Ever since the birth of jazz, the music has never stood still. Instead, it’s been constantly evolving. That was the case in the early seventies. By the early seventies, jazz had to evolve to survive. Jazz’s popularity had been surpassed by soul music. Even soul jazz which had proved popular during the sixties, was losing popularity. So, what was needed was change.

Bringing about this change, were some of the most innovative and pioneering jazz musicians of the time. This included Herbie Hancock, Charles Earland, Ramsey Lewis, Lonnie Liston Smith, Harvey Mason and Freddie Hubbard. These musicians were responsible for jazz funk, which was seen as not just the future of the jazz, but its savior. By taking soul jazz and adding a sprinkling of funk, a new musical genre was born…jazz funk.

Jazz funk proved to be the answer to jazz’s problems, giving jazz’s popularity an unexpected boost. Since then, jazz funk is one of the most celebrated sub-genres of jazz. For anyone yet to discover jazz funk, Harmless Records next batch of its Backbeats’ compilation series includes Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk, which will be released on 20th May 2013. Featuring twelve tracks from some of jazz funk most successful, innovative and pioneering musicians, including Herbie Hancock, Charles Earland, Lonnie Liston Smith and Harvey Mason, Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk is the perfect primer for the newcomer to jazz funk. Having said that, for veterans of jazz funk, Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk, which was compiled by Dean Rudland, will bring back memories of the jazz funk’s glory days. You’ll realize why, when I pick the highlights from Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk.

Fittingly, given the important role Herbie Hancock played in the development of jazz funk, Just Around The Corner opens Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk. This was a track from Herbie’s 1980 album Mr. Hands, released on Columbia Records. Joining Herbie on Just Around The Corner are a jazz supergroup of guitarist Wah Wah Watson, drummer Alphonso Mouzon, bassist Freddie Washington and percussionist Sheila E. Given their combined talents, it’s no surprise that they produce a truly innovative slice of jazz funk.

For many people, myself included, Charles Earland is one of the greatest Hammond organ players of his the last fifty years. However, outside jazz circles, Charles is almost unheard of. That, to me, is a great shame. So, I’m pleased to see compiler Dean Rudland has included Charles’ Coming To You Live, This was the title-track to Charles’ 1980 album, which saw him move from soul jazz to jazz funk. Almost seamlessly he made the progression, reinventing himself in the process.

By the time Ramsey Lewis released Salongo in 1976, he was into his third decade as a recording artist. He’d earned a reputation as a musical innovator, someone who embraced change. That was fortunate, because during his career, musical fashions had changed. So, Ramsey had to reinvent himself several times. 1974s Solar Wind and 1975s Don’t It Feel Good saw Ramsey settle into jazz funk. Salongo surpassed both these albums. It was an exploration of Latin and African music, which was combined with jazz and jazz funk. One of the highlights was sultry Latin delights of Brazilica, which since then, has been a favorite of jazz funk fans.

During the seventies, any jazz player looking for a drummer, called Harvey Mason. Alongside his career as a session player, Harvey enjoyed a successful solo career. His debut album was 1975s Marching In The Street, which reached number forty-five in the US R&B Charts. Marching In The Street featured Hop Scotch, a track that’s not just innovative and features an all-star jazz funk band, but epitomizes all that’s good about jazz funk. After all, it doesn’t get much better than some of the best jazz musicians of the seventies showcasing their considerable talents.

Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk is almost like a who’s who of jazz funk. Everyone whose anyone features on the disc. This includes jazz trumpeter and bandleader, Freddie Hubbard. His contribution is Put It In The Pocket, a track from his 1975 album Liquid Love. Although best known for be bop and hard bop, Freddie embraced jazz funk, especially on Liquid Gold. On Put It In The Pocket, Freddie and his band give an uber funky, sassy and dramatic performance, while Freddie demonstrates just why he’d gained a reputation as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of his generation.

Weldon Irvine’s contribution to Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk is Sinbad, a track that explodes into life with growling, blazing horns. Sinbad was the title-track to Weldon’s 1976 album. Quite simply, it’s six majestic minutes of music. Featuring a guitar masterclass, scorching horns, sassy harmonies and a tough, funky street sound, it’s the perfect introduction to the music of Weldon Irvine.

My final choice from Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk is Hubert Laws Chicago Theme (Love Loop). It’s a track from, his 1975 album Chicago Theme, which reached number eighteen in the US R&B Charts. Hubert was an early member of The Jazz Crusaders, but established a reputation as a versatile flautist. He was just as comfortable playing jazz, classical or jazz funk. By 1975, his music was becoming more commercial.Chicago Theme (Love Loop) is proof of this. While his band lay down some funky licks, swathes of strings accompany Hubert’s wistful flute. Add to that are growling horns, and the result is a track that not only showcases Hubert Laws’ versatility and talent, but how he was determined to produce music that would be commercially successful.

Earlier I said that Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk was not unlike a who’s who of jazz funk. That was no exaggeration. With Herbie Hancock, Charles Earland, Lonnie Liston Smith and Harvey Mason, here were some of the most talented, innovative and influential musicians. As the seventies dawned, they faced the realization that jazz music wasn’t just changing, but was no longer as popular. Put simply, jazz had to change. The status quo wasn’t an option. Unless jazz changed, it would become marginalized and become the musical equivalent of an endangered species. For the musicians that feature on Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk that wasn’t an option.

While it was more a case of evolution, rather the revolution, jazz changed and survived. Out of the ashes of soul jazz, came jazz funk. All it took was a sprinkling of funk and soul jazz became jazz funk. Soon, jazz funk changed jazz’s flagging fortunes. With the innovators that feature on Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk, jazz was in safe hands. Jazz moved in a new, brave and bold direction. The music was energized, attracting a much wider audience. Jazz funk albums crossed over into the mainstream, making stars of jazz musicians who had previously, been known to only a small, niche audience. 

So in many ways, jazz funk was the savior of jazz. Just as jazz was about to receive the musical equivalent of the last rites, along came jazz funk. Somehow, jazz made a miraculous recovery. Crucial to that recovery were a group of pioneering and innovative jazz musicians. These pioneers and innovators feature on Backbeats: In The Pocket-70s Jazz Funk, which will be released on 20th May 2013. Standout Tracks: Herbie Hancock Just Around The Corner, Charles Earland Coming To You Live, Harvey Mason Hop Scotch and Weldon Irvine Sinbad.


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