PACIFIC BREEZE 2: JAPANESE CITY POP AOR AND BOOGIE 1972-1986.

Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986.

Label: Light In The Attic Records.

Release Date: ‘15th’ of May 2020.

In May 2019, Seattle-based Light In The Attic Records released Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986 to widespread critical acclaim. This lovingly curated compilation was what many music fans had been waiting for. 

Many of the tracks on the compilation were rarities that were impossible to find outside of Japan. Even many record dealers in America and Europe struggled to lay their hands on the these rarities. To buy the individual tracks on Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986 would prove prohibitively expensive and mostly likely impossible to find.

That was unless you knew record dealers who specialised in the type of music Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986. Even then you’ll need deep pockets as these are rarities that change hands for large sums of money. It would be an expensive exercise and in reality one that would be impossible to accomplish.

The only people who might be able to find the tracks on the compilation were record buyers who regularly travelled to Japan. They could spend their spare time searching record shops for the rarities on the compilation. They may strike it lucky and find a couple of the tracks on the compilation. It would be a long shot, and most likely prove a fruitless and frustrating search.

The disappointed and frustrated record collector will end up wishing they had saved themselves a lot of heartache and bought a copy of Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1976-1986. They won’t make that mistake again, and will have preordered their copy of  Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 which is out on Light In The Attic Records on the ‘15th’ May 2020 on CD and LP. Just like the first instalment in the series it features tracks from familiar faces as well as hidden gems and rarities.

There’s a total of sixteen tracks on Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986. This includes contributions from Bread and Butter, Eiichi Ohtaki, The Mystery Kindaichi Band, Anri, Tomoko Aran, Sadistics, Piper, Eri Ohno, Kyoko Furuya and Yuji Toriyama.

Bread and Butter released their debut album Moonlight  in 1972. Two years later, they released their third album Barbecue which saw the pop duo make a breakthrough. The album featured Pink Shadow, which is an irresistible slice of proto-city pop funk. It’s the perfect way to open Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986, and sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.

Nowadays, Eiichi Ohtaki, who passed away on the ‘30th’ December 2013 is regarded as one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. When he began recording his 1972 eponymous debut album he was still a member of the Japanese language rock band Happy End. They joined Eiichi Ohtaki in the studio and feature on many of the songs on his album. This includes the sultry, soulful and funky Yubikiri which was one of the album’s highlights. 

In 1970, Kimiko Kasai released her debut album Just Friends on London Records. By then, she was twenty-five and previously, had been the singer in several jazz bands. This she continued to do over the next few years, collaborating with Gil Evans, Cedar Walton and Oliver Nelson in 1974. Three years later, Kimiko Kasai released her album Tokyo Special which featured Vibration (Love Celebration). It’s a sensual sounding track where her band combine jazz and soul on what’s one of the highlights of the compilation. 

The Mystery Kindaichi Band was a studio band who recorded an album that was inspired by the Detective Kindaichi Kosuke book series. It was released in 1977 and featured Kindaichi Kosuke No Theme which combines seventies disco orchestras with funk, a breathy vocal and blistering, searing rocky guitar. This hidden gem is welcome addition to the compilation and a tantalising taste of The Mystery Kindaichi Band’s 1977 album. 

Anri was only seventeen, when she released her debut single So Long, in Los Angeles in 1982. Four years later, Anri released her fourth album Last Summer Whisper on For Life Records. It features the beautiful ballad Last Summer Whisper, which showcases a talented singer-songwriter whose enjoyed a long and successful career

When Tomoko Aran released her third album Fuyü-Kükan in 1983, it featured I’m In Love. It features a tender vocal delivered against an arrangement which combines eighties new wave, city pop and even a hint of funk.

In 1977, the Sadistics released their eponymous debut album on the Invitation label. One of the album’s highlights was the memorable hidden gem Tokyo Taste, which marries elements of fusion, experimental and pop.

After releasing their debut album I’m Not In Love in 1981, Piper returned in 1984 with their long-awaited sophomore album Summer Breeze. It featured Hot Sand, where Piper combine boogie, funk, city pop and rock to create a truly memorable track that has stood the test of time.

Rainy Saturday Coffee Break is track from Junko Ohashi and Minoya Central Station 1977 sophomore album. It’s a slick, soulful and jazz-tinged ballad with a hint of proto-boogie and rock in the carefully crafted genre-melting arrangement.

