CULT CLASSIC: HENRY FRANKLIN-THE SKIPPER.

Cult Classic: Henry Franklin-The Skipper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Henry Franklin-The Skipper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Henry Franklin-The Skipper.

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: CHESTER THOMPSON-POWERHOUSE.

Cult Classic: Chester Thompson-Powerhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Chester Thompson-Powerhouse.

CULT CLASSIC: RYO FUKUI-SCENERY.

Cult Classic: Ryo Fukui-Scenery.

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

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

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

Scenery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Ryo Fukui-Scenery.

CULT CLASSIC: DOUG CARN-INFANT EYES.

Cult Classic: Doug Carn-Infant Eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Doug Carn-Infant Eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CULT CLASSIC: KOHSUKE MINE-FIRST.

Cult Classic: Kohsuke Mine-First.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Kohsuke Mine-First.

CULT CLASSIC: IAN CARR-BELLADONNA.

Cult Classic: Ian Carr-Belladonna.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Ian Carr-Belladonna.

CULT CLASSIC: KEITH MANSFIELD-VIVID UNDERSCORES.

Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Vivid Underscores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Vivid Underscores.

CULT CLASSIC: GEORGE OHTSUKA QUINTET-LOVING YOU GEORGE.

Cult Classic: George Ohtsuka Quintet-Loving You George.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: George Ohtsuka Quintet-Loving You George.

CULT CLASSIC: GENE RUSSELL-NEW DIRECTION.

Cult Classic: Gene Russell-New Direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Gene Russell-New Direction.

CULT CLASSIC: HANK MOBLEY-SOUL STATION.

Cult Classic: Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

CULT CLASSIC: PIERRE MOERLEN’S GONG-DOWNWIND.

Cult Classic: Pierre Moerlen’s Gong-Downwind.

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

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

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

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

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

Shamal.

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

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

Gazeuse!

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

Expresso II.

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

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

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

Downwind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Pierre Moerlen’s Gong-Downwind.

CULT CLASSIC: PORCUPINE TREE-LIGHTBULB SUN.

Cult Classic: Porcupine Tree-Lightbulb Sun.

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

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

Stupid Dream.

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

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

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

Lightbulb Sun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cult Classic: Porcupine Tree-Lightbulb Sun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side One.

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

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

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

Side Two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOST CULT CLASSIC FOUND: MIKE WESTBROOK-LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING: CITADEL/ROOM 315 SWEDEN 74.

Lost Cult Classic: Mike Westbrook-Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74.

By 1974, composer and pianist Mike Westbrook was thirty-eight and one of the leading lights of the British jazz scene. He had come a long way since he formed his first band in 1958 when he was an art student studying painting. That was how he came to meet Lou Gare, Keith Rowe and John Surman.

Four years later, in 1962, Mike Westbrook moved to London, and was soon leading bands big and small. He played numbers venues including Ronnie Scott’s original jazz club The Old Place as well as  the Little Theatre Club at Garrick Yard, St Martin’s Lane. Along with Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Mike Westbrook shared the role of the house band at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. All this was part of Mike Westbrook’s apprenticeship and stood him in good stead.

Throughout the sixties, he  played an important part in the development of jazz in Britain, and led The Mike Westbrook Concert Band between 1967 and 1969. It featured anywhere between ten and twenty-six musicians and included some of the top British jazz musicians, including his friend John Surman. 

In 1967, The Mike Westbrook Concert Band was signed to the Deram label and released the first of five albums they released between 1967 and 1970. This included 1967s Celebration and in 1968, which was the year they appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival, The Mike Westbrook Concert Band released their much-anticipated sophomore album Release. The following year 1969, two albums  Marching Song Volumes 1 and 2 were released and featured one of the best British jazz bands at the peak of their powers. Sadly, their swan-song was 1970s Mike Westbrook’s Love Songs and by then, Mike Westbrook was embracing fusion which was growing in popularity. 

As the seventies dawned, Mike Westbrook embarked upon several  new projects. Adrian Mitchell asked him to work on his musical Tyger, which was a celebration of William Blake which was staged by the Royal National Theatre in 1971.The same year Tyger was released by RCA in 1971.

Another project that was released in 1971 was Metropolis, which was based on Mike Westbrook’s initial impressions of visiting London. This was a project that Mike Westbrook had been working on for a couple of years and at last it bore fruit.

The BBC broadcasted The Mike Westbrook Concert Band playing Metropolis live from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Tuesday the ’25th’ November 1969. Just a couple of months later, on the ‘9th’ of January 1970, an enlarged lineup of The Mike Westbrook Concert Band recorded Metropolis for BBC Radio 3. When Metropolis as released in 1971, this was just the latest ambitious release from Mike Westbrook.

During 1972 and 1973, Mike Westbrook was busy with his jazz-rock band Solid Gold Cadillac. It featured vocalist and trumpeter Phil Minton, who would lend his voice to many of Mike Westbrook’s later projects. However, the following year 1974, Mike Westbrook was reunited with another of his friends for a new project.

In 1974, Mike Westbrook was commissioned by Sveriges (Swedish) Radio to write what became Citadel/Room 315, which was a one hour-long, eleven track suite, which featured John Surman as the lead soloist.

Having completed Citadel/Room 315, Mike Westbrook travelled to Sweden perform and conduct it for the first time, live in concert. Joining his was John Surman who would play baritone and soprano saxophone, as well as bass clarinet. They would be accompanied by an all-star band that featured some of Sweden’s finest and most experienced musicians.

This was The Swedish Radio Jazz Group, a sixteen piece group that was led by saxophonist and clarinetist Arne Domnérus and Argentinian trumpeter Americo Bellotto. Members of this multi-talented group had accompanied everyone from Stan Getz and George Russell to Monica Zetterlund and Jan Johansson. 

