CULT CLASSIC: JOHN CARTER/BOBBY BRADFORD-SELF DETERMINATION MUSIC.

Cult Classic: John Carter/Bobby Bradford released Self Determination Music

By 1970, when John Carter and Bobby Bradford released Self Determination Music, Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions had established a reputation for releasing groundbreaking music. This had been  the case since Bob left Impulse Records in 1969.

Impulse Records had been home for Bob Thiele since 1961. Over the next eight yearsDuring that time, Bob Thiele enjoyed the busiest period of his career. Bob, who was hardly away from the studio, produced over 150 albums in eight years. This included John Coltrane’s seminal album A Love Supreme. However, not all of Bob Thiele’s production’s were as successful. Innovative music didn’t always equate to commercially successful music. 

Through working with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz, Bob must have realised that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they’d like. 

Soon, Bob Thiele, would be able to create an environment where this would be possible. By 1969, Bob had been at Impulse for eight years. He’d been responsible for producing some of the most important jazz music of the sixties. However, there’s no sentiment in music. In the musical equivalent of a musical coup d’tat, Bob Thiele was ousted from his role at Impulse. This proved to the start of the next chapter in his career.

Leaving Impulse in 1969, Bob founded Flying Dutchman Productions. This would become home to everyone from Ornette Coleman, through Gil Scott Heron, Leon Thomas, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Louis Armstrong to Lonnie Liston Smith and His Cosmic Echoes. Within the right environment, Bob wanted to prove that innovative musicians could thrive, creating music that’s influential and forward-thinking. That describes the music on John Carter Carter and Bobby Bradford’s 1970 album, Self Determination Music perfectly.

Released in 1970, Self Determination Music was a collaboration between two musical innovators. This was their second collaboration. Their first was the John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet’s Flight For Four, which had been released on Flying Dutchman Productions, in 1969. The sessions had been challenging for producer, Bob Thiele. However, the end result made it all worthwhile. Flight For Four was the type of music he wanted to record, produce and release. Inventive, innovative and influential, Flight For Four was different to much of the music other labels were releasing. It would, he hoped, influence a generation of musicians. So, Bob commissioned a second album.

Whereas Flight For Four was credited to The John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet, Self Determination Music was credited to John Carter and Bobby Bradford. They put together a quintet which recorded the four songs on Self Determination Music, which marked the next step in the career of two pioneering jazzmen.

Saxophonist John Carter  was forty-one when he recorded Self Determination Music. He had been born in Fort Worth, Texas. Growing up, John attended I.M. Terrell High School,  alongside Ornette Coleman and Charles Moffett. Originally, John played the saxophone. However, later, John began to spread his wings musically.

By the time John Carter headed to college, in 1945, he was already starting to play other instruments. Soon, he was becoming something of a multi-instrumentalist. Eventually, John could play clarinet, flute, plus alto, tenor and soprano saxophone. For a future music teacher, this was no bad thing.

In 1949, John graduated college, and began teaching. This allowed him to make a living, and also, to hone his skills. Deep down, maybe John hadn’t given up hope of making a living as a musician, like his old class mate Ornette Coleman. Eventually, it was Ornette Coleman that helped John get a break.

Ornette Coleman knew both John and Bobby Bradford. He felt they had much in common, professionally and musically. They had, he felt, similar hopes and aspirations. Both John and Bobby were teachers, who hoped to make a living as musicians. So, Ornette put them in touch. 

When John met Bobby Bradford, he discovered he was a native of Cleveland, Mississippi. Bobby was thirty-six, five years John’s junior. He was born in 1934, and began playing the trumpet at an early age. By the age of fifteen, Bobby was playing in clubs around Dallas.

Despite his tender years, Bobby was rubbing shoulders with impressive company, including Ornette Coleman, James Clay and David Newman. This stood Bobby in good stead when he moved to Los Angeles in the early fifties.

Now living in Los Angeles, Bobby kept in touch with, and played alongside Ornette Coleman. Both shared a passion for free jazz, which was transforming jazz music. However, by the mid-fifties, Bobby’s career was interrupted. He was drafted.

With Bobby drafted, Don Cherry took his place in Ornette Coleman’s band. Then when Bobby was discharged from the Army, he picked up where he left off. 

Bobby returned to Ornette Coleman’s band. Mostly, the lineup of Ornette Coleman’s band which featured Bobby played live. They did enter the recording studio. Sadly, these recordings were never heard. In 1962, a fire devastated the Atlantic Records’ vaults the master tapes were kept in. By then, Bobby had realised he wasn’t going to make a living as a musician.

So, like John Carter, Bobby turned to teaching. That’s how was making a living, when Ornette Coleman introduced John and Bobby.

With the two musicians turned teachers, having so much in common, they taught by day, and practised by night. Both men shared a love of free jazz, and were looking for like minded musicians. 

Trying to form a band wasn’t easy. The problem was finding musicians who wanted to play free jazz.  Some arrived with good intentions, but weren’t suited to free jazz. Eventually, though, the lineup took shape. 

After trying out several bassists, Tom Williamson, a technical writer, by day, got the gig. Next to join was drummer Bruz Freeman, who was a stalwart of The West Coast scene. Previously, Bruz had been a member of the Hampton Hayes Quartet since the fifties. Bruz was the final piece of the jigsaw, who initially, called themselves The New Art Ensemble.

With the lineup in place, The New Art Ensemble practised together. However, given the band were part-time musicians, The New Art Ensemble only played a few gigs. When they did, they often played alongside Horace Tapscott and His Pan-African People. After one of these gigs at the Occidental College, The New Art Ensemble caught a break.

John William Hardy, a professor at Occidental  College had founded a record label, Revelation, with one of his former students, Jonathan Harwich. They asked The New Art Ensemble if they wanted to record an album? The answer was a resounding yes. 

John Carter penned five of the six tracks that became Seeking, The New Art Ensemble’s one and only album. This ambitious and pioneering album was released in January 1969. It was the perfect showcase for The New Art Ensemble, who were about to come to the attention of Bob Thiele.

Bob had just left Impulse, after eight years, and had just founded Flying Dutchman Productions. He was looking for musicians to accompany him on his debut album Head Start. Having come across The New Art Ensemble and Horace Tapscott, and been impressed with them, he realised he had found his backing band.

The New Art Ensemble and Horace Tapscott accompanied Bob Thiele on Head Start, which was released in 1969. Bob however, was impressed with The New Art Ensemble, so offered them a recording contract. However, he wasn’t impressed with their name. So, The New Art Ensemble became The John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet. 

Flight For Four.

The John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet’s debut album would be Flight For Four. It featured five tracks. Four songs were penned by John, and one by Bobby. Some of the arrangements were extremely complicated. So much so, that when the recording session began, multiple takes were required. However, once the session were finished, The John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet and Bob Thiele were impressed by Flight For Four.

When Flight For Four was released in 1969, critics hailed it an album of ambitious and groundbreaking music. It was a timeless homage to The John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet’s collected love of free jazz. Despite the glowing reviews, Flight For Four wasn’t a huge seller. However, it sold well enough for Bob Thiele to commission a second album. Bob believed in The John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet, and was willing to back the free jazz pioneers.

Self Determination Music.

For their sophomore album, Self Determination Music, John Carter penned a trio of tracks, The Sunday Afternoon Jazz Blues Society, Loneliness and Encounter. Bobby Bradford contributed the other track on Self Determination Music, The Eye Of The Storm. These four tracks would become Self Determination Music, which saw The John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet, become a quintet.

For Self Determination Music, it was decided to add a second bassist. This presented a problem. No longer could they call themselves The John Carter and Bobby Bradford Quartet. So, Self Determination Music was billed as an album by John Carter/Bobby Bradford. It featured the debut of second bassist Henry Franklin.

Producer Bob Thiele too the quintet into the studio, where they recorded the four tracks. Drummer Bruz Freeman  and bassists Tom Williamson and Henry Franklin provided the rhythm section. John Carter played reeds and Bobby Bradford trumpet. This new lineup worked their way through the four tracks, which became Self Determination Music, which was released in 1970.

Before its release in 1970, Self Determination Music was described as an ambitious and innovative album by critics. The quintet were perceived as pioneers, who were determined to push musical boundaries. They do this throughout Self Determination Music’s four tracks as free jazz moves in new and unexpected directions. However, how would record buyers react to Self Determination Music? 

Sadly, when Self Determination Music was released, history repeated itself. Self Determination Music wasn’t a huge seller. Just like many of Flying Dutchman Productions’ releases, they found a discerning audience. However, still many jazz lovers still didn’t “get” free jazz. It seemed to go over their head. As a result, Self Determination Music hasn’t been rereleased since it was originally released back in 1970. So, BGP Records reissue of Self Determination Music, which I’ll tell you about, is a welcome reissue.

The Sunday Afternoon Jazz Blues Society opens Self Determination Music. A scrabbling bass, joins hissing hi-hats and blistering trumpet solo. Soon, what was an understated, spacious arrangement has been transformed. It’s a dramatic, musical roller coaster ride. At the heart of the arrangement is the trumpet, which plays a starring role. The rest of the quintet, however, aren’t reduced to playing supporting roles. No. They more than play their part in the sound and success of The Sunday Afternoon Jazz Blues Society. Especially, the sultry saxophone that joins aboard the roller coaster. Aided and abetted by the rhythm section, a mesmeric and inventive free jazz track takes shape, leaving you wanting more.

The Eye Of The Storm is a fifteen minute epic. Hesitantly, the two basses toy with the listener. They’re playing call and response, varying the tempo. It rises and falls, as if Tom and Henry are playing a game of cat and mouse. This continues when the horns enter. Accompanied by the rhythm section, which powers the arrangement along, horns sound. Sometimes, it’s as if they’re duelling, vying for supremacy. Mostly, though a glorious trumpet solo weaves its way across the arrangement. Not to be outdone, rumbling rolls of drums, the scrabbled bass and stabs of saxophone vie for your attention. Then the sultriest of saxophone solos takes centre-stage. It’s as if the gauntlet has been thrown down. Later, as the arrangement becomes much more understated, one things stays the same. Subtleties, surprises and nuances aplenty unfold, during this free jazz epic.

Loneliness opened side two of the original version of Self Determination Music. It’s nine minutes where beauty and melancholia are omnipresent. Understated, hesitant, wistful and beautiful describes the way percussion, subtle stabs of horns and a probing bass unite. Soon, the track takes on an orchestral sound. Still, though, the understated sound remains. Then as bass if plucked, a saxophone sounds. Its sultry, soul-searching sound is akin to an unburdening of hurt and heartbreak. Scrabbled strings, a muted, melancholy trumpet and string play. Drums are caressed, as if Bruz is afraid to overpower the beautiful, wistful arrangement. As Loneliness’ continues to unfold, its cinematic sound grows. By the end of the track, Loneliness, with its beautiful, wistful cinematic sound, is painting pictures of hurt, heartbreak and of course, Loneliness.

Closing Self Determination Music is Encounter. It’s a thirteen minute track. From the get-go, the quintet stretch their legs. Theres a sense of urgency in the rhythm section, who power the arrangement along. They provide the backdrop for the wailing, braying horns. Soon, though, as the tempo rises, it’s just the trumpet that remains. With the rhythm section injecting urgency, Bobby kicks loose. His scorching, searing horn cuts through the arrangement. Not to be outdone, John returns, playing gently and within himself. When he drops out, it’s just the frenzied rhythm section that accompanies Bobby. Later, John returns, still playing within himself. Even when Bobby bows it. The horns are constantly searching for an in, during the rhythms laid down by the powerhouse of a rhythm section.  This becomes even more  apparent when the horns drop out.   They, like John and Bobby more than play their part in what’s an urgent, explosive, free jazz tour de force which closes Self Determination Music.

It was forty-five years ago, in 1970, that John Carter/Bobby Bradford released Self Determination Music. This was the second album they had released on Flying Dutchman Productions. Sadly, although it found an audience within the free jazz community, and among the more adventurous record buyers, mostly, Self Determination Music passed music lovers by. That’s not surprising. Very few record buyers understood free jazz.

Used to traditional, more mainstream jazz music, free jazz was another world to them. Bebop, hard hop and the West Coast jazz they could understand, but not free jazz. It went against jazz’s fundamentals. Free jazz was akin to jazz’s maverick genre. This was a step too far. As a result, many jazz lovers were missing out on many ambitious and innovative albums, including John Carter/Bobby Bradford’s Self Determination Music.

Self Determination Music is yet another of the hidden gems that for far too long, has been hidden away in Flying Dutchman Productions’ vaults. Not any more. Forty-five years after its original release, music lover have another chance to rediscover a truly groundbreaking album, Self Determination Music which John Carter/Bobby Bradford released back in 1970.  Self Determination Music, which is a truly beautiful, ambitious, dramatic and innovative album, which will challenge music lovers both musically and intellectually. If they give  Self Determination Music a chance, they will be richly rewarded by John Carter/Bobby Bradford’s long forgotten, free jazz epic.

Cult Classic: John Carter/Bobby Bradford released Self Determination Music

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CULT CLASSICL ROY HAYNES-HIP ENSEMBLE.

Cult Classic: Roy Haynes-Hip Ensemble.

In the history of jazz music, Roy Haynes’ name looms large. He is one of the most recorded drummers in jazz history, and during a career that spanned sixty years, Roy Haynes worked with the great and good of jazz music. This included Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Wardell Grey, Stan Getz and Sarah Vaughan. Roy’s also a truly versatile drummer. 

Referring to Roy as versatile is no exaggeration. Roy Haynes is one of the most versatile drummers in jazz history and could play swing, bebop, hard bop, free jazz, fusion and avant-garde jazz. However, it wasn’t just jazz Roy could play. 

Later in his career, Roy found himself sharing the stage with Southern Rock legends The Allman Brothers. Then Roy collaborated with Page McConnell of indie-rockers Phish. However, there was more to Roy’s career than working as a sideman. He enjoyed a successful solo career.

It was sixty years ago, in 1954 that Roy’s solo career began. That was when he released his debut album Busman’s Holiday. This was just the first of over twenty albums Roy Haynes as a solo artist including his 1971 album Hip Ensemble. By then, Roy Haynes was one of the most experienced drummers in jazz music. Roy had come a long way since his early days in Boston.

Roy Hayes was born in Boston, on March 13th 1925. He grew up in a musical family. His father played organ and his mother sung in the church choir. Growing up, it was always Roy’s ambition to play the drums. His dream came true when Roy’s brother, a roadie for Cab Calloway’s sister Blanche, introduced him to Jo Jones. For Roy this was a dream come true. Jo Jones was Roy’s hero since he heard him playing with the Count Basie Orchestra. This inspired Roy to became a drummer.

His dream came true in 1944. That’s when Roy started playing with bands in the Boston area. Roy’s breakthrough came when he got the chance to tour with Luis Russell. He was a member of Luis’ band between 1945 and 1947. Then Roy joined Lester Young’s group.

Joined Lester Young’s group was akin to a musical apprenticeship. Having served his time, Roy left Lester Young’s group and headed to New York. Bebop was calling. That Roy realised was jazz’s future. He was a member of Bud Powell, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker’s bands. His time with Bird’s band allowed Roy the freedom to develop his own style. Soon, he was one of jazz’s top drummers. So much so, he was offered the chance to become Duke Ellington’s drummer. Roy declined the opportunity. He decided to stay with Bird’s band until 1953, when he joined Sarah Vaughan’s band.  

For five years, Roy played with Sarah Vaughan’s band. He wasn’t just her drummer. Roy was also a backing vocalist. His time with Sarah Vaughan lasted to 1958, when Roy decided to return to playing with smaller bands. It was also during his time with Sarah Vaughan that Roy’s solo career began.

By 1954, Roy’s solo career began. He released two albums that year, Busman’s Holiday and Roy Haynes Modern Group. This was just the first of over twenty albums Roy Haynes as a solo artist

Two years later, Roy embarked upon the first of many colaboration. He and Quincy Jones collaborated on Jazz Abroad. Then in 1958, the year Roy left Sarah Vaughan’s band, he collaborated with Phineas Newborn Jr. and Paul Chambers on We Three.

Having left Sarah Vaughan’s band, Roy decided to play with smaller bands. He was a talented drummer whose services were always in demand. Especially among some of the top jazz musicians.

In 1958, Thelonius Monk was looking for a drummer and saxophonist. He had a residency at the Five Spot in New York. However, he needed a drummer and saxophonist. Roy and John Coltrane were hired. They were part of the band who played a series of legendary dates at the Five Spot in New York. For Roy, his career was on the up and up. So it’s no surprise that as a new decade dawned, Roy decided to concentrate on his solo career.

During the sixties, Roy was at his most prolific as a solo artist. The decade started with 1960s New Dawn. Two years later, Roy was signed Impulse and released Out of the Afternoon in 1962. Then in 1963 Roy and Booker Ervin collaborated on Cracklin.’ Just like Roy’s solo album Cymbalism, it was released on New Jazz in 1963. A year later, Roy released People, which was Roy’s final solo album of the sixties. His only other release was with the George Ohtsuka Trio. For the remainder of the sixties, Roy was content to be a sideman, playing with Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane and Stan Getz. However, as the seventies dawned, Roy decided it was time to record again.

Roy had formed a new band, The Hip Ensemble in May 1969. His new group was made up of mainly young jazz musicians. Roy at forty-four was the elder statesman. They made their debut on Roy’s 1971 album Hip Ensemble. It was released on Bob Shad’s Mainstream in 1971 and featured an eclectic mix of songs.

Hip Ensemble features six songs. Roy contributed I’m So High and Tangiers. George Adams wrote Satan’s Mysterious Feeling and You Name It. The other tracks were Stanley Cowell’s Equipoise and Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal’s Nothing Ever Changes For You My Love. These six songs became Hip Ensemble, which marked the recording debut of The Hip Ensemble.

When recording of Hip Ensemble began, Roy had put together a tight, talented band. The rhythm section featured Roy on drums and timpani, bassist Teruo Nakamura and Mervin Bronson on Fender bass. Percussion came courtesy of Elwood Johnson om bongos, Lawrence Killian on congas and Elwood Johnson on tambourine. They were joined by pianist Carl Schroeder, flautist and tenor saxophonist George Adams and trumpeter Marvin Peterson. Once Hip Ensemble was recorded, it was released in 1971.

On its release in 1971, Hip Ensemble failed to chart. Jazz was no longer as popular. Rock was now King. What didn’t help was that Roy hadn’t released a solo album for seven years. That’s a long time for any artist. However, that wasn’t the end of The Hip Ensemble. They recorded two further albums for Bob Shad’s Mainstream Records, 1972s Equipoise and 1973s Senyah. Hip Ensemble, which I’ll tell you about, was just the start of Roy Haynes Mainstream trilogy.

Opening Hip Ensemble is Equipoise, a mid-tempo track. Drums, cymbals and braying horns unite confidently. They produce a melancholy sounding track. As the horns carry the melody, Roy pounds his drums. There’s an urgency in his playing. With the bass, he drives the arrangement along. However, the horns play starring roles. First they playing in unison. Then the solos come round. This affords them the opportunity to enjoy their moment in the sun. The same can be said of the rest of The Hip Ensemble. Together, they play their part in a track that veers between moody to melancholy and urgent to dramatic.

The rhythm section propel the arrangement to I’m So High along. It’s a funky track where keyboards sit above the strolling arrangement. Braying horns enter. They’re almost free jazz in style. They provide a contrast to the rest of the arrangement. It’s funky and swings. Especially with Roy helping drive the arrangement along. Later, the horns change tack. The free jazz influence is gone and the horns help this sultry, funky slice of jazz along.

Tangiers offers Roy the opportunity to showcase why in 1971, he was one of the top jazz drummers. He takes centre-stage before the arrangement unfolds. Wailing horns, a pounding piano and wistful flute intertwine. Again, there’s a free jazz influence as The Hip Ensemble explore the subtleties and nuances of this Roy Haynes’ penned track. It heads in the direction of avant-garde, experimental, free jazz and funk. Roy is at the heart of the action. He pounds his drums and unleashes a series of rolls. It’s apparent that The Hip Ensemble are marching to the beat of Roy’s drum on this innovative, adventurous track.

Nothing Ever Changes For You My Love bursts into life. It’s driven along by blazing horns. Providing the heartbeat are the rhythm section. Teruo Nakamura gives a masterclass on the bass. He plays at breakneck speed, as the rhythm section become one. They’re accompanied by keyboards. They too play an important role, adding texture to the arrangement. Then there’s the horns. Quite simply, they steal the show. George Adams and Marvin Peterson are a perfect foil for each other. It’s as if they’re egging each other on, as they try to reach previously unreached heights. This makes for compelling listening as a familiar song is reinvented.

Satan’s Mysterious Feeling is another George Adams’ song. Roy’s drums opens the track. He injects some funk into the arrangement. His kick drum pounds and his hi-hats hiss. He’s augmented by mesmeric keyboards and braying, blistering horns. They kick loose as the track heads in the direction of jazz-fusion. All the time, Roy’s keeping it funky. So is Carl Schroeder, courtesy of his hypnotic keyboard playing. Similarly, mesmeric are the horns. Marvin Peterson unleashes what’s easily one of his best solos. He’s set the bar high for George Adams. When his tenor saxophone enters, he’s not going to give up without a fight. George delivers a blistering solo, while the rest of The Hip Ensemble play a supporting role. It’s almost as good as Marvin’s and plays an important part in the highlight of Hip Ensemble.

Closing Hip Ensemble is a medley of You Name It and Lift Every Voice and Sing, which is often referred to as the African American national anthem. Keyboards and hissing hi-hats join forces before grizzled horns enter. Along with the rhythm section they drive the arrangement along. Just like previous tracks, the horns get the opportunity to shine. George and Marvin relish the opportunity. This isn’t a band comprising two people. Roy’s drumming veers between understated and thoughtful to urgent and powerful. Soon, everyone gets a chance to shine. Carl Schroeder on keyboards goes toe-to-toe with Roy’s drums. Later, Roy takes charge and delivers a masterclass on drums. It’s a tantalising taste of one of jazz’s top drummers in full flight. After that, the band join together and play a moving version of You Name It and Lift Every Voice and Sing. It’s interspersed with some of Roy’s trademark licks. That’s the perfect way to close Hip Ensemble, which featured the debut of Roy Haynes’ new band The Hip Ensemble.

After seven years away from a recording studio, Roy Haynes was back. He was excited. He’d put together some of the most talented and exciting young jazz players. Formed in May 1969, Roy had spent two years moulding The Hip Ensemble into a tight unit. They were similar to Roy.

Just like Roy Haynes, The Hip Ensemble were a versatile band. They could seamlessly switch between musical genres, sometimes, in the space of one track. Not many bands are capable of that. The Hip Ensemble were. There’s a reason for this. Roy had put together a talented and versatile band.

Joining Roy in the rhythm section were bassist Teruo Nakamura and Mervin Bronson on Fender bass. They provided Hip Ensemble’s heartbeat. Then there was pianist Carl Schroeder. He added texture to the six tracks. Playing starring roles were tenor saxophonist George Adam and trumpeter Marvin Peterson. When they kick loose, it’s a joy to behold. Unlike some bandleaders, Roy wasn’t scared to allow his band to shine. Given the opportunity to shine, George and Marvin shawn like the brightest stars. They play an important part in what’s an adventurous, inventive and innovative jazz album. Sadly, Hip Ensemble, failed commercially. 

The reason for that is twofold. Jazz was no longer as popular. Rock music was King. Since the late sixties, jazz’s popularity had plummeted. Things had gotten so bad for jazz, that many jazz venues were now rock venues. For jazz musicians like Roy Haynes, this was a disaster. What didn’t help that Bob Shad’s Mainstream Records was an independent label. It didn’t have the same budget to promote an album as Blue Note, Impulse or Capitol. Without a promotional campaign behind it, Hip Ensemble failed commercially. However, thankfully, music lovers have the opportunity to rediscover Hip Ensemble.

For too long, Hip Ensemble has lain unloved in Mainstream’s vaults. Belatedly, Hip Ensemble has been rediscovered. It features Roy Haynes’ jazz supergroup The Hip Ensemble, which contained some of the most exciting and talented musicians of the late sixties and early seventies. The Hip Ensemble, kick loose, and work their magic on six spellbinding tracks that comprise on what’s one of Roy Haynes’ finest solo albums Hip Ensemble.

Cult Classic: Roy Haynes-Hip Ensemble.

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CULT CLASSIC: HADLEY CALIMAN-HADLEY CALIMAN.

Cult Classic: Hadley Caliman- Hadley Caliman.

Although Hadley Caliman had worked as a sideman for Dexter Gordon and Art Farmer, he didn’t release his eponymous debut album until he was thirty-nine. This wasn’t down to a lack of talent. Far from it. Hadley Caliman was one of the most talented tenor saxophonists and flautists of his generation. Instead, it was because Hadley became addicted to heroin. Just like so many jazz musicians before him, Hadley succumbed to temptation. As a result, Hadley didn’t release his eponymous, debut album, Hadley Caliman until 1971. It was released on Mainstream Records and is a reminder of one of jazz’s most underrated reeds-man. His story began back in 1932.

It was in 1932, in Idabel, Oklahoma, that Hadley Caliman was born. He attended music lessons from an early age and grew up playing tenor saxophone and flute. At the Jefferson High School, Hadley studied alongside trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Just like Art and Dexter, Hadley knew he would’ve to leave Idabel to make a living as a jazz musician. So he headed to Los Angeles.

Having moved to Los Angeles, Hadley’s career began. He became part of Art Farmer and then Dexter Gordon’s band. By the time Hadley was part of Dexter’s band, he’d established a reputation as one of the jazz’s best up-and-coming musicians. However, all wasn’t well in Hadley’s life.

Just like so many jazz musicians before him, including Hadley’s former employer Dexter Gordon, Hadley Caliman discovered drugs, and specifically heroin. Having succumbed to temptation, heroin dug its claws into Hadley. Soon, he was addicted. This impacted badly upon Hadley’s career. 

Hadley’s love-hate affair with drugs worsened. He realised he was slowly destroying his nascent career. Despite this, Hadley couldn’t help himself. Eventually, he found himself in throes of addition. Things got so bad, that Hadley ended up in jail. This meant that Hadley’s career was on hold. However, Hadley caught a break, when he entered rehab.

After several spells in jail, Hadley found himself in the Synanon Treatment Centre. It was literally make or break. Somehow, Hadley had to break the circle of addiction. Digging deep, deeper than he’d dug before, Hadley managed to get himself clean. This paid off.

As the second half of the sixties took shape, Hadley found himself working with Bobby Bryant’s band and The Gerald Wilson Big Band. Much as he enjoyed being  a sideman, Hadley wanted to embark upon a solo career. So, in 1969, Hadley headed to San Francisco and formed his own band.

San Francisco proved to be the perfect place for Hadley to make music. The city’s eclectic music rubbed off on Hadley, and helped Hadley’s music to develop and evolve. Not long after this, Hadley signed to Bob Shad’s Mainstream Records.

Now signed to Mainstream Records, Hadley Caliman began work on his debut album. He penned four of the six tracks. This included Cigar Eddie, Comencio, Little One and Kicking On The Inside. Pianist Larry Vuckovich contributed  Blues For L.L. and Longing. These six tracks became Hadley’s eponymous debut album Hadley Caliman.

When recording of Hadley Caliman began, Hadley had put together a tight, talented quintet. Hadley played tenor saxophone and flute and Larry Vuckovich piano. The rhythm section featured drummer Clarence Becton, bassist Bill Douglas and guitarist John White Jr. Once Hadley Caliman was recorded, it was released in 1971.

By 1971, jazz was no longer the musical flavour of the month. Funk and fusion had replaced jazz in the popularity stakes. For Hadley, this was disappointing. His debut album Hadley Caliman was released in 1971, and seemed to pass people by. After waiting so long, and overcoming so much, this must have been a huge disappointment for Hadley Caliman, whose eponymous debut album, I’ll tell you about.

Cigar Eddie opens Hadley Caliman. From the get-go, the bass drives the arrangement along. Soon, chiming guitars, mesmeric drums and percussionist enter. They’ve set the scene for Eddie’s sultry saxophone. It floats above the arrangement. Soulful and summery describes the sound. Gradually, though, the arrangement becomes more complicated. Subtleties and nuances are revealed. Especially during the solos. Guitarist John White Jr’s solo stands out. John’s like a master craftsman. So is Hadley. His solo is one of the finest. His playing veers between powerful to subtle and understated. Along with the rest of his band, he creates a  track that soulful, summery and full of nuances.

Bill Douglas’ pensive, probing bass then Clarence Becton’s understated drums join with Larry Vuckovich piano as Comencio unfolds. Straight away, the rhythm section are playing a crucial role. Then when Hadley’s tenor saxophone enters, it’s powerful and joyous. All the time, the bass is powering the arrangement along.  It’s joined by drums and hissing hi-hats. They’re at the heart of everything that’s good. This inspires Hadley. He unleashes a raging, growling saxophone solo. Then its time for the solos. Hadley allows everyone the opportunity to shine. They grandstand, before joining together and playing with power, passion and seemingly, unbridled joy.

