combine and take centrestage. This is highly effective. So is the addition of echo during the Part A while Part B is an alternative mix and a captivating variation on a theme. Then during Part C the tension is gone as the gorgeous middle section breezes along. The result is what can only be described as a thing of beauty.

There’s plenty of tension and drama during Hot Tempo and Espionage which sound as if they’re part of a late-seventies Cold War spy thriller.

Then the tempo drops on Interplay which is a much more understated track. Flutes flutter above a shimmering piano which is almost hypnotic and is quite beautiful.

Very different is Omen which is dark, dramatic and menacing. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a seventies detective series.

It’s all change with Perpetual Motion which flows and meanders revealing an intricate arrangement where keyboards, synths, percussion and lush sweeping strings combine with woodwind to create another beautiful, cinematic track. Keith Mansfield closes Vivid Underscores on a high.

During the seventies, Keith Mansfield was without doubt one of the finest purveyors of library music. His 1976 album Contempo and the followup Vivid Underscores which was released as part of the KPM 1000 series in 1977 are both genre classics and a reminder of a truly talented arranger, composer and musician.

He combines everything from jazz and funk to jazz-funk, fusion and rock on Vivid Underscores. Strings, synths and horns are deployed during this cinematic opus by one of the doyens of library music on Vivid Underscores .

Sadly, nowadays original copies of Vivid Underscores rarities and very few copies come up for sale. When they do, the prices are beyond the budget of most collectors of library music.

Vivid Underscores is a library music classic and a reminder of the golden age of library music. It also features library music doywn Keith Mansfield at the peak of his considerable powers.

Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Vivid Underscores.

CULT CLASSIC: GEORGE OHTSUKA QUINTET-LOVING YOU GEORGE.

Cult Classic: George Ohtsuka Quintet-Loving You George.

When the George Otsuka Quintet took to the stage at the Nemu Jazz Inn on the ‘19th’ of July 1975 the Japanese bandleader, composer and drummer was thirty-seven and about to record a live album. He was following in the footsteps of Norman Connors, Eddie Henderson and Gary Bartz who had recorded the critically  acclaimed live album Dance Of Magic at the same venue.

Once the George Otsuka Quintet knew that the tapes were rolling the group unleashed four stunning performances that became Loving You George. It was released later in 1975 on the Bellwood label which had established a reputation for releasing groundbreaking albums.

Just a few months before the release of Loving You George, Bellwood had released Haruomi Hosono’s landmark album Hosono House. It was the perfect label for such an ambitious album. So was Loving You George which was the fifth album by the George Ohtsuka Quintet. It was led by one of the top drummers in the Japanese jazz scene.

George Ohtsuka was born on April the ‘6th’ 1937 and his breakthrough came in the late-fifties when he became the drummer in Sadao Watanabe’s Cozy Quartet. This was akin to a musical apprenticeship and allowed him to hone his craft and developed into one of Japan’s top drummers.

By the mid-sixties he had formed the George Ohtsuka Trio with bassist Masaoki Terakawa and pianist Hideo Ichikawa. They released their debut album Page 1 in 1967 with Page 2 following in 1968. Later that year, American drummer Roy Haynes and George Ohtsuka Trio collaborated on the album Groovin’ With My Soul Brother.

A year later, in 1969, the George Ohtsuka Trio returned with their third album Last Summer-Page 3. It was the last album the Trio released for four years.

Two years later, in 1971, the George Ohtsuka Quintet released their debut album Sea Breeze on Union Records. That was the only album they released for the label. They signed to the Three Blind Mice label who release  their sophomore album Go On in 1972 and In Concert in 1973, That was the year The Trio made their comeback.

The Trio’s first album in four years was another collaboration. This time, Akira Miyazawa and His Groupe and George Ohtsuka Trio recorded Now’s The Time which was released in 1973. It was the last album the Trio released. They contributed two tracks to Drum Battle when it was released by RCA in 1975.

In 1974, Three Blind Mice released the live album Now’s The Time which was recorded at March the ’26th’ 1974 at Toshi Center Hall, Tokyo and featured Isao Suzuki and Sunao Wada With The Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, George Otsuka Quintet +2. This was fitting as George Otsuka Quintet’s next release was a live album.

On the ‘19th’ of July 1975, the George Otsuka Quintet journeyed to the Nemu Jazz Inn where they were about to record the live album Loving You George. By then, the lineup featured drummer George Ohtsuka, bassist Mitsuaki Furuno, keyboardist Fumio Karashima, percussionist Norio Ohno and Shozo Sasaki who switched between tenor and soprano saxophone. This was the lineup of the George Otsuka Quintet who took to the stage. 

That night, the concert was produced by Yasuyuki Koike who watched on as the George Otsuka Quintet unleashed a barnstorming performance switching between and fusing jazz, rock, funk, fusion, jazz-funk and soul. It was ambitious album that even heads in the direction of modal jazz and post bop. The audience were lucky to witness the George Otsuka Quintet at the top of their game on a four track set.