Their number included drummer Egil Johansen, drummer, percussionist and vibraphonist Jan Bandel, bassist Stefan Brolun, guitarist Rune Gustafsson and pianist Bengt Hallberg. The horn section included trombonist Lars Olofsson, bass trombonist and tubaist Sven Larsson, trumpeter and alto horn player Jan Allan, tenor saxophone and flautist Claes Rosendahl and trumpeter Bertil Lövgren who also played flugelhorn. Many musicians were multi-instrumentalists flautist Lennart Åberg who played tenor and soprano saxophone, while Lennart Åberg could play tenor and soprano saxophone as well as flute. Erik Nilsson would switch between  baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, and trumpeter Håkan Nyquist played flugelhorn and French horn. 

While Mike Westbrook was going to conduct The Swedish Radio Jazz Group, he would play electric piano on Citadel/Room 315. His friend John Surman would switch between baritone and soprano saxophone and bass clarinet during the eleven track suite that lasted one hour. 

During Citadel/Room 315, Michael Westbrook his star soloist John Surman and The Swedish Radio Jazz Group flit between disparate musical genres during this eclectic suite. There’s everything from fusion and funk to avant-garde, ballads, big band and orchestral themes. 

Michael Westbrook understands the importance of making an impression and the opening track Overture certainly does that. A lone piano is joined by blazing horns and soon, the arrangement is swinging as this multitalented band kick loose and set the bar high for the rest of Citadel/Room 315. Then on Construction, elements of fusion, funk and library music can be heard before the track threatens to head in the direction of free jazz during this eight minute epic jam. 

Pistache is something of an emotional roller coaster and initially is dark and dramatic before becoming understated and thoughtful sounding and later becomes takes on a melancholy sound. As Love and Understanding gradually unfolds and the tension builds during a truly beautiful and ruminative sounding cinematic track. 

Quite different is Love and Understanding which is best described as funky big band music with John Surman playing a starring role. One of the most beautiful sounding tracks is the ballad Tender Love, where the band play within themselves on one of the album’s highlights. It’s all change on Bebop de Rigueur where the band go up through the gears and then kick loose and swing during this all action workout.

The piano led Pastarole lasts 14:40 and initially, is pensive sounding and invites reflection but eventually, Bertil Lövegren‘s trumpet solo takes centre-stage. Soon, the tempo increases as horns intertwine and are played with speed and power during what’s one of the most ambitious pieces on Citadel/Room 315. So is Sleepwalker Awaking In Sunlight where John Surman’s solo takes centrestage before guitarist Rune Gustafsson enjoys his moment in the sun during this truly memorable freewheeling track.

Initially, there’s a  sense of melancholia as Outgoing Song unfolds and it’s always there even when the horns soar high above the arrangement before it dissipates. Then  Finale sees Mike Westbrook, John Surman and The Swedish Radio Jazz Group close the album on a high. It’s no wonder that they receive a standing ovation from an appreciative audience. That is no surprise.

When Mike Westbrook travelled to record Citadel/Room 315 for Sveriges (Swedish) Radio he was one of the leading lights of British jazz. He composed, conducted and played electric piano during the performance of Citadel/Room 315 and was joined by lead soloist John Surman a multitalented band. They played with a freedom, energy and sometimes there was a rawness in their playing. The result  was a very different album to the polished studio album, Citadel/Room 315 that was released in 1975.

Sadly, the recording of Citadel/Room 315 from 1974 lay in the vaults of Sveriges (Swedish) Radio  for forty-six year. It looked as if this hugely important concert would never be heard by jazz fans. That was until 2020

A year later and this lost album is now regarded as  a cult classic. That’s no surprise as the concert features Mike Westbrook and John Surman,  two titans of British jazz at the peak of their considerable creative powers. They both play starring roles in the sound and success of Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74, which is a must-have for anyone who is interested in jazz, and especially British jazz. Quite simply, Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74 is an album that belongs in their collection.

Lost Cult Classic: Mike Westbrook-Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74.

CULT CLASSIC: THE RADIATORS-GHOSTOWN.

Cult Classic: The Radiators-Ghostown.

When The Ramones played at the Roundhouse in London on the ‘4th’ of July 1976, this was a catalyst for punk movement. Many of the future leading lights of the punk movement have since claimed to have been present that night. In the audience were apparently future members of Generation X, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Adverts, The Slits and X-Ray Spex. They watched the as the support act The Stranglers worked their way through their set. Little did they know how important a band The Stranglers, would be or the longevity they would go on to enjoy. 

As The Stranglers left the stage, there was a sense of anticipation in the air about The Ramones. Very few people had seen them live but some had read about them in the music press. Others had only heard third hand about The Ramones and speculated about what was about to unfold. The speculation was nothing compared to the reality of The Ramones live at the Roundhouse on the ‘4th’ of July 1976. This was a seminal moment for the nascent British punk scene. After seeing The Ramones legendary concert, many of the future leading lights of the punk scene went on to form bands.

They weren’t alone. Up and down Britain, new bands were formed on an almost daily basis and the punk rock movement exploded. It was the musical movement British youths had been waiting for, as it allowed them to vent their frustration at life in battered Britain in 1976. Soon, it was a similar situation elsewhere.

This included across the Irish Sea in Dublin, where the punk movement was also born in July 1976. Just like Britain, the Republic of Ireland’s economy was far from healthy. Less that fifty percent of school leavers were fortunate enough to find a job. The rest was known as the “unemployed generation.” Adding to their woes, and that of the rest of the Irish youth was the lack of recreational facilities. They had been overlooked and failed by their government. 

Some fell into a life of crime, while others made the journey “across the water,” to British cities where many Irish people had settled. This they hoped would lead to a better life. However, the prospects were no better there, and often, the natives were far from friendly. As a result, many young Dubliners decided to stay were they were. It was a case of “better the devil you know.”