A roll of drums signals the entrance of a Hadley’s slow, sultry and beautiful saxophone. It literally glides across the arrangement. Accompanying it, are flamboyant flourishes of piano and the rhythm section. When Hadley’s saxophone drops out, Larry Vuckovich’s piano picks up where Hadley left off. Then when Hadley returns, his playing is slightly more restrained. His rasping saxophone quivers and growls, its beauty omnipresent and captivating.

Blues For L.L sees Hadley and his band draw inspiration from John Coltrane’s early sixties modal jazz. H-hits hiss and shimmer, before what can only be described as stabs and sheets of saxophone are unleashed. A Fender Rhodes adds texture, while Afro-influenced drums provide a pulsating backdrop. Hadley plays with power and freedom, creating an experimental, avant-garde sound. Ironically, this isn’t new. To some extent, it had been done before by ‘Trane. However, here, though, Hadley was picking up ‘Trane’s baton and taking the music in a new and even more innovative direction.

Hadley wrote Kicking On The Inside for his three year old daughter. Deliberate stabs of piano and subtle cymbals prove to be scene-setters. They’re joined joined by stabs of saxophone. They join forces with the piano and gradually, begin to swing. Meanwhile, Bill Douglas’ bass helps drive the arrangement along. It’s joined by Larry Vuckovich’s piano. Atop the arrangement, sits Hadley’s growling, raging saxophone. He plays with controlled power and passion. Later, he allows his band to showcase their skills. First up is Bill Douglas’ bass. It’s accompanied by percussion and cymbals. Then a slow, melancholy piano adds a late-night sound. Gradually, the tempo increases, adding a sense of urgency and drama. When Hadley’s saxophone enters, it adds a mixture of melancholia and longing, before the drums power the arrangement along. What follows is literally like a swirling wall of sound, on what’s one of the most intriguing and innovative tracks on Hadley Caliman.

Longing closes Hadley Caliman. It has an otherworldly, experimental sound. Partly, that’s down to Hadley’s quivering flute and bells. After a pregnant pause, drums and piano increase the tempo and the arrangement flows along. As the piano and drums provide the mainstay of the arrangement, the flute shimmers, quivers and soars above the arrangement. Gradually, the drama and power increases. Partly, this is down to the rhythm section, pounded piano and Hadley’s flute. It takes centre-stage. That’s until the solos come round. Larry Vuckovich’s piano then steals the show and bassist Bill Douglas, more than plays his part. As for Hadley, he proves that he’s as equally comfortable on flute as he is on saxophone.

Belatedly, Hadley Caliman released his eponymous debut album in 1971. Hadley Caliman was released on Bill Shad’s Mainstream label.  It was the album that Hadley should’ve released ten years earlier. Sadly, however, Hadley, like many jazz musicians before him,  had succumbed to temptation.

Just like so many jazz musicians before him, Hadley Caliman discovered drugs. Hadley’s drug of choice was heroin. Having succumbed to temptation, heroin dug its claws into Hadley. Soon, he was addicted. Like so many addicts, Hadley spent years trying to replicate his first high. Little did he realise, that nothing comes close to the first high. His addiction impacted badly upon his career. 

Hadley’s love-hate affair with drugs worsened. Slowly he was destroying his nascent career. Despite this, Hadley couldn’t help himself. An addict can’t. Before long, Hadleyfound himself in throes of addition. Things got so bad, that Hadley ended up in jail. This meant that Hadley’s career was on hold. However, when he got out of prison Hadley caught a break.

The break came when Hadley entered rehab. He managed to get himself clean. This wasn’t easy. However, he managed to stay clean and get his career back on track.

By 1971, he was ready to release his debut album Hadley Caliman. A six track album, it’s the perfect showcase for Hadley. On five tracks, he showcases his skills as a tenor saxophonist. He plays with power and passion. Other times his playing is joyous, dramatic, restrained and full of melancholia. Then on Longing, which closes Hadley Caliman, Hadley plays flute. He’s just as comfortable playing flute as he is tenor saxophone. Accompanied by a tight, talented band, the man they called Little Dex had belatedly, fulfilled his potential. There was a but though.

Sadly, Hadley Caliman’s debut album wasn’t a commercial success. Hadley Caliman is best described as an album of straight ahead jazz, albeit with health hints of spiritual jazz. That was out fashion in 1971. This wasn’t what music buyers were interested in. Funk and fusion were the flavour of the month. So, it’s no surprise that Hadley Caliman literally sunk without trace. That’s a great shame, as Hadley Caliman is the perfect introduction to one of jazz’s best kept secrets.

Cult Classic: Hadley Caliman- Hadley Caliman.

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CULT CLASSIC: BLUE MITCHELL-BLUE MITCHELL.

Cult Classic: Blue Mitchell-Blue Mitchell.

Despite  a recording career that spanned twenty-nine years, and over twenty albums,  Florida born trumpeter, Blue Mitchell, never enjoyed the same critical acclaim that many of his contemporaries enjoyed. Blue wasn’t perceived as a groundbreaking musician. However, he enjoyed a successful career, touring widely and releasing a string of successful albums. 

His debut album was The Big 6, which was released on Riverside in 1958. This was the first of seven albums Blue released on Riverside. By the time he released The Big 6, Blue was already twenty-eight. 

Richard Allen Mitchell was born on March 13th 1930, in Miami, Florida. He first started playing the trumpet in high school back in Miami, Florida. That’s where he first acquired the nickname “Blue.” It stuck throughout his career, which began in 1950.

Blue was twenty when he first started working on the Southern chitlin circuit. He was hired by Paul Williams, who enjoyed a hit with The Hucklebuck. As a result, Paul Williams’ band was a popular band. They were booked all over America. So, Blue spent time criss-crossing America with Paul Williams’ band. However, in 1952, Blue headed to New York.

Now living in New York, Blue started working with Lou Donaldson. He played on one of Lou’s Blue Note sessions. Another member of the band that day, was Horace Sliver. Their paths would cross again. Before that, Blue joined Earl Bostic’s band.

For three years, Blue was a member of Earl Bostic’s band. It toured throughout America. For Blue, this was more profitable than session work. It also allowed Blue to hone his sound. However, after three years on the road with Earl Bostic’s band, Blue headed back to Florida.

That’s where Blue remained until Cannonball and Nat Adderley came calling. They wanted Blue to return to New York. Blue decided to head for the Big Apple. It proved to be a good decision. After working on a Nat Adderley session for Riverside, Blue was offered a recording contract by Riverside.

Blue’s Riverside debut was The Big 6. It was released in 1958. He released six further albums between 1959 and 1962. Out Of The Blue released in 1959, is now perceived as one of Blue’s finest albums. It wasn’t the only album Blue released in 1959. He also released Blue Soul. Then as the sixties dawned, Blue release another of his greatest albums.

As a new decade dawned, Blue released Blue’s Mood in 1960. It’s remembered as one the finest album Blue released on Riverside. Gradually, it seemed, Blue was establishing a reputation as a talented and popular artist. 

The followup to Blue’s Mood was Smooth As Wind, which was released in 1961. Then in 1962, Blue released his two final albums on Riverside, A Sure Thing and The Cup Bearers. After this, Blue signed to one of jazz’s premier labels, Blue Note Records.

Having signed to Blue Note Records, Blue recorded Step Lightly in 1963. However, it wasn’t released until 1980. 1964s The Thing To Do became Blue’s Blue Note debut. It was followed 1965s Down With It. 1966 proved to be a busy year for Blue. 

During 1966, Blue released two albums on Blue Note, Bring It On Home To Me and Boss Horn. A year later, he released Heads Up! in 1967. After Heads Up, Blue Note decided now was the time for Blue to change direction.

So, the hooked Blue up with producer Monk Higgins. They hoped that with Monk Higgins producing Blue’s next couple of albums, maybe, Blue would enjoy a crossover hit. Monk produced 1968s Collision In Black and 1969s Bantu Village. Neither however, came close to giving Blue a crossover hit. As a result, after Bantu Village, Blue was dropped by Blue Note Records. It would be two more years before he released another album.

After leaving Blue Note Records, Blue joined the Ray Charles Orchestra. He also worked on sessions by Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver and Bobby Hutcherson. During this period, Blue rethought his future. He realised that jazz was changing. It had to evolve to stay relevant. If jazz didn’t change, it risked becoming irrelevant. So when Bob Shad signed Blue to Mainstream Records, his sound changed slightly.

For Blue Mitchell, Blue’s 1971 eponymous debut album, Blue penned five of the six tracks. This included  Soul Village, Blues For Thelma, Queen Bey and Mi Hermano. The other track was a cover of Benny Golson and Sergio Mihanovich. These six tracks were recorded by Blue’s quintet and produced by Bob Shad.

When recording of Blue Mitchell began in 1971, Blue’s band included a rhythm section of drummer Doug Sides and bassist Larry Gales. They were joined by pianist Walter Bishop Jr, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forest and Blue on trumpet. Once Blue Mitchell was recorded, it was released later in 1971.

On its release in 1971, Blue Mitchell passed critics and record buyers by. In retrospect, that’s not a surprise. Jazz was no longer as popular. Funk, fusion  and Latin music were much more popular. As a result, many jazz musicians were struggling to make a living. Blue certainly didn’t get rich releasing Blue Mitchell, which I’ll tell you about.

Soul Village opens Blue Mitchell. Just Walter Bishop Jr’s electric piano and cymbals play. Soon, drums enter, providing the heartbeat. They’re joined by tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forest and Blue on trumpet. Stabs of braying horns unite, soaring above the arrangement. Meanwhile, the electric piano is pulled back in the arrangement. The drums are much more prominent. They’re up front with the horns. Then come the solos Blue and then Jimmy unleash braying, blazing solos. They’re best described as soulful. Later, and somewhat belatedly, Walter is allowed to showcase his skills. After the solos, Blue and his band unite, before the track reaches a dramatic crescendo.

Just a strident piano and rhythm section join drive the arrangement to Blues For Thelma along. They’re then joined by the horns. They play as one, while Larry Gales’ bass propels the arrangement along. It’s accompanied by rolls and fills of drums. Atop the arrangement, Blue unleashes a blistering solo. This seems to inspire his band. Picking up the pace, they match Blue every step of the way. Playing with a freedom and flamboyance, Blue’s band produce a breathtaking performance. Everyone plays their part. That’s apparent when the solos come round, as a seven minute hard bop Magnus Opus takes shape. 

Straight away, Queen Bey has you hooked. It’s Caribbean sound very different from previous tracks. The arrangement is propelled along by a mesmeric piano and the  rhythm section of bassist Larry Gales and drummer Doug Sides. They’re joined by braying horns. They veer between powerful to understated. As the arrangement swings along, its much looser, freer sound proving truly irresistible. Dance-floor friendly, it’s joyous and irresistible musical tour de force from Blue Mitchell and friends.

Originally, Are You Real was recorded by The Jazz Messengers for their 1958 album Moanin.’ Here, Blue gives the track a bossa nova makeover. This really suits the track. It literally floats along, with Blue leaving space in the arrangement. The horns are much more restrained than on previous tracks. It’s as if Blue and Jimmy are playing within themselves. They leave space, allowing the music to breath. Meanwhile, the shuffling rhythm section and piano provide a backdrop for the horns. Gradually, Blue begins to play with more power. Effortlessly, he unleashes what’s without doubt, one of his best solos. It seems to inspire the rest of the band when the solos come round. Are You Real becomes a game of daring do, with each member of the quintet trying to outdo the other. As a result they all play their part in the reinvention of a familiar track.

Mi Hermano closes Blue Mitchell. Just like the previous track, it has a Latin influence. Here, Walter Bishop Jr. returns to the electric piano. He’s joined by rolls of drums and a dark, moody bass. It adds to the drama, as they set the scene for the horns. Blue and Jimmy make their entrance, adding stabs of horns. They leave space for Walter’s piano and Doug’s drums. With Larry’s bass, they drive the arrangement along. The electric piano suits the track, adding a different texture and more contemporary, innovative sound. Later, when the solos come round, the horns have a sharper, clearer sound, ringing true as they soar above the arrangement. Meanwhile, the track veers between jazz, Latin and fusion, taking on a sound that’s variously dreamy, dramatic, wistful and innovative, before it reaching its finale.

For Blue Mitchell, signing to Bob Shad’s Mainstream Records was a new start. He’d been two years without a recording contract. This allowed him to rethink his future. He knew that if he recorded another album of straight-ahead jazz,  it would sink without trace. After all, jazz was no longer as popular. The fifties and sixties had been jazz’s glory days. Now jazz was changing. Only those will to innovate would survive.

Some artists, including Miles Davis, took this as a challenge. He took to fusing jazz and rock, during his electric period. Sun Ra, meanwhile, took free jazz in previously unexplored direction. Both of these musicians were known as innovators. Blue Mitchell, however, wasn’t regarded as an innovator. However, on Blue Mitchell he decided to change direction.

He had to. His career was at stake. It was becoming increasingly difficult to make a living playing jazz. So, Blue incorporated bossa nova, Caribbean, hard bop, jazz and Latin music on Blue Mitchell’s five tracks. The result was a genre-melting album where Blue tried to defy his critics. 

Critics had always accused Blue of not being an innovative musician. This accusation stung. He released some critically acclaimed albums, and enjoyed a successful career. Only now, was it becoming hard to make a living as a jazz musician. So, it was a case of needs must. Blue decided to try and innovate on Blue Mitchell. He remade The Jazz Messengers’ Are You Real, giving it a bossa nova makeover. This was part of the most eclectic album of his thirteen year recording career. Despite this, Blue Mitchell wasn’t a commercial success.

This wasn’t down to the music on Blue Mitchell. The problem was jazz was out of fashion. For musicians like Blue Mitchell, it was a case of adapt or die. Following Blue Mitchell, Blue joined John Mayall’s American touring band. After this, his music began to change. It was influenced by rock and R&B. Albums like 1972s Blues Blues and 1973s Graffiti Blues saw Blue Mitchell change direction, in an attempt to reach a wider audience. Sadly, this didn’t work. That, however, was the least of Blue’s worries.

In 1977, Blue was diagnosed with bone cancer. For the next eighteen months, Blue embarked upon life saving treatment. Sadly, Blue Mitchell died on 21st May 1979. He was only forty-nine. That day, jazz lost its most talented sons. Blue Mitchell left behind a rich musical legacy, including his eclectic 1971 eponymous album, Blue Mitchell.

Cult Classic: Blue Mitchell-Blue Mitchell.

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CULT CLASSIC: PRETTY PURDIE-SOUL IS…PRETTY PURDIE.

Cult Classic: Pretty Purdie-Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

During a career that’s lasted over sixty years, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie has played alongside the great and good of music. This includes Steely Dan, the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Cat Stevens, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Hall and Oates, James Brown, Isaac Hayes and Gil Scott Heron. These artists brought onboard one of the greatest drummers of his generation. No wonder.

Famed for his timing, and the “The Purdie Shuffle,” Pretty Purdie is remembered as one of the most innovative funk drummers. However, there’s much more to Pretty Purdie’s career than his time as a session musician. Pretty Purdie was also a bandleader and a solo artist. 

As a solo artist, Pretty Purdie released over twenty albums. His debut solo album was 1967s Soul Drums.For the next five years, Pretty Purdie juggled his work as a session musician with his career as a solo artist, Despite being in constant demand by some of the biggest names in music, Pretty Purdie wasn’t for putting his solo career on the back burner. Far from it. Instead, Pretty Purdie signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions, and in 1972, released Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. It was Pretty Purdie’s third album since his career began in 1958. He’d come a long way in fourteen years,when his career began.

The Pretty Purdie story begins back in Elkton, Maryland. Bernard Lee “Pretty” Purdie was born on June 11th 1939. Like many aspiring drummers,he began by hitting cans with sticks. Then  Pretty Purdie caught a break. He overheard drummer Leonard Heywood giving a pupil lessons. This allowed Pretty Purdie to learn the fundamentals of drumming. The remainder of Pretty Purdie’s musical education came through listening to the great drummers of that era. Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Gene Krupa, Joe Marshall and Sticks Evans would all influence Pretty Purdue’s nascent career.

Pretty Purdie’s career began in earnest in 1961, when he moved from Elkton to New York. He claimed he twenty-two, old enough to qualify for a licence to perform, However, it later came to light, that Pretty Purdie was actually born in 1941. However, with his performance licence, Pretty Purdie went looking for work. His first gig was with Buddy Lucas, who christened Pretty Purdie “Mississippi Bigfoot,” More importantly, Buddy gave Pretty Purdie a break.

After this, Barney Richmond got in touch with Pretty Purdie. He was able to get Pretty Purdie work as a session musician. This included working with James Brown, for the first time in 1965. It was the start of a fruitful relationship between the two men. However, Pretty Purdie would play with many more artists.

In 1966, Pretty Purdie played on Jack McDuff’s A Change Is Gonna Come, Freddie McCoy’s Funk Drops and Gábor Szabó’s Jazz Raga. Word had spread that Pretty Purdie was one of the best session drummers of his generation. He’d never be short of work.

That was the case in 1967. He played on Benny Golson’s Tune In, Turn In, King Curtis’ Instant Soul and Phil Upchurch’s Feeling Blue. That wasn’t all. Pretty Purdie and James Brown hooked up on Cold Sweat. This wasn’t the last time they’d work together. Similarly, Cold Sweat wasn’t the last session Pretty Purdie worked on during 1967.

Word spread as far as Nina Simone, about Pretty Purdie. She brought him onboard for her 1967 album Nina Simone Sings the Blues. It was released to widespread critical acclaim. So was Pretty Purdie’s debut album, Soul Drums.

Soul Drums.

Nine years after he moved to New York, Pretty Purdie signed to Date Records. Later in 1967, Pretty Purdie set about recording his debut album Soul Drums. For Soul Drums, Pretty Purdie brought onboard the man who gave him his break,saxophonist Buddy Lucas. He was joined by guitarist Billy Butler,tenor saxophonist Sheldon Powell, pianist Richard Tee and basist Bob Bushell, Produced by David Kapralik and Ken Williams, Soul Drums was released late in 1967, on the Date label. 

Soul Drums was released to widespread critical acclaim.Pretty Purdie’s all-star band played with an unfettered freedom. Crucial to the success of Soul Drums was a masterclass from Pretty Purdie. It would set the bar high not just for his future albums, bit for future funk drummers.

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For the next four years, Pretty Purdie concentrated on session work. He worked with some of the biggest names in music. This included James Brown, Yusef Lateef, Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, Al Kooper and Robert Palmer. That wasn’t all. Artists like Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Eddie Palmieri, Boogaloo Joe Jones and Charles Kynard all knew Pretty Purdie’s number. When they were looking for a drummer, they dialled Pretty Purdie. So did Aretha Franklin. Pretty Purdie played on her 1971 live album Aretha Live at Fillmore West. That wasn’t the end of Pretty Purdie’s relationship with the Filmore West. He also played on King Curtis’ 1971 album Live at Fillmore West. This was just one of twenty-nine albums Pretty Purdie played on. That’s  not counting Pretty Purdie’s solo albums.

Purdie Good.

Four years after the release of Soul Drums, Pretty Purdie signed to Prestige. By 1971, it was one of jazz’s premier labels. Pretty Purdie’s Prestige debut was Purdie Good. It was produced by Bob Porter.

When recording of Purdie Good began, Pretty Purdie had picked a mixture of originals and cover versions. Two of the cover versions were James Brown’s Cold Sweat and Fred Neil’s classic Everybody’s Talkin.’ These songs were played by a band that included bassist Gordon Edwards, guitarist Billy Nichols, pianist Harold Wheeler, trumpeter Tippy Larkin and tenor saxophonists Charlie Brown and Warren Daniels. They recorded the six songs on January 11th 1971, at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Purdie Good was finished, it was released later in 1971.

On Purdie Goods released on Prestige in 1971, it was well received. Critics commented on Pretty Purdie’s versatility. They marvelled at his ability to seamlessly play a variety of styles. This isn’t surprising.

Given how different the artists Pretty Purdie played with, over the past thirteen years, Pretty Purdie was Mr. Versatile. Jazz, funk, soul, rock, soul-jazz, A.O.R. artists,  Pretty Purdie had played with them. However, by 1971, he was part of Aretha Frankin’s band. 

Although part of Aretha’s all-star band, this didn’t mean Pretty Purdie’s solo career was on hold. Far from it. He was busier than ever, working as a session player and recording Shaft, his third album.

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Shaft.

Shaft, Pretty Purdie’s third album, was made up entirely of cover versions. This included Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, Buddy Miles’ Changes, Wilton Felder’s Way Back Home and Neal Creque’s Africa. Along with Harold Ousley’s Summer Melody and Willie Bridges’ Butterfingers, these six tracks became Shaft.

Recording of Shaft took place on 11th October 1971, at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Two of the musicians that played on Purdie Good reconvened. This included bassist Gordon Edwards, guitarist Billy Nichols and tenor saxophonist Charlie Brown. They were joined by some new faces, including electric pianist Neal Creque, Norman Pride on congas and trumpeters Danny Moore, Gerry Thomas. They played their part in a genre-melting album.

Having recorded Shaft on 11th October 1971, it wasn’t released until 1973. It was released to favourable reviews. Elements of funk, jazz, Afrobeat  and soul-jazz melted into one. The music was mellow, soulful, funky and jazz-tinged. Other times there was an intensity as Pretty Purdie and his band kicked loose. Shaft was a compelling showcase for Pretty Purdie. However, by the time Shaft was released, he was signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Prodcutions.

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Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

After the recording of Shaft, Pretty Purdie’s time at Prestige was over. He still had his work as a session player. However, he wasn’t without a label for long. He was approached by Bob Thiele, who asked him to join his Flying Dutchman Productions. That’s what Pretty Purdie did.

Having signed for Flying Dutchman Productions, Pretty Purdie he began work on what would become Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. It featured seven songs. A medley of What’s Goin’ On penned by Reynaldo Benson, Al Cleveland and Marvin Gaye, melted into Bill Withers’ Lovely Day. Pretty Purdie cowrote four tracks. He penned Good Livin’ (Good Lovin’) with Horace Off. They cowrote Don’t Go with Richard Tee. Bob Thiele joined Pretty Purdie, Horace and Richard to write Song For Aretha. Horace also Heavy Soul Slinger.  Other tracks included Aretha Franklin’s Day Dreaming and Joe Sample’s Put It Where You Want It. These tracks became Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

Recording of Soul Is…Pretty Purdie took place at two sessions. They took place in March and June 1972. At the two sessions, different lineups recorded the seven tracks. Some musicians played on every track. Others played a walk-on part. However, the band included a rhythm section of  bassist Paul Martinez, drummer Pretty Purdie and guitarists Billy Nichols, Cornell Dupree and Lloyd Davis. Organists Richard Tee and Paul Griffin, pianist Horace Ott and conga player Norman Pride joined tenor saxophonist Charlie Brown. He was part of a large horn and string section that featured on Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. It was released later in 1972.

On the release of Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, it was released to critical acclaim. At last, Pretty Purdie had released an album that was up there with his debut album Soul Drums. You’ll realise that, when I tell you about Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

A medley of What’s Goin’ On and Ain’t No Sunshine opens Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. A roll of drums is the signal for the rhythm section to enter. They’re joined by horns, before the keyboards take centre-stage stage. That’s where they stay until the sultriest of saxophone solo cuts loose on Ain’t No Sunshine. Then seamlessly, the band switch into What’s Goin’ On. Washes of reverb are briefly unleashed. Mostly, though, it’s just a tight, talented band jamming their way through two soul classics.

Wistful strings cascade on Don’t Go. They’re panned left and vibes are panned left. In the middle, Pretty Purdie’s drums mark time. Then his rasping, worldweary vocal enters. It’s needy and full of hurt and hope, as he pleads. All the time, strings sweep dramatically and harmonies coo. Horns rasp and bray, guitars chime and the rhythm provide the heartbeat. However, it’s Pretty Purdie’s desperate pleas that tug at your heartstrings, as he vamps his way through this tale of heartbreak.

Straight away, Pretty Purdie’s all-stars get funky on Good Livin’ (Good Lovin’). There’s a nod to Steely Dan. The rhythm section, wah-wah guitars and growling horns supply the funk. A probing bass, Pretty Purdie’s trademark beat and keyboards panned way left are part of this uber funky jam. Blistering riffing guitars make a brief appearance, as Pretty Purdie continues to showcase his considerable talents on this career defining album.

Washes of dramatic Hammond organ, stabs of keyboards and pounding drums grab your attention. After that, Day Dreaming literally floats along. Crucial to the arrangement is the tenor saxophone. It’s pulled forward in the mix. Flourishes of keyboards are panned left and guitars panned right. Not to be outdone, flamboyant flourishes of Hammond organ can be heard. It’s as if Pretty Purdie’s all-stars are determined to surpass everything that’s gone before. Melodic and joyous, you can’t help lose yourself in a band at the top of their game.

Song For Aretha sees the tempo drop and Pretty Purdie’s drums take centre-stage. His playing is slow, his timing impeccable. Everyone plays around him. Mellow keyboards, crystalline guitars and washes of Hammond organ join the rhythm section in providing the backdrop for Pretty Purdie’s homage to Aretha. His tender, emotive vocal grows in power. He’s accompanied all the way by cooing, gospel tinged backing vocalists. Scratchy strings add a contrast, as the goal drops out. This allows the rest of the band to stretch their legs, during this eight minute homage to the Queen Of Soul.

Mellow keyboards, a pounding rhythm section join a wah-wah guitar on Put It Where You Want It sees. It wah-wahs its way across the arrangement, before a braying horn joins the fun. They toy with each other, before dropping out. This becomes a recurring theme, during another uber funky jam. Pretty Purdie encourages his band to play with an unbridled freedom, that was missing in his two Prestige albums. Although they were good, Soul Is…Pretty Purdie sees Pretty Purdie reach new heights.

Heavy Soul Slinger closes Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. So it’s fitting Pretty Purdie enjoys a moment in the sun. That’s until gradually, the rest of the band join the fray. Crystalline guitars, keyboards and bass join Pretty Purdie’s drums and hissing hi-hats. Later, it’s just Pretty Purdie. He delivers a masterclass. Round his kit he goes, showcasing his skills. After that, it’s as if he’s thrown down a gauntlet. A blazing saxophone goes toe-to-toe with Pretty Purdie. Blowing as if his life depended upon it Charlie Brown, unleashes one of the best horn solos. It’s augmented by hypnotic keyboards, while constantly, Pretty Purdie vies for your attention, on his swan-song for Flying Dutchman Productions. What a way to bow out.

Although Pretty Purdie only released just one album on  Flying Dutchman Productions, Soul Is…Pretty Purdie was a hugely important album. It was the album that saw him reach the heights of his debut album Soul Drums. 

Purdie Good and Shaft were both good albums. They were nowhere near as good as Soul Drums. It was released to critical acclaim. However, the reviews of Purdie Good and Shaft weren’t as favourable. Both albums were well received. That was as good as it got. The problem, critics said, was the choice of material. The covers chosen for Purdie Good and Shaft weren’t adventurous enough. As a result, Pretty Purdie was treading water. Not any more.

Having signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions, Pretty Purdie cowrote four songs and covered three other tracks. The cover versions were ones that allowed Pretty Purdie to challenge himself. As for the new tracks, they allowed Pretty Purdie to flourish. He delivers a series of masterclasses on the drums. That’s not all. Pretty Purdie steps from behind the drum kit, and delivers two heartbreakingly, beautiful vocals on Don’t Go and Song For Aretha. By the end of Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, Pretty Purdie’s career is back on track.

For Pretty Purdie, his brief spell at Flying Dutchman Productions proved a turning point in his career. Bob Thiele, and an all-star band brought out the best in Pretty Purdie. They brought him out of his comfort zone on Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, which is of one of the most important albums in Pretty Purdie’s back-catalogue.

Soul Is…Pretty Purdie sees Pretty Purdie showcase his considerable talent and versatility. Not only does he scale the heights of his debut album Soul Drums, he surpasses it on Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. Without doubt, Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, which was released in 1972, was the highpoint of his fourteen years career. It’s an album that Pretty Purdie never surpassed.

Along with his 1967 debut album Soul Drums, Soul Is…Pretty Purdie is the perfect introduction to one of the greatest drummers of his generation. Pretty Purdie was famed for his timing, and the “The Purdie Shuffle.” That’s why he’s remembered s one of the most innovative funk drummers. That’s apparent when you listen to many of classic albums that Pretty Purdie played on. “The Purdie Shuffle” can also be heard on Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, which is Pretty Purdie’s finest hour.

Cult Classic: Pretty Purdie-Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

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CULT CLASSIC: THE DAMNED-THE BLACK ALBUM.

THE DAMNED-THE BLACK ALBUM.