Rapturous applause greets the George Otsuka Quintet as they take to the stage and open Loving You George with the Fumio Karashima composition Love Island. It’s a slow burner with the piano playing a leading role before the dark, broody and mesmeric bass is joined by the drums and a wistful soprano saxophone. Around 3:23 the tempo increases and the arrangement sweeps and breezes along. Later, the saxophone is played with power, passion and freedom while George Otsuka powers his way around the kit and Fumio Karashima jabs and stabs his piano keyboard. He plays a starring role in the sound and success of the track he wrote while Shozo Sasaki plays a supporting role on this musical amuse bouche. 

Steve Kuhn’s Something Everywhere  bursts into life and is driven along by a surging drum groove. It’s accompanied by a fleet-fingered bass solo, wailing, squealing soprano saxophone and shimmering  keyboards that epitomise the fusion sound. The Quintet is in the groove with thunderous  drums and rolling bass driving and powering the arrangement along. Each member of the band plays their part in this near eleven minute breathtaking jam.

There’s no stopping the quintet on Miles Mode which was written by John Coltrane, and they soon pickup where they left off on Something Everywhere. The band play with speed, fluidity and accuracy racing along and produce a new flawless performance as they play as one. George Otsuka’s upbeat swing then gives way to a lengthy drum solo midway through the track. It’s by far the best on the album and is shows why by 1975 he was regarded as one of Japan’s top drummers. Quite simply it’s a masterclass from a drummer at the peak of his powers.

A cover of Minnie Riperton’s Loving You closes Loving You George. The only problem covering this classic song is how does the Quintet replace her spellbinding five octave vocal? In its place are Fumio Karashima’s bank of keyboards. They take centrestage during this laidback cover a quite beautiful soul classic. Meanwhile the bandleader pounds a his drum kit and bassist Mitsuaki Furuno’s considered and confident cover. However, it’s the keyboards that steal the show and play a leading role as the Quintet reinvent a classic and close the concert on a high.

Loving You George is a reminder of the George Ohtsuka Quintet at their creative zenith during a four track set at the legendary Nemu Jazz Inn. 

By July 1975, George Ohtsuka was regarded as one of the top jazz drummers in Japan. That comes as no surprise given his performances on Loving You George where he unleashes several musical masterclasses. However, the rest of the George Ohtsuka Quintet play their part on Loving You George. They’re a talented and versatile group who seamlessly switch between and combine genres on the other great live album recorded at the Nemu Jazz Inn, Loving You George.

Cult Classic: George Ohtsuka Quintet-Loving You George.

CULT CLASSIC: GENE RUSSELL-NEW DIRECTION.

Cult Classic: Gene Russell-New Direction.

In 1969, pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California. The nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of their vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story.

Between 1971 and 1975 Black Jazz Records released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz and spiritual jazz. 

Although the Oakland-based released twenty albums during the five years it was in existence, this was a lot more albums than similar sized labels. That was no surprise.

Before Dick Schory cofounded Black Jazz Records he had founded the Chicago-based Ovation Records, which was a successful country and western label. Not only was it providing the funding for Black Jazz Records, it was also distributing its releases. This gave the label a helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors. 

Other labels looked on enviously as the Black Jazz Records began. The new kid in town had a bigger budget that its competitors and had a distribution deal in place from day one. Label owners watched on wondering what Black Jazz Records’ first release would be?

Fittingly, Black Jazz Records’ first release was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. It was the first of five albums the label released during its first year in existence.

After cofounding Black Jazz Records much of Gene Russell’s time was spent running the nascent label. Despite this, he still found the time to write, record and release New Direction which was the followup to his 1969 debut album Up and Away. The pianist led a trio on an album of instrumental easy listening which was released by Decca Records. His sophomore album found Gene Russell’s music moving in a New Direction.

Just like his debut album New Direction was an album of cover versions. Gene Russell covered Neal Hefti’s Black Orchid, Richard Carpenter’s Hitting The Jug, Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep For Me and Eddy Harris’ Listen Here. They were joined by Bronislaw Kaper and Ned Washington’s On Green Dolphin Street, Horace Silver’s Silver’s Serenade, Henry Crosby, Stevie Wonder and Sylvia Moy’s My Cherie Amour plus Gene Harris’ Making Bread. These tracks became New Direction.

Joining Gene Russell who recorded, arranged, produced and played piano on New Direction were drummer Steve Clover, bassists Henry Franklin and Henry Glover plus Tony William on congas. The recorded the eight tracks that became the first album released on Black Jazz Records, New Direction.