Closing Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 is Yuji Toriyama’s Bay/Sky Provincetown 1977. It’s a quite beautiful, atmospheric and mesmeric track from their 1985 album Taste Of Paradise that combines electro and fusion.

Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 picks up where the first instalment in the series left off and is another lovingly curated compilation  of quality music from Light In The Attic Records. Just like its predecessor, it’s there’s no filler on what’s a truly eclectic compilation. There’s elements of AOR, boogie, city pop, disco, electro, experimental music, jazz, funk, fusion, new wave, pop, rock and synth pop on the sixteen tracks on Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986. 

There’s many rarities and hidden gems on Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 and after hearing  these tracks, you’ll want to hear more from the artists involved. Hopefully, we’ll hear more from these artists in the future, and Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986 is just the latest instalment in what will be a long-running series.

Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop AOR and Boogie 1972-1986.

CULT CLASSIC: LITTLE RICHARD-THE SECOND COMING.

Cult Classic: Little Richard-The Second Coming.

Little Richard, who passed away on the ‘9th’ of May 2020 aged eighty-seven, was a flamboyant showman, a strutting, preening peacock and musical pioneer, whose career was transformed when he released Tutti Frutti as a single in October 1955. It reached number two on the US R&B charts, sold two million copies and in the process, launched  Little Richard’s career

Up until then, the twenty-two year old was a journeyman singer who for four years had struggled to make a breakthrough. After spells at RCA Victor and Peacock, Little Richard signed to Speciality where he met Bumps Blackwell who produced Tutti Frutti and played an important part in the rise of Little Richard.

Bumps Blackwell produced Long Tall Sally which was released in March 1956 as the followup to Tutti Frutti. It topped the US R&B charts and outsold Tutti Frutti. After this, the hits kept on coming.

This included Rip It Up, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille and Keep-A-Knockin’ which was released in August 1957 and reached number eight in the US Billboard 100 and two in the US R&B charts. Little Richard it seemed could do no wrong.

In October 1957, Little Richard flew to Australia with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran to take part in a package tour. It would prove to be one that changed his career. 

On an internal flight from Melbourne to Sydney, the plane that Little Richard was travelling on started experiencing some technical difficulties. Later, when he wrote his autobiography he told how he saw the plane’s red hot engines and felt that angels were “holding it up.” Little Richard was “deeply shaken” by the incident, and thought this was a “sign from God” to stop performing secular music and leave behind the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle he had been enjoying. Despite his management explaining him he had witnessed the Sputnik satellite returning to Earth, that night, at the end of the concert in Sydney announced he was going to follow a life in the ministry. 

Little Richard travelled home ten days earlier than had been expected, and discovered that that a plane he had been due travel to Australia on had crashed into the Pacific Ocean. This he took as another sign to “do as God wanted.”

Before he embarked upon his ministry, Little Richard made what was his “farewell performance” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. There was then a “final” recording session with Specialty Records later that month, and then the original wild man of rock ‘ n’ roll enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, to study theology. His fans were confused at what had happened.

As was often the case with Little Richards, things weren’t always as seemed. Little Richard later admitted that his reasons for leaving Speciality Records were financial. He wasn’t aware that the label had cut the percentage of royalties he was to earn for his recordings. Despite that, he continued to release singles on Speciality Records until 1960.

This included Good Golly Miss Molly which was released in January 1958 and reached number ten in the US Billboard 100 and four in the US R&B charts. Despite turning his back on secular music, Little Richard was still one of the most successful  musicians of his generation. 

That changed in early 1958 he released his sophomore album Little Richard which failed to trouble the charts. This must have come as a shock to one of the most successful men in music.

During the rest of his time signed to Speciality Records success eluded Little Richards. The singles he had recorded during the “final” recording session failed to find an audience. No longer was Little Richard one of the biggest names in rock ’n’ roll.By 1960, Little Richard’s time at Speciality Records was over.

Things didn’t get any better for Little Richard during the sixties. He signed Mercury after leaving Speciality Records and after that, bounced between labels enjoying largely unsuccessful spells at Coral, Atlantic, Little Star, Vee-Jay, Modern, Okeh and Brunswick. It was a tough time for Little Richard who took break from recording in 1967.

After a three years absence, Little Richard hit the comeback trail on the 11th March 1970. That was when he began work on his new album The Rill Thing. This would be the first album the thirty-five year old rock ’n’ roller had released since Little Richard’s Greatest Hits: Recorded Live! in July 1967. 

