AZTECA-PYRAMID OF THE MOON.
AZTECA-PYRAMID OF THE MOON.
During the ten months between the release of Azteca’s debut album Azteca, and the release of their sophomore album, Pyramid of The Moon, the future looked bright for Coke and Pete Escovedo’s genre defying band. Released in December 1972, Azteca had reached number 151 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Then Azteca found themselves opening for Stevie Wonder. For the Escovedo brothers, their decision to leave Santana, look like being vindicated. After all, comparisons were drawn with Santana, 5th Dimension, Funkadelic and Sly and The Family Stone. People forecast that Azteca were on their way to replicating the success these groups were enjoying. Certainly, Azteca didn’t lack talented personnel. Their lineup included bassist Paul Clark and drummer Lenny White, who were already seasoned musicians. Add to that Wendy Haas’ vocals and here was a group who people were forecasted would help shape the music of the new decade. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case. Azteca’s star shawn brightly, but not for long. Pyramid of The Moon which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 28th January 2013, proved to their final album. Before I tell you what happened to Azteca, I’ll tell you the background to Pyramid of The Moon.
Azteca were keen to build on the momentum generated by their debut album. So, quickly, work began on their sophomore album Pyramid of The Moon. Just like their debut album Azteca, the members of Azteca wrote the majority of the nine tracks. The Escovedo brothers cowrote three tracks. Coke, trumpeter Tom Harrell and vocalist Eric Knowles penned Someday We’ll Get By. Bassist Paul Jackson, Coke and Errol Knowles cowrote Mazatlan. Errol Knowles cowrote two other tracks. He penned Find Love Today with Bill Courtial and cowrote Love Is A Stranger. Saxophonist Mel Martin wrote A Night In Nazca and Whatcha Gonna Do with Pete Escovedo and Paul Jackson. Tom Harrell and Bob Ferreira contributed New Day On the Rise. Together with covers of Mexicana, Mexicana and Red Onions, these nine tracks became Pyramid of The Moon.
Like their debut album Azteca, recording of Pyramid of The Moon took place at Columbia Studios in San Francisco. About eighteen musicians played on Pyramid of The Moon. Key to Azteca’s sound were the rhythm section, horns and a myriad of percussive delights. Joining Coke and Pete Escovedo, were some of the most talented jazz and Latin musicians of the time. This included a rhythm section of bassist Paul Jackson, drummer John Drinck and guitarist Bill Courtial. Bob Ferreira played tenor saxophone, flute and piccolo, trombonist Pat O’Hara, saxophonist Mel Martin and congas came courtesy of Victor Pantoja. Coke played percussion and timbales, while Pete added percussion and was one of the vocalists. Other vocalists included Wendy Hass, Errol Knowles. Producing Pyramid of The Moon were Coke Escovedo and Azteca. Once Pyramid of The Moon was recorded, it was released in October 1973.
On the release of Pyramid of The Moon in October 1973, the album didn’t chart. It stalled at 209 in the US Billboard 200. Even though Azteca were seen as one the hottest new groups, Pyramid of The Moon wasn’t a commercial success. Neither was the only single released from Pyramid of The Moon. Whatcha Gonna Do also failed to chart. After the success of Azteca’s debut album Azteca, Pyramid of The Moon’s commercial failure must have come as a body blow. It also presented a problem. Funding such a large group as Azteca was expensive. After all, there were between fifteen and twenty members of Azteca. Sadly, there wasn’t to be a happy ending for Azteca. I’ll tell you what happened, after I’ve told you about the music on Pyramid of The Moon.
Pyramid of The Moon opens with Someday We’ll Get By, a slice of hope filled, musical sunshine. Here, Latin and pop combine. Straight away, the rhythm section, percussion, Hammond organ and blazing horns unite. They create an uplifting groove that sashays along. Errol Knowles’ vocal is equal parts heartfelt, hopeful and joyous. Wendy Haas tender harmonies prove the perfect foil. Meanwhile, Santana-style guitars, growling horns and a myriad of percussive delights provide the perfect backdrop. The lyrics reflects the hope in Errol’s vocal. He sings: “everyone thinks about the good times, ain’t nobody thinking about the bad.” They’re uplifting, hopeful and have a feel-good sound. Quite simply, it’s four minutes of musical sunshine.
As Mazlatan begins to reveal its subtleties and surprises, as Azteca fuse musical genres. Latin, jazz, funk and even rock combine. There’s a Latin influence as the track opens. Percussion and congas joining an almost chanted vocal. Guitars chime, as the Latin groove builds. Then a roll of drums signals growling horns, that reference funk and Afro-beat. The vocal then is a powerful, rock-tinged explosion of emotion. Then as if spent, the arrangement meanders along. Chanted vocals and then jazzy guitars taking charge. Then Azteca become a musical juggernaut, fusing funk and jazz. Braying horns, percussion and the rhythm section driving the arrangement along. This complex, genre sprawling track, sees Azteca spring surprises aplenty, as they reveal their versatility and musical influences.