When New Direction was released the album was well released by critics who were excited about Gene Russell and Dick Schory’s groundbreaking new label. Here was a label was promising to release the latest jazz releases. It was a case of out with the old and in with the new at Black Jazz Records. This began with Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which launched the new label.

Sadly, when New Direction was released it wasn’t the commercial success that Gene Russell had hoped. That was despite being promoted properly and the label having a distribution deal in place. It was disappointing start for Gene Russell and Dick Schory’s new label. 

When New Direction is best described as mostly a straight-ahead piano album. It features a trio that’s led by pianist Gene Russell. However, on some tracks the trio are augmented by conga player Tony William. Sometimes, the music heads in the direction of modal jazz and soul-jazz, while other times the music is sweet, funky and soulful. Gene Russell plays the piano with an enviable fluidity but for much of the album ensures the music swings. The rest of the band follows his lead throughout New Direction.  

It’s an album of familiar songs, old favourites and standards. Gene Russell sets the bar high with his cover of Black Orchid which opens the album is one of the highlights. So is Hitting The Jug which follows hard on its heels. Other highlights include Listen Here, a stunning remake of Silver’s Serenade and Making Bread which closes the album on a high. Even the standard Willow Weep For Me takes on a new meaning and heads in a New Direction thanks to Gene Russell and his multitalented band who had the honour of playing on the first album released by Black Jazz Records.   

New Direction was a vast improvement on Gene Russell’s debut album Up and Away, which had been released two years earlier in 1969. This was the start of a new chapter for Gene Russell and he followed New Direction up with Talk To My Lady in 1973. Sadly, both albums failed to find the audience they deserved and were underrated by jazz aficionados.

It was only in the early nineties that a new generation of DJs and record collectors rediscovered the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975. This included the first album that the label released Gene Russell’s New Direction. It was the one that got away for Black Jazz Records.

Nowadays, New Direction is the most sought after album of the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975. Very few copies of the album come up for sale and when they do, copies of New Direction change hands for large sums of money. No wonder, Gene Russell’s sophomore finds the pianist leading a talented and versatile band as his music moved in a New Direction on what’s one of his finest albums.

Cult Classic: Gene Russell-New Direction.

CULT CLASSIC: HANK MOBLEY-SOUL STATION.

Cult Classic: Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

It was Leonard Feather, the British-born jazz pianist, composer, producer and music writer who described Hank Mobley as the: “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone.” This metaphor made sense to critics and connoisseurs of jazz. 

His tone was neither as aggressive as John Coltrane nor as melodic as Stan Getz. Instead, it had a laidback, languid sound that was subtle and melodic. Especially when compared to the likes of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Despite his undeniable talent, Hank Mobley never seemed to get the credit he deserved. 

Sadly, Hank Mobley is still one of the most the underrated jazz musicians. Especially those who came prominence during the bop era. 

Hank Mobley signed was still twenty-four when he recorded his first session for Blue Note Records on the ‘27th’ of March 1955. That day he recorded the album that became Hank Mobley Quartet which was released in October 1955. He had come a long way in a short space of time. 

Musically, Hank Mobley was a late starter, and first  picked up a saxophone was when he was sixteen, and suffering from an illness that meant he had to stay at home for several months. By then, he was living in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was finding that the days were long and  he needed something to pass the time. That was why his grandmother decided to buy her grandson a saxophone. It passed the time as Hank Mobley recuperated, and also transformed his life. 

Eight years later, Hank Mobley had signed to Blue Note Records where he would spend the majority of his career. He eventually recorded and released twenty-six albums for jazz’s premier label between 1955 and 1972. This includes one of his classic albums Soul Station which were released by Blue Note Records in October 1960. It was the tenth album that Hank Mobley had recorded for Blue Note Records.

The Soul Station session took place at the Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. It was a quartet recording with drummer Art Blakey, bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Wynton Kelly joining the twenty-nine year old bandleader, composer and tenor saxophonist. As usual, Alfred Lion who took charge of production which were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.

That day, six tracks were recorded. This included covers  two standards, Irving Berlin’s Remember and If I Should Lose You which written by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin. They were joined by This I Dig Of You, Dig Dis, Split Feelin’s and Soul Station which were Hank Mobley compositions. The six tracks were recorded during the one-day session and the release was scheduled for later in 1960.

When Soul Station was released in early October 1960, critics heaped praise on the future hard bop classic calling it Hank Mobley’s finest album. Some critics went further and said it was one of the finest albums released by Blue Note Records during the hard bop era. This was high praise indeed.