By 1980, change was afoot for The Damned. This wasn’t new. The last four years had been turbulent for The Damned.  Their lineup had been fluid since The Damned were formed in 1976.  Members came and went, and after the release of their most disappointing album, Music For Pleasure Rat Scabies quite the band. This was the beginning of the end, and The Damned split-up in 1978.

Within a year, the band were back together. There was a problem though, due to copyright reasons, couldn’t use The Damned name. So for a while, they toured as The Doomed. However, by April 1979, The Doomed were told they were free to call themselves The Damned. It looked like their luck was changing.

That seemed to be the case. The Damned signed to Chiswick Records, and recorded their third album, Machine Gun Etiquette. It was released in November 1979, and hailed a classic album. This lead to some debate whether Machine Gun Etiquette was The Damned’s first second classic album. 

Some critics believed that The Damned’s 1977 debut album Damned, Damned, Damned was a classic. Others weren’t so sure and were of the belief that Machine Gun Etiquette was The Damned’s first classic album. However, all critics agreed on one thing, that it was good that The Damned were back with a settled lineup. This critics hoped would soon begin recording the followup to Machine Gun Etiquette. However, the was a problem.

There always seemed to be in the early years of The Damned. In the early part of 1980 Algy Ward The Damned’s bassist left the band. He had only joined in 1978, but played an important part in the sound and success of Machine Gun Etiquette. Algy Ward was going to be sadly missed.

Fortunately, The Damned just happened to have a readymade replacement for Algy Ward, Paul Gray. He was formerly the bassist in Essex pub rockers Eddie and The Hot Rods. 

They had released their third album Thriller in March 1979, which stalled at number fifty in the UK album charts. Thriller had failed to replicate the success of 1977s Life On The Line.  The album reached twenty-three on the UK album charts, and featured the hit single Do Anything You Wanna Do. It reached number nine in the UK singles charts. This set the bar high for Eddie and The Hot Rods. 

Neither of the two singles charted, and Thriller made just a brief visit to the UK album charts. It was the beginning of the end for Eddie and The Hot Rods. By May 1979, Paul Gray was playing bass for The Members, while Brian Masters and Chris Taylor were members of Plus Support. This just added fuel to the rumours that Eddie and The Hot Rods were about to split-up.  That didn’t happen though.

Instead, Eddie and The Hot Rods were dropped by Island. The reason given was the disappointing sales of their 1979 album Thriller. Eddie and The Hot Rods night have been down, but they weren’t out.

Tony Cranney was drafted in to replace Tony Gray as Eddie and The Hot Rods’ bassist.  The timing was perfect. Eddie and The Hot Rods had signed a new contract with EMI in August 1979. Soon, Tony Gray was on the move too.

After the departure of Algy Ward in early 1980, The Damned were needing a new bassist. Tony Ward fitted the bill, and joined The Damned in time to record the followup to Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album. It was The Damned’s fourth album, and first double album in their four year history.

The Damned were formed in London in 1976, when members of two existing groups decided to form a new band. This included Dave Lett, Raymond Burns and Chris Millar, who previously, had  been members of Masters Of The Backside. They were joined by final Brian Robertson, who had been a member of the London SS. They became The Dammed.

In The Damned, the four musicians dawned new musical identities. Vocalist David Lett was known as Dave Vanian; drummer Chris Millar became Rat Scabies; bassist and future guitarist Raymond Burns sported the moniker Captain Sensible. Guitarist Brian Robertson became known as Brian James. Together as The Damned, they soon began making their presence felt in London’s nascent punk scene.

On the 6th of July 1976, The Damned made their live debut, when they supported the Sex Pistols at 100 Club. This was the start of a rivalry between the two groups, which saw one writing their name into musical history.

Having made their live debut, The Damned’s thoughts eventually turned to releasing a debut single. None of the punk groups had released a single yet. Somebody had to be first, so why not The Damned?

They headed to Pathway Studios, London, with producer Nick Lowe. That was where The Damned recorded their new single, the Brian James’ composition New Rose. On the B-Side, was a cover The Beatles’ Help, which was given a punk makeover. Once the single was recorded, it was released on October 22nd 1976, and made history.

New Rose was released by Stiff Records, and reached eighty-one in the UK single charts. It became the first single to be released by a British punk rock group. The Damned had beaten the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK to the title by five weeks. This wouldn’t the only time The Damned made musical history.

Damned, Damned, Damned.

After the success of New Rose, The Damned headed out on tour with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Heartbreakers. The plan was to tour Britain, taking punk to the provinces. However, by then, the Sex Pistols had released Anarchy In The UK as a single. This resulted in many venues cancelling the concerts, in case anarchy in the provinces broke out. After a shorter tour than The Damned had expected, they returned to London, and completed the recording of their debut album.

Recording of Damned, Damned, Damned took place during three sessions at Pathway Studios, London. The first was in September 1976, with the album being completed in December 1976 and January 1977. In total, it had taken just ten days to record  Damned, Damned, Damned. This left just the album to be mixed. It was completed on 15th January 1977, and just a month later, Damned, Damned, Damned was released.

Before that, critics had their say on The Damned’s debut album Damned, Damned, Damned. The reviews were mostly positive, and praised the energy and humour of the songs. Most were penned by Brian James, with Tony James cowriting Fish, and Rat Scabies contributing Stab Yor Back. Closing the album was a cover of The Stooges’ I Feel Alright. It was one of the tracks where critics remarked upon drive and energy of the rhythm section.  Rat Scabies’ drums and Brian James’ bass were crucial to the album’s sound and indeed, success.

When Stiff Records released The Damned’s debut album Damned, Damned, Damned, on 18th February 1977, it reached number thirty-one in the UK album charts. Making the success even sweeter, was the thought that The Damned had become the first punk band to release an album. Again, The Damned had beaten their old nemesis’ the Sex Pistols again, and in doing so, had written their way into musical history. This was becoming a habit.

Alas, The Damned’s run of breaking records came to an abrupt end on 18th February 1977. The same day as Damned, Damned, Damned was released, Neat, Neat, Neat was released as a single. It failed to even trouble the charts. There was small crumb of comfort. Neat, Neat, Neat featured a truly memorable bass line from Captain Sensible. So much so, that in 2006 Stylus magazine called Captain Sensible’s one of the thirty-third best bass line of all time. However, back in 1977, The Damned hardly had time to worry about the commercial failure of Neat, Neat, Neat.

Straight after the release of Damned, Damned, Damned, The Damned headed out on tour, to promote their debut album. Then in March 1977, The Damned got the opportunity to open for T-Rex in March 1977. Things were happening quickly for The Damned, and as  

Spring turned to summer, they then embarked upon an American tour. The Damned became the first British punk band to tour America. Again, they had beaten the Sex Pistols to the punch. However, by August 1977, changes were afoot.

In August 1977, The Damned brought onboard Lu Edmonds as a second guitarist. Around this time, there was also an ill-conceived and ill-fated attempt to bring Syd Barrett onboard to produce their sophomore album. Sadly, by then the founder of Pink Floyd was living a reclusive lifestyle and  had serious health problems. However, his onetime colleague Nick Mason agreed to produce what became Music For Pleasure.

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Music For Pleasure.

Now a five piece, The Damned began work on their sophomore album, Music For Pleasure. Again, Brian James wrote much of the album. He penned six songs of the ten songs;  cowrote Problem Child and Stretcher Case with Rat Scabies and joined with Dave Varian to write Your Eyes. The remaining song, Idiot Box, came from the pen of Dave Varian and Rat Scabies. However, to onlookers,  Brian James was playing a major part when it came to writing The Damned’s first two albums. Without him, where would they be?

When it came to recording Music For Pleasure, The Damned had come up in the world. They headed to Britannia Row Studios, which Pink Floyd had built after recording Wish You Were Here in 1975. It was a cutting edge facility, and very different to most studios that punk bands frequented. WithNick Mason taking care of production, The Damned recorded the ten tracks that became Music For Pleasure. Once it was recorded, Stiff Records scheduled the release for late 1977.

Eventually, Music For Pleasure was scheduled for released on the 18th November 1977. Before that, critics had their say on the album. Critics were far from impressed. Part of the problem was the quality of songs. They failed to match the quality on Damned, Damned, Damned.  This isn’t unusual, as often, a band have spent months, even years writing their debut album. So when asked to write an album in a short space of time, this is often a step too far. Among the few highlights were Politics, Alone, Your Eyes  and Creep (You Can’t Fool Me). They just about stood up to scrutiny, in an album that some critics felt, lacked focus and musical direction. Even new addition Lu Edmonds came in for criticism, with critics doubting that he brought anything to the table.  Did The Damned really need two guitarists? That some critics felt was debatable. However, Lu Edmonds almost got away lightly. Other critics went further, calling the album a disaster and a musical misjudgement. This didn’t augur well for the released of Music For Pleasure.

Especially when Stretcher Case Baby had been released as the lead single,  on 3rd July 1977, but never came close to troubling the charts. This must have worried members of The Damned and everyone at Stiff Records. Things got worse when Problem Child was released on the 28th September 1977, and failed to chart. Surely things couldn’t get any worse for The Damned?

By then, they must have been fearing the worst, and preparing for what was to come. However, even The Damned couldn’t have foreseen what would happen. When Music For Pleasure was released on the 18th November 1977, the album failed to chart. Neither did final single released from Music For Pleasure.

When  Don’t Cry Wolf which was released in December 1977, it failed to chart. It became The Damned’s fourth consecutive single that failed to chart. Only their debut single New Rose charted, and even then, reached a lowly eighty-one in the UK single charts. These were worrying times for The Damned.

Little did The Damned know that two members of the band were planning to quit. Don’t Cry Wolf would prove to be two members of The Damned’s swan-song. That was in the future. Before that, The Damned were hit by two huge blows.

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The first was when Stiff Records dropped The Damned. Suddenly, the band who were at the vanguard of the punk movement were without a label. To make matters worse, one of their most talented musicians walked away from the band.

Rat Scabies was so disappointed with Music For Pleasure, that he quit The Damned. Given the importance of Rat Scabies’ drums in The Damned’s sound, it was a blow the band wouldn’t recover from.

That is despite bringing future Culture Club drummer Jon Moss onboard. He couldn’t replicate the sound of Rat Scabies, and in February 1978, The Damned split-up for the first time.

For the next year, the members of The Damned worked on a variety of projects. However, in late 1978, Rat Scabies had formed a new band, Les Punks for a one off gig. Its lineup featured vocalist Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and a rhythm section of drummer Rat Scabies and Motorhead’s Lemmy on bass. So successful was the Les Punks’ gig, that they reunited in early 1979.

When Les Punks reunited, they decided to change their name to The Doomed. This as close as they dare to using The Damned name. If they had performed as The Damned, there was the likelihood that  they would encounter problems with the use of the band’s trademark. By then, Captain Sensible had switched to guitar and keyboards. This left the band without a bassist. While Lemmy filled in when recording demos and playing a few live dates, he had other commitments. 

This left The Doomed searching for a replacement bassist. They thought they had found it in Henry Badowski. He spent part of 1978 playing with The Doomed. Then  Henry Badowsk was eventually replaced by The Saints’ former bassist Algy Ward. The Doomed’s problematic bass position had been solved.  At last, The Doomed had a settled lineup. The only blip came in December 1978, during The Doomed Scottish tour. Gary Holton had to briefly fill in for Dave Vanian. Apart from that, things were looking up for The Doomed.

By April 1979, The Doomed were now The Damned. The group was now, officially able to play and record as The Damned. It was a big relief to the band, whose career had been on hold. Now The Damned could begin to play live and sign a new record deal.

The Damned made their ‘second’ debut in April 1979. By then, Dave Vanian’s vocal style had changed,  and he was no longer just singing in his former high baritone style, but crooning. It came as a shock to those who remembered The Damned’s early days as punk pioneers. Another difference was The Damned had adopted a much more melodic style. It was a mixture of speed and volume, and driven along by Captain Sensible’s keyboards. The times they were a changing.

Later in 1979, The Damned’s good luck continued, when they signed a record deal with Chiswick Records. Not long after signing their new recording contract, The Damned headed to Wessex Studios to record what became Machine Gun Etiquette. 

Machine Gun Etiquette.

Before heading to Wessex Studios, The Damned had written ten new tracks and cowrote I Just Can’t Be Happy Today with Giovanni Dadomo. Gone were the days when The Damned were reliant upon one songwriter to write most of an album. Belatedly, The Damned were a democracy as far songwriting went. Machine Gun Etiquette was a much more collaborative album. It was also album where they paid homage to one of their musical heroes, MC5.

On their debut album Damned, Damned, Damned,  The Damned covered The Stooges I Feel Alright. This time around, The Damned covered MC5s Looking at You. This was fitting given the new direction The Damned’s music was about to head in on Machine Gun Etiquette.

The Damned would combine elements of sixties garage rock, pop, punk and psychedelic rock. There was also a more experimental sound Machine Gun Etiquette. It seemed as if The Damned were in the process of finding themselves musically. Helping them to do so, was producer Roger Armstrong.

When The Damned arrived at Wessex Studios, London, they immediately encountered another of the punk pioneers, The Clash. They were in the process of recording their classic album, London Calling. The new lineup of The Damned must have been hoping that their comeback album would enjoy some of the success that previous Clash albums had enjoyed. They were now one of the biggest British bands, while the third lineup of The Damned were starting over.

This new lineup of The Damned featured  vocalist Dave Vanian; drummer Rat Scabies; bassist Algy Ward and Captain Sensible who was switching between guitar and keyboards. It took two lots of sessions to record  Machine Gun Etiquette. The first began in March, and finished in May 1979. After a month which The Damned spent playing live, they returned to the studio in July. They spent the next two months completing their third album Machine Gun Etiquette. By August 1979, The Damned were ready to begin their comeback. 

For The Damned’s comeback single, the album opener Love Song was chosen.  No wonder; it was undoubtably one of the highlights of Machine Gun Etiquette. It’s memorable and catchy, as The Damned fuse elements of punk with swaggering garage rock and a memorable hook. Playing leading roles, were Rat Scabies’ drums and Captain Sensible’s blistering, searing guitar licks. Atop the arrangement, sits Dave Vernon’s punk infused vocal. This was a potent combination, which when in it was released in April 1979, caught the imagination of the record buying public. Love Song reached number twenty in the UK, and was then released in France, Germany and Holland. The Damned had just enjoyed the biggest hit of their career so far. Soon, The Damned were on a  role.

Having enjoyed a hit single with Love Song, The Damned were keen to repeat the experience. The song that was chosen for their second single, was Smash It Up. It’s a song of two parts, where the melodic first half giving way to riotous fusion of pop and punk. It was critique of hippie culture, and a call for political revolution. This the BBC took offence at, fearing it would lead to anarchy in the UK. However, this was the best thing that could happen to the song. 

Smash It Up was released on the 28th September 1979, with ironically Burglar on the B-Side. Burglar saw Rat Scabies take charge of the lead vocal. Suddenly, curiosity got the best of record buyers, who bought the single to see what the fuss was about. When this was combined with The Damned fans who bought Smash It Up, it reached thirty-six in the UK. The Damned’s call for political revolution, had been a successful and profitable exercise. 

Having released two hit singles from Machine Gun Etiquette, things were looking good for The Damned as November 1979 release date approached. There was only one hurdle left to overcome, the critics. All The Damned had to do, was avoid the slings and arrows of over critical critics.

Unlike their sophomore album Music For Pleasure, Machine Gun Etiquette was hailed a resounding success by critics. Some went as far as to use the c-word, and called Machine Gun Etiquette a classic. This some critics said, was The Damned’s second classic. However, whether Damned, Damned, Damned was a classic is debatable. Machine Gun Etiquette certainly was

Critics enjoyed, embarked and welcome The Damned’s exploration through sixties garage rock, pop, punk and psychedelic rock. They hadn’t turned their back on their punk roots, but The Damned knew that their music had to evolve. What hadn’t changed was The Damned’s ability to create music that is witty and sometimes, full of social comment. Having won over the critics by writing and recording a classic album, all that remained was to release Machine Gun Etiquette.

When Machine Gun Etiquette was released in November 1979, it was to critical acclaim. Ever since their comeback, The Damned’s luck had changed. This continued when Machine Gun Etiquette reached number thirty-one in the UK album charts. Eventually, it was certified silver. The Damned had released the most successful and finest album of their career, Machine Gun Etiquette.  Now came the hard bit, recording the followup, which became The Black Album. 

Before that, The Damned released a new single, a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic rock classic White Rabbit. It was released in early 1980, and reached just eighty-two in the UK single charts. This must have been a disappointment. Hopefully, though, their fourth album The Black Album would more than makeup for the disappointing chart placing of White Rabbit.

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The Black Album.

Having just released the most successful album of their career, and one that was hailed a classic, The Damned got to work on their fifth album. Most bands would’ve have decided to pickup where they left on Machine Gun Etiquette. However,The Damned weren’t most bands. Instead, they were about to head off on a musical journey through disparate genres.

For The Black Album, David Vanian, Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible and Paul Gray wrote ten new tracks. The Damned also wrote Wait For The Blackout with Billy Karloff, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with Giovanni Dadomo. These twelve tracks were recorded at two studios.

One of studios that were used was the famous Rockfield Studios, in Monmouthshire. It had been where many classic albums had been recorded. Now The Damned became the latest group to use its prestigious studios. The rest of The Black Album was recorded at Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, in Surrey These studios became a home from home for The Damned as they recorded The Black Album.

When recording of The Black Album began, The Damned had decided to produce the album themselves using the alias The Kings Of Reverb. The exception was History Of The World (Part One), which Hans Zimmer who played synths, produced. The rest of The Black Album featured just The Damned.

For the second album in a row, drummer Rat Scabies had a new partner in the rhythm section. This time, it was bassist Paul Gray. He joined Captain Sensible who played electric guitar, acoustic guitar and keyboards. As usual, David Vanian took charge of the vocals. As the sessions began, it quickly became apparent that The Black Album wasn’t going to very different to Machine Gun Etiquette, in more ways than one. 

Quickly, it became apparent that The Black Album was a much different album from its predecessor. The Damned were veering between, gothic rock, indie rock, new wave, psychedelia, punk and rock. It’s a much more eclectic, expansive album. This made the title The Black Album all the more fitting. So would the album cover. That was still to come. 

The other difference between Machine Gun Etiquette that The Black Album was a much longer album. One track, Curtain Call, lasted just over seventeen minutes. There was no way that The Black Album would fit on one album. However, there wasn’t enough music to fit on two albums. Then came the idea to have side four feature live tracks.

Fortunately, The Damned had recorded a concert especially for members of their fan club. It had been recorded at Shepperton Studios, on 26th July 1980. Six songs were chosen from the recording of the concert, and found their way onto side four of The Black Album. This included Damned classics and favourites, including Love Song, Second Time Around, Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2), New Rose, I Just Can’t Be Happy Today and Plan 9 Channel 7. These six songs were a tantalising taste of what The Damned live sounded like.  So was the entire recording of the fan club concert, which was released in 1982 as Live Shepperton 1980. By then, The Black Album had been released.

Before that, The Damned decided that the The Black Album deserved an album cover worth of its title.  Against a plain black album cover,  Damned was written in gothic script, which holly leaves surrounding the nameplate. However, when The Black Album was reissued in 1982 as a single album, the album cover parodied The Beatles’ White Album. However, even in its present form, the album cover was perfect for The Damned’s ambitious, sprawling and genre-hopping double album, The Black Album. It would be released in October 1980, but before that, the lead single from The Black Album was released.

Just a month prior to the release of The Black Album, The History Of The World (Part 1), was  released as  single in September 1980. On the flip side was a non album track Sugar and Spite. When The History Of The World (Part 1) was released, it came with the credit ‘credit:’ “overproduced by Hans Zimmer.” Ironically, the synth driven History Of The World (Part 1) was a poppy and polished track, and one that radio stations should’ve picked up on. Alas, it reached just fifty-one in the UK singles’ charts. This was another disappointment.

Meanwhile, critics had received their advance copies of The Black Album. It was an ambitious, sprawling double album, where The Damned experimented, flitting between, and sometimes, combining disparate musical genres. This includes on future Damned classic Wait For The Blackout, a dramatic fusion of punk and psychedelia. There was also The Damned’s first foray into gothic rock, which the album cover more than hinted at. Gothic rock was a genre The Damned would embrace throughout the rest of the eighties. That was still to come. Before that, The Black Album would reveal the rest of its secrets.  

Elements of indie rock, new wave and psychedelia, plus punk and a much more traditional rocky sound all shawn through on The Black Album. Critics agreed that The Black Album was a much more ambitious and adventurous album. On 13th Floor Vendetta, The Damned use as inspiration the 1971 film The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It’s atmospheric, cinematic and memorable, one of the highlights of The Black Album. Another of the album’s highlights was Lively Arts, where The Damned romp their way through the track combing drama, social comment and hooks. The Damned also romp their way through Drinking About My Baby, where punk and rock combine head on to create a memorable sing-a-long.Therapy is equally memorable, thanks to its irresistibly catchy chorus. However, when critics and later, record buyers listened to side three, they were in for a surprise.

It contained the most ambitious song on The Black Album. This was Curtain Call, a seventeen minute epic. It’s a journey through musical genres and moods. Hypnotic, joyous, lysergic, moody  and thoughtful, this was The Damned as they had never been heard before. It was The Black Album’s Magnus Opus. This wasn’t the end of the surprises. 

Side four featured the six live tracks The Damned had recorded for their fan club. For those that had never been to see The Damned live, this was the next best thing. Six classics and old favourites sat side by side. This included Love Song, Second Time Around, Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2), New Rose, I Just Can’t Be Happy Today and Plan 9 Channel 7. It was, and still is, a tantalising taste of what The Damned live sounded like in 1980. 

After four sides of The Black Album, critics drew their conclusions. What was apparent, was that The Damned had come of age musically. No longer could they be described as ‘just’ a punk band.  Punk still peppered parts of The Black Album. However, their music was much more sophisticated, as it headed in different directions. This included hints of electronica and a move towards goth rock. There was also a psychedelic sound to The Black Album. Especially  on the seventeen minute Magnus Opus Curtain Call, which took up side three. Elsewhere,  The Black Album featured diversions via indie rock, new wave, pop, psychedelia and rock. The Damned were musical butterflies, as they flitted between genres. Most critics were won over by The Damned latest and most ambitious and adventurous album. However, what about record buyers?

Eleven months after the release of Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album was released by The Damned in October 1980. It reached number twenty-nine in the UK album charts, which was the highest placing of The Damned’s four albums. However, the only slight disappointment was that The Black Album wasn’t certified silver like its predecessor. However, the commercial success of The Black Album was a reason to celebrate. A hit single however, would be the cherry on the cake.

So The Damned released There Ain’t No Sanity Clause in November 1980. It wasn’t a track from The Black Album. Instead, it was hoped that There Ain’t No Sanity Clause might make an impact on the lucrative British Christmas singles  market. It wasn’t to be, and the single stalled at ninety-seven in the UK singles charts. Maybe The Damned would have better luck next time?

In February 1981, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was released as the second single from The Black Album. Alas, the single failed to chart. The Damned were out of luck. 

The Black Album was the final album The Damned released for Chiswick. However, a year later, in May 1982, Chiswick imprint Big Beat Records, released Wait For The Blackout as a single. Sadly, lightning struck twice, and the single failed to chart. This was a slightly disappointing end to The Damned’s time at Chiswick. However, the two albums that The Damned had released on Big Beat Records, Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album were two most successful albums of their career. Machine Gun Etiquette is a classic album, while The Black Album finds The Damned’s music evolving. 

The Black Album find The Damned moving towards goth rock, which they went on to embrace throughout the eighties. There’s also a psychedelic influence to The Black Album, as The Damned begin to move away from their punk roots. They didn’t cut the ties entirely, for fear of alienating their older fans, who had been around since The Damned released the first punk single and album. That was just four years before the release of The Black Album in 1980. A lot had happened since 1976. 

Forty-three years later, and incredibly, The Damned are still going strong. They’ve had their ups and downs, but still keep making music and playing live. They’ve released over thirty albums since The Black Album. However, The Black Album and its predecessor Machine Gun Etiquette are both reminders of The Damned in their prime, when they swaggered their way through albums, displaying a devil may care, rebellious attitude. This resulted in some of the most memorable music of their forty-three year career. Thos included the classic album Machine Gun Etiquette, and the album where The Damned came of age musically, The Black Album which featured a much more sophisticated and eclectic style.

THE DAMNED-THE BLACK ALBUM.

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CULT CLASSIC: MOTORHEAD-MOTORHEAD.

Cult Classic: Motörhead-Motörhead.

By the time Motörhead’s  eponymous debut album was  released by Chiswick Records in August 1977, the two previous years had proved eventful for Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister and his band. So much so, that it was a wonder Motörhead was ever got as far as recording, never mind releasing their eponymous debut album Motörhead. Everything that could’ve gone wrong, had gone wrong. It was as if Motörhead had upset the musical gods.

During the last two years, Motörhead had survived two changes in their lineup; had signed for United Artists who refused to record the album they had recorded and and even got as far as planing their farewell gig. Then Ted Carroll the owner of Chiswick Records rode to the rescue, by securing Motörhead’s release from their United Artists contract.

Ted Carroll then gave the group £500 to record their debut album Motörhead which was released in August 1977 and became one of the group’s classic albums. It’s also the album that started Motörhead’s career that lasted five decades, twenty-two albums and thirteen live albums. Their story began forty-two ago when disaster struck for Lemmy.

In My 1975,  Hawkwind’s tour bus arrived in Windsor, Ontario, at the Canadian-American border, but before the band could cross over into America, for the next part of their tour, the band were  subjected to a routine drugs search. For Hawkwind bassist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, this spelt disaster and resulted in his arrest on drug possession charges. For Lemmy it was the end of the road for him, and he was sacked by Hawkwind. This was the always thought, the excuse the other members of Hawkwind had been waiting for, to sack Lemmy  from the band.

On his return home to England, Lemmy started putting together a new band, which he initially called Bastard. This was what he planned to call the new band which featured guitarist Larry Wallis, who previously was a member of The Pink Fairies. Steve Took’s Shagrat and UFO.  He was joined by drummer Lucas Fox who joined Lemmy on bass in Bastard’s rhythm section. However, the group’s then manager Doug Smith explained that there was no way a group called Bastard would feature on prime time TV, and suggested the name Motörhead.

Not long after this, Motörhead signed to United Artists, which was also home to Lemmy’s former group Hawkwind. With the ink dry on the recording contract, Motörhead headed to Rockfield Studios in Wales to record their debut album.

During late 1975 and early 1976, Motörhead recorded what was meant to be their debut album. However, when United Artists heard the album, they refused to release it. This was a huge blow to Motörhead.

Just over a year later, and Motörhead’s lineup had changed beyond recognition by the ‘1st’ of April 1977. Drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor had replaced Lucas Fox who didn’t seem committed to the band. Guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke had also joined Motörhead as the second guitarist and would join up with Larry Wallis. However, not long after this, Larry Wallis left Motörhead. This was another blow to the band. 

So much so, that Motörhead decided to call time on their short but eventful career. However, they were determined to bow out in style with a farewell gig at London’s Marquee Club later in 1977.

Meanwhile, Ted Carroll was running Chiswick Records, the label  he formed not long after Lemmy was fired from Hawkwind. Ted Carroll also owned a record shop, where Lemmy was a regular visitor, buying rare singles. When Ted Carroll heard that United Artists weren’t willing to release Motörhead’s debut album, he decided to ride to the rescue.

Motörhead.

After negotiating Motörhead’s release from their contract with United Artists, Ted Carroll signed the bad to his label Chiswick Records. At first, Motörhead wanted to record their farewell gig at the Marquee Club. However, the owners of the Marquee Club wanted £500 to allow the recording to take place. That was out of the question, so Ted Carroll offered Motörhead the chance to record a single over two days at Escape Studios in Kent, England, with producer John “Speedy” Keen. That was the plan.

By the time Motörhead arrived at Escape Studios, the band had a list of songs they wanted to record. This included the eight that would eventually find their way onto Motörhead. Two of the, Motörhead  and The Watcher were penned by Lemmy  who cowrote Lost Johnny with Mick Farren. White Line Fever was the first song penned by the three members of Motörhead who cowrote Keep Us On The Road with Mick Farren. Drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor wrote Iron Horse/Born To Lose with Mick Brown and Guy “Tramp” Lawrence. The two other songs were Vibrator, which  former Motörhead guitarist Larry Wallis, plus  a cover of Train Kept A-Rollin’.  These tracks were recorded during a stimulant fuelled seventy-two hour recording session.

Between the ‘27th’ and ‘29th’ April 1977, Motörhead aided by some illicit substances recorded eleven tracks. When Ted Carroll heard the tracks, he paid for further studio time to complete Motörhead which features the classic lineup of drummer, Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, bassist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister and guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke. They would write their name into musical history.