It was his second and final album for Okeh. Ironically, Little Richard’s Greatest Hits: Recorded Live! was his first album to chart in ten years. The album reached 184 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-eight in the US R&B charts. However, this was a far cry from Little Richard’s debut album.

Here’s Little Richard was released in March 1957, on Speciality, and reached thirteen on the US Billboard 200. Since then, album after album failed to chart.

By the time Little Richard’s Greatest Hits: Recorded Live! was released in July 1967, music had changed beyond recognition. Despite this, Little Richard hadn’t changed. Some critics thought he was a relic of music’s past, and of little relevance to modern music. Given how important a part Little Richard had played in the birth of rock ’n’ roll, this must have been hard to take. Some saw it as tough love. After all, the psychedelic era was in full swing, and still, Little Richard kept playing the same songs he had played five and ten years previously. Something had to give. 

What nobody expected was for three years to pass without a new Little Richard album. That’s what happened. However, maybe that’s no surprise.

By the mid-sixties, tongues were wagging about Little Richard There were allegations that he was drinking and smoking heavily. This was just the latest indiscretion in a controversial life. 

Little Richard’s had been arrested in 1962 for an act of voyeurism in Long Beach, California. This wasn’t the first time he had been arrested for a similar offence. The first time was when he was in his early twenties. That was before he became a he found fame and fortune as a rock ’n’ roll singer. His latest arrest must have caused untold damage to his reputation. 

Especially in America’s bible belt, where Little Richard would’ve hoped to sell copies of his new gospel album The King Of The Gospel Singers. It was released in March 1962, and was his third gospel album. The King Of The Gospel Singers proved to be Little Richard’s dalliance with gospel for some time. Little Richard returned to singing what had been called the devil’s music, rock ’n’ roll. 

That was the case until 1967. However, Little Richard was out of luck, and after his contract with Okeh expired, didn’t record and release an album for three years. Little Richard’s comeback album was The Rill Thing, which was released on Reprise in August 1970.

The Rill Thing.

Three years after recording Little Richard’s Greatest Hits: Recorded Live!, Little Richard began work on his comeback album. He had signed to Reprise Records, and they decided to send Little Richard to Rick Hall’s Fame Studios, in Muscle Shoals. 

Strangely, Little Richard had decided not hire Rick Hall to produce his comeback album. This seemed a strange move. After all, if anyone could get Little Richard’s career back on track, it was Rick Hall. He had worked with some of the biggest names in music, and had rejuvenated and transformed careers. However, Little Richard was confident in his own abilities, and was going to arrange and produce his comeback album, The Rill Thing. It was an album of cover versions and songs from the pen of Little Richard.

Nine songs had been chosen for what became The Rill Thing. Little Richard had written Somebody Saw You and Rill Thing, using his real name Richard Wayne Penniman. He also wrote Freedom Blues with Esquerita. The pair then penned Dew Drop Inn with Keith Winslow. Spreadin’ Natta, What’s The Matter? was the final song Little Richard cowrote, this time, with Robert “Bumps” Blackwell and Maybelle Jackson. These Little Richard compositions were joined by four cover versions.

This included Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues and Lennon and McCartney’s I Saw Her Standing There. They joined Larry Lee’s Two-Time Loser and Travis Wammack and Albert Lowe Jr’s Greenwood, Mississippi. These songs, and the rest of the album, would be recorded in Fame Studios.

When recording began at Fame Studios, Little Richard accompanied himself on piano on Freedom Blues, Dew Drop Inn and Rill Thing. Then for the rest of The Rill Thing, the band joined him. They accompanied Little Richard who not only played piano and added vocals, but took charge of arranging and production. After nearly three months of recording, Little Richard and his band completed The Rill Thing on the 2nd of June 1970. Now his comeback could begin in earnest.

With Little Richard having recorded The Rill Thing, Reprise Records scheduled the release of the album for August 1970. This left just two months to promote Little Richard’s comeback album.

By then, Freedom Blues had been released as a single in April 1970. It reached number forty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and twenty-eight in the US R&B charts. This made Freedom Blues  Little Richard’s most successful single for twelve years. Critics and record buyers awaited the release of Little Richard’s comeback album with interest.

The only albums that had been released while Little Richard had been away, were repackaged compilations of songs. What critics, and indeed record buyers wanted, was a new album from Little Richard. Especially if it offered something new. The Rill Thing certainly did.