Some of the young Dubliners that stayed in the city of their birth would become involved in the city’s nascent punk scene after July 1976. This was ground zero for Irish punk and many young Dubliners would form bands, found independent record labels and publish or write for fanzines.  A thriving and vibrant scene was about to take shape over the next year or so.  All this was partly due to Ireland’s first punk band The Radiators From Space. They issued a call to arms and asked the Irish youth to unleash their creativity.

That is what the Irish youth proceeded to do over the next few months and years. They discovered hidden talents that had passed unnoticed at schools across the country. This wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the band who are credited as Ireland’s very first punk band, The Radiators From Space, whose debut album TV Tube Heart is the perfect entrée for newcomers to the ban d who were formed in 1976, and were unlike most punk bands.

It’s safe to say that The Radiators From Space were a much more cerebral and literate band that the majority of punk bands. They were intelligent and didn’t indulge in the clichéd, vacuous posturing of many of the British punk groups who used controversy as a means of self promotion. That wasn’t the way that The Radiators From Space operated.

The Radiators From Space were formed in Dublin in 1976, and their early lineup included Philip Chevron, Pete Holidai, Steve Rapid (Steve Averill), Jimmy Crashe and Mark Megaray. From their early days, it was obvious that were different from other Irish and indeed, British punk bands.

Not only were The Radiators From Space cerebral and literate, they also had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of music and musical history. Partly, this was because Steve Rapid’s father brought back music and American music magazines from his regular trips to New York. These magazines Steve Rapid and the rest of the band poured over, developing and honing their knowledge of music. Meanwhile, The Radiators From Space listened to groups like Hawkwind, MC5, The Deviants and The Stooges, right through to pop, rock, subversive German cabaret and traditional Irish music. This The Radiators From Space regarded as their musical education, and unlike many other punk bands, they didn’t reject this music when punk arrived. Instead, it was part of The Radiators From Space’s musical DNA as they moved forward.

Having formed The Radiators From Space, the band announced that they had developed their own manifesto. This had all been thought out and carefully considered as The Radiators From Space announced that they wanted to transform the Irish youth from consumers to producers. The Radiators From Space knew that  the Irish youth were capable of forming bands and record labels, founding fanzines and putting on club nights. They would issue a rallying call, and this encouraged the Irish youth to become producers not just of  music, but create a fledgling music and entertainment industry. Part of this inspirational rallying call was also about enjoyment and pleasure.

This wasn’t easy in Ireland in 1976, where poverty and unemployment were rife. Many youths were from broken homes and there was a massive problem with illiteracy. There was also ‘The Troubles’, which blighted both sides of the Irish border. Many Irish youths didn’t want to get involved in the conflict, as they had watched as friends and acquaintances got caught up in it. Some ended up in prison, while others were injured or even killed. That was a road they weren’t going down, and the only rallying call they listened to was The Radiators From Space.

They were at the heart of the nascent punk movement, with The Radiators From Space playing live and ran and published their own fanzine Raw Power. This was an outlet for the band’s manifesto and allowed them to discuss their plans for an Alternative Ireland. This wasn’t a political movement. Instead, it was about making a better life for young Irish people. The Radiators From Space,  wasted to inspire and foster a feeling of solidarity. Readers were encouraged to try to find pleasure during each day. Sometimes, readers found love, and a few even found love across the religious divide. This was controversial and indeed dangerous in Ireland in 1976. 

Before long, The Radiators From Space and their fanzine was coming in for criticism from the Catholic Church. When Father Brian D’Arcy, a spokesperson for the Catholic church wrote about  out The Radiators From Space and their fanzine Raw Power, he didn’t encourage their endeavours or creativity. Instead, Father Brian D’Arcy sneered contemptuously of The Radiators From Space and their fanzine Raw Power. It seemed that The Radiators From Space had the Catholic church rattled with their call to arms as a largely secular generation look for an alternative to organised religion. However, The Radiators From Space had another means of reaching an even wider audience…their music.

Although The Radiators From Space were activists and creatives, they were also musicians. That was what they hoped would offer them an escape from the grinding poverty and unemployment that besmirched Ireland, and indeed Britain. Music just like football and boxing was still an escape for working class youths in 1976.

It was a similar case in Britain, where punk bands were being formed almost daily. Many of them lacked talent and charisma and were ill-suited to what was still the entertainment industry. By comparison, those that encountered The Radiators From Space found them engaging and intelligent. They were also talented, and a cut above the average punk band. 

After a while, The Radiators From Space wanted to embark upon a recording career. They were no different from punk bands in Britain, America and Australia. For punk bands releasing a single was a rite of passage and for others would be a reminder of their brief brush with the music industry. Most didn’t get any further than that and disappeared without trace. However, releasing a record in Britain was much easier than in Ireland.

Unlike many capital cities, Dublin didn’t have a music industry by 1976. There were neither major labels nor recording studios. Some bands travelled across the border to Belfast to record singles prior to the punk era. That was the past; and given the DIY spirit of punk, bands in Britain had recorded singles without going near a recording studio. They used basic equipment and transformed garages or basements into makeshift studios.

One option for all Irish bands had been to pack their bags and travel to London, where they would try to forge a career. The lucky ones like Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy went on to sign recording contracts, and became Ireland’s most successful musical exports. However, not all bands wanted to move to London, and that included The Radiators From Space during the early part of their career.

They were at the centre of Dublin’s scene and realised that something special was starting to take shape. Across Ireland, a new wave of bands, writers, fanzine publishers, promoters, record label owners and DJs were becoming part of the country’s burgeoning music scene. This included Eamon Carr and Jackie Hayden, who had founded the independent label Midnite Records.