From the opening bars of Motörhead, the group’s unique and inimitable musical style reveals itself.  This consists of Lemmy’s raspy, rasping, lived-in vocal which sits atop the rhythm section  of Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor’s drums, Lemmy’s bass and “Fast” Eddie Clarke’s guitar  powers the arrangements along as Motörhead gives way to Vibrator, Lost Johnny and  Horse/Born To Lose. By then, Motörhead have gone through gears and have their feet to the floor as they power this stimulant fuelled musical juggernaut along. Although Motörhead playing lacks the polish of later albums, it’s a mixture of energy and enthusiasm.

That’s the case as Motörhead launch in White Line Fever, which gives way to Keep Us On The Road. By then, there’s no stopping Motörhead as they launch into the dark almost sinister sounding The Watcher. Closing the album in style was Train Kept A-Rollin’, and  Motörhead take their bow after just under thirty-three hard rocking minutes.

During that time,  Motörhead showcased their unique and inimitable style that had taken shape since they made their debut in 1975. By 1977, Motörhead was fusing  hard rock and rock ’n’ roll with a hint of blues rock, which all played a part in their  barnstorming, speed-fuelled performance on Motörhead. Forty years later, Motörhead has stood the test of time, and is regarded as one of Lemmy and Co’s finest albums.

When Motörhead was released on the ’21st’ of August 1977, it reached forty-three in Britain and was later certified silver. Somewhat belatedly Motörhead’s recording career was underway.

Motörhead would go on to release twenty-two studio albums and thirteen live albums between  1977 and 2016. Sadly, by then founder  Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister had passed away on the ‘28th’ of December 2015, four days after his seventieth birthday. One of the hardest living men in rock music had outlived and out-rocked many of his peers. Motörhead with Lemmy at the helm had been one of the most prolific and of the past forty years, and their thirteenth live album Clean Your Clock was released in June 2016. This brought to an end a long and successful, hard-rocking career.

It began with the release of Motörhead by Chiswick Records in August 1977, which nowadays, is considered one of Motörhead’s classic albums. Motörhead was the album that started it all of for Motörhead.

They embarked upon a six-year period where they could do no wrong, and enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. Motörhead also released several genre classics, including their eponymous debut album Motörhead,Overkill, Ace Of Spades and the legendary live album No Sleep ’til Hammersmith. Along with their second live album What’s Worth Words, these albums include some of the best music that Motörhead recorded during a five decade career.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Motörhead were one of the great rock bands of the past forty years. Sadly, after Lemmy’s death, that was the end of the line for Motörhead. Without Lemmy’s vocal and bass playing, Motörhead wouldn’t be the same band.

Lemmy was at Motörhead’s helm for forty years. He founded the band in 1975,  after his sacking from Hawkwind. Being sacked from Hawkwind was the beset thing that happened to Lemmy, who had the last laugh, and enjoyed much more success than Hawkwind between 1975 and 2015. During that period  Motörhead were one of the hardest living and hardest rocking bands on planet rock, and released several classic albums, especially between 1977 and 1983. This included Motörhead’s  hard rocking opus Motörhead which featured a barnstorming, speed-fuelled performance and music that was raw, raucous and truly timeless.

Cult Classic: Motörhead-Motörhead.

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: RADKA TONEFF AND STEVE DOBROGOSZ-FAIRYTALES.

Cult Classic: Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz-Fairytales.

One of the most overused word in the English language is classic, with critics often hailing the latest book, play or album a “classic.” More often than not, this is hyperbole, and it’s only much later, that the same critics realise that they were rather fulsome in their praise and too quick to call the album a classic. However, when Norwegian singer Radka Toneff and American Steve Dobrogosz released Fairytales in the autumn of 1982, it was to critical acclaim with the album quite rightly being called a future classiske.

Straight away, this future classic was a hugely popular album,  with Fairytales winning the hearts and minds of Norwegian music lovers. Sadly, just two weeks after the release of Fairytales, tragedy struck when thirty-year old Radka Toneff was found dead in the woods of Bygdøy after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Norwegian music lovers were in mourning as they had lost one of their greatest jazz singers, just five years after winning a Spellemannprisen in 1977 for her debut album Winter Poem.

Twenty-nine years after Radka Toneff’s tragic death,  Norwegian musicians were asked to vote for Norway’s best album of all time in 2011. By then, Fairytales was Norway’s best selling jazz album. Once the votes were counted, Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz’s 1982 album Fairytales was crowed Norway’s best album of all time. That was no surprise, as it’s a classic album, and one that has inspired and influenced two generations of musicians.Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz’s classic album Fairytales was just the latest chapter in Radka Toneff’s career.

Radka Toneff.

Ellen Radka Toneff was born in Oslo on the ‘25th’ of June 1952, to a Norwegian mother and Bulgarian father who was a pilot and radio technician. The Toneff family lived first in Lambertseter and then Kolbotn, and by then Radka Toneff had already discovered music. This came as no surprise, as her mother had been a folk singer. Over the next few years, it soon became apparent that Radka Toneff hadn’t just inherited her mother’s love of music, but also her talent.

In 1971, Radka Toneff enrolled in a music course at the Oslo Musikkonservatorium, where she began a four-year course. During this period, Radka Toneff was also a member of the fusion band Unis throughout her time at the Oslo Musikkonservatorium. By 1975, Radka Toneff graduated and decided to form her own band.

Winter Poem.

This was the Radka Toneff Quintet which was she founded in 1975, and featured on her debut album Winter Poem. When Winter Poem was released by Zarepta Records in 1977, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Critics realised that Winter Poem marked the debut a truly talented vocalist who had the ability to breath emotion, life and meaning into lyrics which she lived rather than delivered. Sometimes, there was an intensity to the twenty-three old’s vocals and she seem older than her years. Some critics believed that Radka Toneff was destined for greatness.

This proved prescient when later in 1977, Radka Toneff won what should’ve been the first of many Spellemannprisen Awards when she won the best vocal for her album Winter Poem. Already, Radka Toneff had come a long way in a short space of time.

It Don’t Come Easy.

Just under years later, the Radka Toneff Quintet arrived at the Talent Studio, in Oslo in January 1979. Only drummer bassist Arild Andersen, guitarist Jon Eberson and keyboardist Lars Jansson had played on Winter Poem. Despite the changes to the Quintet’s lineup, this multitalented band was the perfect foil for  Radka Toneff on It Don’t Come Easy which was released later in 1979.

When critics heard It Don’t Come Easy, they agreed that Radka Toneff had matured and grown as a vocalist, and her sophomore album was released to the same critical acclaim as Winter Poem in 1979. However, soon, Radka Toneff was about to meet the musician who would become her musical muse.

Steve Dobrogosz.

This was Steve Dobrogosz a twenty-three year old composer and pianist, who was born on the ’28th’ of January 1956 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. However, his parents moved Raleigh, North Carolina, where he went to school and discovered his love of music. This led to Steve Dobrogosz heading to the Berklee College of Music, after he had graduated from high school. After he graduated, he decide to move to Stockholm, Sweden in 1978.

Having arrived in Stockholm, Steve Dobrogosz began playing live and recording. This was all good experience Steve Dobrogosz, who a year later, met Radka Toneff in 1979 and a new chapter in his career began.

Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz.

Although Radka Toneff was still leading the Radka Toneff Quintet by 1979, she had also formed the Radka Toneff Quartet. However, by then, the Quartet was looking for a new pianist, and Steve Dobrogosz who was still living in Stockholm heard about the vacancy and applied. Not long after this, Radka Toneff met Steve Dobrogosz, and she knew that she had found the new pianist for the Radka Toneff Quintet. Little did Radka Toneff realise that was the start of a three-year working relationship.

A year after Steve Dobrogosz joined the Radka Toneff Quintet, it was the end of the road for the Radka Toneff Quintet. It had been together since 1975, and although the lineup was fluid, the Radka Toneff Quintet stayed together. After that, Radka Toneff decided to concentrate her efforts on the Quartet.

By then, the Radka Toneff Quintet’s lineup featured Danish drummer Alex Riel, bassist Arild Andersen, pianist Steve Dobrogosz and Radka Toneff. Some nights when the Quartet played live, the drums and bass would drop out leaving just Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz, and the pair would play a couple of songs together. This proved popular they worked well together, with the Radka Toneff’s voice and Steve Dobrogosz’s piano in perfect harmony. This lead to the pair recording a duet for Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.

This was an improvised version My Funny Valentine, which was produced by Erling Wicklund at the end of a radio recording session for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, in November of 1979. That recording sowed the seeds for Fairytales, and featured on the album when it was recorded in February 1982.

Fairytales.

Just over two years had passed since Radka Toneff had released her sophomore album It Don’t Come Easy in 1979 and she was wondering about recording an orchestral album for the followup? Radka Toneff wasn’t sure that this was the way forward her. Neither did Steve Dobrogosz, who suggested the he and Radka Toneff should record an album together as a duo. Straight away, Radka Toneff liked the idea of recording an album featuring just Steve Dobrogosz’s piano accompanying her vocal. However, there was a problem though,  Zarepta Records who had released Radka Toneff’s first two albums had been dissolved, and she had no label backing her.

In a way, this was a fresh start, as this new chapter in Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz’s careers began.The pair started trying to interest Norwegian and Swedish labels in the project, but nobody was interested in the album. Then Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz caught a break.

Fortunately, the Norwegian Jazz Federation which was headed by Rolf Grundesen, had just launched their own record label, Odin. When Rolf Grundesen heard about the project, he was hugely supportive and even suggested that Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz record the album at the Grieg Hall in Bergen. It was featured some of the earliest digital recording equipment and also a good quality grand piano which Steve Dobrogosz would play as he accompanied Radka Toneff. 

Having secured the backing of the Odin label, Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz chose the songs that would join their cover of Rogers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine on Fairytales. It had been recorded in late 1979, and that meant only nine songs would be recorded.

This included covers of Jimmy Webb’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress; Bernie Taupin and Elton John’s Come Down In Time; Kurt Weil and Maxwell Anderson’s Lost In The Stars; Eden Ahbez’s Nature Boy; Blossom Dearie and Dave Frishberg’s Long Daddy Green; Fran Landesman and Dudley Moore’s Before Love Went Out Of Style. The other three tracks saw Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz put poetry to music.

Both Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz shared a love of Fran Landesman’s poetry, and they decided to set two poems to music. Steve Dobrogosz wrote music to Mystery Man, while Radka Toneff penned the music to Wasted. The other poem that was set to music by Steve Dobrogosz was Emily Dickinson’s I Read My Sentence. It would eventually close Fairytales, which was recorded at Bergen Digital Studios.

Nine songs were recorded between the ‘15th’ and ‘17th’ of February 1982. Steve Dobrogosz played a top quality grand piano, and Radka Toneff delivered some of the best vocals of her career. This included Jimmy Webb’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress which features a tender rueful vocal from Radka Toneff where beauty is omnipresent as Steve Dobrogosz is yin to her yang. His piano sets then sets scene on Come Down In Time as Radka Toneff paints pictures with a vocal that is tender and full of emotion as she breaths life, meaning and emotion into the familiar lyrics. It’s a similar case on Lost In The Stars where Radka Toneff’s vocal is ethereal and sometimes wistful as it grows in power. Always, though she’s in control as she delivers a soul-baring vocal. Straight away, there’s a sense of sadness and frustration in Radka Toneff’s voice during Mystery Man. Meanwhile Steve Dobrogosz’s piano compliments her tender wistful vocal during this beautiful, poignant ballad. Side one closes with a beautiful, hopeful, poignant and sometimes needy cover of My Funny Valentine, where Radka Toneff with the help of Steve Dobrogosz reinvents this standard.

The piano provides a wistful backdrop before Radka Toneff delivers a heartfelt, hopeful and sometimes ruminative interpretation of Nature Boy where sometimes, there’s an intensity to her vocal. Later, Steve Dobrogosz’s piano takes centre-stage, before returns to complete this powerful and poignant cover. Radka Toneff then follows in Blossom Dearie’s footsteps on Long Daddy Green, on this breathtaking cover where she seems to have lived and survived the lyrics. Ethereal, emotive and full of regret describes Radka Toneff’s vocal on Wasted as the piano adds to the drama and emotion on one of Fairytales’ highlights. There’s then a mixture of joy and sadness in Radka Toneff’s vocal on Before Love Went Out Of Style, as she remembers what she once had, but lost. Slowly and deliberately Radka Toneff ponders her fate on this deeply moving rendition of Emily Dickinson’s poem I Read My Sentence set to music. It closes Fairytales, which was produced by Arild Andersen who had worked closely with Radka Toneff After just three days, this future classiske album was completed.

Odin Records scheduled the release of Fairytales for the autumn on 1982, but before that, the critics had their say on Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz’s first collaboration. Critics on receiving the album saw Fairytales’ distinctive album cover, which had been drawn and designed by Anne Toneff. This was the perfect accompaniment to the music within the magical world of Fairytales. Critics were won over by Fairytales and hailed the album masterpiece and an instant classic. 

Record buyers agreed, and for the two weeks after the release of Fairytales, the album was hugely popular and won the hearts and minds not just of jazz fans, but music lovers. They sought out Fairytales, which was selling well proving that Rolf Grundesen the head of the Norwegian Jazz Federation was right to back the pair. With a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album on their hands, this should’ve been a time to celebrate. 

Sadly, two weeks after the release of Fairytales, tragedy struck when Radka Toneff’s body was found on the ‘21st’ of October 1982. The thirty year old had died after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Norwegian music lovers were in mourning as they knew that they had lost one of their greatest ever jazz singers.

After Radka Toneff’s death, pianist Steve Dobrogosz rejected any suggestions that she sounded lonely or depressed on Fairytales. Instead, Steve Dobrogosz believes that Fairytales features Radka Toneff: “at her best” as she interprets the ten songs on Fairytales which is the best selling Norwegian jazz album of all time. 

That is definitely the case throughout Fairytales, where Radka Toneff is like an actress as she plays a different character on each of the songs. No two songs are the same, and Radka Toneff experiences array of emotions, ranging from hope and happiness to melancholy and sadness. Other times, she’s in a reflective mood thinking about the good times, and also about what she had and lost. Always there’s a sensitivity in Radka Toneff voice throughout Fairytales, where she breaths life, meaning and emotion into each every song, living them and trying to make them her own.

Despite being a hugely talented singer, who brought songs to life and often reinvented them on Fairytales, Radka Toneff didn’t write any of the songs on the album. The closest she came was writing the music that accompanied Emily Dickinson’s poem I Read My Sentence. Maybe if Radka Toneff had written some of the songs on Fairytales, it would’ve given some insight into how she was feeling she recorded the album? However, like all singers, Radka Toneff was in character and wearing her musical mask as she recorded her future classic album. As a result, it’s almost impossible to separate Radka Toneff from the characters she was playing. Instead, it’s better to enjoy, embrace and appreciate the last part of Radka Toneff’s musical legacy, Fairytales.

After Radka Toneff’s death in October 1982, her pianist and musical muse Steve Dobrogosz was determined that nobody would forget one of the greatest Norwegian jazz singers. Steve Dobrogosz who was yin to Radka Toneff’s yang on Fairytales, has spent the last thirty-seven  years ensuring that Fairytales wouldn’t be forgotten by future generations of musicians. “It’s not just the sound itself, but it’s also about how Radka sings, about the sensitivity in her voice.”

It’s a voice that went on to influence and inspire two generations of Norwegian singers, ranging from Sidsel Endresen to singers embarking upon musical careers. However, it’s not just Norwegian singers that have been influenced and inspired by Radka Toneff but artists all over the world. Radka Toneff’s music won the hearts and minds of music lovers worldwide, who will ensure that her music will never be forgotten, including award-winning debut album Winter Poem and the followup It Don’t Come Easy. However, Radka Toneff’s finest hour was her collaboration with Steve Dobrogosz on their timeless classiske Fairytales, which was released just two before her death and became the swan-song of one Norway’s greatest jazz singers.

Cult Classic: Radka Toneff and Steve Dobrogosz-Fairytales.

 

CULT CLASSIC: GIL SCOTT-HERON-PIECES OF A MAN.

Cult Classic: Gil Scott-Heron- Pieces Of A Man.

Just a year after the release of his 1970 debut album Small Talk At 125 and Lenox, Gil Scott-Heron returned with his landmark album Pieces Of A Man which was his second collaboration with musician Brian Jackson. Together they created a fusion of jazz, blues and soul music, highlighted the social and political problems of the early seventies. 

Racism, poverty, corruption, inequality and drug addiction featured in Gil’s lyrics to Pieces Of A Man. Fearlessly, Gil tackled these subjects head on, delivering the lyrics with his proto-rap style. Pieces Of A Man was an album that would go on to influence several generations of music lovers. Among them, were several generations of hip hop artists. 

Each of them, owe Gil Scott-Heron a debt of gratitude. He was, after all, the Godfather of hip hop, having invented rap. It wasn’t just hip hoppers who’ve been inspired by Gil Scott-Heron. 

From the day Gil released Pieces Of A Man in 1970, this inspired several generations. It inspired and politicised them. Having opened their eyes to the injustice around them, they began to right wrongs. That was all thanks to Gil Scott-Heron’s landmark album Pieces Of A Man. It features one of Gil’s best known tracks, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was Gil-Scott-Heron’s finest hour. His lyrics are cerebral, witty, scathing and most importantly, honest. Remarkably, he was only twenty-one.

April Fool’s Day in 1949 was an important day in Chicago’s musical history. That was the day Gil Scott-Heron was born. His mother Bobbie Scott-Heron was an opera singer. She sang with New York’s Oratorio Society. Gil’s father was Gil Heron was a Jamaican footballer, who at one time, played for Glasgow Celtic Football Club. Sadly, Bobbie and Gil’s marriage ended when Gil was young. 

After this, Gil was sent to live with his maternal grandmother, Lillie Scott, who lived in Jackson,Tennessee. Then when Gil was just twelve, Lillie Scott died. Gil returned to New York to live with his mother. She was now living in the Bronx. Originally, Gil enrolled at the DeWitt Clinton High School, but later, moved to the Fieldston High School.

This came after impressing the head of the English department. He’d read one of Gil’s essays and recommended that Gil received a full scholarship. This proved a poisoned chalice. The education he was receiving was better. However, he was only one of five black students. He felt alienated. Another problem was the socioeconomic gap between him and other students. They came from a much more affluent background. Gil was the son of a single mother. It was at this period, that Gil became socially and politically aware. His eyes were opened to inequality, injustice and racism. This would shape his music in later years. Before that, Gil headed to university.

Lincoln University was where Gil headed after high school. Gil was recommend to head to Lincoln University by Langston Hughes. He was also at Lincoln University and was a member of Gil’s first band, the Black and Blues. After two years at Lincoln University, Gil decided to take time out to write a novel.

During this period, Gil Scott-Heron wrote two novels. His first novel was a thriller entitled The Vulture, was published in 1970. Whilst writing The Vulture, Gil saw The Last Poets in Lincoln in 1969. 

After watching The Last Poets, Gil approached the band and asked: “can I form a band like you guys?” The seed had been sown. Maybe, music rather than writing would be the direction Gil’s career headed?

Having been impressed with The Last Poets and now considering a career in music, Gil had a lot on his mind as he headed back to New York. He found a new home in Chelsea, Manhattan. Once he’d settled in, Gil decided to make his dream a reality. So he looked for a record company. Gil just so happened to approach a label tailor-made for his music, Flying Dutchman Productions.

After his departure from ABC/Impulse Bob Thiele decided to found his own label. Over the last few years, Bob had worked with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz. Bob realised that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they’d like. So when Bob parted company with Impulse, who he’d transformed into one of jazz’s pioneering labels, he founded Flying Dutchman Productions. This was the label that Gil Scott-Heron approached. There was a problem though.

While Bob wanted to sign Gil, there was a problem, funding. The funding that Phillips, the Dutch record label had given Bob wasn’t going as far as he’d hoped. Despite this, when he met Gil he was impressed by the poet, musician, and author. So what Bob did, was fund an album that was a fusion of poetry accompanied by understated, percussive arrangements.

This was Small Talk At 125 and Lenox. It was recorded at a studio and released in 1970. Immediately, comparisons were drawn with the group who’d inspired Gil, The Last Poets. This was a fair comment. However, one listen to tracks like Whitey On The Moon, plus what was the original version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, and people realised that Gil took what The Last Poets had been doing to the next level. With just a trio of percussionists accompanying Gil, Small Talk At 125 and Lenox was a potent and explosive mix of scathing political and social comment.

Sadly, when Small Talk At 125 and Lenox was released, it wasn’t a commercial success. However, a small crumb of comfort was, that The Revolution Will Not Be Televised found its way onto radio play lists. That was encouraging for Bob and Gil. They knew they were on the right track. So they decided that Gil should begin work on his sophomore album Pieces Of A Man.

For Pieces Of A Man, Gil wrote The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Save The Children, Lady Day and John Coltrane and Home is Where The Hatred Is. He cowrote the other seven tracks with Brian Jackson. These eleven tracks were recorded on 19th and 20th April 1971. Joining Gil were a few well known names.

When Bob Thiele asked Gil who he’d like to accompany him, jokingly, Gil said flautist and saxophonist Hubert Laws and bassist Ron Carter. So Bob got them onboard for the recording of Pieces Of A Man. This was Bob Thiele’s way of making Gil feel at home. Bob knew this was the way to get the best performance possible from an artist.

Joining Ron in the rhythm section were drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and guitarist Burt Jones. Brian Jackson played piano and Gil played guitar, piano and sang lead vocals. Producing Pieces Of A Man was Bob Thiele. After two days recording, Pieces Of A Man was completed. Now it was ready for release.

When Pieces Of A Man was released in 1971, only Rolling Stone magazine realised the cultural importance of the album. Pieces Of A Man passed the rest of the music press by. This is a sad indictment on music journalism at one of the most important period in musical, social and political history.  Just like Pieces Of A Man passed the majority of the music press by, the same can be said of the record buying public. Apart from spending six weeks in the US Jazz Charts in1972, where it peaked at a lowly number twenty-five, commercial success passed Pieces Of A Man by. Ironically, later, critics reappraised Pieces Of A Man and hailed it a classic album that’s intense, politically charged, innovative and influential. That was still to come. Before that, I’ll tell you about Pieces Of A Man.

Opening Pieces Of A Man is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, a much misunderstood song. When Gil wrote the song, it was a comment on the times. He was frustrated that rather than bring about change, people were watching television. Nothing would be achieved by sitting watching television. People had to change. Only then, could they make a difference. The song which featured on Small Talk At 125 and Lenox is transformed. Gone is the understated sound. Ron Carter’s bass and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie drums providing the pulsating heartbeat. Hubert Laws’ flute provides the accompaniment to Gil’s scathing, cynical vocal. It weaves above his vocal, which is full of anger and frustration, before he fires a parting shot that: “the revolution will be no re-run brothers, the revolution will be live.” These words ended one of the most important songs in musical history.

Chiming guitars, rhythm section, flute and percussion provide a backdrop to Gil’s vocal on Save The Children. The mellow, laid-back arrangement is the perfect backdrop to Gil’s vocal. He pleas” we must do something to Save The Children.” Hope fills Gils’s voice that together, they’ll be able to make things better for the generation to follow. A much covered song, Gil’s version is the definitive take. Why? That’s down to the arrangement and Gil’s heartfelt vocal.

If anyone asks you how music makes you feel, play them Lady Day And John Coltrane. Gil articulates this perfectly. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in your life, music will always make you feel better. That’s the case from the opening bars, where the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Brian Jackson delivers a masterclass on keyboards. This is crucial to the song’s success. So is Gil’s urgent, emotive jazz-tinged vocal. He brings the lyrics to life, in this paean to power of music.

From the get-go, Home Is Where The Hatred has a cinematic quality. That’s down to the lyrics. They come to life as Gil delivers them with frustration, anger and power. Ironically, later in life, Gil succumbed to the addiction he sings about. Behind him his band kick loose. Ron Carter’s bass probes, drums and guitars add drama. Burt Jones unleashes a soaring, crystalline guitar solo. Again, Brian Jackson’s keyboard playing plays. They seem to raise their game, as Gil unleashes a vocal powerhouse where emotion and frustration are omnipresent.

Chirping guitars and braying saxophone answer Gil’s call on When You Are Who You Are. Hubert Law switches from flute to saxophone and in the process, plays a starring role. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Gil sings this song to a woman whose trying to impress him. His message to he is, when someone’s happy being themself. Later, Burt Jones lays down some jazzy licks. Then when the saxophone takes charge, Burt gets funky. As for Gil, he ad libs and encourages his band as they head to a jazzy crescendo.

I Think I’ll Call It Morning has the same languid, laid-back sound as Save The Children. Key to this is Brian Jackson, who has switched to piano. His piano is at the heart of the arrangement to this feel-good song. Here, Gil looking at “this world’s madness,” is inspired by nature.  Brian’s clever chord changes add to the poignancy of the lyrics. The piano is panned left and the bass right. This allows Gil’s vocal to play a starring role, as he delivers some of the best and most beautiful lyrics on Pieces Of A Man.

Pieces Of A Man has a wistful, old school, jazzy sound. That’s down to the standup bass and piano. They meander across the arrangement, while Gil delivers a vocal full of sadness and pathos. When Gil sings about: “sweeping up the remnants of a letter,” it’s a metaphor for a father’s pride being swept up by his wife after being made redundant. What’s left are the “Pieces Of A Man.” Quite simply, a poignant and moving song that’s just as relevant today, as in 1971.

A Sign Of The Ages sees a continuation of the old school jazzy sound. Just standup bass and piano accompany Gil, who asks the big question: “why am I here?” He delivers the lyrics with a combination of power, passion, emotion and confusion. As for Brian Jackson, his playing is confident and assured. So is Gil’s vocal. That’s why it’s hard to believe Gil was only twenty-two when he recorded this track.  Listening to this fusion of blues and jazz, he sounds much older and worldly. 

Or Down You Fall sees Gil sing about not wanting your family and friends to see your weaknesses. Gil unleashes a vocal that’s best described as soul-baring. It’s akin to a cathartic confession. Powering the arrangement along are the two artists Gil wanted to play on Pieces Of A Man. Ron Carter’s bass and Hubert Laws flute play crucial roles as Gil lays bare his soul for all to see.

A jaunty arrangement where the piano and rhythm combine opens The Needle’s Eye. This is a reference to the biblical quotation: “it’s easier for a rich man to enter heaven, than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” Gil quotes this during the track. Just like other tracks, the lyrics are full of social comment. War, and money spent on war anger Gil. Frustration, anger and sadness fills his voice. As for the arrangement, Brian Jackson’s piano plays an important role. He plays powerfully and flamboyantly. Flourishes of piano accompany Gil’s vocal as he delivers lyrics full of social comment. 

Closing Pieces Of A Man is the nine minute epic The Prisoner. As the arrangement unfolds, it’s as if the arrangement is heading in the direction of free jazz. Percussion, bowed bass and drum combine. They give way to flourishes of Brian Jackson’s piano and a plucked bass. Gil’s vocal is dramatic and emotive, as he delivers the lyrics about a man “trapped by fear.”  He sings” “help me I’m The Prisoner, I need somebody to listen to me.” The character in the song is trapped by their place in society. They’re trapped by inequality and injustice. With a thunderous drum for company, Gil brings the lyrics to life. It’s as of he can empathise with The Prisoner and wants to give him a voice.

Although Pieces Of A Man was only Gil’s sophomore album, it’s a hugely accomplished album. Of the eleven tracks on Pieces Of A Man, there’s absolutely no filler. Each and every one of the eleven tracks have one thing in common, their quality. Considering Gil was only twenty-two when he recorded Pieces Of A Man, this is even more remarkable. 

When you hear Gil’s lyrics it’s hard to believe that a twenty-two old wrote them. Similarly, Gil’s voice is much more mature. He delivers each of the songs with variously power, passion, emotion, sadness, frustration, anger and confusion. In a way, his youthfulness helps Gil brings the lyrics to life. Gil was a young man and was aware of and possibly, had experienced the inequality and injustice he sings about. 

Fusing everything from jazz, blues, funk, proto-rap, rock and soul, Gil Scott-Heron highlights the social and political problems of the early seventies. Racism, poverty, corruption, inequality and drug addiction featured in Gil’s lyrics to Pieces Of A Man. Fearlessly, Gil tackled these subjects head on, delivering the lyrics with his proto-rap style. With keyboardist Brian Jackson at his side, Gil would become one of the most important artists of his generation. However, he only released one further albums for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. 

This was 1972s Free Will. However, the finest album of Gil Scott-Heron’s career was Pieces Of A Man which may not have enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim it deserved, but was later, reappraised by critics.

Somewhat belatedly, critics realised that Pieces Of A Man was a classic album. It passed by unnoticed upon its release, but a generation later, it’s one of the most important albums Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions released. This genre-melting album, Pieces Of A Man launched the career of  Gil Scott-Heron. His career lasted right through until 2010, the year before his death. During his post Flying Dutchman period, Gil released another twelve albums. However, he’ll always be remembered for one album, Pieces Of A Man.