On The Rill Thing, Little Richard’s music heads in a new direction, swamp rock. With this multitalented band for company, Little Richard set about reinventing himself. To do this, they combine elements of blues, funk, jazz, R&B and rock. The result was a much more contemporary sounding album. This was what he should’ve done years ago. It was a case of better late than never.

Critics and record buyers who had longed for Little Richard to reinvent himself were richly rewarded. The music was full of energy and excitement, and was a reminder why Little Richard was once vied for the title of The King Of Rock ’N’ Roll. With a multitalented band for company, Little Richard had recorded his best album in many a long year. Many critics thought this was a new beginning for Little Richard?

Despite the positive reviews, when The Rill Thing was released in August 1970, it failed to chart. That’s despite selling over 200,00 copies. However, Little Richard enjoyed a minor hit single.

When Greenwood, Mississippi was released, it stalled at just number eighty-five in the US Billboard 100 in 1970. However, with an album that sold over 200,000 copies and two hit singles, The Rill Thing had launched Little Richard’s comeback. Now he had to build upon The Rill Thing. Maybe, The Rill Thing was the Second Coming Of The King Of Rock ’N’ Roll?

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The King Of Rock ’N’ Roll.

After Little Richard’s comeback album, The Rill Thing, the man who once vied for the title The King Of Rock ’N’ Roll, began to think about the followup. Surely, Little Richard would make the return journey to Fame Studios, and hookup with the same band?

He didn’t. Instead, Little Richard hooked up with producer H. B. Barnum, to record what was an eclectic album. Despite selling 200,000 copies of The Rill Thing, Little Richard turned his back on swamp rock. This was a disappointment for his fans who liked the swamp rock sound of The Rill Thing. However, this wasn’t the only change Little Richard made.

Whereas he wrote much of The Rill Thing, Little Richard only wrote In The Name and arranged the traditional song Midnight Special. These songs were joined by nine cover versions.

Among them, were two which producer H. B. Barnum cowrote. He penned King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll with Bradford Craig and Green Power with John Anderson. They were joined by Hoyt Axton’s Joy To The World; Keith Richards and Mick Jagger’s Brown Sugar; Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry; Ed G. Nelson and Fred Rose’s Settin’ The Woods On Fire and John Fogerty’s Born On The Bayou. The other two songs came from the Motown songbook, including Marvin Gaye and William “Mickey” Stevenson’s Dancing In The Street. It was joined by Robert Rodgers and William “Smokey” Robinson’s The Way You Do the Things You Do. This eclectic collection of songs would become the followup to The Rill Thing.

Recording of The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll began at the Record Plant, Los Angeles, on 25th of May 1971. Little Richard played electric piano and added his vocals. Behind him, the band covered songs by Hank Williams, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Three Dog Night and The Rolling Stones. Many of these songs seemed a strange choice for Little Richard. However, he and producer H. B. Barnum reworked the songs, and sometimes, took them in unexpected directions on a truly eclectic album, The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Despite The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’s eclecticism, not all critics were won over by the album. Reviews were mixed. Some critics liked the album, and felt that Little Richard was on the right road. Other critics, including the ever contrarian Rolling Stone magazine weren’t impressed by The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll. They were the biggest critics of the album. Their criticisms included the way the album had been mixed; the album was under produced; the music was too commercial and Little Richard’s decision to eschew his trusty acoustic piano. However, the times they were a changing, and so was Little Richard. He was determined to return to the album charts.

And so he did. When The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll was released in October 1971, the album sneaked into the US Billboard at 193. That was as good as it got. Neither of the singles, Green Power which was released in October 1971, nor Dancing in the Streets, which was released in December 1971 charted. However, at least The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll had charted. This gave Little Richard something to build on. Maybe Little Richard’s luck was changing?

It wasn’t. Around the time Little Richard recorded The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, it’s thought that he began taking cocaine. This would eventually cost Little Richard $1,000 a day. Before that, Little Richard had another album to record, Second Coming.

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The Second Coming.

By the time Little Richard’s thoughts turned to his new album, his profile was higher than it had been for years. He was a familiar face on American television. Little Richard was also collaborating with a new generation of artists.

