ROY AYERS-VIRGIN UBIQUITY: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS 1976-1981 AND VIRGIN UBIQUITY II: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS 1976-1981.

Roy Ayers-Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 and Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981

Label: BBE Music.

For Roy Ayers, the late-seventies through to the early eighties was one of the most productive periods of his long and illustrious careers. He was signed to Polydor Records, and between 1976 and 1981, the legendary vibes man was on a roll, and released  seven solo albums. This included some of the best, and most powerful  music of his career. However, not all of the music Roy Ayers recorded during this period was released. 

Roy Ayers was a prolific artist and always managed to record more music than he needed for a new album. When he had completed a new album, he always kept copies of his master tapes. This included the unreleased tracks. It was as if he knew that one day, Roy Ayers knew that he would do something with these unreleased tracks.

By 1981, the master tapes documented the various lineups of Roy Ayers’ band. During this period,  different vocalists joined the band and the rhythm section changed. However, the band’s philosophy remained the same, and so did the quality of the music. It was vintage Roy Ayers and these unreleased tracks deserved to be heard. However, this didn’t happen overnight.

It was over twenty years later, when Peter Adarkwah of BBE Records, in London, heard about Roy Ayers’ unreleased tracks. He realised the importance of the music, and when he heard the quality of the unreleased tracks, decided to release a compilation. This was Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981, which was released to critical acclaim in 2004. So was the followup Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 when it was released by BBE Records in 2005. It wasn’t long before these albums had sold out, and since then, have been much prized amongst fans of Roy Ayers and discerning music lovers. 

Now fifteen years later, and Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 and Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 have just been reissued by BBE Music. These two albums are a reminder of Roy Ayers at the peak of his creative powers between 1976 and 1981. By then, he had enjoyed a successful solo career and worked with some of the biggest names in music.

The Roy Ayers story began in Los Angeles, on the ‘10th’ of September 1940, when he was born into a musical family. His mother Ruby was a schoolteacher who also taught the piano, while Roy Sr, spent part of his life working as a parking attendant and playing the trombone.

Growing up, Roy Ayers showed an aptitude from an early age.  Like many children, the first instrument he learnt to play was the piano. However, not many children can play boogie woogie piano by the time they’re five.  To further his musical education the Ayers took their son to see Lionel Hampton’s Big Band.

At the end of the concert, the great man used to walk up the aisle thanking people for attending his concert. That night, Lionel Hampton saw the young Roy Ayers and gifted the excited five year old a set of vibe mallets. His parents decided to keep them safe until he was older. By then, Roy Ayers was a musical all-rounder. 

By the time he was nine, he was able to play steel guitar and later sang in the school choir. This was just the start, and during his teenage years, Roy Ayers learnt to play the flute, trumpet, drums  before eventually settling on the vibes.

This came about when his parents presented their seventeen year old son with Lionel Hampton’s vibe mallets. Roy Ayers decided to teach himself how to play the vibes. Not long after this, he discovered Bobby Hutcherson an up-and-coming vibes player who lived locally, and who took Roy Ayers under his wing.

The two young musicians started to practice together and collaborated, and before long were good friends. By then,  Roy Ayers formed had formed his first group while he was a student of harmony at Jefferson High School. Fittingly,  he called group the Jefferson Combo, which he later renamed Latin Lyrics. After graduating from high school Roy Ayers attended Los Angeles City College and studied advanced music theory. 

This was the perfect course for an aspiring musician. In  1961, twenty-one year old Roy Ayers embarked upon a career as a professional musician. Over the next few years he worked with and played alongside everyone from Chico Hamilton, Gerald Wilson,  Jack Wilson,  Phineas Newborn and  Teddy Edwards. By then,  had also made his recording debut.

Roy Ayers  recorded Way Down and Tippin’ On Through, and in 1962, got the chance to appear at the Las Vegas Jazz Festival. That night, the up-and-coming musician, composer and arranger played in front of the biggest audience of his nascent career. In the audience that night, was one of the most eminent jazz producers and writers, Leonard Feather. This resulted in Roy Ayers signing to  United Artists and releasing his debut album.

West Coast Vibes was produced by Leonard Feather and featured an all-star cast. They played their part in the Roy Ayers sound which made its debut on West Coast Vibes when it was released in 1963. The album was found favour amongst jazz critics who hailed Roy Ayers as a rising star. 

After the release of his critically acclaimed debut album West Coast Vibes, Roy Ayers’ popularity grew and he was playing concerts across America. Other musicians looking for a vibraphonist sought out Roy Ayers. This including none other than jazz flutist Herbie Mann. 

The legendary flautist needed someone to play vibes in his band at a gig at the Lighthouse Club, in Los Angeles. A call went out to Roy Ayers, and he joined the band. Little did anyone realise how successful the Herbie Mann and Roy Ayers’ partnership would become as they took to the stage. Later, that evening as they left the to a standing  ovation with applause ringing in their ears. This was the start of a successful  four-year collaboration, and during that period, Roy Ayers was an integral part of Herbie Mann’s band.