Pieces Of A Man saw Gil Scott-Heron provide a voice for the disenfranchised. Fearlessly, Gil highlights the social and political problems that blighted America. He encouraged Americans to join together and change America for the better. This pioneering poet and protest singer made a difference politically. Gil made people aware of the problems people were facing and urged them to take action. That’s why Pieces Of A Man is Gil-Scott-Heron’s political and social Magnus Opus and the most important part of his rich musical legacy.

Cult Classic: Gil Scott-Heron- Pieces Of A Man.

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: LEON THOMAS-FULL CIRCLE.

Cult Classic-Leon Thomas-Full Circle.

For Leon Thomas, Full Circle represented the end of an era. It was the last album Leon Thomas released on Flying Dutchman Productions, and marked the end of his “classic period.” It had started four years earlier in 1969, when Leon Thomas released his debut album Spirits Known and Unknown. Since then, Leon Thomas’ star had been in the ascendancy. Full Circle was  Leon Thomas’ fourth solo album and the last great album he released. His story began in 1937.  

Leon Thomas was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, in October 1937. From an early age, Leon’s life revolved around music. His parents were avid music lovers and his hometown had a thriving musical scene. Inspired by blues’ shouters like Big Joe Turner, Leon was a familiar face on the local music circuit. Then when Miles Davis came to town, Leon had a musical awakening.

The night Miles Davis played St. Louis, Miles’ band featured John Coltrane. That night, they embraced improvisation and pushed musical boundaries to their extremes. For Leon Thomas, this showed him what was possible musically. Here was musical that was inventive, innovative and influential. So much so, that it inspired Leon to study musical at Tennessee State University.

Having left Tennessee State University, Leon became a familiar face on the jazz circuit. Having signed to RCA in 1958, Leon recorded what should’ve been his debut album. It wasn’t released. After that, When Leon was the vocalist with Count Basie’s band in the early-sixties right through until the mid-sixties. During that time, Leon’s style is best described as traditional blues. However, his style changed when he headed to Los Angeles.

It was is Los Angeles that Leon Thomas embraced free jazz. Already an admirer of improvisation within jazz, free jazz took things further. Even better, Leon met musicians who not only shared similar musical philosophies, but political and social values. This included saxophonist Arthur Blythe, drummer Leroy Brooks and pianist Horace Tapscott. Together, they were the Underground Musicians and Artists Associations. Meeting these three musicians, resulted in Leon finding his real voice. With their help, Leon’s voice became like an instrument. He fused musical influences, with blues, jazz and Afro-beat combining with soul, as Leon’s vocal veered between a scat and yodel. This was unique, avant garde and groundbreaking. Leon Thomas was a pioneer, as he headed to New York, looking for fellow travelers.

By 1967, Leon Thomas had met saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. This was a perfect match for Leon. Here were two groundbreaking musicians. In Pharoah Sanders’ hands, the saxophone was transformed. He’d been a member of John Coltrane’s band, until his death in 1967. After that, he formed his own band. Comprising Leon, pianist Lonnie Liston Smith and Pharoah, this was a band of musical pioneers recorded Pharoah Sanders 1969 album Karma, which was released on Impulse. It featured The Creator Has A Master Plan, which showcased Leon’s unique vocal style. A compelling, spiritual track where Leon yodels and scats his way through the track, it was truly groundbreaking. One man who realized Leon Thomas’ potential was Bob Thiele, founder of Flying Dutchman Records.

Having heard Leon Thomas feature on Pharoah Sanders’ Karma album, Bob Thiele signed Leon to Flying Dutchman Records. Leon’s Flying Dutchman Productions’ debut was 1969s Spirits Known and Unknown. Released to critical acclaim, Spirits Known and Unknown featured a version of The Creator Has A Master Plan, which Leon and Pharoah cowrote. There was also a cover of Horace Silver’s Song For My Father. Hailed not just as innovative and groundbreaking, but soulful, spiritual and full of social comment, Spirits Known and Unknown launched the career of Leon Thomas. Following up such a critically acclaimed and innovative album wasn’t going to be easy. 

A year later, Leon returned with The Leon Thomas Album. Released in 1970, as the new decade dawned, The Leon Thomas Album was hailed as innovative and ambitious. Critics realised that Leon was an artist who was determined to move jazz in a new direction. Standing still wasn’t an option for Leon. This was admirable. However, it wasn’t profitable. Sadly, The Leon Thomas Album didn’t sell well. The problem was, that Leon was way ahead of the musical curve. Although he was admired and lauded by the critics, he wasn’t selling enough records. Both Bob Thiele and Leon Thomas had bills to pay. Somehow, Leon had to rescue his career. Would his third album Blues And The Soulful Truth, do so? 

Blues And The Soulful Truth was released in 1972. It marked a change in direction from Leon. Critics referred to Blues And The Soulful Truth as the most accessible album Leon had released. The addition of Pee Wee Ellis had played an important part in this. He realised the importance of choosing the right tracks for the album. The eight tracks allowed Leon’s vocal to shine. They also allowed what’s a hugely talented band to showcase their considerable talents and sometimes, stretch their legs musically. The result was one of the most exciting and exhilarating vocal jazz albums of the early seventies. Despite this, Blues And The Soulful Truth passed record buyers by. For Leon Thomas and Bob Thiele this was a worrying time.

Despite his career having stalled, Leon Thomas got to work on his fourth album, which would become Full Circle. 

For Full Circle, nine tracks were chosen. Leon Thomas only wroteWhat Are Gonna Do? and with Neil Creque cowrote Balance Of Life (Peace Of Mind). Neil Creque also wrote It’s My Life I’m Fighting For. These tracks were augmented by some familiar songs. 

This included Never Let Me Go, which came from the pen of a pioneer of rock ’n’ roll, Joe Scott. There were also covers of B.B. King and Jules Bihari’s Sweet Little Angel; Arthur Ross and Leon Ware’s I Wanna Be Where You Are; Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life and a cover of Elliot Willensky’s Got To Be There. A cover of Santana’s Just In Time To See The Sun was a fitting addition. 

Carlos Santana, Greg Rolle and Michael Shrieve had penned Just In Time To See The Sun for their 1972 album Caravanserai. By then, Carlos Santana had ‘discovered’ Leon Thomas, and wanted him to join Santana. Leon added vocals on their 1973 album Welcome. He would then join their touring band. So the inclusion of Just In Time To See The Sun seemed fitting. Just like the rest of the tracks on Full Circle, they had been carefully chosen.

They had to be. Leon Thomas’ last two albums had flopped. So Leon and Bob Thiele must have considered carefully what tracks should feature on Full Circle. If they chose some familiar songs, maybe this would widen Leon Thomas’ commercial appeal? This had worked for Esther Phillips at CTi.

Her career was rejuvenated after years in the doldrums. This resulted in Esther Phillips’ album From A Whisper To A Scream being nominated for a Grammy Award. Bob Thiele was hoping to do the same with Leon Thomas. After all, the status quo wasn’t an option. 

An artist who wasn’t selling albums was a liability to a record company. It didn’t matter how innovative their music is. What counted was the bottom line. Bob Thiele couldn’t continue to release albums that didn’t sell. With reality hitting home, Bob Thiele decided to target the soul market. With this in mind, Leon Thomas entered the studio. 

When recording of Full Circle began, Bob Thiele had rung the changes. It was a very different band that arrived at the studio. Although there were a few familiar faces, new names gathered to record Full Circle. Again, Bob Thiele would produce the album. However, he had brought onboard a new arranger and conductor. Glen Osser replaced Pee Wee Ellis. He still featured on Full Circle, albeit in a much reduced capacity, playing tenor saxophone on Never Let Me Go and soprano saxophone on Just In Time To See The Sun. Pee Wee Ellis’ replacement Glen Osser, played piano, electric piano. This wasn’t the end of the changes.

There was a big change in the band’s lineup. While there were  a few familiar faces, it seemed that it was out with the old and in with the new. The rhythm section featured drummers Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and Herbie Lovelle; bassist Richard Davis; and guitarists Joe Beck and Lloyd Davis. Jimmy Owens played trumpet and flugelhorn; Richard Landrum played bata and percussion; and Sonny Morgan played berimbau and percussion. The final piece of the jigsaw was Leon Thomas, who added vocals and maracas. Once Full Circle was complete, the album was scheduled for release in 1973.

On the release of Full Circle in 1973, critics welcomed the move towards a much more commercial sound. Leon Thomas had set out to record an album that appealed to soul fans. He had succeeded. Full Circle was his most commercial offering. Some of his fans, thought that Leon Thomas had ‘sold out.’

It wasn’t a ‘sell out.’ Instead, it more a case of reality biting. He couldn’t continue to release albums that weren’t selling. The fans that cried ‘sell out,’ were wrong though. Occasionally, Full Circle offered Leon Thomas the opportunity to innovate. The best example was on Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life. Mostly though, Full Circle was a soul album where Leon Thomas tried to attract a wider audience. That was the theory.

Before the release of Full Circle,  Just In Time To See The Sun was released as a single, but failed to chart. Then when Full Circle was released in 1973, the album reached fifty-four in the US R&B charts. This was hardly going to make Leon Thomas and Bob Thiele rich men, but proved a point. However, that was as good as it got for Leon Thomas. His time at Flying Dutchman Production was at an end. Full Circle was his swan-song.

A cover of B.B. King’s Sweet Little Angel opens Full Circle. Strings sweep as a hypnotic standup bass, drums and flourishes of piano combine with a chiming guitar. Stylistically it pays homage to B.B. King. Then when the strings drop out, Leon’s vocal enters. It’s slow, bluesy, needy and full of sass. His band of top New York session players stay true to the original. Even the strings sound sound as if they were recorded in another era, back when B.B. King first recorded Sweet Little Angel. Leon doesn’t try and reinvent the song. Instead, he stays true to the original as he rediscovers his bluesy roots.

Just In Time To See The Sun must have come as a shock to those who had bought Leon Thomas’ previous albums. It’s a funky, Latin-tinged cover of a Santana song. Literally, the song bursts into life, propelled along by the rhythm section, guitars and percussion. Leon delivers an impassioned plea, before a trumpet and flugelhorn are unleashed. They both enjoy their moment in the spotlight, as the reinvention of Leon Thomas begins in earnest. Playing an important part are the band. Seamlessly, the combine elements of funk, fusion, jazz and Latin. Meanwhile, Leon delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of power and soulfulness. Sometimes, he reminds me of Terry Callier. Sadly, neither men enjoyed the commercial success their talent deserved. 

A Fender Rhodes opens It’s My Life I’m Fighting For. It’s a ten minute epic, where a funky rhythm section join percussion and the Fender Rhodes. Quickly, Leon is combining power and  emotion. He sounds as if he’s lived the lyrics, and experienced what he singing about. Meanwhile, a subtle flugelhorn floats across the arrangement. So does a trumpet. That’s the signal for Leon to unleash one of his trademark yodels. However, it’s cut short, as the horns take centre-stage. Along with an uber funky rhythm section and percussion, they stretch their legs. Then when Leon returns he showcases his versatility, yodelling, as his voice is transformed into an instrument. He doesn’t overdo this. It’s as if Bob and Leon were scared that this would impinge upon the album’s commerciality. The song doesn’t suffer for this. Far from it. Leon and his band seem to feed off each other, one encouraging the other to even greater heights.

By the time Leon covered Joe Scott’s Never Let Me Go, it was almost a standard. A lone rasping tenor saxophone is panned left before lush strings, stabs of piano and an understated rhythm section combine. By then, Leon’s band have recreated the sound of a mid-fifties’ hop. When Leon’s vocal enters, he tenderly, croons his way though the lyrics. Meanwhile, a piano plays, a horn rasps and the rhythm section create the heartbeat. Adding the finishing touch to this beautiful ballad are the lushest of strings.

Arthur Ross and Leon Ware penned I Wanna Be Where You Are.  It’s interpreted by Leon. Accompanying him are swathes of slow strings, a lone horn and the rhythm section. It’s augmented by percussion, before Leon delivers another tender heartfelt vocal. His vocal is tinged with regret, before becoming needy, hopeful and powerful. Then when it drops out a trumpet solo takes charge. Just below, Richard Davis’ bass underpins the arrangement. Not for the first time, he plays a starring role, as this crack band of New York musicians continue the reinvention of Leon Thomas.

Elliot Willensky wasn’t a prolific songwriter. However, he hit the jackpot when he penned Got To Be There. After Michael Jackson enjoyed a hit with the single, suddenly, everyone from Black Ivory, The Ramsey Lewis Trio, Grant Green, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Julius Brockington, Peter Nero, Sonny Stitt  and The Jackson 5 had covered Got To Be There between 1972 and 1973. Despite this, Leon Thomas decided he would cover Got To Be There for Full Circle.

Rather than reinvent Got To Be There, Leon stays true to the original. Slow, wistful string, a chiming guitar and thoughtful rhythm section combine before harmonies sing “Got To Be There.” They’re reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s version. Then when Leon’s vocal enters it’s much more powerful and full of emotion. Soon, it grows in power as the strings sweep and percussion is panned right. Again, Richard Davis’ prowling bass underpins the arrangement. Later, a trumpet adds a wistful hue, setting the scene for Leon’s hopeful, heartfelt vocal. It’s one of his finest on Full Circle.

A myriad of percussion opens Balance Of Life (Peace Of Mind). For just over forty seconds they’re scene setters. Then some of the percussion exits stage left. This frees up space for the rhythm section and Leon’s slow, deliberate and powerful vocal. When Leon yodels, he again cuts this short. This is different from previous albums where he transformed his vocal into another instrument. However, maybe Leon and Bob Thiele thought that many newcomers to Leon’s music wouldn’t ‘understand’ or ‘get’ this. At the break, it just congas panned left and percussion panned right. Then the arrangement rebuilds and Leon Thomas shows why in 1973, he was one of the finest practitioners of vocal jazz.

Anyone covering Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life is in a no-win situation. It’s regard as the definitive version. All covers of the are compared against the original. So Leon tries to reinvent the songs. He slows the song down and vintage arranger Glenn Osser drenches the arrangement in the lushest of strings. The rhythm section play subtly, while Leon delivers a heartfelt vocal. By then, this paean is taking on new life and meaning. Later, a wistful horn and chiming guitar join percussion and strings replace Leon’s vocal. When he returns, the reinvention of You Are The Sunshine Of My Life is complete. It becomes a beautiful jazz-tinged, soulful ballad.

What Are We Gonna Do? closes Full Circle. A piano plays, and  with occasional flamboyant flourishes setting the scene for Leon’s impassioned plea. With just the piano for company, he delivers a soul-searching, emotive vocal. Then when Leon’s vocal drops out, the piano adds occasional dramatic flourishes. When Leon returns, the same passion, sincerity and belief is present.  This impassioned plea seems a fitting way to end Leon’s time at Flying Dutchman Productions.

Leon Thomas’ time at Flying Dutchman Productions ended on a high. Full Circle became his most successful album. That’s despite only reaching fifty-four in the US R&B charts. Bob Thiele, the veteran music man had been vindicated.

After Leon Thomas’ last two albums had failed commercially, something had to change. So Bob Thiele decided to try and steer Leon Thomas towards the lucrative soul market. Bob Thiele got the idea from Creed Taylor. He had successfully transformed Esther Phillips’ career at CTi Records by turning her into a soul singer. Her album From A Whisper To A Scream was then nominated for a Grammy Award. Bob Thiele had hoped that by encouraging Leon Thomas to change direction, success would come his way.

That proved to be the case. Full Circle was the most successful album of Leon Thomas’ career. Together, Leon and Bob Thiele had cultivated a very accessible album. Mostly, it featured Leon Thomas singing soul. However, there were occasional diversions via blues and jazz. Meanwhile, Leon’s band seamlessly shifted between blues, funk, jazz, Latin and soul. This crack band of New York session players ensured that Leon’s final album for Flying Dutchman Productions was a memorable one.

Full Circle was also the album that introduced Leon Thomas to a much wider audience. It was seen as a much more accessible album. Given the relative success of Full Circle, many thought that this was Leon Thomas would go on to greater things at Flying Dutchman Productions. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

By then, Carlos Santana had ‘discovered’ Leon Thomas, and wanted him to join Santana. Leon added vocals on their 1973 album Welcome, and then joined their touring band. So there was no followup to Full Circle. Leon Thomas’ time at Flying Dutchman Productions was over. Maybe, Bob Thiele had had a lucky escape?

When Leon Thomas returned from a one year tour with Santana,  his career stalled. There were rumours of drug usage. Leon Thomas then became a stranger to recording studios. He never recorded another album until Piece Of Cake in 1980. However, by then, his best days were behind him.

Leon Thomas’ “classic period” was at Flying Dutchman Productions. It began with his 1969 debut album Spirits Known and Unknown and included The Leon Thomas Album and Blues and Soulful Truth. This “classic period” ended with Full Circle. By then, Leon Thomas had come Full Circle. His career began at Flying Dutchman Productions began as a free jazz pioneer, before encompassing blues and soul. By then, the versatile and talented Leon Thomas’ career had come Full Circle. 

LEON THOMAS-FULL CIRCLE.

LeonThomasFullCircle

 

 

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CULT CLASSIC: LONNIE LISTON SMITH AND THE COSMIC ECHOES-REFLECTIONS OF A GOLDEN DREAM.

Cult Classic: Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes-Reflections Of A Golden Dream.

Of all the artists Bob Thiele signed to Flying Dutchman Productions, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes proved to be one the most successful. However, success didn’t come overnight for Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.

Neither Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ 1973 debut album Astral Travelling, nor 1974s Cosmic Funk charted. However, when Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released their third album Expansions, in 1975, it reached number eighty-five in the US Billboard 200,  twenty-seven in the US R&B charts and number two in the US Jazz charts. Not only did this please Lonnie Liston Smith, but Bob Thiele’s paymasters at RCA.

By the time Expansions was released, Bob Thiele had realised that he was fighting a losing battle. He needed a major label to take over Flying Dutchman Productions. RCA stepped in in 1974, taking charge of funding and distribution. This allowed Bob Thiele to do what he did best, A&R and production. The only downside was, that RCA weren’t a benevolent benefactor.

RCA wanted Flying Dutchman Productions to release albums that were commercially successful. Bob Thiele must have agreed to this with a heavy heart. Some of the albums he had previously released were innovative and artistic merit, but were never going to sell in vast quantities. Now he would’ve have to think twice about releasing that type of album. It was a case of playing things safe, and thinking about what would sell. Luckily, by late 1975, one of Flying Dutchman Productions’ biggest seller was Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.

In the summer of 1975, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes had released Visions Of A New World. 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. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes were on a roll, and were one of Flying Dutchman Productions’ biggest assets. That’s not surprising, as Lonnie Liston Smith was almost destined to embark upon a musical career.

It was almost written in the stars that Lonnie Liston Smith would become a musician. Lonnie Liston Smith was born in 1940, into a musical family. 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 learned piano, tuba and trumpet in High School and college. After college, he headed to Morgan State University.

Inspired by John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Lonnie Liston Smith embarked upon a degree in musical education. Throughout his time at University, Lonnie Liston Smith 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 Liston Smith walked straight into a job.

Having left 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.

Now living in New York, Lonnie Liston Smith was lucky 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, Lonnie Liston Smith caught a break. He joined Roland Kirk’s band.

Lonnie Liston Smith made his recording debut on March 14th 1965, when Roland Kirk recorded Here Comes The Whistleman. It was recorded live in New York, with Lonnie Liston Smith only playing on the title-track, Making Love After Hours, Yesterdays and Step Right Up. Having made his recording debut, Lonnie Liston Smith featured on Roland Kirk and Al Hibbler’s 1965 live album, A Meeting Of The Times. However, that was Lonnie Liston Smith’s swan-song with Roland Smith’s band. After this, Lonnie Liston Smith joined one of jazz’s top bands, The Jazz Messengers.

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, Lonnie Liston Smith only played three in concerts. These three concerts just so happened to be at the legendary Village Vanguard. Despite the prestigious venue, this must have been a disappointing time for Lonnie Liston Smith. Luckily, he was rehired by Roland Kirk. 

Now back with Roland Kirk’s band, Lonnie Liston Smith was just in time to play on his 1968 album Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith. This established Lonnie’s reputation as the go-to-guy for a pianist. 

It was the start of period where Lonnie 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 formed a new band. Their music is best described as free jazz. Musical boundaries were pushed to their limits and beyond. Recognising a fellow believer in free jazz, Pharaoh Sanders asked Lonnie to join his band. Lonnie Liston Smith went on to play on three of Pharaoh Sander’s 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 played on was 1970s Summun Bookman Umyun. which was released on Impulse. Just like the three albums Pharaoh Sanders recorded for Flying Dutchman, it was a groundbreaking album.

During this period, Pharaoh Sanders 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 Sanders asked Lonnie Liston Smith to play the Fender Rhodes. This was the first time that he came across an electric piano. However, Lonnie Liston Smith 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 would play with some of jazz’s mavericks.

One of these mavericks was Gato Barbieri. He’d 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. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they’d like. So, Bob Thiele signed Gato Barbieri to Flying Dutchman Productions. Lonnie Liston Smith played on his 1969 debut album The Third World. Bob Thiele’s next signing was Leon Thomas and played on his debut album Spirits Known and Unknown. Soon, Lonnie Liston Smith was a regular at Flying Dutchman Productions’ 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. Lonnie Liston Smith played on Gato Barbieri’s 1972 album El Pampero. He also toured throughout Europe with Gato Barbieri. Then came the opportunity of a lifetime. After El Pampero, Lonnie Liston Smith got the chance to work with another jazz legend.

Lonnie Liston Smith was a member of Gato Barbieri’s band when Miles Davis got in touch. He wanted Lonnie Liston Smith 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, who was exploring their possibilities. However, Miles Davis 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 would later work with Miles Davis. Meanwhile, Lonnie Liston Smith decided to move on, and embark upon a solo career. 

There was a sense of inevitability that Lonnie Liston Smith  would sign Flying Dutchman Productions. He had played on numerous albums the label released. Lonnie Liston Smith’s musical style suited Flying Dutchman Productions. It all made sense. So in 1973, Lonnie Liston Smith signed to Flying Dutchman Productions, and began work on 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. Lonnie Liston Smith played piano and electric piano on Astral Travelling which was produced by Bob Thiele. Astral Travelling was released in 1973.

On its release in 1973, Astral Travelling was released to critical acclaim. This was no surprise. Lonnie Liston Smith had worked with some of the biggest names of jazz. It was akin to a musical apprenticeship. Astral Travelling saw Lonnie Liston Smith move from sideman to bandleader. Accompanied by some of the best and most innovative musicians, he had created an ambitious and groundbreaking album. Although Astral Travelling failed to chart, it sold reasonably well upon its release. This bode well for the future. 

Cosmic Funk.

The followup to Astral Travelling, Cosmic Funk was released in 1974. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ genre-hopping sophomore album was released to widespread critical acclaim, and sold reasonably well. However, Cosmic Funk wasn’t going to make Lonnie Liston Smith rich. At least word was spreading about this musical visionary. Soon, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes would be enjoying both commercial success and critical acclaim.

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. While this safeguarded Flying Dutchman Productions’ future, RCA weren’t a charity. They wanted sales. 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.

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’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, and Visions Of A New World was released in the summer of 1975.

Just like previous albums, critics hailed Visions Of A New World as a groundbreaking album. Lonnie Liston Smith was seen as a musical pioneer, capable of creating innovative and influential music. That music was way ahead of the musical curve. Record buyers concurred.

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. However, could Lonnie Liston Smith make it three successful albums in a row, when he released Reflections Of A Golden Dream?

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. Reflections Of A Golden Dream closed the door on that chapter of Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes career. Was it a fitting swan-song?

Reflections Of A Golden Dream opens with Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace). A pulsating beat joins myriad of percussion and effects. Harmonies the soar soulfully above the arrangement, as Lonnie Liston Smith encourages: “Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace)”. Toughening up the dance-floor friendly sound are keyboards and stabs of blazing horns. Soon, though, the arrangement is focusing solely on the dance-floor. This isn’t surprising, as 1976 was the peak of the disco boom. Lonnie’s vocal veers towards a vamp, as his soulful triumvirate of backing singers play an important part in the song’s success. So the horns and the rhythm section, who propel the arrangement along, as seamlessly, elements of disco, funk, jazz and soul unite.

Quiet Dawn has a much more laid-back, dreamy sound. Swathes and swells of strings float above the keyboards, while percussion is at the heart of the arrangement. The bass augments the percussion, as Lonnie Liston Smith’s piano plays slowly and thoughtfully. As the arrangement flows elegiacally along, a breathy flute flutters. One can’t help but wallow in its beauty of Quiet Dawn, which is omnipresent. 

Layer upon layer of percussion is at the heart of the arrangement to Sunbeams. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of bassist Al Anderson and drummer Wilby Fletcher are playing leading roles. Al Anderson’s bass line has a vibrancy and energy. Wilby Fletcher picks up on this. So does Dave Hubbard’s flowing soprano saxophone. It augments Lonnie Liston Smith’s keyboards.

They’re driving the arrangement along, as he plays with freedom and flamboyance. Later, David Smith, Lonnie Liston Smith’s brother adds flute. Lonnie Liston Smith’s piano looks like stealing the show. However, is performance can’t exist in isolation, and Sunbeams’ sound and success is down to Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes.

Unsurprisingly, Meditations has ruminative quality. Washes of Lonnie Liston Smith’s Fender Rhodes are like waves breaking on a deserted beach. Accompanying Lonnie Liston Smith is a myriad of percussion. That’s all that’s needed as a quite beautiful, melodic track washes over you, reminding you of warm summer days on a sun kissed beach.

An Iberian acoustic guitar is panned right on Peace and Love. It’s all that the listener hears. Soon, the trio of backing vocalists return, demanding: “we need peace, we need love.” A  clavinet is panned left, and adds a tough funk sound, and Donald Smith takes charge of the lead vocal. By then, jazz and funk are combining with the soulful backing vocals. There’s even a nod towards fusion, as Peace and Love looks like taking on an anthemic sound. It’s reminiscent of Lonnie Liston Smith’s previous anthem, Give Peace A Chance and features a similar mixture of hope and social comment.

Beautiful Woman finds Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes playing as one. The rhythm section provide a funky backdrop. Bassist Al Anderson plays a leading role, anchoring the arrangement, and providing its heartbeat. Lonnie Liston Smith plays a variety of keyboards, including a clavinet. It adds tough, funky sound. Other keyboards add layers. So do the percussion. Atop the arrangement, Donald Smith adds a tender, heartfelt vocal. Later, it grows in power, soaring above the arrangement. By then, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes have found their A-Game, and are their funky best, on what’s one of Reflections Of A Golden Dream’s highlights.

The tempo drops on Goddess Of Love. Still, though, the song has a funky sound, which flows and meanders along. Not for the first time, echo is deployed, meaning was of Fender Rhodes run into each other. Meanwhile, the rhythm section create a mid- tempo, funky beat and strings sweep creating an elegiac, wistful track.

Inner Beauty is described as a “mood piece.” Lonnie Liston Smith adds flamboyant flourishes of piano and David Hubbard delivers  a masterclass on soprano saxophone. A myriad of percussion and congas provide the backdrop for David Smith’s scatted vocal on what’s a thoughtful, ruminative sounding track whose Inner Beauty is there for everyone to hear.

Golden Dreams almost shuffles into being, a piano playing before a Fender Rhodes shimmers. Then the rhythm section join percussion and a flute. Together, they provide the backdrop for Lonnie Liston Smith’s tender, hopeful vocal. Above his vocal, the arrangement shuffles and meanders along, showcasing not just Lonnie Liston Smith’s skills a pianist, but as a vocalist.

Journey Into Space, which closes Reflections Of A Golden Dream, is another short mood piece. It’s just two-and-a-half minutes long. The introduction is almost otherworldly, and has an experimental, avant garde sound. A flute replicates the sound of an exotic bird or animal, while the rest of The Cosmic Beings add percussion or produce a variety of left-field, experimental sounds. The result, is an ambitious piece of music, which is reminiscent of the more experimental music Flying Dutchman Productions released in the early days. This track could easily have been recorded in the early seventies, when Leon Thomas was producing some of his most groundbreaking work.

By 1976, when Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Reflections Of A Golden Dream, Flying Dutchman Productions was a very different company. It was owned by RCA, who didn’t take kindly to experimental albums which were only purchased by discerning musical connoisseurs. Instead, RCA wanted albums that sold in vast quantities. Luckily, Bob Thiele had signed Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes in 1973.

Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes first two albums weren’t a commercial success. Neither 1973s Astral Travelling, nor 1974s Cosmic Funk charted. That’s despite featuring some of the best music Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released during his time at Flying Dutchman Productions. Things improved with Expansions in 1975.

Expansions, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ third album became one of Flying Dutchman Productions’ most successful albums. However, this record didn’t last long. When Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released Visions Of A New World in the summer of 1975, it surpassed the commercial success of Expansions. Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes, who were Flying Dutchman Productions’ most successful signing, were on an enviable hot streak.