The pair was also friendly with a trio of Irish expats living in London, where they were part of the music industry. Ted Caroll was from the Republic of Ireland, while his friend and colleague Roger Armstrong was from Northern Ireland. Both lived and breathed music and were cut from the same cloth as Eamon Carr and Jackie Hayden. Both Ted Caroll and Roger Armstrong were musical entrepreneurs who had embraced the DIY principal and owned Chiswick Records. They kept in touch with booking agent Paul Charles, another Irish expat who still kept his finger on the pulse in the Irish music scene. He booked many of the top Irish bands and was part of The Radiators From Space inner circle.

Of all the Irish bands, Paul Charles was especially taken with The Radiators From Space. They were the only punk band who managed their own affairs. This was just a continuation of the DIY spirit The Radiators From Space had tried so hard to foster. It’s also likely given The Radiators From Space encyclopaedic knowledge of music that they were wary of music managers and would rather manage their own affairs. This was about to work in their favour.

In 1977, The Radiators From Space signed to Chiswick Records. Unlike many labels, Chiswick Records didn’t require the band to move to London. Instead, The Radiators From Space could continue to live in Dublin.

Television Screen.

With the deal signed and sealed, The Radiators From Space began work on their debut album TV Tube Heart. Before the album was recorded, The Radiators From Space their debut single in May 1977. The song they chose was Television Screen with Love Detective on the B-Side of their debut single. It was Sounds magazine record of the week, and was a memorable way for The Radiators From Space to announce their arrival.

TV Tube Heart.

It was a mixture of original songs and Party Line’s version of the traditional song The Radiators From Space. TV Tube Heart was very much a group effort with the five members of the band having penned the twelve original songs. 

When recording began of TV Tube Heart began on ‘22nd’ June 1977, with Roger Armstrong took charge of production. The Radiators From Space’s rhythm section featured drummer Jimmy Crashe, bassist Mark Megaray and guitarists Phil Chevron and Pete Holidai. Adding the lead vocal was Steve Rapid. Eventually, TV Tube Heart was completed by August 1977.

On the ‘9th’ of September 1977, The Radiators From Space played a showcase gig at The Vortex. During a blistering set, they played Prison Bars, Contact, Party Line, Press Gang and Enemies, which feature on the newly released 40th Anniversary Version of TV Tube Heart. These tracks feature The Radiators From Space at the peak of their powers.

A month later, TV Tube Heart was released by Chiswick Records on October the ‘7th’ 1977. Critics were won over by The Radiators From Space’s debut album TV Tube Heart. Critics spoke as one, praising TV Tube Heart. That came as no surprise given the reception their debut single had received.

The Radiators From Space had followed this up with an accomplished album of pop punk that wasn’t short of anthems and social comment. From the howling feedback that opens Television Screen, it’s a case of sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s a memorable way to open the album, as The Radiators From Space combined elements of garage rock, pop, punk, rock and even rock ’n’ roll. Unlike many punk bands, The Radiators From Space prove dto be talented songwriters and musicians.

Nowadays, TV Tube Heart is punk classic, and a cut above many of the third-rate albums that were being released. The Radiators From Space had made their mark on the punk scene  on both sides of the Irish Sea. Surely, it was only a matter of time before one of the majors came calling?

Two months later, and The Radiators From Space released their sophomore single Enemies in on Chiswick Records in December 1977. Just like its predecessor Television Screen, it won the approval of critics. Things were looking good for The Radiators From Space, who critics said had a bright future in front of them.

Ghostown.

Nearly two years later, and The Radiators as  they were now known  were still signed to Chiswick Records. They had moved to London earlier in 1979. This was a big step for the band, leaving their home city behind.

By then, The Radiators had written  the ten tracks that became Ghostown. It was recorded during 1978, with  The Radiators now a quartet featured a rhythm section of drummer Jimmy Crashe, bassist Mark Megaray and guitarist Pete Holidai. Phil Chevron switched between guitar and synths and took charge of the lead vocal at Good Earth Soundhouse. London. Taking charge of production was American producer Tony Visconti.

Once Ghostown was recorded, its release was delayed for the best part of a year. By then,  Million Dollar Hero (In a Five and Ten Cents Store) has been released as single in April 1978, with Let’s Talk About The Weather following in June 1979. The singles were a tantalising taste of Ghostown, which was released in the summer of 1979.

When the album was released on August ’10th’ 1979, it was to overwhelming critical acclaim. Critics called the music on Ghostown ambitious and literate, with tracks like Million Dollar Hero (In a Five and Ten Cents Store), Let’s Talk About The Weather and Kitty Ricketts which was released as a single on the ‘31st August 1979. Along with  Song of the Faithful Departed and Walking Home Alone Again these were the highlights of Ghostown, which some critics were calling The Radiators’ finest hour.

While some critics, Ghostown was The Radiators e finest hour, Others sill believed that TV Tube was their best album. What was clear was that The Radiators From Space had released two genre classics. However, their sophomore album  was ambitious and literate and features a band whose star was in the ascendancy in 1979.

Sadly, two years later in 1981, The Radiators  split-up. It was the end of an era for what many regard as Dublin and indeed Ireland’s first punk band.

The Radiators were reunited in 1987 and were together until they spilt for the second time in 1989. They were reunited in 2004, and are still together today  During that period, they’ve released two albums 2006s Trouble Pilgrim and Sound City Beat in 2012. It was another five years before The Radiators From Space returned to the studio and rerecorded some of their songs that featured on TV Tube Heart which were billed as Live In The Studio. 

Despite releasing two albums after reuniting Ghostown is regarded as a landmark album and a genre classic. It features The Radiators who  were punk pioneers and nowadays are regarded by many as Ireland’s first ever punk band. Their sophomore album Ghostown showcases one of the best and most accomplished punk bands who were a cut above the competition. By comparison, many of the British punk bands, who were a rag-bag of chancers, charlatans, publicity seekers and talentless no-hopers. Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, The Radiators  were cerebral, literate, inspirational and had a social conscience. They were also one of the leading lights of the Irish punk scene and recorded two true genre classics TV Tube Heart and Ghostown.