Soul Station opens with the standard Remember, which was a favourite of American dance bands during the classic jazz age. Hank Mobley pays homage to this era. His sultry tenor saxophone is to the fore and carries the simple melody above the finger clicking groove before enjoying opportunity to improvise. By then the arrangement is swinging. However, Wynton Kelly’s piano playing is subtle, understated and he resists the urge to innovate. Instead, the band to the script during this quite beautiful and captivating cover of this much-loved standard that sashays along before reaching a crescendo. In doing so, this sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Very different This I Dig of You which epitomises everything that’s good about hard bop. Each member of the band plays their part in the sound and success of the track. Especially pianist Wynton Kelly who opens the track and is joined by Hank Mobley as the rest of rhythm section drive and power the arrangement along. Meanwhile, slinky sounding piano plays and later, Art Blakey unleashes a thunderous solo before hissing hi-hats signalling the return of the sultry sounding saxophone which soars above the arrangement to impressive hard driving track.

The tempo drops on Dig Dis where Wynton Kelly’s piano takes centrestage as the rhythm section accompany him. Their playing is understated even when Hank Mobley’s tenor saxophone enters and soars above the piano. It’s everpresent and gets another chance to shine when the saxophone drops out. Soon, though the  baton passes to the smooth souding tenor saxophone which continues to play a starring role. However, just like the previous tracks Wynton Kelly’s contribution is crucial and it would be a poorer track without it.

From the opening bars of Split Feelin’s there’ no stopping the band as they move through the gears on this uptempo track with a Latin-tinged groove. Soon, they’re sitting in the fast lane and are being driven along by rhythm section. Paul Chambers plucks his bass firmly and deliberately while Art Blakey powers the arrangement along and later unleashes a thunderous solo that’s one of his best on the album. Not to be outdone, Wynton Kelly’s hands dance across and sometimes  jab and stab the keyboard. Meanwhile, Hank Mobley plays with speed, fluidity, power, passion and fluidity on what’s one of the album’s highlights.

Another highlight of Soul Station is the title-track. Here, the band is at their tightest as they play a lowdown bluesy groove. At its heart is Wynton Kelly’s piano playing and somehow he reaches new heights. Meanwhile Paul Chambers unleashes a peerless solo while Art Blakey’s playing is much more understated. Hank Mobley’s playing is smooth, melodic and he plays within himself always in control on a track that features this all-star band at their very best.

Bookending Soul Station is the other standard, If I Should Lose You. Just like the opening track Remember, Hank Mobley looks back to the jazz’s glory days when this was a staple of American dance bands. Here, the band stay true to the original and their toe-tapping cover is uptempo, joyous and is a a reminder of another musical era.

Soul Station is the album that transformed Hank Mobley’s career. By the time the album was released in 1960 he was a prolific recording artist. Although his albums were well received by critics Soul Station was called the finest of his career. 

Nowadays Soul Station is regarded as a classic album and one of the finest albums released by Blue Note Records. Although it’s an album that’s rooted in the hard bop style elements of blues, Latin and classic jazz can heard during this almost flawless six track set which should’ve transformed Hank Mobley’s career. 

Despite releasing over thirty albums during his carer, Hank Mobley didn’t get the recognition his music deserved His finest hour was Soul Station which features Hank Mobley the man they called the: “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone” at the peak of his powers.

Cult Classic: Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

CULT CLASSIC: PIERRE MOERLEN’S GONG-DOWNWIND.

Cult Classic: Pierre Moerlen’s Gong-Downwind.

In January 1973, Daevid Allen invited drummer and percussionist Pierre Moerlen to join Gong following the departure of Laurie Allan. He agreed and became the group’s new drummer. 

However, in June 1973 he was asked by Virgin Records’ founder Richard Branson to play percussion at the premier of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. When he agreed Pierre Moerlen never knew that he would spend twelve years working with the Mike Oldfield and become his percussionist of choice between 1975 and 1987.

Pierre Moerlen travelled to France in August 1973 Pierre Moerlen where Gong were recording their fourth studio album Angel’s Egg using the Manor Mobile. The album was released in to critical acclaim in December 1973 and nowadays is a regarded as a classic.

During the summer of 1974, Gong recorded You, which was the followup to Angel’s Egg at the Manor, in Oxfordshire. The album was a mixture of fusion, progressive rock, psychedelic rock and space rock and was well received upon its release. However, it was the last album by Daevid Allen’s iteration of Gong.

Having recorded You, Pierre Moerlen left Gong for the first time and joined Les Percussions de Strasbourg. They premiere Karlheinz Stockhausen composition Musik im Bauch on the ’28th’ of March 1975 as part of the Royan Festival. This was very different to music he had recorded with Gong and would go on to record in the future.

Shamal.

In the summer of 1975, Pierre Moerlen was asked to rejoin Gong and co-lead the band with Didier Malherbe and Steve Hillage. Having agreed to rejoin and co-lead the band, Gong began recording their next album.

 Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason was drafted in to produce the album which was recorded during December 1975. However, Steve Hillage left having only played on a couple of tracks on the album. Losing one of its co-leaders and such a talented guitarist was a huge blow for Gong. Despite that, Shamal was released in February 1976 and hailed as an ambitious, experimental and sometimes beautiful album where the group flitted between and fused disparate musical genres. However, like previous albums Shamal wasn’t a particular successful album.