This hot streak continued with Reflections Of A Golden Dream, when it was released in 1975 and although it neither reached the heady heights of Expansions nor Visions Of A New World it  was one of Flying Dutchman Productions’ most successful albums of 1976. However, Reflections Of A Golden Dream was also Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ final album for Flying Dutchman Productions.

Between 1973 and 1976, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released a quintet of albums for Flying Dutchman Productions. Three were commercially successful. Ironically, Astral Travelling, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ debut album, which failed commercially, is now regarded as a minor classic. However, all the albums Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes released at Flying Dutchman Productions are held in the highest regard.

This includes Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ Flying Dutchman Productions’ 1976 swan-song, Reflections Of A Golden Dream. It’s a mixture of disco, funk, jazz and soul on Reflections Of A Golden Dream, where Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes flit between musical genres and moods. Joyous gives way to pensive, before beatific becomes beautiful, and elegiacal becomes ethereal. Later, anthemic becomes otherworldly and ambitious, as Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes take their bow on the genre-melting Reflections Of A Golden Dream, which was their Flying Dutchman Productions swan-song. 

Cult Classic: Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes-Reflections Of A Golden Dream.

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CULT CLASSIC: JOHNNY HAMMOND-GEARS.

Cult Classic: Johnny Hammond-Gears.

Johnny “Hammond” Smith’s recording career began in 1958 and a year later he released his debut album Have You Heard. This was the first of two albums Johnny “Hammond” Smith released during 1959. Over the next sixteen years, Johnny “Hammond” Smith released another thirty album. His thirty-second album was Gears, which was released in 1975.

By the time Johnny “Hammond” Smith began work on Gears, his music had been becoming more funky. His music had changed over the last four years. This happened after Johnny “Hammond” Smith left the Prestige label.

This was where Johnny “Hammond” Smith had enjoyed the most successful period of his career. He signed to Prestige in 1961, and was their through the label’s glory years. Johnny “Hammond” Smith rubbed shoulders with some of the most innovative jazz musicians, including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Yusef Lateef to Freddie McCoy and Freddie Roach. However, in 1971, Johnny “Hammond” Smith decided to leave Prestige. Next stop was CTi Records.

Creed Taylor had founded CTi Records in 1968. Originally, a producer, he had worked for ABC Records. Creed Taylor had founded its Impulse! subsidiary in 1960. One of Creed Taylor’s first signing was John Coltrane. He released some of the best music of his career at Impulse. However, by then, Creed Taylor had moved on.

In 1961, Creed Taylor left Prestige and began working for Verve Records. During his time at Verve Records, Creed Taylor helped popularise the bossa nova. He signed Antonio Carlos Jobim, João and Astrud Gilberto Verve Records. Soon, the bossa nova was influencing other artists signed to Verve Records, including Donald Byrd. However, popularising the bossa nova was only part of Creed Taylor’s achievements at Verve Records. He also produced albums by Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith and Bill Evans during his six year tenure. It came to an end in 1967. That was when Creed Taylor started at A&M, and founded CTi Records.

Creed Taylor’s time at A&M was brief. He left in 1968, to concentrate on establishing CTI Records as an independent record company. That’s what he proceeded to do. 

When Johnny “Hammond” Smith left Prestige in 1971, he signed to Creed Taylor’s CTi Records. By then, it had an enviable roster. Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Gábor Szabó, Freddie Hubbard and Hubert Laws had been, or were, part of the  CTi Records’ family. Now Johnny “Hammond” Smith was signed to CTi Records, and released some of the funkiest music of his career on its Kudu Records imprint.

The Kudu Records imprint was established in 1971, and was a perfect home for Johnny “Hammond” Smith. It was geared towards soul jazz. However, over the years everyone from Grover Washington, Jr, Hank Crawford, Grant Green, Joe Beck, Lonnie Smith and Idris Muhammad all pitched up at Kudu Records. This change of label seemed to reinvigorate Johnny “Hammond” Smith.

Between 1971 and 1973, Johnny “Hammond” Smith released four albums on Kudu Records and one its sister label Salvation. His debut was Breakout, released in 1971, and was the perfect way to start a new chapter in his career. 

Before signing to Kudo Records, their latest signing was billed as Johnny “Hammond” Smith. However, this was problematic. People kept mixing Johnny “Hammond” Smith with the guitarist Johnny Smith. So a decision was made for Johnny “Hammond” Smith to become Johnny Hammond. That seemed especially fitting, as the Hammond organ was Johnny’s musical weapon of choice. Soon, this change of name became ironic, when Johnny started to add other keyboards to his arsenal. This began with his Kudo Records debut Breakout.

Once Breakout was recorded, Kudo Records announced their latest signing Johnny Hammond was about to release his debut album Breakout. However, first critics had to have their say.

When critics heard Breakout, they realised it was one the best albums the newly named Johnny Hammond had released in the last few years. It was also an eclectic album. There was everything from blues and soul jazz, to some of the funkiest music of Johnny Hammond’s career. However, there was a still a soulful side to Breakout. Creed Taylor had brought out the best in Johnny “Hammond” Smith on this eclectic album. It looked like being a fruitful partnership.

That proved to be the case. When Breakout was released in 1971,it  reached number 123 in the US Billboard 200, fifteen in the US R&B charts and number three in the US Jazz charts. Buoyed by the success of Breakout, Johnny Hammond began work on the followup.

Later in 1971, Johnny Hammond announced the release of the followup to Breakout, Wild Horses Rock Steady. Creed Taylor had produced another critically acclaimed album. It was described as über funky. No wonder. Accompanying Johnny Hammond were a band of top musicians. They were versatile, and could play nearly any genre, including funk. With their help, Johnny Hammond’s conversion to funkateer was almost complete. However, how would his old fans react?

When Wild Horses Rock Steady was released, it stalled at number 174 in the US Billboard 200, forty-three in the US R&B charts and fifteen in the US Jazz charts. This wasn’t as successful as Breakout. Maybe Johnny Hammond’s change in direction had alienated his loyal fans?

Little did Johnny Hammond realise that things were about to get a whole lot worse. Johnny Hammond returned in 1972 with The Prophet, his third album for Kudo Records. Despite being well received by critics, Prophet failed commercially. It failed to trouble the charts. Surely this was only a minor blip?

It wasn’t. When Johnny Hammond returned in 1974 with Higher Ground, it proved to be his weakest album for Kudo Records. Critics felt that Johnny Hammond overpowered the rest of the band, including the horn section. Producer Creed Taylor seemed unable to reign him in. Record buyers seemed to have read the reviews of Higher Ground, and when it was released, it failed to chart. Things had started so well with Breakout, but  commercially, had been downhill all the way after that. So Creed Taylor and Johnny “Hammond” Smith decided it was time for a new production team to work with Johnny.

Creed Taylor had two men in mind, Larry and Fonce Mizell. The Mizell Brothers worked under the Sky High moniker, and were already a successful production partnership. Their track recorded suggested that they had what was needed to rejuvenate Johnny “Hammond” Smith’s ailing career. So the Mizell Brothers and Johnny “Hammond” Smith got to work.

The resultant album Gambler’s Life was a big improvement on Higher Ground. It had been recorded at The Sound Factory in Los Angeles. This was the Mizell Brothers’ favourite studio, so it seemed the perfect place to record Gambler’s Life. The change of ‘scenery’ enlivened Johnny Hammond.

At The Sound Factory, Johnny Hammond deployed a variety of different keyboards, including synths and Fender Rhodes. Another difference was that Johnny Hammond wasn’t just a soloist, but part of his band’s rhythm section. This made a big difference to the album. 

Gambler’s Life was funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. Other times, the music is laid-back and blissful. The Mizell Brothers had reinvented Johnny Hammond. However, it was only Larry Mizell that received a production credit. His brother Fonce was credited as a musician. Regardless of who produced the album, the Mizell Brother, Creed Taylor and Johnny Hammond must have had high hopes for Gambler’s Life.

Despite positive reviews by critics, Gambler’s Life failed commercially. When it was released on the new CTi Records subsidiary Salvation, Gambler’s Life didn’t even come close to troubling the charts. This proved to be the end of Johnny Hammond’s time at CTi Records.

Having left Creed Taylor’s employ, Johnny Hammond was signed by Milestone, an imprint of Fantasy Records. The Mizell Brothers were retained to produce Johnny Hammond’s next album. This would become Gears, the thirty-second album of Johnny Hammond’s career.

Work began on Gears almost as soon as the ink was dry on the contract. The Mizell Brothers penned five of the six songs on Gears. This included Tell Me What To Do, Los Conquistadores Chocolatés, Lost On 23rd Street, Shifting Gears and Can’t We Smile? Johnny Hammond wrote the other track Fantasy. These six tracks became Gears, which was recorded with The Mizell Brothers’ favoured musicians.

Recording of Gears took was split between The Sound Factory in Los Angeles and Fantasy Records’ own in-house studio. The rhythm tracks were recorded at Fantasy Records’ studio during July 1975. That’s where drummer Harvey Mason, bassist Chuck Rainey and guitarists Craig McMullen and Craig Rowan got to work with Johnny Hammond. Together, they laid down the rhythm tracks. Then at The Sound Factory, the Mizell Brothers were joined by the rest of the band in September 1975. 

Fonce Mizell played clavinet and Larry Mizell added piano and solina. They were joined by percussionist Kenneth Nash, violinist Michael White, pianist Jerry Peters and Roger Glenn on vibes and flutes. The horn section featured tenor saxophonist Hadley Caliman and trombonist Julian Priester. Johnny Hammond, the star of the show, played Hammond organ and electric piano. Once the six tracks were recorded, Gears was released.

Critics hailed Gears the finest jazz-funk album of 1975. They only changed their mind when Donald Byrd released Spaces and Places. However, two tracks on Gears, Fantasy and Los Conquistadores Chocolates were geared towards the dance-floor. Johnny Hammond was about to embrace disco. Jazz purists held their hands up in horror, recoiling at Johnny Hammond’s stylistic departure. Would this change in style result in a change in Johnny Hammond’s fortunes?

When Gears was released in late 1975, sales were slow. Eventually, Gears reached number thirty-one on the US Jazz charts. This was disappointing. However, then Los Conquistadores Chocolatés was released as a single. It reached number four on both the US Dance Music/Club Play Singles and US Disco Singles charts. At last, Johnny Hammond’s luck was changing, and Gears was the album that was responsible for this. Gears is now regarded as a jazz-funk classic, and celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year. Has it stood the test of time?

Stabs of Fender Rhodes open Tell Me What To Do, which opens Gears. After a flourish of Fender Rhodes, things get funky. Drums pound, a guitar chimes and wah-wahs. It combines with the rhythm section and percussion. By then, Johnny’s adding a probing, confused vocal. “Tell Me What To Do?” he asks. Behind him, wistful tenor saxophone plays, as his band stretch their legs. Soon, the arrangement veers between smooth to funky and jazz-tinged. Johnny switches between Fender Rhodes to Hammond organ on this quite beautiful, mid-tempo track. Literally, the arrangement floats along, before Johnny adds a masterclass on his Fender Rhodes. Later, his vocal becomes dubby, adding a mysterious air, as Gears, a true jazz-funk classic begins to share its secrets.

After a spoken word vocal, a gale blows and Harvey Mason lays down a drum solo. He nails it. Soon, he’s joined by a flute and a bouncy, funky bass. It’s the signal for thinks to get funky. Keyboards, wah-wah guitar and the rhythm section combine with vibes. Already, Johnny is playing a starring role, laying down a solo. However, the rhythm section and guitars aren’t far behind. This seems to push Johnny to greater heights. He lays down a Hammond organ solo. In his hands, the ‘big burner’ comes to life. Along with the rhythm section, he helps drive the arrangement along. By then, he’s stealing the show. His performance can only be described as a virtuoso one. Without doubt, it’s one of the highlights of Gears. Johnny moves through the Gears on what was an unlikely disco hit.

Other-worldly synths open Lost On 23rd Street. Soon, the rhythm section and chiming guitar play slowly, as the arrangement glides effortlessly along. Then an Arp ProSoloist keyboard replicates what sounds like a haunting trombone solo. Effects have been used to transform the sound. By then Johnny is playing the Fender Rhodes. One minute his fingers glide along the keyboard, the next he stabs at them. A clavinet is added. However, the trombone dominates the arrangement. That’s until the tenor saxophone is unleashed. As the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards lay down a groove, the horns dominate the arrangement. They feed off each other. Soon, the funk factor increases, and the  band are jamming. Suddenly, a tender vocal floats across the arrangement. It proves to be the icing on what’s a particularly tasty cake.

Fantasy was the only track penned by Johnny Hammond. Harvey Mason’s drums are joined by percussion, a funky bass, wah-wah guitar and Johnny’s urgent keyboards. Lush strings are added, and signal the arrival of the hopeful vocal. A violin replaces the vocal, before it returns. From there, the arrangement builds. Instruments are added, disappear and reappear. This includes the Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ. However, a constant are the rhythm section and guitars. They’re responsible for one of the funkiest arrangements. Johnny more than plays his part, adding keyboard solos and a vocal. The result is one of the most memorable moments on Gears.

As Shifting Gears begins, it has a much more traditional funky sound. It’s just the Chuck Rainey’s bass and Harvey Mason’s drums. Soon, percussion and a wah-wah guitar are added. Gradually, the arrangement begins to unfold. Johnny’s vocal is the next addition. There’s an urgency to his delivery. When the vocal drops out, a flute and then violin are added. Then when Johnny returns, a clavinet and keyboards add to what’s already, a dark, dramatic and edgy sound. Johnny delivers another virtuoso performance. Having unleashed one of his best solo, he shifts through the gears and the track takes on a cinematic sound. By then, Shifting Gears, with its funky, and later,  smooth, slick sound wouldn’t sound out of place on either a Blaxploitation soundtrack or a dance-floor.

On Can’t We Smile? which closes Gears, the tempo drops, and the Mizell Brothers add a smooth, but funky backdrop. The rhythm section supply the heartbeat, while guitars add to the funky sound. Johnny delivers a heartfelt, hopeful vocal as the arrangement glides along. Harmonies, a violin and shimmering, quivering synths accompany the vocal. After the vocal drops out, another tender solo is delivered. Meanwhile, Johnny’s three decades of experience shine through. Then accompanied by occasional harmonies, his vocal returns on this truly beautiful ballad. Johnny Hammond has kept the best until last on Gears.

Sadly, Johnny Hammond only released three more albums after Gears. The first was 1976s Forever Taurus. Storm Warning followed in 1977. However, 1978s Don’t Let the System Get to You proved to be Johnny Hammond’s swan-song. By then, Johnny Hammond was only forty-five. 

He taught music during the eighties at California State Polytechnic University. However by the nineties, Johnny Hammond returned to life as a professional musician.and  chose life as a sideman. Johnny Hammond was part of Hank Crawford, Dianne Witherspoon and Dan Papaila’s bands. His final performance came at the Charles Earland Organ Summit. This was fitting, as Charles Earland had inspired Johnny Hammond. Sadly, ten days later on June 4th 1997, Johnny Hammond died. He left behind a rich and varied musical legacy.

This included Gears his jazz-funk classic, which was released forty-four years ago in 1975 and was Johnny Hammond’s  last great album. Gears which is a cult classic has stood the test of time,  and is a fitting reminder of a jazz great Johnny Hammond.

Cult Classic: Johnny Hammond-Gears.

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CULT CLASSIC: TANGERINE DREAM-RUBYCON.

Cult Classic: Tangerine Dream-Rubycon.

Tangerine Dream are, without doubt, the original musical chameleons. Since forming in 1967, Tangerine Dream’s music has been constantly evolving. As a result, they can never be accused of standing still. Far from it. 

During the last six decades, Tangerine Dream have flitted between musical genres as they recorded over 125 studio albums. Like musical butterflies, Tangerine Dream have toyed with psychedelia, Krautrock, the Berlin School, progressive rock, ambient, avant-garde, experimental, new age and electronica. Then as the age of electronic music unfolded, Tangerine Dream embraced drum and bass and progressive house. Still, Tangerine Dream remained relevant. That’s despite Tangerine Dream’s lineup being somewhat fluid.

When Edgar Froese founded Tangerine Dream in 1967, he was briefly joined by drummer Klaus Schulze. However, before long, Klaus left Tangerine Dream. This was a brief taste of the future.

Little did Edgar realise, that over the next forty-eight years, that another twenty-four musicians would play a part in the Tangerine Dream story. Some, however, like Klaus Schulze, would only play a walk-on part in Tangerine Dream’s story. Others, including Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann played a starring role in the rise and rise of Tangerine Dream. 

Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann were part of the what is regarded as the classic lineup of Tangerine Dream. The first to join Tangerine Dream was Christopher Franke. 

He joined in time to record Alpha Centauri, Tangerine Dream’s sophomore album. It was recorded in early 1971, and the spacey, atmospheric soundscape was released to critical acclaim in March 1971. Alpha Centauri was the second album in what became known as Tangerine Dream’s “Pink Years.” 

Electronic Meditation.

The “Pink Years” had began a year earlier when Tangerine Dream released their debut album Electronic Meditation in June 1970. However, Electronic Meditation was recorded a year earlier in 1969.

Recording of Electronic Meditation took place in in a disused factory in Berlin, using just a two-track Revox tape recorder. The lineup of Tangerine Dream included Tangerine Dream’s founder member Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzle. They were joined by session musicians Jimmy Jackson and Thomas Keyserling. During October 1969, Tangerine Dream started as they meant to go on. This meant recording a genre defying album.

On Electronic Meditation, Tangerine Dream recorded what critics hailed as a genre defying album. They combined free jazz, rock, avant-garde and electronic music. These genres melted into one. The result was Electronic Meditation, an album that was well received  by critics. This was the start of the “Pink Years.”

Alpha Centauri.

The followup to Electronic Meditation was Alpha Centauri. This was the album that saw Christopher Franke make his Tangerine Dream debut. He played his part in a truly groundbreaking album, Alpha Centauri.

Recording of Alpha Centauri too place in early 1971. Then in March 1971, Alpha Centauri, which is best described as a spacey, atmospheric soundscape was released to critical acclaim. It’s a timeless album, one that it’s hard to believe was recorded forty-four years ago. It has stood the ravages of time, and is a tantalising taste of what was still to come from one of music’s most innovative groups.

Zeit.

Having released the first two albums in the “Pink Years,” Tangerine Dream recorded their third album in 1972. That’s when Peter Baumann joined Tangerine Dream in 1972. He was part of the lineup of Tangerine Dream that recorded Zeit, which was a landmark album.

Zeit was the first Tangerine Dream to feature what became known as the group’s classic lineup. They recorded some of Tangerine Dream’s best music. That’s quite a statement, given how prolific Tangerine Dream were. They would record over sixty-five studio albums and a further sixty soundtracks. Then there’s countless live albums. Each album shows Tangerine Dream’s music evolving.

That was the case with Zeit. The music was slower, and much more atmospheric. It was also way innovative, and way ahead of its time. Indeed, on Zeit, Tangerine Dream pioneered the drone music that’s seen as cutting edge in 2015. Tangerine Dream always were ahead of the musical curve. So much so, that Zeit is now regarded as a timeless, Krautrock classic. This wouldn’t be Tangerine Dream’s only classic album.

Atem,

Following Zeit, the musical changelings continued to change direction. Atem, which marked the end of Tangerine Dream’s “Pink Years,” was a much more eclectic album. It veered between the slow, atmospheric tracks of previous albums, right through to much more experimental, aggressive tracks. 

On Atem, Tangerine Dream made effective use of a Mellotron, experimental vocals and a myriad of percussion. This resulted in the album that saw Tangerine Dream make a commercial breakthrough in Britain.

Phaedra.

While Atem saw Tangerine Dream make a commercial breakthrough in Britain, Phaedra was a game-changer of an album. Phaedra was the first Tangerine Dream album to feature their sequencer driven sound. It was also the album that launched the Berlin School sound.

As recording of Phaedra took place during December 1973, Tangerine Dream decided to improvise on what would become the title-track. However, before long, problems started to arise. As the temperature rose in the studio, oscillators started to detune. This resulted in a marked change in the sound. This happy accident played an important part in Phaedra’s sound. Other tracks, including Movements Of A Visionary, showcased the nascent technology. This included a Moog synth. It played its part on what critics called one of the most important electronic albums in musical history.

On the release of Phaedra, on 20th February 1974, critics called the album a classic. It also struck a nerve with record buyers. Phaedra reached number fifteen in Britain and was certified gold. After five albums Tangerine Dream had struck gold. It looked like they were on their way to becoming part of rock royalty.

Rubycon.

Having made the all important breakthrough, Tangerine Dream were determined to prove that Phaedra wasn’t a one off. So, they began work on their sixth album Rubycon. 

Rubycon saw Tangerine Dream pickup where they left of on Phaedra. This meant moving their Berlin School sequencer based sound forwards on Rubycon. As founders of the Berlin School, Tangerine Dream felt a responsibility to progress the sound. 

Standing still wasn’t in Tangerine Dream’s nature. It never had been. That had been the case since Tangerine Dream released their 1970 debut album Electronic Meditation. Since then, Tangerine Dream had been musical changelings, moving between musical genres. Having left their “Pink Years” behind them after Atem, Phaedra saw Tangerine Dream founding the Berlin School. With this in mind, Tangerine Dream began work on Rubycon.

Rubycon was very different from previous Tangerine Dream albums. It consisted of just two lengthy tracks. Each lasted just over seventeen minutes. This meant each track filled one side of Rubycon. The two tracks, Rubycon (Part One) and Rubycon (Part Two), were written by Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann. They recorded Rubycon at Richard Branson’s The Manor Studio, in Shipton-on-Cherwell.

At The Manor Studio, the three members of Tangerine Dream began recording and producing what became Rubycon. Edgar Froese played mellotron, guitar, a VCS 3 synth and gong. Christopher Franke played a similarly eclectic collection of instruments. This included a double Moog synth, organ, prepared piano, Synthi A and gong. Peter Baumann played an organ, Synthi A, Fender Rhodes, piano and ARP 2600. With this eclectic selection of instruments at their disposal, the result was another critically acclaimed album from Tangerine Dream.

On Rubycon’s release, critics hailed it another innovative album from Tangerine Dream. Record buyers agrede. Rubycon reached number fourteen in the UK. Despite this, Rubycon didn’t sell as well as Phaedra. However, Rubycon was still commercially successful and critically acclaimed.

Rubycon (Part One) opens Rubycon. The arrangement has an eerie, haunting cinematic sound. It’s slow and spacious. Washes of synths shimmer, gentle stabs of keyboards add a sense of urgency and drama. Soon, the arrangement is beginning to sound like the soundtrack to a lost horror film. Then all of a sudden, it’s akin to an awakening, as the arrangement becomes ethereal and elegiac. As the arrangement coos, shimmers and glistens, it then takes on a futuristic, sci-fi sound. Before long, Tangerine Dream have transformed the arrangement. It stretches its legs, lazily unfolding, and allowing you a glimpse of its hidden depths. Later, it becomes dark and ominous, as it drives and pulsates along. By now, there’s a Krautrock influence. Still, however, the music has a dark, atmospheric and cinematic sound. Later, arrangement drives along. Gone is pulsating sound, but the drama remains. It’s as if Tangerine Dream are providing the soundtrack to a long forgotten film.

Washes of synths assail you as Rubycon (Part Two) unfolds. They come towards you, assailing and surrounding you. It’s as if the end is neigh. Their ominous sound is like a battalion of otherworldly creatures droning above you, just waiting to spring some unpleasant surprise. Then the music changes. It becomes ethereal and elegiac. What sounds like a choir angels sweeps down, trying soothe your fears. Before long, the music takes on an almost spiritual quality. Soon, it’s all change again. The arrangement pulsates and pumps along. What follows makes Tangerine Dream sound like the rightful Godfathers of modern electronic music. This is techno, long before the term was coined. Later, Rubycon (Part Two) in a different direction. It sounds like a cinematic soundscape, where the listener supplies the scenes to music. From there, the music on this seventeen minute epic veers between  evocative and atmospheric, to moody and broody, right through to ethereal and elegant to dark and dramatic. As Rubycon (Part Two) and therefore, Rubycon draws to a close, you long to hear more from of the same from Tangerine Dream. Rubycon has been a tantalising taste of what Tangerine Dream are capable of.

Eight years after Tangerine Dream had been founded by Edgar Froese in 1967, they were one of the most innovative groups of the seventies. Rubycon was their sixth album, and is a genre-defying album featuring two epic soundscapes lasting seventeen minutes each. They see Tangerine Dream, the original musical butterflies, toying with disparate musical genres on the two soundscapes. Everything from psychedelia, Krautrock, Berlin School, progressive rock, ambient, avant-garde, experimental, new age and electronica can be heard on Rubycon, a truly captivating, innovative and timeless album. That’s not all.

Listening again to Rubycon, it’s quite unlike most of the studio albums released during 1974. Instead, Rubycon sounds like a soundtrack album, something Tangerine Dream would become famous for. They released over sixty soundtrack albums. Along with live albums, that was one of their specialities. Rubycon, Tangerine Dream’s sixth album, is a reminder of that.

Rubycon has that cinematic quality that a good soundtrack album has. No wonder. It has everything a good soundtrack album needs. The music is variously atmospheric, eerie, evocative, haunting and spacious. Slowly, the arrangement shimmers and glistens, before becoming ethereal and elegiac. Other times, the music is dark, dramatic and ominous, before heading in the direction of a futuristic, sci-fi sound. Constantly, Tangerine Dream, musical adventurers extraordinaire, dare the listener to second guess them. It’s not worth trying. Instead, sit back, and enjoy the music. Let it was over you, and immerse yourself in its beauty and drama. Listen to, and enjoy, Rubycon’s subtleties and nuances, as slowly, and gradually they begin to unfold. However, it’s impossible to discover all of Rubycon’s delights in one listen. 

No. It takes time, and several listens to discover the many delights of Rubycon, an epic, genre classic. Rubycon was, without doubt, one of Tangerine Dream’s best albums. It’s a classic of the Berlin School, and essential listening for anyone interested in either electronic music, Krautrock or prog-rock. These three genres shine through on Rubycon. So do ambient, avant-garde, free jazz, psychedelia and rock. All these genres play their part in one Tangerine Dream’s finest hours, Rubycon, which is the perfect introduction to one of the most progressive, influential and innovative bands of the past fifty years, Tangerine Dream.

Cult Classic: Tangerine Dream-Rubycon.

 

CULT CLASSIC: THE SEEDS-A WEB OF SOUND.

Cult Classic: The Seeds-A Web Of Sound.

When The Seeds were formed in Los Angeles in early 1965 by Sky Saxon, Daryl Hooper, Jan Savage, Jeremy Levine and Rick Andridge nobody had any idea just how influential the nascent garage band would be. Over the next four years, The Seeds released five albums, enjoyed four hit singles and pioneered mid-sixties garage rock and acid rock. The Seeds are nowadays regarded as one of the original freakbeat bands, who also coined the term “flower power” and paved the way for punk rock a decade later. However, by 1969 The Seeds were no more, with the latest lineup of the band deciding to call time on their career. It was the end of an era for an influential and innovative band who left behind a rich musical legacy.

This include The Seeds sophomore album A Web Of Sound which was released in October 1966. It was the followup to The Seeds which had been released just six months earlier in April 1966. The Seeds was the album which had launched the band’s career, now they hoped to build on that success with their sophomore album A Web Of Sound.

It was hard for The Seeds to believe that their musical adventure had only started a year earlier when the five young musicians founded the band in LA. The Seeds were founded in 1965 and featured charismatic vocalist Sly Saxon who was by far the most experienced member of the band. 

He had been a professional musician since the late-fifties and had been releasing singles as Richie Marsh since the early sixties. Sly Saxon who came from Salt Lake City, had moved to Los Angeles to further his musical career. However, he had been treading water until he saw an advert in 1965 looking for musicians to join a new band. This Sly Saxon hoped might be the breakthrough he had been looking for. That proved to be the case, and after an audition Sly Saxon became The Seeds vocalist. 

With the lineup of The Seeds finalised, the new band spent time honing their sound. Soon, though, they made their first tentative steps onto LA’s live scene where they secured regular gigs at the Los Angeles nightclub Bido Lito’s. The Seeds were a popular draw with music fans flocking to the venue to see this new band’s high octane performance. Already The Seeds were making their mark on the LA music scene.

Not long after that, The Seeds recorded what would become  their debut single Can’t Seem To Make You Mine. With the recording complete, charismatic frontman Sly Saxon started trying to interest record labels in the song. Mostly, it was a case of thanks but no thanks, until he entered the offices of GNP Crescendo Records. They listened to the song and promised Sly Saxon they would get back to him. By then, he and the rest of The Seeds knew not to get their hopes up.

This time it was different, with GNP Crescendo Records getting back to Sly Saxon and telling him how much they liked the song. Not only did they like Can’t Seem To Make You Mine, but they wanted to take The Seeds back into the studio and rerecord it with Marcus Tybalt.