Cult Classic: The Radiators-Ghostown.

CULT CLASSIC: JETHRO TULL-THIS WAS.

Cult Classic: Jethro Tull-This Was.

The origins of Jethro Tull can be traced to Blackpool,  Lancashire,  in 1962, where Ian Anderson formed his first group Blades, which was originally a four piece, featuring Ian Anderson on vocals and harmonica. A year later in 1963, Blades was a quintet and in 1964 the group was a sextet who played blue-eyed soul. However, by 1967 blades decided to spread their wings and  head to London.

Having moved to London, the band split-up within a short time, and only Ian Anderson and bassist Glen McCornick were left. This proved a blessing in disguise as they were soon joined by blues guitarist Mick Abrahams and drummer Clive Bunker. This was the lineup that featured of Jethro Tull that featured on their debut album This Was. That was still to come.

Before that, the nascent band had to settle on a name, and various names were tried, only to be rejected. Then someone at a booking agent christened the band Jethro Tull, after the eighteenth century agriculturist. Little did anyone realise that the newly named Jethro Tull would become one of the biggest bands in the world over the next decade. 

Not long after becoming Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson acquired his first flute. Up until then, he had played harmonica and was trying to learn to play the guitar. Soon, , Ian Anderson realised that wasn’t a great guitarist, and having realised that the world had enough mediocre guitarists, decided to expand his musical horizons and bought a flute. Little did he realise this would be one of Jethro Tull’s trademarks.

After a couple of weeks, Ian Anderson had already picked up the basics of the flute. He was learning as he played. While this wasn’t ideal, it was the only way that possible. Especially with things happening so quickly for Jethro Tull who would soon release their debut single.

Sunshine Day was penned by Mick Abrahams, with Derek Lawrence taking charge of production. However, when their debut single was pressed, Jethro Tull realised that an error meant the  single was credited to Jethro Toe. To make matters worse, Sunshine Day wasn’t a commercial success and failed to trouble the charts. Despite this disappointment, thing got better when Jethro Tull released their debut album This Was.

This Was.

Recording of This Was took place at Sound Techniques in London, with the sessions beginning  on the ‘13th’ of June 1968, and finishing on  the ‘23rd’ of August 1968. By then,  Jethro Tull had only £1,200 was spent recording their  debut album This Was. This money would soon be recouped when This Was released. 

Prior to the release of  Jethro Tull’s  debut album This Was critics had their say on the album. The majority of the critics were impressed by This Was which was a fusion of blues rock, R&B and jazz. This pleased Jethro Tull and their management, who decided to launch This Was at the Marquee Club, in London.

Jethro Tull was only the third band to launch their debut album at the Marquee Club, and would follow in the footsteps of  the Rolling Stones and The Who. Both bands were  amongst the biggest bands in the world by 1968, and so would Jethro Tull.

On the ‘25th’ October 1968 Jethro Tull released This Was, which reached number ten in the UK. Three months later,  Jethro Tull released This Was in America on the ‘3rd’ of February 1969 and it reached sixty-two in the US Billboard 200. This was seen as a success by Island Records in Britain and Reprise in America. Jethro Tull had made inroads into the most lucrative music market in the world. It was a successful start to Jethro Tull’s career, which was about to enter a period where critical acclaim and commercial success were almost ever-present. However, there was a twist in the tale.

By then, Mick Abrahams left the band after he and Ian Anderson disagreed over the future direction of Jethro Tull. The sticking point was that Mick Abraham wanted Jethro Tull to stick with blues rock, while Ian Anderson realised there was no real future in blues rock. He wanted to take Jethro Tull to explore a variety of musical genres. As a result, Mick Abrahams left Jethro Tull and was replaced by Michael Barre. Little did either Mick Abraham nor Martin Barre realise that Stand Up marked the start of a period where Jethro Tull would sell over sixty-million albums.

This Was is a vastly underrated and oft-overlooked album of blues rock Jethro Tull, a  chameleon like band who went on to become one of the most successful and innovative British rock bands of their generation. Part of their success was their determination to constantly reinvent their music and innovate. This they succeeded in doing during a long and illustrious career. However, the album that launched their career is their cult classic This Was which shows another side of Jethro Tull.

Cult Classic: Jethro Tull-This Was.

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: KEITH MANSFIELD-CONTEMPO.

Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Contempo.

Nowadays, Keith Mansfield is regarded as one the doyens of library music, and original copies of his 1976 album Contempo are now highly collectable. That’s the case with many other KPM Records’ releases.

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

The Rise and Rise Of KPM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contempto features Keith Mansfield at his best on a cohesive and truly timeless album of library music. The music is funky, soulful, string-drenched and sometimes jazz-tinged and rocky. 

Side One.

Side one of Contempo is uber funky from the get-go. The Fix is mid-tempo track with a tough cinematic sound where funk and rock combines with jazzy horns. They play their part on a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a seventies cop show. What’s Cooking reveals a  dramatic, funky and sometimes has a lighthearted sound as it threatens to explode into life. The drama continues on the driving, funky and aggressive sounding Cut To Music. 

Man Alive is another mid-tempo funky track that sometimes heads in the direction of fusion. Sometimes it has aggressive sound and other times breezes along. Closing side one is the funk rock of Funky Footage a toe tapping track that sample hungry producers will appreciate and be inspired by.

Side Two.

String-drenched describes Breezin’ which sounds as it’s been inspired by mid-seventies disco and jazz-funk. Strings sweep and swirl and play a leading role before they’re joined by horns and keyboards. Together they coming to create a beautiful carefully crafted track that’s slick and dancefloor friendly. On Good Vibrations sweeping strings join forces with horns, pounding drums, a funky guitar and sci-fi synths.

They combine to create a mid-tempo track with a romantic sound that’s been influenced by the West Coast Sound and Blaxploitation strut.