Over the last couple of years, Little Richard had recorded Miss Ann with Bonnie and Delaney, for their fourth album To Bonnie From Delaney. It was released in September 1970. Joey Covington of The Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna was keen to record with Little Richard, and the pair cut a Bludgeon Of A Bluecoat (The Man). Alas, the song was never released. Little Richard’s duet with Mylon LeFevre on He’s Not Just A Soldier. It found his way onto his 1972 album Over The Influence. The calls kept coming Little Richard’s way.

He was asked to record But I Try with The James Gang. Just like the song Little Richard cut with Joey Covington, the collaboration with The James Gang was never released. Another group that recorded with Little Richard, were Canned Heat. They recorded Rockin’ With The King in late 1971. Little Richard was busier, than ever, and even recorded two songs for a soundtrack. However, as 1972 dawned, Little Richard’s thoughts turned to his new album.

For his third album for Reprise Records, Little Richard was reunited Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. He wrote song for, and produced Little Richard during the time he was signed to Speciality. These were Little Richard’s glory days, and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell had played an important part in the rise and rise of Little Richard. However, could Robert “Bumps” Blackwell do so again, and lead Little Richard into the promised land of commercial success and critical acclaim?

Unlike The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Little Richard wrote most of the songs on The Second Coming. This was an apt title, given it was The Second Coming of the Robert “Bumps” Blackwell and Little Richard partnership. Little Richard wrote Mockingbird Sally, The Saints, Prophet of Peace and Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper. He cowrote Second Line with Robert “Bumps” Blackwell; It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way How You Do It with Pete Kleinman; Rockin’ Rockin’ Boogie with Seabrun Hunter and Thomasine with Maybelle Jackson. The only song Little Richard played no part in, was Nuki Suki with Bill Hemmons wrote. He was part of Little Richard’s band when recording of The Second Coming began.

For the recording of Second Coming, Little Richard and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell who co-produced the album, had put together a band featuring some two generations of top session players. Some were from the fifties, while others would make their name during the seventies. They headed to the Record Plant, Los Angeles, where The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll had been recorded.

When recording began on the 27th March 1972, the rhythm section featured drummer Earl Palmer, bassist Chuck Rainey and guitarists Mike Deasey, George Davis, Adolph Jacobs and David T. Walker. They were joined by Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar, baritone saxophonist Bill Horn and tenor saxophonists Lee Allen and Bill Hemmons. Little Richards played piano, added vocals and lead the band. By the 12th of April 1972, Second Coming was complete. The album had been recorded in just sixteen days. Second Coming was scheduled for release in September 1972.

With Little Richard and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell reuniting for Second Coming, it was an exciting prospect for critics and fans alike. Eventually, critics received their advance copy of Second Coming, and at last were able to decide whether the album was the Second Coming of The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Mockingbird Sally explodes into life, and open Second Coming. It’s powered along by the piano and rhythm section while horns augment, a vampish, powerhouse of a vocal. It’s a reminder of Little Richard’s glory days. Second Line finds Little Richard vamping, while his band combine R&B, funk and jazz. There’s no letup on It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way How You Do It. Again, Little Richard combines power and soul, before he and his band showcase their considerable skills. Seamlessly, two generations of musicians unite. 

It’s a similar case on The Saints. Although it’s credited to Little Richard, the song has been inspired by When The Saints Go Marching In. It’s given a makeover, as jazz, funk and R&B are combined by Little Richard and his tight, talented band. Nuki Suki is a similar to The Saints, and features another musical masterclass by the band. Again, they fuse jazz, funk and R&B as Little Richard, ever the showman vamps his way through this Bill Hemmon composition. Then on Rockin’ Rockin’ Boogie, Little Richard unleashes some boogie woogie piano, and a vocal that’s a mixture of raw power and enthusiasm. He’s always in control though, as he pounds his piano, that drives the arrangement along. Soon though, Little Richard rings the changes.

Prophet Of Peace has a much more contemporary sound. Funky describes the introduction, before Little Richard’s band combine blues and rock. Meanwhile eschews power for a soliloquy, on one of Second Coming’s highlights. On Thomasine, Little Richard’s hurt-filled vocal sits atop the rhythm section and horns. They drive the funky arrangement along, while Little Richard lays bare his hurt for all to hear. Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper closes Second Coming. and is a truly irresistible track where funk and R&B combine with soul jazz and boogie woogie on this epic jam. It seems Little Richard has kept the best until last. Critics agreed.