By 1967, Roy Ayers had signed to Atlantic Records and recorded his first album with Herbie Mann producing. Virgo Vibes was released to plaudits and praise later in 1967. The followup was 1968s critically acclaimed album Stoned Soul Picnic and then Daddy Bug in 1969. These are three of the finest and most successful albums that Roy Ayers has released during his long and successful career. 

As the seventies dawned, changed was afoot for Roy Ayers as he signed for Polydor Records which was home until 1982. During that period, he continued to push musical boundaries,  and continued to experiment and explore sonically. This included using wah wah  and fuzz tones on his vibes which was a first, and not for the first time Roy Ayers was called a pioneer. 

Now signed to Polydor Records, Roy Ayers began work on his debut album. Ubiquity was released in 1970 and this was the start of a new era for Roy Ayers.

By then, the Roy Ayers had formed a new group who released ten albums between 1972 and 1977. This was Roy Ayers Ubiquity, who released He’s Coming and Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival in 1972. The following year, 1973, the new group released two critically acclaimed albums Virgo Red and Red, Black and Green. This was just the start of new chapter for Roy Ayers Ubiquity.

Meanwhile, Roy Ayers was asked to record and produce the soundtrack to the Blaxploitation movie, Coffy which starred Pam Grier. Both the film and its soundtrack which featured vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and pianist Harry Whitaker was released to critical acclaim and was a commercial success. Nowadays, the soundtrack to Coffy is regarded as a genre classic. This is no surprise as during this period Roy Ayers was enjoying one of the most productive periods of his career.

Change Up The Groove followed in 1974, with Mystic Voyage and A Tear To A Smile being released to plaudits and praise in 1975. The prolific Roy Ayers Ubiquity returned with Vibrations and one of their finest outings Everybody Loves The Sunshine in 1976. A year later, they released their swansong Lifeline in 1977. The anthemic jazz-funk title-track gave Roy Ayers a hit single that was guaranteed to fill dancefloors. This was the perfect way to end five prolific and successful years for the Roy Ayers Ubiquity.

A new era began in 1978 when Roy Ayers returned with two new solo albums including Let’s Do It which reached thirty-three in the US Billboard 200 and fifteen US R&B charts, while You Send Me reached forty-eight and sixteen respectively. Both albums featured a glittering array of talent, including drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and vocalist Merry Clayton. This was the start of a period between 1978 and 1982 when Roy Ayers released seven albums and they all charted in the US Billboard 200 and US R&B charts. 

This was no surprise giving Roy Ayers was at the peak of his creative powers and enjoying one of the most productive periods of his long career.  In 1979, Roy Ayers released another two albums, Fever which reached sixty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-five US R&B chart. However, No Stranger To Love stalled at eighty-two in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-five in the US R&B charts despite the quality of music on the album. While neither album were as successful as previous offerings, they were still part of what was a golden era for Roy Ayers.

Love Fantasy released in 1980, was the first album Roy Ayers released during the eighties. It was another ambitious album, where he was joined by a some of the top session players and various vocalists including Sylvia Striplin. This time around, Roy Ayers  deployed various synths, a Fender Rhodes and a clavinet as he continued his mission to innovate and release groundbreaking music. Sadly, the album stalled at a disappointing 157 in the US Billboard 200 and forty-seven in the US R&B chart.

When Roy Ayers returned in 1981, it was with powerful, landmark album Africa, Center Of The World. Sadly, what was one of his finest albums of recent years failed to find the audience it deserved and  reached 197 in the US Billboard 200 and forty-three in the US R&B charts. For Roy Ayers this must have been hugely disappointing and he  would only release one more album on Polydor Records.

This was Feeling Good, which was released in 1982 and reached 160 in the US Billboard 200 and forty-five in the US R&B charts. Reviews of this underrated album were mixed, and Roy Ayers left the label that had been home to him since 1970.  During that period, he had enjoyed the most successful and productive period of his career.

During the period between 1976 and 1981, Roy Ayers recorded everything from jazz and funk to fusion, jazz-funk, Latin,  R&B and soul-jazz.  He was a truly versatile musician who seamlessly switched between and combined disparate genres seamlessly, often, creating music that was truly unique. However, Roy Ayers often recorded far more music than he could release and it ended up in his vaults. 

Roy Ayers kept copies of all of his master tapes, as if knowing that one day in the figure he would get the chance to release some of these unreleased tracks. This chance came in 2003, twenty-one years after he released his final album for Polydor Records.