Then Sun Goddess reveals a funky, exotic and sensual sound. Love Deluxe then teases the listener before it gradually reveals a quite beautiful dreamy sounding track where synths augment the keyboards and sultry horns. 

Closing Contempo is Snake Hips a rocky track where funky horns are deployed and augment the rhythm section on this mid-tempo slouch.

It’s all change on side two of Contempo with Keith Mansfield dropping the tempo. The music on this library record classic from 1976 veers between laidback, languid, dreamy and romantic. Later, it’s time to lie back, light a Dunhill and pour a glass of Bells as the music becomes post-coital on this cinematic library music opus.  

Keith Mansfield is one of the greatest purveyors of library music and Contempo which was released by KPM is a genre classic. The two sides show different side to his music. Side one features crime funk while the tempo drops on the second side and the music is much more eclectic. He’s been inspired by Blaxploitation, disco, jazz-funk, fusion and the West Coast Sound. Strings, horns and Fender Rhodes are deployed by one of the doyens of library music on Contempo.

Nowadays, original copies of Contempo are rarities and very few copies come up for sale. When they do, the prices are usually beyond the budget of most collectors of library music. That’s no surprise as Contempo is now regarded as a library music classic. It’s also a reminder of the golden age of library music, and one of its leading lights, Keith Mansfield, at the peak of his considerable powers.

Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Contempo.

CULT CLASSIC: THE OHIO PLAYERS-ECSTASY.

Cult Classic: The Ohio Players-Ecstasy.

It wasn’t until The Ohio Players signed with Westbound, and released their sophomore album Pain in 1972, that commercial success their way. The group  was founded in 1959 and originally was known as The Ohio Untouchables and had a chequered history.

Initially, The Ohio Untouchables lineup featured drummer Cornelius Johnson, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist and vocalist Robert Ward, guitarist and saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchel plus trombonist and trumpeter Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks. In the early days, the Dayton-based quintet was best known as The Falcons’ backing band. This allowed the group to hone their sound before heading out on their own.

When The Ohio Untouchables started playing live, it soon became apparent that Robert Ward was an unreliable bandleader. He would suddenly walk off the stage during concerts forcing the band to stop playing. Eventually, the band decided to keep playing when their leader left the stage. However, things came to a head in 1964 when Robert Ward and bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones got into fight onstage. This resulted in the group splitting up for the first time.

Robert Ward decoded to draft in new musicians, while the rest of The Ohio Untouchables headed home to Drayton. That was where they discovered guitarist Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner who became the band’s lead singer. The other new recruit was drummer Gregory Webster. This wasn’t the end of the changes.

The group decided to change direction musically and starting playing R&B. This allowed them to play to new  Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner’s strengths, and meant they weren’t competing with Robert Ward’s group. With that, the new group began playing live.

In 1965, the group decided changed its name to The Ohio Players. The reason for this was because of how the group perceived themselves as musicians and “ladies men.”

The newly named group added two more singers to its lineup. Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson joined The Ohio Players who were ready to record their debut single.

By then, they were managed by Johnny Brantley a manager and producer. He recorded The Ohio Players’ debut single This Thing Called Love which was released on Ray Charles’ Tangerine Records in 1967. However, the single failed to find an audience and The Ohio Players moved on.

Johnny Brantley arranged for the group to become the house band at New York-based Compass Records. They played on various recordings and backed Helena Ferguson on her top thirty single Where Is The Party? 

The Ohio Players also released two singles on Compass Records during 1967. This included Trespassin’ and It’s A Crying Shame. Despite neither single making any impression on the charts, an expanded lineup began recording the group’s debut album. 

By then, vocalist Helena Ferguson Kilpatrick had joined the group. She was part of the expanded lineup who began recording what later became Observations In Time. It was nearly completed when their manager decided to license the album to Capitol Records. This seemed a strange decision.

It turned out that Compass Records wasn’t in the best financial health. That was why the incomplete version of Observations In Time was licensed to Capitol Records. However, the decision backfired when Observations In Time was released in 1968 and although it was a hit in Ohio, it failed to make any impression on the national charts. This was a huge disappointment for The Ohio Players.

So was the commercial failure of the single Here Today and Gone Tomorrow in the UK in 1970. Executives at Capitol Records thought that the single would sell well in the UK. However, this wasn’t the case and was another disappointment for the band.

Just two years after the release of their debut album The Ohio Players split-up in 1970. It looked like the end of the road for the band.

It wasn’t, and the group reformed with a new lineup. This included  drummer Gregory Webster, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist and guitarist and saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchel. They were joined by trombonist and trumpeter Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks, trumpeter Bruce Napier, trombonist Marvin Pierce, keyboardist Walter “Junie” Morrison plus vocalists Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner and Charles Dale Allen. The new line-up was the start of a new and exciting chapter for The Ohio Players.

Especially when a local label Top Hit sent the group to Sound Recorders in Nashville, to record a new eight-track album. By then, The Ohio Players had discovered that Walter “Junie” Morrison was the group’s secret weapon. Not only was he a talented, inventive and progressive keyboardist who also played guitar and drums. He was part of the group that recorded an album’s worth of funky and sometimes jazz-tinged cover versions. However, when the label listened to the tracks the highlight of the session was Pain, a funky instrumental.

By then, The Ohio Players had come to the attention of Armen Boladian who had founded Westbound Records in 1968. He had signed Funkadelic who were well on their way to becoming one of the most innovative and successful funk bands of the seventies. They were joined in 1971 by The Ohio Players.

Having signed to Westbound Records, Pain (Part 1) was rerecorded and released in 1971, and reached sixty-four in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-five in the US R&B charts. Across the border in Canada, the single reached ninety-one giving The Ohio Players a minor hit single. This was just a start for Armen Boladian’s latest signing. 

Buoyed by the success of Pain, Armen Boladian was keen that The Ohio Players release an album soon. They could’ve released the material recorded in Nashville as their sophomore album, but Armen Boladian decided to send the group into the studio to record a new album.