The Second Coming won the approval of most critics, and it looked as if the renewal of the Little Richard and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell had worked. Critics were won over by Second Coming, which mixed elements of Little Richard’s old sound with a new, funkier, contemporary sound. However, how would record buyers respond when Little Richard released The Second Coming?

Sadly, when The Second Coming was released in September 1972, the album never troubled the charts. By then, Little Richard felt that his three Reprise Records’ albums hadn’t been promoted sufficiently. It was a frustrating time for him. Adding to Little Richard’s frustrations, was the commercial failure of Mockingbird Sally. It was released in November 1972, but failed to chart. For Little Richard, this marked the beginning of the end of his time at Reprise Records.

Although Little Richard recorded one further album for Reprise Records, Southern Child was shelved and never released until 2005. The Second Coming proved to be the last album Little Richard released for Reprise Records. At least Little Richard’s Reprise Records’ swan-song was an album to be proud of. 

The renewal of the Little Richard and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell partnership resulted in an album that found Little Richard at his enthusiastic and energetic best. If more time and money had been spent promoting the album, maybe just maybe, Little Richard would’ve returned to the US Billboard 200 and surpassed the success of The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll? Second Coming was an album that deserved to fare better than it did. Alas, it failed commercially, and to all intents and purposes ended Little Richard’s time at Reprise Records. Sadly, this period of his career is often overlooked.

That’s a great shame, as the trio of albums Little Richard recorded for Reprise Records marked a return to form and after a decade in the doldrums. The man who was once regarded as The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll made a comeback in 1970 and by the time he released The Second Coming in 1972 was making progress. Maybe if the album had been promoted properly things would’ve been different?  Nowadays, it’s regarded as a cult classic that could’ve proved a stepping stone for The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, and marked The Second Coming of the late, great Little Richard a flamboyant showman and strutting, preening peacock of a performer whose likes we’ll never see again.

Cult Classic: Little Richard-The Second Coming.

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CULT CLASSIC: CESAR 830-CESAR.

Cult Classic: Cesar 830-Cesar.

Originally, Cesar Ascarrunz came from Bolivia to California to study economics and psychology. He wanted to continue his education and the University of California, in Berkeley seemed the perfect place. When he arrived in California in 1960, he was twenty-five. Although interested in music, he couldn’t play an instrument. This changed in 1961, when Cesar was at a student party and nobody could play the piano. So, he sat down and with one finger, played Besame Mucho. That was it, Cesar was hooked. Music became Caesar’s first love.

Within a week, Cesar Ascarrunz had picked up another nine songs. Soon, he became more proficient and by October 1961, was playing professionally. Cesar was soon winning over audiences in local venues, and before long, Chad taught himself to play everything from vibes, organ, guitar and Latin percussion instruments including timbales and congas. In the space of just a few months, he became a multi-instrumentalist. Usually, this takes most people a lifetime. Not Cesar Ascarrunz who managed this whilst studying economics and clinical psychology and quickly became a musical phenomenon.

Around the San Francisco bay area, Cesar Ascarrunz was one of the most popular musicians. Music lovers flocked to his own room, Cesar’s Latin Club. If strangers arrived there, they couldn’t believe the scenes. Literally, the room was packed. Describing it as standing room only is almost an exaggeration. People were packed in cheek by jowl. Then when Cesar Ascarrunz took the stage he unleashed a glorious melange of Latin music. The rhythm section and percussion drove the audience into a frenzy. Soon, the word was out. For discerning lovers of Latin music, the place to be was  Cesar’s Latin Club.

People came from far and wide to  Cesar’s Latin Club. This included Mexico and Europe. That’s how far word had spread about Cesar. That’s no surprise though. Not only was Cesar a musical phenomenon, but a budding entrepreneur. 

His time spent at the University Of California was well spent. Caesar realised the importance of raising his profile. Soon, he had a radio and television show. For him and his new band, this allowed people out-with California to hear about Cesar. This included the owner of one of the most innovative labels, Bob Thiele.

Bob had spent his like working in the music industry. He’d spent eight years transforming Impulse Records into a musical powerhouse. It gained a reputation for releasing groundbreaking music. During that time, Bob Thiele enjoyed the busiest period of his career. Bob, he was hardly away from the studio, producing over 150 albums in eight years. This included John Coltrane’s seminal album A Love Supreme.  During his time working with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz, Bob Thiele must have realised that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they would like. 