The Seeds agreed and headed into the studio with Marcus Tybalt, where they rerecorded Can’t Seem To Make You Mine. It was then released by Crescendo and picked up by Santa Monica based radio station KBLA. Soon, other radio stations had picked up on Can’t Seem To Make You Mine, and this future cult classic became a regional hit in Southern California. After just a few months together, already The Seeds already had a regional hit single to their name which was a dream come true for the band.

While The Seeds celebrated the success of Can’t Seem To Make You Mine, guitarist Jeremy Levine announced that he was leaving the band for personal reasons. This was a huge blow for The Seeds who looked as if they were on the verge of making a breakthrough. 

With The Seeds now a quartet, they returned Los Angeles’ vibrant live scene, where people were starting to take notice of this, new up-and-coming band who had just scored a hit with Can’t Seem To Make You Mine. By then,  The Seeds’ popularity was rising and they became a firm favourite of audiences across LA. They were impressed by The Seeds’ high octane, energetic performances as they showcased the new garage rock sound that they were pioneering.

The Seeds.

Although The Seeds spent much of their time playing live, they were already working on their eponymous debut album. Frontman Sly Saxon had dawned the role of The Seeds’ songwriter-in-chief and had penned ten of the twelve tracks that featured on The Seeds. He also wrote Evil Hoodoo with Daryl Hooper and penned No Escape with Jan Savage and Jimmy Lawrence. These twelve tracks were recorded at Columbia Studios, in Hollywood.

At Columbia Studios, Sly Saxon co-produced The Seeds with Marcus Tybalt who had masterminded their debut single Can’t Seem To Make You Mine. When the recording sessions began, drummer Rick Andridge wasn’t  joined in the rhythm section by vocalist Sly Saxon who it was thought played bass on The Seeds recordings. Instead, Daryl Hooper who played keyboards, organ melodica and piano, laid down the bass parts using a bass keyboard. Meanwhile, Jan Savage took charge of the bass parts on The Seeds. Eventually, The Seeds had completed their much-anticipated eponymous debut album which would be released by GNP Crescendo Records.

In April 1966, The Seeds were just about to release their eponymous debut album The Seeds. Critics on hearing The Seeds were won over by this classic-in-waiting. The Seeds featured an irresistible fusion of fuzzy guitars, bubbling Hammond organ and Sly Saxon’s vocal which seems to have been inspired by everyone from Mick Jagger to Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran. When The Seeds was released, it was to plaudits and praise, and nowadays, the album is regarded as a garage rock classic. Indeed, many critics believe that The Seeds is the finest garage rock album ever released. 

On its release, The Seeds sold well and reached 132 in the US Billboard 200. Meanwhile, a decision was made to reissue Pushin’ Too Hard which had been released in 1965. While it failed to chart first time round, this time, Pushin’ Too Hard reached thirty-six in the US Billboard 100 and forty-four in Canada. Later in 1966, Can’t Seem To Make You Mine was also reissued and reached forty-one in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-three in Canada. Things were looking good for The Seeds, as their thoughts turned to their sophomore album A Web Of Sound.

A Web Of Sound.

By the time The Seeds began work on A Web Of Sound, they had been working tirelessly since early 1965. They were now a familiar face and favourite on LA’s live scene. All The Seeds hard work was paying off and they had established a reputation as one of the most innovative bands of the mid-sixties. The Seeds were known to push musical boundaries to their limits as they created music that was best described as eclectic. Despite that, many people still referred to The Seeds as a garage band. However, The Seeds added elements of acid rock, proto-punk and psychedelia to their music. Their sophomore album A Web Of Sound was going to be a very different album to The Seeds.

Just like their debut album The Seeds, Sly Saxon was songwriter-in-chief on A Web Of Sound. On Tripmaker and Rollin’ Machine, the mysterious Marcus Tybalt was credited as one of the songwriters. However, this was just an alias of Sly Saxon who wrote Mr. Farmer, I Tell Myself, Rollin’ Machine and Up In Her Room. Sly Saxon and Darryl Hooper teamed up to write Pictures and Designs, Tripmaker and A Faded Picture. The pair then wrote Just Let Go with Jan Savage. These eight tracks were recorded during July 1966.

The Seeds recorded A Web Of Sound at RCA Victor and Columbia Studios in Hollywood. The sessions started on the ‘5th’ of July 1966 with Sly Saxon using the alias Marcus Tybalt taking charge of production. This time around, drummer Rick Andridge was joined by Harvey Sharpe who was brought onboard for the A Web Of Sound. Completing the rhythm section was Jan Savage who laid down all the guitar parts. Darryl Hooper switched between celeste, organ and piano, while vocalist Sly Saxon added percussion and played piano. After twenty-four days A Web Of Sound was completed on the ‘29th’ of July 1966. It was a very different album to their debut The Seeds.

Critics on hearing A Web Of Sound, realised just how far The Seeds had come in a relatively short space of time. In just six month, their music had progressed, and it looked as if The Seeds were going to match their LA based contemporaries like The Doors and Love every step of the way. That was the case with A Web Of Sound, which was an album of two very different sides.

A Web Of Sound marked the start of a new chapter in The Seeds career, as they broadened their musical horizon on what was a much more eclectic album. The Seeds incorporated elements of acid rock, blues, garage rock, proto punk and psychedelic rock on album that was embraced by the hippies. They were won over by A Web Of Sound which they believed was an unconventional album that featured open-ended songs which appealed to their mindset. These songs eschewed the carefully plotted thoughts and didacticism of the majority of songs on the charts, and left plenty of room for interpretation. The Seeds songwriter-in-chief Sly Saxon was an unlikely hero for the hippies.

Side One.

Sly Saxon and the rest of The Seeds took the hippies on a walk on the wild side during A Web Of Sound. It opened with light-hearted and almost joyous proto-psychedelia of Mr. Farmer, where washes of swirling organ helps drives the arrangement along as Sly Saxon struts his way through the song, as he revels in his role as frontman. It’s a similar case on the stomping psychedelic garage rock of Pictures and Designs. Sly Saxon unleashes a vampish vocal powerhouse as cascading keyboards reminiscent of those on Pushing Too Hard play a leading role in the sound and success of the song. 

Tripmaker features a driving, gritty,, genre-melting arrangement that incorporates elements of garage rock, psychedelic rock and proto punk. That is the perfectly description of Sly Saxon’s swaggering vocal, which must have influenced a generation of punks a decade later. Here, The Seeds don’t take themselves too seriously, briefly  adding sound effects to a mix that features blistering guitars, keyboards as drums that power the arrangement along. The result is a fist pumping anthem that straddles disparate genres. 

Suddenly, it’s all change on I Tell Myself where a heartbroken Sly Saxon tries not to reveal his sensitive side as he spits out a bravado fuelled  and emotive vocal. Meanwhile, washes of weeping guitar are added to the genre-melting arrangement which features elements of acid rock, blues, garage rock, proto-punk and psychedelia. They play their part in this heady and potent musical brew that shows another side to The Seeds’ music. It’s a similar case on A Faded Picture, where  the tempo drops and Sly Saxon sounds not unlike Mick Jagger on this slow, bluesy and lysergic soul-baring song which is one of the most underrated songs The Seeds recorded. 

Quite different is the jaunty Rollin’ Machine which canters along as washes of bluesy guitar give way to keyboards and washes of swirling and bubbling Hammond organ. Meanwhile, Sly Saxon delivers the lyrics to this latest open-ended song which were embraced by the hippies. Later, a searing, fuzzy guitar is added as this cinematic fusion of acid rock, blues and psychedelia takes shape and showcases just how versatile, innovative and imaginative The Seeds were by the time they released A Web Of Sound.

Side Two.

The second side of A Web Of Sound opened with the cinematic sounding psychedelia of Let Her Go. It finds Sly Saxon unleashing a needy, pleading vocal as the arrangement veers between mesmeric to driving. By then,  Jan Savage has unleashed his fuzzy guitar which gives way to the swirling Hammond that adds a progressive sound. They play their part in an arrangement that is a perfect foil to Sly Saxon’s vocal which later, becomes an urgent, hopeful powerhouse.

Up In Her Room which closes A Web Of Sound, is a near fifteen-minute epic, with lyrics that hints at sex and drugs which were no longer taboo subjects. This after all, was the beginning of an era when free love and experimenting with drugs was seen almost regarded as de rigueur. However, during Up In Her Room The Seeds enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs and experiment musically. To do this, they deploy a bottleneck guitar, electric fuzz-bass, Fender Rhodes and tambourine which combine with the drums that provide the heartbeat. Over the next fifteen minutes, The Seed push musical boundaries to their limits and fuse disparate genres on this epic musical workout. It’s another reminder of just how versatile and innovative The Seeds were on a track that signalled the start of a new chapter in The Seeds’ story.

When A Web Of Sound was released in October 1966, the album wasn’t a commercial success initially. This changed after the reissue of Pushin’ Too Hard gave The Seeds another hit single. Suddenly, record buyers started investigating The Seeds’ sophomore album A Web Of Sound which had slipped under the radar. While it sold reasonably well, A Web Of Sound was a cult album that failed to replicate The Seeds. It was only later that A Web Of Sound would be embraced by a much wider audience.

By then, critics, cultural commentators and record buyers realised that A Web Of Sound was a stepping stone for The Seeds, as their sound continued to evolve on their third album Future. 

While The Seeds had pushed musical boundaries to their limits on The Seeds and A Web Of Sound, they blew these limits away on Future. The result was a mind-blowing fusion of psychedelia, garage, rock and pop that veered towards jazz and soul.Eclectic doesn’t even come close to describing Future. It’s a minor classic that is a long way from The Seeds roots as a garage band. However, listening to A Web Of Sound it’s obvious that The Seeds were in the process of changing.

Although the basis for many of the songs on A Web Of Sound is garage rock, there’s much more to the album that than. Garage rock was part of The Seeds’ recipe, as they added elements of acid rock, demonic blues, proto-punk, psychedelia. The result was a heady and potent musical brew that showcased a truly talented and versatile band who were musical pioneers. That had been the case since they released The Seeds in April 1966.

Six months later, when The Seeds released A Web Of Sound it was as if they had  let their imagination run riot as they created an album of groundbreaking, inventive and innovative music. Sometimes, The Seeds fused disparate genres that under normal circumstances shouldn’t have worked together. However, The Seeds were no ordinary band, and this talented band of musical mavericks led by songwriter, producer and vocalist Sly Saxon, they recorded the cult classic Web Of Sound in less than a month.

During July 1966, musical magpies The Seeds, collect musical genres and influences which are added to their lysergic melting pot. All that is left is for The Seeds, especially producer Sly Saxon to add some secret ingredients. A Web Of Sound was then left to cook for twenty-four days and nights. When this musical melting pot was removed from the musical oven, the world were introduced to the most ambitious, eclectic and innovative album of The Seeds’ short career, A Web Of Sound. It featured songs about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll as Sly Saxon sometimes strutted his way through songs, and other times, preached to converted on their cult classic A Web Of Sound which was a pioneering and unconventional album that showcased the different sides to The Seeds, who were  much more than a garage band. 

Cult Classic: The Seeds-A Web Of Sound.

CULT CLASSIC: CRAIG PEYTON GROUP-PYRAMID LOVE.

Cult Classic: Craig Peyton Group-Pyramid Love.

For Craig Peyton, the founder member of Band X, 1976 was the most important year of his nascent musical career. It was the year they released their debut album The Best Of Band X. However, The Best Of Band X a private pressing, wasn’t a commercial success and instead, this innovative, genre-melting album passed record buyers, critics and cultural commentators by.  Band X were left licking their wounds. They had hoped would be the start of a successful career but that wasn’t to be. Instead, Band X split-up, and its founder Craig Peyton moved on.

Craig Peyton’s next musical venture was the Craig Peyton Group, which featured bassist Victor Preston and reeds-man Al Gryzb of Band X. They were joined by guitarist Willie Upshaw and drummer and percussionist Chris Meisel. This was the lineup that recorded the Craig Peyton Group’s debut album Pyramid Love, which was released in 1977, on Broken Records. 

Pyramid Love was a very different album from Band X’s debut The Best Of Band X. Gone was the experimental sound of Band X. Replacing it was a jazzier sound. Essentially, this was a return to Craig’s roots. He’d grownup listening to, and playing fusion. Add to fusion elements of blue-eyed soul and rock, and this describes Pyramid Love, the Craig Peyton Group’s debut album, which was recorded in May 1977.

Members of the Craig Peyton Group wrote eight songs for Pyramid Love. Craig penned Snow, Pyramid Love, Marjorie and Waiting. Craig Meisel wrote Fire and Ice and Willie Upshaw Plupts 77. The other two tracks were written by former members of Band X. Bassist Victor Preston contributed Painted Desert and reeds-man Al Gryzb penned Funky Boogie. These seven tracks became Pyramid Love, the Craig Peyton Group’s debut album.

Recording of Pyramid Love took place during May 1977, with Craig Peyton producing. Two studios were used. Long View Farms was where Band X recorded The Best Of Band X. The other studio used Intermedia Sound. Craig played electric vibes, elka strings, orgasmitron and added vocals. Willie Upshaw played guitar, Chris Meisel drums and percussion and Victor Preston electric bass, string bass, trombone and trumpet. Al Gryzb added reeds, bassoon and clarinet. Once the eight tracks were recorded, Pyramid Love was released later in 1977.

Just like The Best Of Band X, Pyramid Love was an independent release. It was released in 1977, on Broken Records. Sadly, lightning struck twice for Craig Peyton. Pyramid Love suffered the same fate as The Best Of Band X. On its release, it disappeared without trace. This was the case with a plethora of independent releases during the seventies. Pyramid Love didn’t find the audience it deserved in 1977. That wasn’t the end of the story.

Fast forward thirty years, and somewhat belatedly the Craig Peyton Group’s debut album Pyramid Love had became a collectable. Just like The Best Of Band X, Pyramid Love had been discovered by discerning record collectors. Soon, word spread about this little known album. With the Band X connection, Pyramid Love became a highly prized album which is a cult classic.

Snow, which opens Pyramid Love, allows the Craig Peyton Group to stretch their legs. Just the drums open the track, before an uber funky bass and lightning fast vibes glide across the arrangement. They’re joined by a braying horn. Soon, the Craig Peyton Group settle into a groove. The rhythm section sashay along, while guitarist Willie Upshaw unleashes a blistering guitar solo. Along with the sashaying rhythm section and Craig’s vibes, they showcase just what the Craig Peyton Group are capable of. In this case, it’s funky, dance-floor friendly music.

Pyramid Love has a much more understated sound. Just the thoughtful sound of the vibes set the scene for Craig’s needy, hopeful vocal. He sings call and response, before this slice of blue-eyed soul gets funky. That’s down to the rhythm section and a blazing horn. Stabs of urgent drums and searing guitars join the funky rhythm section and grizzled horn. Soon, the Craig Peyton Group are in full flow. The result is a track that’s veers between funky, jazz-tinged and soulful to understated and dramatic.

Straight away, Funky Boogie sounds like a musical pastiche. There’s a nod to the Charleston and an English  pastoral sound. That’s down to reeds-man Al Gryzb and Craig on vibes. They play starring role, continue to do so. After that, the arrangement floats, and glides elegantly away. Later, with the rhythm section driving  the arrangement along, it heads in the direction of fusion. This is no ordinary fusion. Instead, it’s a laid-back brand of fusion. Only, later do the Craig Peyton Group briefly kick loose. Briefly, the English  pastoral sound returns and the Craig Peyton Group bid their farewell on this laid-back slice of fusion.

The understated arrangement to Marjorie meanders into being. Then when Craig’s vocal enter, he takes the track in the direction of blue-eyed soul. Meanwhile, the rest of the Craig Peyton Group drive the funky arrangement along. Bassist Victor Preston plays a starring role. So does guitarist Willie Upshaw. He unleashes some blistering licks. Not to be outdone trumpeter Al Gryzb and Craig on vibes joins in. By now, the Craig Peyton Group are in full flow. It’s a joy to behold, as they’re a tight, talented band. As for Craig, he delivers his best vocal. Heartfelt and emotive, this inspires the rest of the Craig Peyton Group, as they fuse blue-eyed soul, funk, jazz and rock.

Plupts 77 is the polar opposite of the previous track. It’s an adrenaline fuelled, genre-melting track. Think Weather Report and that’s a starting point. Screaming, searing, blistering guitars join the rhythm section and Craig’s vibes. Bursts of growling horns enter, as machine gun guitars are unleashed. From there, there’s diversions via jazz, fusion, rock and space funk, courtesy of the synths. What Plupts 77 shows, is that the five members of the Craig Peyton Group, individually were gifted musicians. When the solos come round, none of them are left lacking. Far from it, they revel in the opportunity to showcase their talents. Stealing the show, however, is guitarist Willie Upshaw, who delivers a series of breathtaking solos.

Waiting sees the tempo drop and a dreamy, wistful sounding track take shape. It’s the rhythm section and vibes that set the scene. Meanwhile, washes of guitar reverberate. Horns bray, drifting above the arrangement. For the time being, it becomes a dreamy, lysergic soundscape. That’s until Craig’s vocal enters. It shimmers, before becoming urgent and dramatic. The arrangement reflects the drama and urgency in Craig’s vocal. Then later, the arrangement becomes a vehicle for Al Gryzb’s braying horn and to some extent, Craig’s vibes. After the arrangement is stripped bare, it slowly and gradually rebuilds. Eventually, it becomes a droning, dramatic, futuristic epic, where reeds-man Al Gryzb becomes a sonic explorer.

Driving, dramatic, urgent and rock describes Fire and Ice. As the rhythm section provide a backdrop for the rest of the Craig Peyton Group, a marriage of funk, fusion and rock emerges. Al Gryzb’s sultry horn soars above the arrangement. Meanwhile Craig delivers a vibes masterclass. This inspires the rest of the Group. Especially, guitarist Willie Upshaw. He delivers a series of lightning fast, scorching, searing solos. With the choppy rhythm section and vibes for company, Willie more than plays his part in this musical opus.

Painted Desert closes Pyramid Love. From the get-go, the Craig Peyton Group drive the arrangement along. The rhythm section and a melancholy horn become one. Then they slow things down, before going through the gears and kicking loose. This gives them the opportunity to showcase their considerable talents. Craig adds vibes and Willie unleashes some crystalline guitar solos. After three minutes of this eight minute epic, it’s all change. A futuristic sound gives way to what’s best described as a marriage of ambient, avant-garde, experimental and modern classical. A cinematic sound emerges, before a futuristic, sci-fi inspired fusion of free jazz and space funk takes shape. It’s a truly captivating track, where the Craig Peyton Group take you in the most unexpected directions. Latterly, a much more orthodox combination of fusion and rock emerges, as the track reaches a dramatic crescendo.

Just a year after the release of Band X’s groundbreaking debut album, The Best Of Band X, Craig Peyton returned with his new group, the Craig Peyton Group. Their debut album, Pyramid Love, was a similarly ambitious, innovative album. However, this didn’t seem to matter. Still, it passed record buyers by.

The problem was, Pyramid Love was released on an independent label, Broken Records. Small labels were unable to compete with the budgets of majors. They couldn’t get their records on radio or in the racks of major record shops. Instead, the best that the Craig Peyton Group could hope for, was that Pyramid Love would be a local hit. Maybe then, Pyramid Love would be picked up by a bigger label. Then, maybe, the Craig Peyton Group would find the audience their music deserved. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Just like Band X’s debut album The Best Of Band X, the Craig Peyton Group debut album, Pyramid Love wasn’t a commercial success. However, this wasn’t because of the music. 

Far from it. Just like Band X, the Craig Peyton Group were musical pioneers. They didn’t stick to one musical genre and combined everything from blue-eyed sound, classical, funk, fusion, pastoral, psychedelia, rock and space-funk. Elements of each and every one of these genres can be heard on Pyramid Love which is an album of eclectic music. That’s no bad thing.

While some bands resolutely stick by the same sound, that wasn’t for the Craig Peyton Group. They were determined to innovate and create ambitious, groundbreaking music. Back in 1977, very few bands were creating groundbreaking music. Instead, many musicians were jumping on the disco bandwagon. Not Craig Peyton. 

With his new band, the Craig Peyton Group, he picked up where he left off with Band X. His new band’s music was just as ambitious, innovative and genre-melting. Just like The Best Of Band X, you never knew what direction the Craig Peyton Group were taking Pyramid Love in. It was another magical, musical, mystery tour. You jumped on and enjoyed the ride. During eight tracks, you heard musical genres melt into one. Sometimes, it was only briefly. Other times, these influences are much more obvious on Pyramid Love the one and only album from the Craig Peyton Group.

After Pyramid Love was released in 1977, the Craig Peyton Group released no further albums. Just like Band X it was the end of the road for this short-lived and talented group. 

Forty-two years later and original copies of Pyramid Love are almost impossible to find, and this highly collectable album is much prized amongst discerning record collectors. Pyramid Love,  the Craig Peyton Group’s 1977 groundbreaking, genre-defying debut album is  cult classic that should’ve enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim upon its release, and a reminder of a truly talented band who should’ve gone on to greater things. Sadly, that wasn’t to be and it’s only recently that the Craig Peyton Group and their only album Pyramid Love is receiving the recognition it so richly deserves.

Cult Classic: Craig Peyton Group-Pyramid Love.

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CULT CLASSIC: THE CONTEMPORARY JAZZ QUINTET-LOCATION.

Cult Classic: The Contemporary Jazz Quintet-Location.

Many record buyers have a wish-list of albums that are their holy grail, and which they spend a lifetime searching for, in the hope that they can add these elusive albums to their lovingly curated collection that they’ve built up over several decades. For many fans of jazz music, their holy grail are the six albums released by the short-lived Detroit-based Strata Records which was founded in 1969 by jazz pianist and composer Kenny Cox who led The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.

Four years after founding Strata Records, Kenny Cox’s nascent label released its first release which was The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s third album Location 1973, and followed in the footsteps of Bert Myrick’s Live ’N’ Well and Lyman Woodard’s cult classic Saturday Night Special. Location marked a new chapter in the story of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet whose roots can be traced back to the late-sixties.

That was when Detroit-based DJ Jack Springer told jazz pianist and producer Duke Pearson about Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, who had been together less than a year, but were already a popular draw in Motor City where they were regarded as one of the top up-and-coming jazz bands. Not long after this, Duke Pearson was heading to Detroit where he was about to record Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. He was determined to steal a march on the competition, and be the first person to record Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.

When Duke Pearson arrived in Detroit, he discovered that Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet had never recorded a session before. This didn’t worry Duke Pearson who realised that Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet were talented and potentially, had a bright future.

They were led by pianist Kenny Cox, a graduate of the Detroit Conservatory Of Music who was joined in the rhythm section by drummer Danny Spencer and bassist Ron Brooks. Completing the lineup was trumpeter Charles Moore and tenor saxophonist Leon Henderson, who was the brother of Joe Henderson. However, soon, Duke Pearson discovered that the Quintet weren’t just talented musicians.

Duke Pearson discovered that some of the material they were about to record had been written by Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Much of the material Duke Pearson recorded would eventually feature on Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s debut album.

Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.

Having discovered Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, they signed to Blue Note Records in 1968, which was one of jazz’s leading labels and home to the most talented musicians and bands. Talent certainly was something that Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet weren’t lacking as they arrived to record their debut album with producer Duke Pearson and recordist Rudy Van Gender on the ‘12th’ of July 1968. 

Just five months later, Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet was released on December the ‘9th 1968. It was a carefully crafted album of muscular urban post bop that seemed to have been inspired by Miles Davis Quintet of the late to mid-sixties. Many within Blue Note Records had high hopes for Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, including Leonard Feather who wrote the sleeve-notes. He said: “I predict a bright and momentous future for this latest in a long line of Blue Note discoveries.” 

Sadly, Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, wasn’t the success that Blue Note Records had hoped. Despite that, Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet headed into the studio in 1969 to record their sophomore album, Multidirection.

Multidirection.

This time, Francis Wolff the cofounder of Blue Note Records took charge of production at GM Recording Studios-East, in Detroit, on November the ’26th 1969 as Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet recorded six new compositions. By then, Kenny Cox and Charles Moore had emerged as the Quintet’s songwriters-in-chief and each contributed three compositions. They became Multidirection, which was released in 1970.

While Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s sophomore album Multidirection was released, it was another album of post bop, and was well received by the critics that reviewed the album. However, by 1970 jazz was changing and fusion was now the flavour of the month amongst the jazz cognoscenti. Some critics saw post bop as yesterday’s sound. Sadly, so it seemed did record buyers, and Multidirection failed to find the audience that it deserved. For Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet this was a huge disappointment.

Especially when Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet realised that Multidirection was the last album that they would release for Blue Note Records. Their contract was up, and wasn’t renewed, which left the Quintet without a record label. Or did it?

Strata Records.

Fortunately, Kenny Cox had already founded his own record label Strata Records a year earlier in 1969. Strata Records was based in Detroit, which was home to Kenny Cox and the rest of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Detroit was also where Kenny Cox planned to build Strata Records’ new recording studio. 

He had earmarked 46 Selden in Detroit as the site of Strata Sound Studios, which would also be the headquarters of Strata Records and would also be used to host concerts. This new facility Kenny Cox hoped would be used by the local community, but was also where the artists who signed to new label Strata Records would record their albums.

With his new label up-and-running, Kenny Cox was keen to sign some artists to Strata Records’ roster. This included The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, as they were now billed. Gone were the days when they were known as Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. The Strata Records’ years would be a new start for The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.

Location.

Having signed to a new label and became The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, work began on the followup to Multidirection. Eventually, five new compositions had been written, including the first by the members of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet, Bang! It was joined by Kenny Cox’s Tao, Dan Spencer’s Inner Beckoning and Noh Word and Nguzo Saba (Struggle) which were written by Charles Moore. These tracks were recorded in Detroit by The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.

Unfortunately, Kenny Cox’s Strata Sound Studios wasn’t up and running by the time The Contemporary Jazz Quintet began recording Location. It was recorded by a slightly different lineup of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.

For the recording of Location, The Contemporary Jazz Quintet used two drummers and percussionists including Dan Spencer who had played on the first two albums, and producer Bud Spangler. They were joined in the rhythm section by bassist Rob Brooks, guitarist Ron English and pianist Kenny Cox who like Charles Eubanks also played Fender Rhodes. Leon Henderson switched between tenor and soprano saxophone, while trumpeter Charles Moore also played flugelhorn and percussion. In total, it took nine musicians to record The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s third album Location.

Once Location was complete, The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s third album became the first release on Kenny Cox’s Strata Records. Alas, when Location was released in 1973, it failed to find the audience this underrated and oft-overlooked album deserved. Sadly, it was a familiar story with small independent labels, with Strata lacking the financial muscle and expertise to promote Location. This was a huge disappointment for The Contemporary Jazz Quintet.

No wonder, as Location is an album that if it had been released on a bigger label, could’ve  transformed the fortunes of the new lineup of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Location opens with Bang! which is very different to Introducing Kenny Cox and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. Gone are the similarities with Miles Davis Quintet from mid to late-sixties as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet play with a newfound freedom and inventiveness as they embrace free jazz which they fuse with elements of post bop in during this explosive album opener.  

The tempo drops on Tao, where a lone horn plays, and takes centre-stage before this eleven minute epic gradually reveals its secrets. Space is left within the arrangement while Ron English’s guitar adds to the mesmeric sound as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet continue to play with freedom and inventiveness as their music heads in a new direction. All the time, sounds assail the listener as the music becomes dramatic, hypnotic, but melodic and uplifting as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet shake off the shackles of their musical past and enjoy their playing with their newfound freedom during this musical awakening.

Slow, spacious and thoughtful and almost dreamy describes Noh Word, which meanders along as The Contemporary Jazz Quintet continue to reinvent themselves during this beautiful track. 

Horns and Fender Rhodes unite and play with speed and urgency on Nguzo Saba (Struggle) before the drums enter. They’re pounded and played with the same urgency before just the Fender Rhodes remains, and takes centre-stage. Soon, the cymbals and drums are being pounded, but don’t overpower the Fender Rhodes, before a horn is played with speed, power, passion and control. Before long, the rest of the Quintet is playing their part during this impressive and innovative genre-meting jam. 

Inner Beckoning which closes Location is a thirteen minute epic, which initially has a ruminative and reflective sound, but later, there’s a restlessness which was the case in Detroit in 1973 when Location was released. By then, Motown had headed to LA, inflation was high, interest rates rising and unemployment was starting to rise as the recession hit the motor industry.  Later, restlessness gives way  urgency as if The Contemporary Jazz Quintet realise that things have to change not just in Detroit, but across America

After the release of Location in 1973, the album disappeared with trace and the only people who discovered the delights of this underrated and oft-overlooked hidden jazz gem were record buyers who found a copy in the racks of second-hand record stores. However, that wasn’t the end of Kenny Cox’s Strata Records.

In 1974, Bert Myrick’s album Live ’N Well was released on Strata Records, and despite the quality of music, failed to find an audience. This was what had happened to The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s album Location a year earlier. Lightning had struck twice for Kenny Cox’s Strata Records. 

