Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment.

Label: Impulse.

Format: 2CD Set.

The roots of Impulse! can be traced to 1955 when the American Broadcasting Company decided the time was right to diversify into the record business. History was made on June ‘14th’ 1955 when  Am-Par Record Corporation was incorporated and Samuel H. Clark became the company’s first president. He oversaw the birth of what would become one of the biggest record companies in America.

Soon, the nascent label was producing and releasing records, licensing masters from independent record producers and purchasing records that had been regionally. These were then distributed nationwide by Am-Par Record Corporation. Some of the singles and albums proved popular and indeed profitable for the new label. 

Over the next five years, the Am-Par Record Corporation continued to expand. New artists joined their roster as success began to come the Am-Par Record Corporation’s way. Soon, the label was looking at expanding, and one genre they were particularly interested in, was jazz.

In 1960, Am-Par Record Corporation decided to form their own jazz label which they called Impulse! Arranger and producer Creed Taylor was hired and became the nascent label’s A&R manager. 

One of the earliest signings made by Creed Taylor was Ray Charles. Another of Impulse!’s early signings was Oliver Nelson. He released his post bop album The Blues and the Abstract Truth in February 1961. It sported Impulse!’s distinctive black, orange, and white livery.

A month later, in March 1961, Ray Charles released His Genius + Soul = Jazz was released in March 1961, and gave the label its first successful album. The decision to appoint Creed Taylor as Impulse!’s A&R man had paid off. 

Despite the success of Ray Charles’ His Genius + Soul = Jazz Creed Taylor decided to leave Impulse! in the summer of 1961. He had been approached to run Verve Records. Replacing Creed Taylor was the man who would be synonymous with Impulse!, Bob Thiele.

He would play a huge role in the rise and rise of Impulse! Bob Thiele ran Impulse! between 1961 and 1968. During that period, he began to expand the label. He had two very different roles, A&R and production. Somehow, he was able to successfully juggle the two roles. Soon, Bob Thiele was adding some of the biggest names in jazz to Impulse!’s roster. This includes the artists on Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment which was recently released as a two CD set by Impulse!

Disc One.

Opening disc one of Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment is the John Coltrane Quartet’s Africa. It was taken from Africa/Brass which was released on the ‘1st’ September 1961 and was his eighth studio album and debut for Impulse! The album features a larger band than usual. Twenty-one musicians are used and some deploy unusual instruments on what’s akin to a big band sound. This is very different album to anything ‘Trane had released before. When the album was released to critical acclaim and featured groundbreaking combination of free jazz, hard bop and modal jazz. For John Coltrane this was the start of one of the most important periods in his career when he released a string of classic albums.

In 1961, Max Roach released Percussion Bitter Sweet  which was his debut album for Impulse! He and his  band fused Cuban rhythms with post bop and hard bop on what was a emotionally charged album with political themes. This included on Garvey’s Ghost which was one of the highlights of this classic album,

In 1964, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus was released by Impulse! The album was hailed by critics as an essential collection of Charles Mingus’ finest moments during his post bop era. One of the highlights of this jazz classic is Better Get Hit In Yo Soul which is  a welcome addition to the compilation.

By 1964, Philly born Shirley Scott was just thirty but had established a reputation as one of the finest Hammond organ players. She was a prolific artist and  had already recorded over thirty albums. This included For Members Only where she leads The Shirley Scott on an album of soul jazz and hard bop. One of its highlights is Freedom Dance  which would later become a favourite of compilers.

In 1964, the Yusef Lateef Quintet released Sister Mamie as a single. It’s an innovative genre-melting track that was written by the flautist that’s bluesy and features elements of post bop and modal jazz.

Saxophonist Stanley Turrentine spent much of the sixties signed to Blue Note Records and only released one album for Impulse! This was Let It Go which was released in 1966 and featured his wife Shirley Scott who played Hammond organ. One of their finest moments on the album was Good Lookin’ Out,  a memorable and swinging slice of soul-jazz where the pair showcase their considerable skills. Then when a single was released from the album later in 1966 Good Lookin’ Out was relegated to the B-Side. That’s despite being one of the highlights of what was  Stanley Turrentine’s only album for Impulse! 