When they entered the studio The Ohio Players were joined by two new recruits. This included vocalist and saxophonist James Johnson and Dale Allen who was going to share the lead vocal. However, his time with the group was cut short after he had a heated argument with Clarence Satchell in the studio during the third day of the recording session. That was the end of his time with The Ohio Players.

They had written the six tracks that became Pain and coproduced the album with Herb James and Billy Pittman. Once the album was completed, it was scheduled for release in early 1972.

When Pain was released in February 1972, it still featured some of sound that appeared on their debut album Observations in Time. However, the album was funky and had a tough, slick, polished sound that was soulful and sometimes, jazz-tinged and even psychedelic. Walter “Junie” Morrison’s keyboards played an important part in the album  

 It was also an album of firsts. Pain was the first Ohio Players’ album to feature the group’s romantic, sensual sound and featured songs that were devoted to their love of women. It was also the first album to feature what many regarded as a suggestive photo on the album cover. The Ohio Players knowing that: “sex sells” used a Joel Brodsky photo of a woman in leather underwear dominating a prostrate man. This was a controversial photo and similar to the one on the cover of Funkadelic’s album Free Your Mind. 

The other first was the inclusion of Walter “Junie” Morrison’s character Granny on Pain. She featured on all their Westbound Records’ albums and he revisited the character on his solo albums. That was in the future.

Before that, The Ohio Players released Pain in February 1972, and it reached 177 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-one in the US R&B charts. This was enough for Pain to be certified gold and was the start of the most successful period of the band’s career.

Pleasure.

Ten months later, The Ohio Players released Pleasure in December 1972. The album was still soulful and funky, and sometimes moved in the direction of jazz. However, The Ohio Players revived the vocal harmonies that had been part of their original sound. They added to the radio friendly sound of some of the songs on Pleasure. Other songs were the result of late-night jam sessions. These would play their part in the sound and success of Pleasure.

Just like Pain, critics were won over by Pleasure, and the album received plaudits and praise. It reached sixty-three on the US Billboard 200 and four on the US R&B charts. When Funky Worm was released as a single, it reached number fifteen on the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. This gave The Ohio Players biggest hit single of their career and they would become one of the most successful funk groups of the early seventies.

Ecstasy.

Buoyed by the success of Pleasure, The Ohio Players began work on their much-anticipated fourth album Ecstasy in early 1973. The group wrote eight new tracks and covered Louis Crane and Belda Baine’s Not So Sad and Lonely and Food Stamps Y’all. These ten tracks became Ecstasy which was arranged by Walter “Junie” Morrison’ and co-produced by The Ohio Players.

When Ecstasy was released in September 1973 their fourth album was well received by critics, who poured praise on what was another carefully crafted album of tough, sweaty funk and sweet soul. Sometimes, though the album headed in the direction of jazz as The Ohio Players showcase their versatility and ability to switch between and fuse disparate musical genres. That was apparent throughout the album.

Side One.

Ecstasy opens with the title-track which is soulful and sensual slice of funk. The Ohio Players then head in the direction of sweet soul on You and Me. Not So Sad and Lonely sounds as if its roots were in a jam session as the group combine  jazz and funk and add another soulful vocal to create  one of the highlights of Ecstasy. Slow, sultry, funky, jazz-tinged  and soulful describes (I Wanna Know) Do You Feel It? The tempo is still slow on Black Cat which closes side one and finds The Ohio Players at their funkiest and features a sassy, sensuous vocal. 

Side Two.

Food Stamps Y’all which opens side one finds The Ohio Players combining funk, fusion and jazz-funk on a track that was released as the second single from Ecstasy. Another highlight of the album is Spinning which is another funky cut with a heartfelt, soulful vocal. Sleep Talk features another soulful vocal which is combined with a funky arrangement that packs a punch. The tempo is dropped on Silly Billy which features a tender and almost wistful vocal. Closing Ecstasy is Short Change which has a tougher, funkier sound than many of the tracks on the album. It shows another side to The Ohio Players 

When Ecstasy was released in September 1973 it reached seventy on the US Billboard 200 and nineteen on the US R&B charts. The lead single Ecstasy reached thirty on the US Billboard 100 and twelve in the US R&B charts. Then wen Food Stamps Y’All was released as a single it failed to trouble the carts. Although Ecstasy didn’t quite match the success of Pleasure, the rise and rise of The Ohio Players continued. 

Their next four albums they released on Mercury went on to sell over 3.5 millions copies, with three being certified platinum and one gold. The Ohio Players released eight albums between 1972 and 1976 that sold in excess of six million copies and were one of the most successful funk band in the world. 

This began with Pain which was released in February 1972 and was The Ohio Players’ first album for Westbound. It was also the album that launched and transformed their career. After thirteen years of struggling to make a breakthrough they were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim.

The commercial success continued when Pleasure was released in December 1972. Just like Pain, it was released to plaudits and praise and The Ohio Players were well on their way to becoming one of the most successful funk bands of the seventies.

This continued when they returned in September 1973 with Pleasure. While it wasn’t as successful as Pain and Pleasure the music was was ambitious, innovative and progressive. Seamlessly, The Ohio Players switched between and fused  funk, fusion, jazz, jazz-funk and soul to create a truly timeless and heady musical brew on Ecstasy which was the group’s swansong for Westbound.  

Cult Classic: The Ohio Players-Ecstasy.

CULT CLASSIC: SNIFF ’N’ THE TEARS-LOVE/ACTION.

Cult Classic: Sniff ’n’ The Tears-Love/Action.

By 1981, Sniff ’n’ The Tears were about to record their third album Love/Action with Mike Howlett taking charge of production. However, the last few years had been eventful.  So much so, that the only original member of the band was lead singer and songwriter-in-chief Paul Roberts. 