Despite what he hoped were teething problems for Strata Records, Kenny Cox’s label continued to release ambitious, exciting and groundbreaking albums. Detroit jazz collective Sphere’s debut album Inside Ourselves was released later in 1974, but sales very few copies of this innovative album were sold. It was a similar case when Maulawi released their eponymous debut album in late 1974. Although it was only Strata Records fourth release, none of the albums had been a commercial success.

As 1975 dawned, Strata Records made plans for their next release, which was The Lyman Woodard Organisations’ debut album Saturday Night Special. Funky and soulful, it was an album that should’ve found a much wider audience. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and after five albums time was already running out for Strata Records. 

When Larry Nozero’s Time which featured Dennis Tini was released later in 1975, it was another ambitious album that veered between jazz-funk to soul-jazz and contemporary jazz. However, when Time failed commercially, it was the end of the road for Strata Records, and Kenny Cox’s label closed its doors for the last time in 1975. 

Ironically, as the years passed by, there was a resurgence of interest in the six albums released by Strata Records between 1973 and 1975. By then, the albums were incredibly rare, and for those that tried to collect the six albums, this was almost impossible and original copies of Bert Myrick’s Live ’N’ Well, Lyman Woodard’s Saturday Night Special and The Contemporary Jazz Quintet’s Location third album Location continue to elude collectors. Location is an oft-overlooked and underrated album that Kenny Cox’s Strata Records released in 1973.

Location is the album that marked the reinvention of The Contemporary Jazz Quintet. They switch between and fuse elements of free jazz, hard bop and post bop on Location which was an ambitious and innovative album which should’ve found a wider audience. Sadly, commercial success eluded Location, which was the final album from The Contemporary Jazz Quintet who nowadays, are regarded as one of American jazz’s best kept secrets.

Cult Classic: The Contemporary Jazz Quintet-Location.

CULT CLASSIC: AIRTO FOGO-AIRTO FOGO.

Cult Classic: Airto Fogo-Airto Fogo.

During the seventies, Paris born drummer and percussionist Sylvain Krief was one of France’s top musicians. He was also a talented composer, arranger and producer who founded and lead two bands. The first of these bands was Rupture, who released the spiritual jazz classic Israel Suite/Dominante En Blue in 1973. 

Three years later in 1976, Sylvain Krief had founded a new band Airto Fogo, who had recorded a new album at Studio Davout in Paris. Little did they know that when Airto Fogo was released by Decca in 1976, it would go onto to become a cult classic. 

Nowadays, Airto Fogo is regarded as one of the greatest instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums committed to vinyl in Europe. However, while Airto Fogo was popular within the jazz-funk and rare groove community, the album didn’t sell in huge quantities. As a result, copies of the original album are extremely hard to find, and nowadays, change hands for upwards of £250. What is a  timeless cult classic transports the listener back to Paris, in 1976.

Three years after the release of Rupture’s critically acclaimed debut album Israel Suite/Dominante En Blue in 1973, drummer and percussionist Sylvain Krief was working on a new project, Airto Fogo. It would be an album of jazz-funk, which would feature some of Paris’ top musicians. Already, Sylvain Krief who had adopted the moniker Airto Fogo, had penned five tracks, Right On Bird, Tuesday In Jackson, Satine Dog, 1973 Carmne Avenue and Just Over. Three other tracks would feature on the album, including Lee Smocky’s High Stakers and On Tip Toe. They were joined by Shadowy and So Be It, which were penned by Gil Pawnee which it has been rumoured is an alias for bassist Gilles Papiri. These nine tracks would be recorded at Studio Davout, in Paris in 1976.

For the recording sessions, Airto Fogo had hand picked a band that featured some of Paris’ top musicians. Joining drummer and percussionist Arto Fago in the rhythm section was bassist Gilles Papiri. They were joined by Michel Coeuriot who switched between piano, keyboards and synths, while Jean Schultheis played percussion. The horn section featured saxophonist Jean-Pierre Thirault, trumpeter Kako Bessot and trombonist Christian Guizien. Lead by drummer, Airto Fogo the multitalented group combined jazz-funk with elements of Blaxploitation and Latin. Airto Fogo was a potent and heady brew, that should’ve proven successful.

When Airto Fogo was released later in 1976, it was to the same critical acclaim that accompanied Rapture’s Israel Suite/Dominante En Blue. However, while Airto Fogo found an audience amongst the jazz-funk and rare groove communities in France, Britain and Canada, the album didn’t sell in huge quantities. It was an underground album, at a time when disco was growing in popularity. As a result, many jazz, funk and soul albums weren’t finding the audience they so richly deserved. That was the case with Airto Fogo.

It was only much later that Airto Fogo started to find a wider audience. Partly, this was due to DJs at jazz-funk and rare groove club nights spinning tracks from Airto Fogo. Suddenly, dancers wanted to know what was the track they were dancing to. Many DJs were reluctant to reveal what was one of their secret weapons, reluctantly revealed that it was Airto Fogo. Soon, dancers and DJs were searching for their own copy of Airto Fogo. Meanwhile, the internet introduced record buyers across the world to Airto Fogo. However, finding a copy was almost impossible. Those who had a copy of the album weren’t selling, and collectors had bought up remaining copies. Suddenly, original French copies of Airto Fogo were changing hands for upwards of £250. Records collectors were desperate to add a copy of Airto Fogo to their collection. No wonder, as it’s one of the greatest European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums. Here’s why:

Right On Bird opens Airto Fogo, and finds Airto Fogo toying with the listener. Tough keyboards join with a funky bass before a blazing saxophone soars above the arrangement. Soon, so do the rest of the horns, while thunderous drums power the arrangement along. Still, the keyboards and bass add a tough, funky sound. It’s omnipresent as the blazing horns dominate the arrangement. Then the saxophone breaks free, it unleashes a scorching solo. When it drops out, the drums nudge the arrangement along before the horns return. That’s until the saxophone breaks free one last time, and reaches new heights, as Airto Fogo powers his way around his drum kit accompanied by the tough, funky sound that comes courtesy of the bass and keyboards. All too soon, this blistering, blazing slice of jazz-funk is over, but it’s set the bar high for the rest of the album.

A dark pulsating keyboard opens High Stakers before the rhythm section, machine gun guitar and blazing horns are joined by stabs of shimmering Fender Rhodes. Soon, Airto Fogo is in full flight, and are unleashing their musical arsenal. This includes synths, choppy, funky guitar licks and glistening Fender Rhodes. Later, a growling synth takes centre-stage, adding a proto-boogie sound, while horns soar above the arrangement as the rhythm section power the cinematic track along. It sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to a seventies cop show. Meanwhile, horns and synths continue to play a leading role as Airto Fogo fuse jazz-funk, funk, fusion and proto-boogie before this uber funky and memorable cinematic opus reaches a crescendo.

Straight away, the rhythm section lock into a groove and provide the heartbeat to Tuesday In Jackson. They’re joined by growling, blazing horns,  while a guitar wah-wahs and keyboards add a tough sound to the arrangement. By then, the rhythm section and horns are playing as one. They’re augmented by the guitar and  keyboards who play important roles. Then midway through the track when a funky synth takes centre-stage, and is augmented by percussion. As the arrangement rebuilds,  the synth still enjoys its moment in the sun. When it drops out, blazing horns,  funky guitar and keyboards unite and Airto Fogo are in full flight. That’s still the case when the synth returns, and adds the finishing touch to  this uber funky track.

Gradually, the arrangement to Satine Dog builds, with instruments being added at just the right time. At first, a lone bass plays and is joined by stabs of growling horns, a Fender Rhodes, drums and a funky, chiming guitar. The final part of the musical jigsaw is the synth which again, takes centre-stage. It’s played slowly but effectively adding a cinematic sound as Airto Fogo jam. When the synth drops out, stabs of synths add an element of drama before the Fender Rhodes makes a brief appearance. Dramatic horns signal the return of the synth, which at one point, is joined by the Fender Rhodes, before this jam reaches a memorable and cinematic crescendo. 

A dark piano is joined by Latin percussion On Tip Toe. Soon, the rhythm section and searing guitar are joined by the horns. They play as one, while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along, and are joined by keyboards and a rocky guitar. When Airto Fogo apply the brakes, all that remains is percussion. That’s until Airto Fogo kick loose and a searing guitar, rhythm section and horns power this soulful slice of Latin-tinged jazz-funk towards the finishing line. In doing so, they create one of the highlights of Airto Fogo.

Stabs of horns, the rhythm section and a funky guitar open 1973 Carmen Avenue. They’re determined to grab the listener’s attention. Having done so, keyboards join with a jazz-tinged guitar and the Fender Rhodes. It’s the guitar that takes centre-stage, and unleashes a fleet finger solo. Fingers fly up and down the fretboard, while keyboards, horns and the Fender Rhodes join with the rhythm section which provides the heartbeat. However, it’s the guitar that steals the show, with what’s akin to a breathtaking musical masterclass. It encourages Airto Fogo to reach new heights.

Horns growl and climb slowly above the arrangement to Shadowy.  They’re joined by a rasping synth, chirping, chiming guitar and deliberate keyboards. Meanwhile, the rhythm section prove the heartbeat as the horns and synth play leading roles. Later, a blistering guitar enjoys its moment in the sun. So too do the  keyboards, albeit briefly. After that, the horns dominate the arrangement, and the rest of Airto Fogo play a supporting role, before Shadowy reaches its dramatic and memorable conclusion.

There’s an element of drama to So Be It, as a snarling synth joins with percussion, keyboards and rhythm section. The arrangement meanders menacingly along. When the horns and funky guitar enter, it’s all change. Suddenly, the darkness is gone. However, when the horns drop out, the dark, menacing sound returns as the arrangement prowls along. That’s until the return of the horns, and darkness gives way to light. Midway through the track, there’s a brief detour via jazz and Latin as the ever progressive Airto Fogo showcase their versatility. Seamlessly, they switch between genres, and at one point there’s a nod to the Blaxploitation soundtracks of early seventies. Later, an effects laden, funky guitar joins with keyboards and percussion before the horns soar dramatically above the arrangement. The guitar returns and joins with squealing horns as this innovative, genre-melting track reaches a dramatic ending.

Closing Airto Fogo is Just Over, where the thunderous drums anchor the 4/4 arrangement as a squawking bass, chiming guitar and tough keyboards join with the Fender Rhodes. Soon, the horns are added, and it’s obvious that they’re the final piece of the jigsaw. Airto Fogo lock down the groove and jam, playing as one. That’s until a scorching saxophone solo is unleashed. Soon, though, Airto Fogo is playing as one. While the horns play an important in Airto Fogo’s sound, the keyboards, guitar and bass all play starring roles in this melodic, memorable and dance-floor  track. It seems that Airto Fogo have kept the best until last.

Just Over is one of nine reasons why Airto Fogo is, without doubt, one of the finest  European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums ever released. That may seem like high praise, but Airto Fogo is an almost flawless opus, where some of Paris’ top musicians create a cult classic in 1976. Sadly, Airto Fogo was the only album they recorded.

There was no followup to Airto Fogo, which was released by Decca, in 1976. Sylvain Krief who founded and lead Airto Fogo, decided not to record a sophomore album. Maybe that was for the best? After all, it would’ve been almost impossible to improve on Airto Fogo. The starts were all aligned when Airto Fogo was recorded and they had recorded an album that forty-one years later is regarded as the holy grail for collectors of European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums.

That is no surprise given the quality of music on Airto Fogo. It’s primarily an album of jazz-funk and rare groove, but also incorporates elements of funk and fusion to jazz, Latin and rock. Seamlessly, the multitalented and versatile Airto Fogo switch between and combine disparate genres. In doing so, they create music veers between dark and dramatic, to joyous and uplifting, to melodic, memorable and dance-floor friendly. Sometimes, the music has a cinematic quality and on a couple of occasions sounds as if it belongs on a seventies police drama. Having said that, the music on Airto Fogo is truly timeless and forty-one years later, sound just as good as the day it was released.

Nowadays, Airto Fogo is receiving the recognition they so richly deserve for releasing one of the greatest European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums. Having received the recognition it so richly deserved, there’s been another resurgence of interest in Airto Fogo. However,  it’s almost impossible to find a copy of Airto Fogo nowadays, and those that become available, change hands for upwards of £250. It’s an epic album and a cult classic that is also one of the greatest European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums ever recorded. 

Cult Classic: Airto Fogo-Airto Fogo.

 

CULT CLASSIC: MOUVEMENTS-MOUVEMENTS.

Cult Classic: Mouvements-Mouvements.

In the late-sixties, self-taught guitarist and jazz aficionado Christian Oestreicher, who was later described as: “a savage in the era of twist and free jazz,” met artist and painter Richard Reimann who was famous for his optical art, at the renowned Aurora art gallery in Geneva, Switzerland. This was the start of a friendship that saw the pair become familiar faces in Geneva’s underground scene which was populated by artists, musicians, painters, poets and writers. Christian Oestreicher and Richard Reimann felt at home within the burgeoning underground scene and were both inspired by the outpouring of creativity that was around them.

Over the next couple of years, the two friends continued their respective careers, until Christian Oestreicher founded a new band Mouvements, having recorded the music the band’s eponymous debut album during 1972, enlisted his friend Richard Reimann to create the artwork. 

In 1973, Mouvements was released as a hand-numbered, deluxe box set which featured series of Richard Reimann’s lithographies and inserts. However, only 150 box sets were available and Mouvements’ debut album soon sold out. Since then, it’s been a prized possessions amongst record collectors who cherish their copy of this groundbreaking,  ambitious and genre-melting album. album that was recorded by Christian Oestreicher and his musical friends during 1972.

Christian Oestreicher.

By 1972, Christian Oestreicher was a twenty-two year old aspiring musician who still lived in Geneva, where he was born in 1950. He had been introduced to music at an early age by his father, who loved jazz music and used to play everything from Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk. Meanwhile, Christian Oestreicher’s cousin who was eight years his senior, introduced him to R&B, and especially the music of Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. This was all part of his musical education, and part of a voyage of discovery for Christian Oestreicher.

Having discovered and embraced an eclectic selection of disparate music, including jazz, R&B and French twist, it was almost inevitable that Christian Oestreicher would want to make the move from listener to musician. When he did, it was as the drummer in bands playing several bands who played New Orleans jazz and rock ’n’ roll between 1962 and 1964. However, in 1964 Christian Oestreicher’s father gave him a Gibson ES-330 TD guitar and he began to reinvent himself as a guitarist.

Unlike many young guitarists, Christian Oestreicher eschewed lessons, and initially, taught himself to play his newly acquired guitar. By then, he was listening to free jazz and would often play along to the records in his collection. Eventually, Christian Oestreicher realised that he could only go so far without lessons, and for two years was taught by French guitarist Bob Aubert.

By the mid-sixties, Christian Oestreicher’s musical education was at an end, and by then, his interest in free jazz had blossomed and he also became interested in the burgeoning American civil rights movement. This marked the start of a new chapter for the teenage guitarist.

Another new chapter began for Christian Oestreicher when he was eighteen, and started writing his own music. He wanted to write and bring to life the music that he was hearing. To transcribe the music, Christian Oestreicher sat with a paper, pencil and eraser which allowed him to write new compositions. This continued until tragedy struck for Christian Oestreicher.

When he was twenty, he crashed his moped into a pole, which resulted in Christian Oestreicher fracturing his skull and having to spend six months in hospital. For a while, he was in a coma and suffered epileptic seizures, but gradually, his health started to improve. 

So much so, that he was able to read Ernest Ansermet’s 1961 book Les fondements de la musique dans la conscience human, which made a big impression on Christian Oestreicher. He was fascinated by a book that explained the theory of music by math and physics. Christian Oestreicher was so inspired by the book that he spent six years studying the subject, and became especially interested in Pierre Schaeffer’s work. This was all in the future. 

Before that, Christian Oestreicher met painter Richard Reimann who was famous for his optical art, at the Aurora art gallery in Geneva, Switzerland in the late-sixties. Soon, the pair became friends and familiar faces in Geneva’s underground scene which was populated by artists, musicians, painters, poets and writers. By then, Christian Oestreicher was starting to forge a musical career, and began work on his first musical project Mouvements.

Initially, Mouvements was a double quartet that featured two drummers and bassists which also featured violinist Blaise Catala who later featured on the Mouvements’ album. This genre-melting album was recorded in 1972, at a mansion in Geneva, where Christian Oestreicher led a group of pioneering and maverick musicians.

When recording began at the Swiss mansion began in 1972, guitarist Christian Oestreicher setup three reel-to-reel tape recorders which would capture the music he made with drummer Jerry Chardonnens, pianist Jean-François Boillat and violinist Blaise Catala. The four musicians stood in a circle as they recorded the eight tracks that eventually become Mouvements. It finds the four members of Mouvements fusing and flitting between disparate musical genres that made for unlikely musical bedfellows.

This included free-jazz which was still one of Christian Oestreicher’s first musical loves, and rubbed shoulders with everything from avant-garde, classical, folk, funk, improv, Krautrock, Musique concrète and psychedelic rock. They were combined with Gallic influences and tape effects during the eight tracks that became Mouvements, which was an ambitious, exciting and innovative album. 

Side One.

That was apparent from the opening bars of the atmospheric and cinematic Largo Pour Piano et Océan, where a piano accompanies the sound of waves crashing on an empty beach. Initially the piano is played slowly and gingerly, but later block chords with power and frustration which adds an element of drama to this cinematic track. Goutte de Sang En Feu is a captivating fusion of avant-garde, Gallic folk, free jazz and tape experiments where Mouvements play with freedom and fluidity during a track that is innovative and is full of surprises. Despite being called, Hard-Rock Ouverture, elements of avant-garde, free jazz and funk are combined during this seven minute experimental rock epic. Ailleurs is a showcase for Christian Oestreicher’s guitar, which is played with speed and fluidity, as he unleashes washes of music that is rocky, lysergic and bluesy. Alas, this musical masterclass lasts less than two minutes.

7 Contre 4 has an understated ruminative sound, as Christian Oestreicher’s effects-laden guitar plays a leading role. Later, as the tempo increases and his playing becomes choppy and funky. It’s all change on Le Voyage Sperper where tape experiments and Musique concrète are part of the stop-start track, which also includes improv, jazz and rock as keyboardist Jean-François Boillat play a starring role. There’s a hesitant start to Nebel/Leben with drum rolls and washes of wailing feedback becoming part of this genre-melting soundscape. It features elements of psych-rock, free jazz, avant-garde, blues and tape experiments which play their part in an ambitious cinematic track. Closing Mouvements is Mémoire Pulvérisée where a Gallic violin is played with urgency, before tape experiments interject. After that, the arrangement heads in the direction of classical music albeit with a hint of avant-garde, ensuring this groundbreaking album ends on a high.

Once Christian Oestreicher had recorded Mouvements in 1972, he enlisted his friend Richard Reimann to create the artworks to the album. In 1973, Mouvements was released as a hand-numbered, deluxe box set which featured series of Richard Reimann’s lithographies and inserts. However, only 150 box sets were available and Mouvements’ debut album soon sold out. Since then, it’s been a prized possessions amongst record collectors who cherish their copy of this ambitious, groundbreaking and genre-melting album that was recorded by Christian Oestreicher and his musical friends during 1972. 

They combined everything from avant-garde, blues, classical, folk, free jazz, funk, improv, Krautrock, Musique concrète, psychedelic rock and tape experiments during Mouvements. What’s incredible about Mouvements, is that the group was no longer a double quartet, and had been scaled back to just drums, piano, violin and guitar which were augmented by the tapes which added another dimension to the music on Mouvements. Sometimes, the tapes add the final piece of the jigsaw like on Largo Pour Piano et Océan, and on Goutte De Sang En Feu they spring a surprise that ensures the listener is always on guard, awaiting the next in a series of surprises and unlikely interjections during their eponymous debut album Mouvements.

Sadly, Mouvements was the band’s only album, and they never returned with a followup. Maybe that was just as well, as they had set the bar high with Mouvements, which is a captivating cult classic that features groundbreaking and genre-melting music that  is cerebral, imaginative, thought-provoking and sometimes, is full of surprises as Mouvements showcase their considerable talent during eight tracks lasting forty-two minutes. 

Cult Classic: Mouvements-Mouvements.

 

DANA GILLESPIE-UNDER MY BED.

Dana Gillespie-Under My Bed.

Label: Ace Records.

During a career that has spanned fifty-five years, Dana Gillespie who is regarded by many as the Queen of British  blues has released seventy albums. This is quite remarkable as she  has recorded albums of folk,  pop, rock, soul and even Indian sacred music. However, nowadays, it’s  blues music that she’s synonymous with.

The future Queen of British  blues was born Richenda Antoinette de Winterstein Gillespie was born in Woking, Surrey, on the ‘30th’ of March 1949. Her fatherHans Henry Winterstein Gillespie was a London-based radiologist of Austrian nobility and the family grew up in leafy Surrey. In 1962, when she was thirteen, Dana Gillespie  became the British Junior Water Skiing Champion. However, just a couple of years later she was pursuing parallel careers as singer-songwriter and actress.

Having started off as a folk singer, Dana Gillespie changed direction and embraced the teen pop genre. In 1965, she released Thank You Boy in 1965 which was produced by Jimmy Page. However, a year later and the Surrey born singer made her film debut.

This came when Dana Gillespie featured in the Italian comedy Fumo di Londra which was written, directed and starred by Alberto Sordi. It was released in 1966 internationally as Smoke Over London and Gray Flannels.  Having made her film debut, the future Queen of British blues would combine  music with a career as an actress, and she  featured in fourteen films over the next six decades.

In 1972, Dana Gillespie sang backing vocals on It Ain’t Easy, a track from David Bowie’s classic album, The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. David Bowie and producer Mick Ronson realised Dana was a talented singer-songwriter and produced her 1973 album Weren’t Born A Man. However, this was her only dalliance with rock and after that, she found her real musical love, the blues.

The same year 1973,  Dana starred in the original London production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Palace Theatre when  she played Mary Magdalene and appeared on the Original London Cast album. This was her highest profile role on the stage and is what many people will remember Dana Gillespie for.

The name Dana Gillespie means different things to different people. She’s a star of stage, screen, singer and songwriter. However, for many music fans she’s the Queen of British blues and has just released her seventieth album Under My Bed on Ace Records.

For Under My Bed twelve new songs were written over a four-year period with co-producer and guitarist Jake Zait who is a member of the London Blues Band. He wrote the music and  Dana contributed the lyrics to the song on Under My Bed. This she does in her now inimitable way.

Dana says: “The music is my inner voice and it tells me what to do. I hear melodies all around me, all the time, so I’m never alone. I always have a song bubbling away in my head.” Almost as if by magic, fully formed songs seemingly appear out of the ether and are recorded by the Queen  of the British blue and her tight talented band. Twelve of these feature on her new album Under My Bed.

The lyrics on Under My Bed range from autobiographical to Dana’s observations about life. She turns her attentions to the self important and boastful people who seem to be everywhere nowadays on the album opener Big Mouth. Her tight band get to wrk on a jive-based song while another highlight is Old School a sensual autobiographical track. Oher highlights include the confessional I’m In Chains, the rueful More Fool Me and hurt-fulled Another Heart Breaks. There’s an air of optimism in Walk In Love Today while on album closer Beats Working its as if Dana realises how lucky she is making a loving out making music for fifty-five years. 

This she’s loved doing and brings pleasure to her legion of fans. Dana Gillespie the Queen of British  blues is a talented singer and songwriter capable of writing witty, cerebral and emotive songs that deal with all sorts of situations including love, heartbreak and heartache Under My Bed with its mixture of putdowns and witticisms is a memorial offering  and befitting of her seventieth album.  

That is an amazing achievement considering that Dana Gillespie has combined an acting career with music over the past six decades. Still she has managed to record albums of the quality of Under My Bed which marks the welcome return of e the Queen of British  blues Dana Gillespie.

Dana Gillespie-Under My Bed.

MOVE ON UP: THE SONGS OF CURTIS MAYFIELD.

Move On Up: The Songs Of Curtis Mayfield.

Label: Playback.

Release Date ‘8th’ November 2019.

After the demise of The Impressions in 1970 following the release of Check Out Your Mind, 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  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, but first and foremost regarded himself as a songwriter.

Many of his songs have been covered by other artists over the past five decades. This includes some of the biggest names in R&B, soul and funk have covered Curtis Mayfield songs from the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin to Maxayn and Melba Moore to Baby Huey and The Babysitters to Barbara Mason as well as Devon Russell, Gladys Knight and The Pips, Sue Barker and The Staple Singers. They’re just a few of the artists on Move On Up: The Songs Of Curtis Mayfield, which will be released by the Australian label  Playback on ‘8th’ November 2019. It features an all-star who cover twenty  of Curtis Mayfield’s love songs and his inimitable and timeless socially conscious soul.

Opening Move On Up: The Songs Of Curtis Mayfield  is Maxayn’s cover of Check Out Your Mind. It was the title-track from The Impressions’ final album released in 1970. Three years later in 1973,  Maxayn released her cover version on the Capricorn label. She delivers an impassioned and soulful vocal breathing meaning into lyrics full of searing social comment. This she does against a carefully crafted and funky backdrop that features a truly talented all-star band. It’s a wonderful way to start any compilation.

Gladys Knight and The Pips covered On and On in 1974. It was arranged by Rich Tulo and produced by Curtis Mayfield. Strings are added to the funky arrangement as The Pips compliment Gladys’  vocal which is impassioned, hopeful and full of optimism. It’s a reminder of one of the greatest female soul singers of her generation at the peak of her powers. 

By the time The Staple Singers released  Let’s Do It Again as a single in 1975, they were signed to Curtom Records and already had enjoyed  two number one singles in the US R&B charts.  Let’s Do It Again made it three and the alum topped the US R&B charts. This was the perfect way to start the post-Stax era for Mavis, Pervis, Pops and Yvonne. Together they’re responsible for vocal masterclass which is framed by Curtis Mayfield’s arrangement.

Barbara Mason who is best known for songs like Yes, I’m Ready and Bed and Board,  recorded Give Me Your Love for the Super Fly soundtrack. Her vocal veers between playful to seductive and sensuous  it’s one of the highlights of a classic Blaxploitation soundtrack which was released in 1972 and set the bar high.

Melba Moore recorded Make Me Believe In You  which was arranged and produced by Van McCoy, and released in 1976. Soulful and dancefloor friendly with a needy, hopeful vocal it was for too long an oft-overlooked hidden gem. Eventually it was released as a single in 2017 and makes a welcome return here.

Against a slow backdrop of lush, sweeping, cascading strings The Notations deliver a heartfelt, hurt-filled harmonies on I’ve Been Trying. This struggle ballad was released in 1972 and features a beautifully orchestrated arrangement that is the perfect backdrop to the harmonies as The Notations tug on the heartstrings.

When Aretha Franklin worked with Curtis Mayfield on the soundtrack to Sparkle in 1976, she was no longer enjoying the commercial success she had during the late-sixties and early seventies. This was a chance to rejuvenate her career, and one of the tracks she recorded was Look Into Your Heart. It’s almost tailor-made for the Queen of Soul  who implores the listener to “ Look Into Your Heart.” It was no surprise when the song reached ten in the US R&B charts and eighty-two in the US Billboard 100.

Sue Barker is, without doubt,  one of Australian music’s best kept secrets. Sadly, this hugely talented singer only released her one album. This was her her self-titled album which was a mixture of soul and jazz and included a stunning cover of Love To The People. It’s just one of many reasons to seek out this hidden gem on an album.

Joanna Teters and Sharon Musgrave joined forces to covered The Makings Of You in 1991. It features a slow, spacious and jazz-tinged arrangement, while Sharon lays bare her soul  with a beautiful, heartfelt vocal.

British born singer Geoffrey Williams covered Super Fly on his 2008 album Move Into Soul. It’s never easy covering such an iconic track but this tender, soulful take shows another side to the song.

Move On Up: The Songs Of Curtis Mayfield closes with En Vogue’s rendition of Giving Him Something He Can Feel from 1992. It was one of the most successful covers of a Curtis Mayfield soul. Sharp but smooth, soulful  and sensual it’s the perfect way to end this homage to one of the legends of soul musici and a truly talented songwriter.

It can’t have been easy choosing just twenty tracks written by Curtis Mayfield for Move On Up: The Songs Of Curtis Mayfield. There’s so many cover versions to choose from that this could easily have been a double album. However, twenty songs from familiar faces and new names were chosen. Legends of soul, funk and R&B rub shoulders with the likes of Sue Barker who is a welcome addition, and will be a new name to many people. This is the beauty of compilations discovering new artists and new versions of familiar songs. That is on That is the case  Move On Up: The Songs Of Curtis Mayfield which will be released by Playback on ‘8th’ November 2019.

Move On Up: The Songs Of Curtis Mayfield finds old friends and new names feature on this lovingly curated compilation of love songs and timeless socially conscious soul from the pen of one the greatest singer and songwriters of his generation. 

Curtis Mayfield for Move On Up: The Songs Of Curtis Mayfield.