In 1967, the Oliver Nelson and His Orchestra released The Kennedy Dream (A Musical Tribute to John Fitzgerald Kennedy) . It featured The Rights Of All which like the rest of the album was recorded by a big band who play music in his honor. Oliver Nelson also used taped segments of his speeches as preludes on this tribute to the 35th President Of The United States.

Side Two.

An edit of Pharoah Sanders’ The Creator Has A Master Plan opens side two of Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment. It featured on his 1969 classic album Karma which was one of his most important, innovative and progressive albums. This opus took up the entire first  side of the album. Nowadays, this spiritual jazz classic is regarded as one of Pharoah Sanders’ finest moments and features a masterclass from the pioneering saxophonist.

The Ahman Jamal Trio released The Awakening in 1970. Opening the album was the title-track which found the pianist’s music continuing to evolve. His fingers dance across the piano keyboard as he combines elements of cool jazz and post bop combine on one of the highlights of what was an ambitious and adventurous album where sometimes less is more.

In 1971, Charlie Haden released Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra which featured the protest song We Shall Overcome. It’s produced by Bob Thiele and is given a free jazz makeover by the pioneering bassist and bandleader.

Alice Coltrane recorded Blue Nile twice. The first time was for her album The El Daoud in 1970 which was recorded in the basement of her house and featured Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson. It finds the harpist switching to piano and her two featured artists playing alto flutes. Together they’re responsible for a truly beautiful, poignant and spiritual sounding track which features an all-star band at the peak of their powers.

When Pharoah Sanders released Thembi in 1971 it was quite different to previous albums. Gone were the lengthy jams which were replaced by shorter much more concise tracks that were breezy and uptempo. Pharoah Sanders and his band played an eclectic selection of instruments as they fused avant-garde, experimental music and free jazz. One of the highlights of this inventive, captivating and underrated album was a stunning spiritual jazz cover of Lonnie Liston Smith’s Astral Travelling.  

When Archie Shepp released Attica Blues in 1972 it featured Blues For Brother George Jackson. It was an album of avant-garde jazz that became one of his most successful large group albums. Some critics saw Attica Blues as a protest album. However, it was more than that. It’s political and religious experience and also an appeal to higher human consciousness to help the world and its citizens. Some forty-nine years after the release of the album it’s still as powerful and relevant as it was in 1982.

John Handy released Hard Work on ABC Records in 1976 and the album reached twenty-nine on the US Billboard Jazz charts and forty-three on the US Billboard 200. The title-track closes Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment and finds the jazz saxophonist and his band combining jazz, fusion and R&B on a truly memorable and hook-laden track.

Nowadays, Impulse! is regarded as one of the most important labels in the history of jazz. That’s no surprise as many of the giants of jazz spent time signed to Impulse! where they seem to have been afforded creative freedom. There was nobody trying to tell artists what direction their music should head in. The only problem was that many of the albums the label released weren’t a commercial success. However, many of the albums that Impulse! released were innovative, inventive and influential. Especially during the period Bob Thiele was at the helm of Impulse!

Nowadays, Bob Thiele’s name is synonymous with Impulse! He was at at the helm between 1961 and 1969. That was when Impulse! released some of its most important and influential music. The departure of Bob Thiele in 1969 left a huge void.

When Bob Thiele left Impulse! his replacement was thirty-five year old Ed Michel. It wasn’t going to be easy to replace a man who produced a string of classic albums. It was no surprise when critics and cultural commentators wondered whether Impulse! would be the same label? 

Still, Impulse! continued to release important, innovative, inventive and influential. However, not as regularly as it once had. Some of the albums were hit or miss affairs and no longer was the label consistently releasing classic albums. They were now in short supply.

Still, many of the artists signed to Impulse! after Bob Thiele’s departure were pioneers. They continued to released ambitious and groundbreaking music Some of that music features on Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment. 

For newcomers to one of jazz’s legendary labels Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment is the perfect introduction. However, there’s many more tracks that that could’ve featured on the compilation. So much so, that it would be easy to compile a four disc set and still have enough for a second volume. 

After Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment, it’s worth checking out Jazzman Records’ Spiritual Jazz 12: Impulse! compilation and the Impulse! 1961-1974 twenty-five disc box set which was released in 2017. They’re a reminder of one of the legendary jazz  reminder Impulse! which was home to many of the giants and pioneers of jazz.

Impulse Records: Music, Message and The Moment.


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