By then, Peter Adarkwah of BBE Records, in London, who was a heard about Roy Ayers’ unreleased tracks. He was a longterm fan of the legendary vibraphonist who on hearing about the unreleased  tracks  realised their importance. When he heard the quality of Roy Ayers’ unreleased tracks, Peter Adarkwah decided to release a compilation of them. 

This was Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 , which was released to critical acclaim in 2004. So was the followup Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981  when it was released by BBE Records in 2005. It wasn’t long before the two albums had sold out, and since then, have been much prized amongst fans of Roy Ayers and discerning music lovers. 

Now fifteen years after the release of the second instalment in the series, BBE Music have decided that it’s time to reissue Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981  and Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981. These are welcome reissues and are a reminder of what was a golden era for Roy Ayers.

Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981.

That is the case from Boogie Down which opens Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 and features drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and vocalist Carla Vaughan who Roy Ayers called” “one of the most exciting and unique singers that I ever had in my band.” Carla Vaughan returns on the slow, meandering and beautiful sounding Mystic Voyage and Together Forever where she delivers a tender and heartfelt vocal.

Another of the finest vocalists to star in Roy Ayers’ was Merry Clayton, who makes her debut on What’s The T? This is followed by what can only be described as a vocal masterclass on I Really Love You. It’s without doubt one of the album’s highlights. The same can be said of Oh What A Lonely Feeling thanks to Merry Clayton’s heart-wrenching vocal. She then delivers a powerful and emotive vocal Mystery Of Love. Then there’s Merry Clayton’s  soul-baring vocal powerhouse on Brand New Feeling. These tracks are a reminder of a truly talented vocalist who should’ve enjoyed a much more successful career as a solo artist.

Other highlights include Green and Gold which features a stunning vibes solo from Roy Ayers on what’s a truly timeless sounding track that one will never tire of hearing.  The funky sounding I Am Your Mind, which features a soliloquy from Roy Ayers closes this album on a high. However, in soccer parlance it’s only half-time as there’s still  Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 to come.

Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981.

Holiday opens the album and features Terry Wells on lead vocals. She wrote the lyrics at the time of the controversy surrounding whether Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday should be a public holiday? Terry’s impassioned vocal soars above the pulsating arrangement and is accompany by sweeping backing vocals, piano and vibes.  

Funk In Hole is a funky jam where strings and horns are added. Roy Ayers deploys effects adding a dubby sound to this genre-melting track.

It’s followed by the smooth, soulful and laid back sound of Liquid Love which features Roy Ayers on clavinet. Third Time is another smooth and soulful sounding track where sweeping strings dance above Carla Vaughan’s vocal. It’s augmented by backing vocalists which add the cherry on the cake. 

That is also the case on the funky and soulful Tarzan. Here,  the tempo rises and ethereal harmonies play a starring role on a track that sounds as if it’s been influenced by James Brown. There’s no letup on I Like The Way You Do It To Me which features  a sassy and impassioned vocal, while Come To Me features  a needy vocal from the star of show Roy Ayers. Funk and boogie combines on Release Yourself which features a vocal powerhouse from Terry Wells and gospel-tinged backing vocals.

Roy Ayers’ vibes play a starring role on Wide Open as the rhythm section including a walking bass and and a sci-fi synth. However, it’s a case of saving the best until last and a demo of one of  Roy Ayers finest songs Sunshine. Despite this being a demo, it’s still got the same feel good sound and is a slice of musical Sunshine and the perfect way to close Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981.

BBE Music’s decision to reissue Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 and Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 is to be welcomed, and is a tantalising taste of Roy Ayers at his creative zenith. This began in 1967, when  he signed to Atlantic Records and continued during the Polydor years.

During the Polydor years Roy Ayers was determined to push musical boundaries to their limits and released music that was ambitious and groundbreaking. Sometimes, he seamlessly  flitted between musical genres on an album that could feature anything from boogie,  jazz and funk to fusion, jazz-funk, Latin,  R&B and soul-jazz.. Other times, he fused disparate musical genres to create music that was unique and innovative. However, all of the music Roy Ayers released during this golden era would influence a new generation of musicians and the hip hop producers who sampled Roy Ayers’ music. He eventually became one of the most sampled musicians in musical history. 

Looking back, the Polydor years was one of the most fruitful periods of  Roy Ayers’ career,  which has now spanned six decades. He became a professional musician aged twenty-one and later in 2020, Roy Ayers turns eighty. There’s no sign of the legendary vibes man slowing down, and in the spring of 2020 he embarks upon another British tour where he will be given a hero’s welcome. Until then, Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 and Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 are a tantalising reminder of a musical pioneer Roy Ayers at the peak of his powers during the second part of his Polydor years when commercial success and critical acclaim were constant companions.

Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 and Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981.

 

1 Comment

  1. I’ve seen Roy Ayers 3 times once back in the day, 10 years ago and 4 years ago. I’ll be purchasing the Unreleased recordings soon.

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