Gazeuse!

Despite that, Gong began work on their seventh studio album Gazeuse! It was recorded at the Manor Studio, in Oxfordshire, with Dennis MacKay producing what was a jazz-driven instrumental album where Pierre Moerlen’s vibes play a prominent part in the album’s sound. The album was released in late 1976 with the title changed to Expresso for its release in America. Just like previous albums, Gazeuse! was well received by critics but didn’t sell in vast quantities. Despite that, the group had a loyal following and were a popular draw when they played live. 

Expresso II.

Gong returns to the studio in July 1977 to begin recording their eighth studio album Expresso II. This time, the sessions took place at the Pye and Matrix Studios, in London with the group coproducing the album with John Wood. The album was completed by August 1978 and was another jazz-driven instrumental album where Pierre Moerlen’s vibes play an important part in the album’s sound. Stylistically and sonically Expresso II was similar to Gazeuse!.

When Expresso II was released in March 1978 it was the second Gong album to showcase their new sound. It was well received by many music critics despite being very different from the group’s earlier space rock sound. When critics were reviving the album they didn’t realise that it marked the end of an era.

Because of contractual reasons Virgin Records had to release Expresso II  as a Gong album. However, a few months later the band became known as Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. 

Downwind.

The newly named band entered the studio in June 1978 and began working on what was the third since Pierre Moerlen became the group’s co-leader. However, further changes weer afoot and the first album the group released as Pierre Moerlen’s Gong would be different from previous albums.

Pierre Moerlen wrote Crosscurrents, Downwind, Emotions and Xtasea. He also cowrote Aeroplane and What You Know with  . The other track was a cover of Jin-go-lo-ba which was written by Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. These seven tacks would eventually become Downwind.

When recording began, Pierre Moerlen was producing Downwind and played drums, percussion, concert toms, timpani, vibes, marimba, Fender Rhodes, organ, synths and took charge of the lead vocals. He was joined in the rhythm section by bassist Hansford Rowe and guitarist and vocalist Ross Record. They were augmented by vibraphonist Benoît Moerlen, percussionist François Causse and former Gong saxophonist Didier Malherbe who on the title-track. He was one of several musicians guesting on the album.

Making guest appearances were guitarist Mick Taylor, Steve Winwood who played synths, violinist Didier Lockwood, flautist Terry Oldfield and his brother Mike Oldfield who played bass, guitar, Irish drum and Solina strings. The guest artists and members of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong started recording Downwind in June 1978 and finished the album in September 1978. 

When Pierre Moerlen’s Gong released Downwind on February the ‘9th’ 1979, it was the start of a new chapter in the Gong story. Although he had been co-leader of the band for three albums, Downwind was the first where the group was billed as Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. Downwind also saw the group change direction musically on several tracks.

This includes on Aeroplane which opens Downwind. Just like What You Know it’s a short-form pop song which feature vocals Pierre Moerlen. This was the only time the group tried this. While it’s effective on both tracks it was a short-lived experiment that they didn’t repeat.

Crosscurrents was a driving fusion track where the vibes are to the fore. As the track builds, it becomes dramatic, mesmeric, progressive and at times, funky and jazz-tinged. It’s six genre-melting minutes on what’s one of the album’s highlights. 

The title-track is a twelve minute progressive rock epic where Pierre Moerlen’s Gong are joined by some familiar faces.  Steve Winwood plays keyboards, Mike Oldfield guitar and Didier Malherbe saxophone as the group continue to reinvent their music.

Thunderous drums and percussion open the cover of Jin-Go-Lo-Ba before the vibes enter and are played at breakneck speed. Then there’s the chanted vocals, a myriad of percussion and a blistering, searing rocky guitar which gives way to frantic percussion, joyous harmonies and sweeping, rolling synth. It’s a stunning reinvention of the track and shows another side to the group.

Pierre Moerlen’s shimmering vibes open Emotions which is a slow, wistful and ruminative sounding track. The understated genre-melting arrangement meanders along with group combining classical, folk, jazz and rock to create a quite beautiful, sometimes haunting and filmic track that encourages the listener to reflect and ruminate. 

Closing Downwind is Xtasea where drums, subtle percussion and hypnotic vibes combine as the bass prowls and a gypsy violin tugs at the heartstrings. Again, it’s a beautiful combination. Later, a blistering guitar is unleashed and the track is transformed becoming rocky and dramatic. What follows is some of the best guitar playing on the album from bandleader Pierre Moerlen as he ensures that the album closes on a high.

For anyone yet to discover Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, then Downwind is the album to begin with. It’s their most accessible album and features everything from funk, fusion, jazz, pop and progressive rock to rock. During the seven tracks the group and their friends seamlessly switch between and fuse disparate musical genres on what’s a vastly underrated album.