He was part of the earliest lineup of Sniff ’n’ The Tears who toured the England in 1974. They got as far as recording a demo for a French record label in 1975 but when nothing came of this the group split-up later that year.

That looked like the end of Sniff ’n’ The Tears until 1977 when Luigi Salvoni, the drummer from Moon, heard the demos and thought the band had potential. He contacted Paul Roberts and suggested that he contact Chiswick Records to see if they would be interested in signing the band?

This latest lineup of Sniff ’n’ The Tears made their debut in 1977.  Joining vocalist Paul Roberts who also played acoustic guitar was a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Luigi Salvoni, bassist , Chris Birkin who were joined by  the twin guitars of the Mick Dyche and Loz Netto plus keyboardist Alan Fealdman. This was the lineup of the group that began playing live and in 1978 recorded their debut album.

Sniff ’n’ The Tears began recording their debut album Fickle Heart in 1978 with drummer Luigi Salvoni taking charge of production. When the album was completed Chiswick Records were in the midst of changing their distributor and the album was released until 1979.

Driver’s Seat was released as the lead single n 1979 and gave the group a hit single on three continents. It reached forty-two in the UK, eight in Holland, thirteen in Australia, seventeen in Canada and fifteen in the US Billboard 10o chart. 

Meanwhile, critics were won over by an album that combined elements of pop and rock with classic rock. 

Buoyed by the success of Driver’s Seat, Fickle Heart which combined elements of classic rock with pop-rock was released in 1979 and reached number seventy-two in Australia, forty-three in Canada and thirty-five in the US Billboard 20o chart. This was a good start to Sniff ’n’ The Tears’ recording career.

Despite that, Luigi Salvoni, Chris Birkin and Alan Fealdman all left the band just a few months after the release of their debut album. This was a huge blow for the remaining members of the band.

Not long after this, bassist Nick South was recruited and joined the band on a full-time basis. When they played live Sniff ’n’ The Tears were joined by keyboardist Mike Taylor and drummer Paul Robinson. This was a new chapter in the band’s career.

When they entered the studio to record their sophomore album The Game’s Up there were further changes to the band’s lineup. Paul Robinson usually only played with band when they played live but played on four of the nine tracks on the album. To complete the album two sessions drummers were brought onboard. Richard Bailey played on two tracks and Richard Marcangelo the other three. 

Prior to the release of The Game’s Up the album was well received by critics. They were impressed by  an album of carefully crafted pop and rock. However, when The Game’s Up was released in 1980 by Chiswick Records it failed to chart. Neither did the singe  Poison Pen Mail nor Rodeo Drive. Only One Love charted and that was in Holland where it reached thirty-eight. This was a far cry from a year earlier when Sniff ’n’ The Tears enjoyed a hit single with Driver’s Seat and their debut album was charted in three continents.

Just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for Sniff ’n’ The Tears it did. They were demoing the songs for their third album when Pau Roberts headed off on holiday. He was in for a surprise when he returned.

During his absence, Loz Netto announced that he was leaving the band to embark upon a solo career. He asked the other band members to join him. The only one that agreed to join his new band was Mick Dyche. However, the two departures meant that the very future of the group was at stake.

By then, Paul Roberts was the only original member of the band. Despite losing the two guitarists he decided that the band should continue.

Paul Roberts began looking for new recruits and brought onboard guitarist Les Davidson and Jamie Lane who became the group’s permanent drummer. The new lineup would recorded Sniff ’n’ The Tears’ third album Love/Action.

The ten songs on Love/Action were written by the group’s songwriter-in-chief Paul Roberts. He led a band that featured new drummer Jamie Lane, bassist  Nick South, guitarist Les Davidson and keyboardist Mike Taylor.  Producing the album was Mike Howlett.

He was brought onboard after Sniff ’n’ The Tears’ manager Bud Prager said that he felt the album would only succeed if the group used a producer. Several names were considered and eventually they settled on Mike Howlett who had produced their debut album Fickle Heart.

Sniff ’n’ The Tears had just a month to record Love/Action. After a few days rehearsing, the band began recording the album and just two weeks later it was completed. This meant that Mike Howlett and Paul Roberts had a  week to mix the album at a studio in Hamburg used by Kraftwerk.

When Love/Action was released in 1981 it was very different to their debut album Fickle Heart which Mike Howlett had produced. That was just three years earlier, but music had changed and so had production values. He had produced a slick and polished album of pop-rock that featured an early eighties sound. This won over critics and Love/Action which was released to plaudits and praise. 

Sadly, when Love/Action was released by Chiswick Records in 1981 it failed to trouble the charts. Neither did the lead single That Final Love nor the followup The Driving Beat. It was hugely disappointing.

So was the lack of commercial success in North America where the album generated a lot of interest prior to its release. The first couple of weeks there was a lot radio play which then dried up. This left Sniff ’n’ The Tears and their manager wondering why?

It turned out that there had been changes in MCA in America and the new CEO sacked a lot of a staff. He also decided to cut the company’s roster in North America. This included Sniff ’n’ The Tears. However, they were still signed to Chiswick Records in the UK.

However, the group’s time at Chiswick Records came to an end after their fourth album Ride Blue Divid was released in 1982 and failed to chart. It was a similar case with the single Hungry Eyes. For Sniff ’n’ The Tears this spelt an end to their Chiswick Records’ years when they were dropped by the label in 1983.

Of the four albums that Sniff ’n’ The Tears released during  the Chiswick Records’ years, their oft-overlooked third album Love/Action was the one that got away. It was an album of slick and polished pop rock that was bang on trend and should’ve introduced the group to a wider audience. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. However,  nowadays, Love/Action is regarded as a hidden gem and is without doubt one of Sniff ’n’ The Tears finest albums that was the album that could’ve transformed their career.

Cult Classic: Sniff ’n’ The Tears-Love/Action.