Find Love Today the Latin theme, but has a much more complicated musical structure. From the opening note, the arrangement unfolds at breakneck speed, before Azteca through a beautiful curveball. Percussion, a cascading flute, keyboards and the rhythm section join a scatted vocal as the arrangement gallops along. Then it’s all change. Wendy Haas’ ethereal, impassioned vocal enters. She’s accompanied by subtle keyboards and a floaty flute. Soon the arrangement builds, the tempo increases and Errol takes over the lead vocal. When Errol and Wendy combine, their vocals grow in power, with growling horns for company. After that, the arrangement gallops along, before slowing down as Wendy’s vocal returns. Her vocal is truly heartfelt as she sings: “why can’t we find love today?” Hope fills her voice as she breaths life and meaning to the lyrics to this complex, captivating and quite enchanting song.
Pete Escovedo takes charge of the vocal on Whatcha Gonna Do. A lone piano is responsible for the salsa sound, before drums, percussion and Hammond organ enter. Punchy blazing horns give way to Pete’s vocal. The horns and dramatic bursts of thunderous drums reflect Pete’s pain and hurt. He sings in Spanish and English, both call and response. Then, when Azteca kick loose, they’re at their very best. Comparisons with Santana are inevitable, especially after Neil Schon’s searing guitar. It’s the clincher, making this one of the highlights of Pyramid of The Moon.
New Day On the Rise sees the tempo fall and a spacious introduction unfold. Guitars reverberate into the distance and subtle sprinklings of piano combine. Then Azteca throw another curveball. A guitar sears, screams and then soars. Once it dissipates, Azteca deliver another curveball. Rasping horns, the rhythm section and a mass of percussion drive the arrangement along. Having set the scene, Wendy and Pete take charge of the vocal. Wendy’s vocal soars, as if she’s awoken from her dreams. It really is like a New Day On the Rise and she’s ready to tackle it head on. Meanwhile, the arrangement fuses jazz, funk and Latin music. Seamlessly, musical genres melt into one. This is Azteca at their best, fusing musical genres, delivering curveballs and springing musical surprises.
Mexicana, Mexicana is just a two minute track. On Azteca’s debut album Azteca, there were two short tracks. It’s very different from the other tracks. Percussion and drums accompany Pete and Coke’s vocal, which is delivered is Spanish. The understated arrangement just meandering along. Their joyous vocal drift above the arrangement to this intriguing two minute track, that’s shows a very different side to Azteca and their music.
Red Onions is an infectiously catchy track, with a Latin heartbeat. It’s driven along by a guitar, before percussion and rasping horns join the chanted vocals. Soon, you’ll be thinking that the track is familiar? Well, here Azteca draw inspiration from La Bamba. This is La Bamba given a delicious makeover by Azteca. To do this, they deploy growling horns, congas and percussion. Add to that the chanted vocals. Credit must go to trumpeter Tom Harrell and trombonist Pat O’Hara. When they trade licks, things move up a gear. A searing guitar solo, well it’s just the finishing touch, to this infectiously catchy, joyous track.
Love Is A Stranger sees Azteca fuse Latin with soul, funk and gospel. It’s a delicious combination. Blazing horns, a funky rhythm section, percussion and Hammond organ combine, while Errol’s vocal is soulfulness personified. He testifies, while gospel tinged harmonies answer his call. When the vocal drops out, Azteca decide to kick loose. They seem to be spurred on to even greater heights, combining funk, Latin and searing, rocky guitar licks. Good as this is, Errol and the gospel infused harmonies steal the show, on what is the best track on Pyramid of The Moon.
Closing Pyramid of The Moon is A Night In Nazca, a mostly instrumental track. Azteca’s rhythm section combine with percussion, blazing horns and Hammond organ. Guitars have a fuzzy, psychedelic sound, scatted vocals and an electric trumpet combine. By then, jazz, funk, Latin and trippy psychedelia unite. Sweeping and swooping, rising like a phoenix from before, falling as if spent, the arrangement springs surprises and subtleties in equal measures. Then, after less the five minutes, A Night In Nazca is over. Not only does sun set over the Pyramid of The Moon, but time is called on Azteca’s recording career.
Just forty-minutes long, Pyramid of The Moon brought to a close Azteca’s brief recording career. It had lasted only two albums, Azteca and Pyramid of The Moon. They were released just ten months apart. Sadly, Pyramid of The Moon failed to replicate the success of Azteca. Coke Escovedo was first to leave. Then Columbia cancelled Azteca’s recording contract. For the next three years, Azteca continued. Personnel came and went. The lineup seemed to be permanently evolving. Pete Escovedo’s daughter Sheila joined Azteca. Later, she’d be known Sheila E and work with another musical innovator…Prince. By then, Azteca were just a distant memory. So was their second album Pyramid of The Moon.
In many ways, Pyramid of The Moon built on Azteca. Like Azteca, the music was compelling, captivating and enthralling musical melting pot. Musical genres and influences melt into one. compelling, captivating and enthralling musical melting pot. During the nine tracks on Pyramid of The Moon, musical genres and influences melt into one. Latin, jazz, funk, Salsa, Mambo, rock, psychedelia, soul and gospel-tinged harmonies come together as one. They unite under Azteca’s Pyramid of The Moon, which will be rereleased on 28th January 2013, by BBR Records. Just like Azteca, Pyramid of The Moon was a tantalizing taste of one of music’s innovative, pioneering groups…Azteca. Standout Tracks: Someday We’ll Get By, Find Love Today, Red Onions and Love Is A Stranger.
AZTECA-PYRAMID OF THE MOON.