Sadly, Downwind didn’t chart and wasn’t a hugely successful album. The group had a loyal fanbase but some weren’t won over by the new sound. They preferred the space rock sound of Gong. With Pierre Moerlen at the helm the group initially moved in the direction of fusion and then their music continued to evolve  on Downwind. The new sound should’ve introduced the band to a much wider audience but sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Downwind is an oft-overlooked album that slipped under the radar when it was released in March 1978.

Forty-three years later and this hidden gem of an album is regarded as the perfect introduction to Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. It’s the album that got away for this groundbreaking group. Sadly, Downwind was a case of what might have been for Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. This underrated genre-melting album could’ve transformed the group’s career.

Alas, commercial success eluded Downwind which nowadays is regarded as a cult classic that offers a tantalising taste of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong’s new sound when they dared to be different as their music evolved and moved in a new direction.

Cult Classic: Pierre Moerlen’s Gong-Downwind.

CULT CLASSIC: PORCUPINE TREE-LIGHTBULB SUN.

Cult Classic: Porcupine Tree-Lightbulb Sun.

Between 1987 and 2010 progressive rockers Porcupine Tree released ten studio and twelve live albums. Their sixth studio album was Lightbulb Sun which was released  on May the ‘22nd’ 2000 and was the much-anticipated followup to Stupid Dream, which was released in March 1999. It marked the start of a new chapter in the Porcupine Tree story.

Stupid Dream was the first Porcupine Tree album to feature a much poppier sound. This was very different to their abstract instrumental sound of their prior albums, Signify and Stupid Dream which was their most successful album.

Stupid Dream.

The three singles Porcupine Tree released from Stupid Dream were Piano Lessons, Stranger By The Minute and Pure Narcotic and they all enjoyed mainstream exposure. Especially in the US and Europe where the group toured extensively. They knew it was a case of putting in the hard yards like so many other bands before them.

Porcupine Tree also toured the UK in support of Stupid Dream and watched the three singles charted in the independent charts during 1999. Piano Lesson reached thirty-four, Stranger By The Minute thirteen and Pure Narcotic forty-six. Each of the singles found their way onto radio station playlists and it looked like Porcupine Tree were about to make a commercial breakthrough after five albums and twelve years of trying.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be and Stupid Dream failed to trouble the UK albums charts. This was hugely disappointing given the success of the singles. The members of Porcupine Tree hoped that their next album would see them make a commercial breakthrough.

Lightbulb Sun.

When Steven Wilson and the rest of Porcupine Tree began to write Lightbulb Sun, little did the group know that the album found them still at a crossroads. 

 Just like Stupid Dream, the album that Porcupine Tree were about to write and record would also have a much more commercial, poppier sound. Once again, the group turned their back on the abstract instrumental sound of their first four albums on Lightbulb Sun. However, after their sixth album the group changed direction and their music took on a heavy metal for the rest of the noughties. In a way, Lightbulb Sun was the end of an era for Porcupine Tree.

Of the ten songs on Lightbulb Sun, Steven Wilson penned eight of them and cowrote the other two. He wrote Hatesong with Colin Edwin. Then the pair joined forces with Chris Maitland and Richard Barbieri to write Russia on Ice Chris Maitland. These tracks would eventually become Lightbulb Sun.

Recording of Lightbulb Sun took place at Foel Studio-No Man’s Land between November  1999  and January 2000. The rhythm section featured drummer Chris Maitland and bassist Colin Edwin who Gimbri and was experimenting with a drum machine. Keyboardist Richard Barbieri played Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, mellotron and synth. Meanwhile bandleader, producer and vocalist Steven Wilson played guitars, piano, hammered dulcimer, mellotron, banjo, harp and used samples during the recording of Lightbulb Sun. 

Augmenting Porcupine Tree were rhythm guitarist Eli Hibit, cellist Nick Parry and Stuart Gordon who played viola and violin. During the recording session, The Minerva String Quartet were brought. Violinists Katy Latham and Lisa Betteridge plus cellist Emmeline Brewer and Sarah Heines on viola added the all-important strings to Lightbulb SunIt was completed after just three months recording and was the quickest album that Porcupine Tree had recorded.

Having completed Lightbulb Sun in January 2000, the album was scheduled for release on the ‘22nd’ May 2000. Before this, Porcupine Tree planned to release a single and nervously awaited the verdict of the critics. 

Four Chords That Made a Million was released as the lead single in April 2000 and reached eighty-four in the UK charts and sixteen in the UK Independent Charts. This built upon the success of the triumvirate of singles released from Stupid Dream.

When Lightbulb Sun was released on the ‘22nd’ May 2000 it feature a much commercial, poppier sound that should’ve appealed to wider audience than the he abstract instrumental sound of their first four albums. However, Lightbulb Sun was also an album of two parts.

Lightbulb Sun is divided into two parts between Rest Will Flow and Hatesong. However, the first part focuses on a more melodic, poppy style. Then the part allows Porcupine Tree to showcase the experimental side of their music. The group was hoping there was something for fans old and new. 

The majority or critics were won over by Lightbulb Sun which was released to mostly critical acclaim. They praised the standard of songwriting and musicianship with some critics calling the album Porcupine Tree’s finest hour. 

No wonder as Porcupine Tree mixed unique brand of progressive rock with melodic pop, metal and experimental music. After six albums and thirteen years Porcupine Tree had come of age with a career-defining album. It featured dense harmonies, captivating arrangements, melancholy melodies that tugged at the heartstrings and sometimes the tracks referenced Pink Floyd. Two of the highlights of Lightbulb Sun were the Steven Wilson compositions Feel So Low and The Rest Will Flow. They were part of what was the most consistent and complete album of Porcupine Tree’s tree.

Unlike many progressive rock albums Lightbulb Sun wasn’t a concept album. However, Steven Wilson explains that some of the songs relate to different subjects: “There are at least four or five songs on that record which I call the divorce songs, the relationship songs, which are all about various stages of the splitting up a relationship, of dissolving a relationship. Russia on Ice, How Is Your Life Today, Shesmovedon, Feel So Low, I mean, the last track of the album. The period in a relationship, where the relationship is kind of… still exists, but it’s in that period where, really, there is nothing left but hatred and despise-Hatesong is the other one.”

He goes on to say: “But then on the other hand, there are groups of songs on the album which are all about various childhood… nostalgic childhood reminisces, Lightbulb Sun and the first part of Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth, Where We Would Be. So there are kind of groups of songs.” 

Later he explains: “And then there’s a couple of songs that don’t have any relation to anything else. Four Chords That Made A Million doesn’t have any relation to anything else on the album, or anything else I’ve ever written. It’s just that.”

Lightbulb Sun was regarded as the best and strongest album that Porcupine Tree had recorded and released. Surely their sixth album would be the first to chart and see the group make a commercial breakthrough after thirteen years of touring, recording and doing the rounds of press, radio and television?

The members of Porcupine Tree watched as Lightbulb Sun reaches 161 in the UK album chart where it stalled. Although this was disappointing, it was still  the most successful album of the group’s six album career. 

Then in July 2000 was released as the second single from Lightbulb Sun and reached eighty-five in the UK charts and twenty-four in the UK Independent Charts. This was a small crumb of comfort for Porcupine Tree as Steven Wilson believed that it was: “our best work to date.”

Nowadays, Lightbulb Sun is regarded by critics as one of the finest albums of Porcupine Tree’s long career. It’s also the album that got away and should’ve transformed Porcupine Tree’s.  

When they released Lightbulb Sun it was also a much more accessible album than their previous albums. Steven Wilson made a conscious decision not to write lyrics about abstract concepts like war and religion. Instead, he drew on his own person experiences and wrote songs with much more personal and emotive lyrics. However, some of the songs he wrote especially Hatesong and Feel So Low featured negative lyrics. Despite this, many record buyers would be able to relate to the subjects that the lyrics dealt with on what was without doubt the most accessible album of Porcupine Tree’s six album career.

Lightbulb Sun should’ve been a much bigger success and introduced the group to the wider audience that their music deserved. Sadly, as is so often is the case Lightbulb Sun was an album that passed record buyers by when it was released by Snapper. 

Maybe Snapper was the wrong label for Porcupine Tree and their music would’ve found a wider audience if signed to another indie or major label? They left Snapper after Lightbulb Sun and signed to Lava who released their seventh studio album In Absentia on the ’24th’ September 2002. That was the start of Porcupine Tree’s progressive metal years. Lightbulb Sun was the end of an era for the group.

Although Lightbulb Sun wasn’t a commercial success when it was originally released in May 2000, it had started to find a wider audience by the time it was reissued in 2008. Lightbulb Sun is without doubt one of Porcupine Tree’s most accessible albums, and was a career-defining album when it was released to widespread critical acclaim twenty-one years ago in May 2000.

Cult Classic: Porcupine Tree-Lightbulb Sun.

JAZZ CLASSIC: ART BLAKEY AND THE JAZZ MESSENGERS-MOANIN’.

Jazz Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Moanin’.

Although Philly-born tenor saxophonist Benny Golson’s tenure with The Jazz Messengers was short-lived, he still played an important part in the development and history of the group. He joined in 1958, and during the summer, helped Art Blakey recruit three new Messengers.

They were all from Philly, and included bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons and trumpeter Lee Morgan who joined Benny Golson in the front line. This latest lineup of The Messengers made their recording debut on what would become a classic album, Moanin’.

It was also Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers debut album for Blue Note Records. The group had led a nomadic existence for the past few years recording for a number of different labels including  Columbia, Pacific Jazz, Cadet, Vic Records, Jubilee, Atlantic and Bethlehem. Now Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had signed to jazz’s premiere label and were about to record one of the most important albums of their career.

On the ‘30th’ of October 1958, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers journeyed to the original Van Gelder Studio, at 25 Prospect Avenue in Hackensack, New Jersey. By then, Benny Golson was The Jazz Messengers’ musical director and chief composer. He wrote Are You Real, Along Came Betty, The Drum Thunder Suite and Blues March. These compositions plus Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ and a cover of Come Rain or Come Shine were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and produced Alfred Lion and eventually became Moanin’.

After the recording of Moanin, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers embarked upon a European tour. During November and December 1958, they wowed and won over audiences across Europe with a series of spellbinding performances. However, all wasn’t well behind the scenes and there were personality clashes during the tour. When Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers retuned home, Benny Golson left the group. 

Although he had only been a Messenger for a few months, he had played on a future jazz classic and ensured the band stayed relevant in spite of the growing popularity of the soul-jazz movement. However, Benny Golson wanted to be part of a more structured band, and in 1959 formed The Jazztet with Art Farmer. By then, Moanin’ had been released, and Hank Mobley who was former Messenger had rejoined the group. 

Meanwhile, Moanin’ was released to widespread critical acclaim in January 1959. Critics were won over by what a captivating combination of old-fashioned gospel and blues which Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers combined with what was their innovative and sophisticated take on modern jazz.  The result was a potent and powerful combination and Moanin’ featured some of the finest music that Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers would ever record. 

Side One.

Moanin’ opens with the title-track is mellifluous and melodic bluesy shuffle that’s also an early example of soul-jazz. Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers are at the top of their game and set the bar high for the rest of this future classic album. 

Straight away, there’s an almost wistful sound to Are You Real? Especially the horns who pose the question and play a starring role while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Then when the solos arrive, the rest of the band enjoy the opportunity to  shine. Bobby Timmons fingers dance across the keyboard, Art Blakey powers his way round his drum kit enjoying the opportunity to showboat before the baton passes to bassist Jymie Merritt who plays a fleet-fingered solo. The result is a propulsive tracks that’s a mixture of beauty and melancholy. 

Closing side one of Moanin’ is Along Came Betty where the tempo drops on this lyrical track that’s much more melodic and expressive. It’s the nearest thing to a ballad on the album and is without doubt one of the highlights.

Side Two.

The Drum Thunder Suite was written by Benny Golson especially for Art Blakey. This three part suite features Drum Thunder, Cry A Blue Tear and Harlem’s Disciples and was a showcase for the legendary drummer and bandleader. Just like the rest of the album there’ an intensity to his playing as he unleashes on of his finest performance on the album. Later, the suite would become a staple of his live sets.

Blues March is another of the Benny Golson composition on the albums. From the get-go it sounds as if he had been influenced by the music of New Orleans’ marching bands. Art Blakey’s drums plays a leading role in the sound and success of this truly memorable track.

Closing Moanin’ is the standard Come Rain Or Come Shine. It’s been reinvented and features a brisk, lilting arrangement. Initially the horns play a leading role while the piano plays a supporting role. Soon, it’s all change and Bobby Timmons jabs and stabs at the keyboard picking out the melody before the drums signal the arrival of the saxophone. It’s played with power and freedom revealing a joyous sound that soars above the arrangement before Jymie Merritt plays a solo and then the band are reunited and continue to reinvent this standard which closes this classic album. 

Sadly, this lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers was short-lived and the only album they recorded was Moanin’.  Benny Golson left before the release of Moanin’ and was replaced by Hank Mobley. However, he was just a short-term replacement. 

By the time The Big Beat was recorded on March the ‘6th’ 1960 Wayne Shorter was the latest tenor saxophonist to join The Messengers. The group’s lineup was fluid and that would always be the case.

Who knows what would’ve happened if Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had continued to record with the same lineup that features on Moanin’? With Benny Golson as musical director, chief composer and tenor saxophonist the group may have gone on to release a string of groundbreaking classic albums. Sadly, personality clashes meant that Benny Golson left after Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers toured Europe in December 1958 and it’s a case of what might have been. 

Surely even Art Blakey must have wondered what would’ve happened to the group he cofounded if Benny Golson had continued to play a leading role? However, the tenor saxophonist played a huge part in the sound and success of Moanin’ which nowadays is  regarded as  a jazz classic and one of the greatest hard bop albums ever released. 

For newcomers to both jazz and hard bop Moanin’ is an album that’s a vital part of any collection and features the finest lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at the peak of their considerable powers. It’s an album the legendary bandleader and drummer never surpassed during what was a long and illustrious career leading a band that featured many of the future giants of jazz.

Jazz Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Moanin’.