Soon, Bob Thiele, would be able to create an environment where this would be possible. By 1969, Bob had been at Impulse for eight years. He’d been responsible for producing some of the most important jazz music of the sixties. However, there’s no sentiment in music. In the musical equivalent of a musical coup d’tat, Bob Thiele was ousted from his role at Impulse. This proved to the start of the next chapter in his career.

Leaving Impulse in 1969, Bob Thiele founded Flying Dutchman Productions. This would become home to everyone from Ornette Coleman, through Gil Scott Heron, Leon Thomas, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Louis Armstrong. Another artist signed to Flying Dutchman was Lonnie Liston Smith and His Cosmic Echoes. They’d just enjoyed commercial success with their 1975 album Expansions. This vindicated Bob’s belief that within the right environment,  innovative musicians could thrive, creating music that’s influential and forward-thinking. Bob Thiele’s label was on a roll, so they signed Cesar Ascarrunz’s band Cesar 830 to Flying Dutchman.

Now signed to Flying Dutchman, Caesar 830 began work on their debut album Cesar. Eight tracks, which were a mixture of new songs and cover versions were chosen. They became Cesar 830. Cesar wrote Descarga and Teo Macero who arranged Cesar wrote three tracks. They were The Devil and Montezuma, Navidad Latino and Bridges. P.E. Smith penned See Saw Affair and Louis Ramirez wrote Azucar. Angelo, Benny Velarde and Jim Vincent wrote Gotta Get Away, while Tomas Gutierrez, Eddie Palmieri and Ismael Quintana wrote The Lady In My Life. These eight tracks became Cesar.

When recording of Cesar began, Bob Thiele would produce the album and Teo Macero arranged it and conducted the band. The band included a rhythm section of drummer Tony Smith, bassists Harold Martin and Thomas Rutley plus guitarists Jim Vincent, Joe Jammer and Steven Busfield. Caesar, Mark Levine and Merl Saunders played piano and Hadley Caliman flute. Adding Latin percussion were Benny Velarde on timbales and Will Collon on bells and bongos. The horn section included alto saxophonist Martin Fierro, soprano saxophonist Steve Marcus, trombonist  Jules Rowell, trumpeter Joseph Ellis Jr, tenor saxophonist Hadley Caliman and Martin Fierro. Backing vocalists came from Benny Velarde. Francis Aquabella, Tony Smith and Wills Colon. Once Cesar was recorded, the album was released later in 1975.

Given how successful Cesar 830 were, with their live shows, plus their television and radio shows, many people thought that their debut album Caesar would be a commercial success. On its release in 1975, it failed to chart. Caesar didn’t enjoy the commercial success other albums of Latin music enjoyed. Sadly, it proved to be the only album Cesar 830 released. 

Opens Cesar is Descarga, which means an expression of the soul. It’s a joyous track that literally, bursts into life. With the piano, rhythm section, growling horns and a myriad of percussion, the arrangement is driven along. It sashays joyously along, with Cesar 830 in the tightest of grooves. A vocal escapes from the arrangement before trombone solo sores above the arrangement. It’s enveloped by percussion and sets the bar high. When it’s time for the next solo, it has a lot to live up t0. That’s no problem. The saxophone does. So does a searing, psychedelic guitar solo. Not only does it provide the icing on the cake, but the cherry too. Quite simply, this is an irresistible and joyous irresistible fusion of Latin jazz, funk and even a twist of rocky guitars.

Straight away, See Saw Affair, the best known track from Caesar, reminds me of Santana in their prime. It’s the crystalline, glistening rock-tinged guitars that lead to this comparison. They’re accompanied by a funky rhythm section and percussion as Latin jazz, salsa, rock and two step soul combine. The soul comes courtesy of Linda Tillery’s heartfelt and sensual vocal. She struts her way through the track, adding whoops and hollers, while braying horns and drums add to the drama.That’s why this has track has long been a favourite of clubbers. No wonder. Soulful, jazz-tinged and dance-floor friendly describes this track.

The Devil and Montezuma is a dramatic, cinematic track. It’s reminiscent of the type of track that would feature on a Blaxploitation soundtrack. Rolls of drums, a blistering saxophone solo, reverberating guitars and percussion unite. Thunderous rhythms are the order of the day. Stabs of grizzled horns compete with the alto-saxophone and guitars. In the midst of the mix Cesar’s piano competes for your attention. Mostly, it’s the blazing, blistering horns that take centre-stage. Everything else plays a supporting role on this dramatic, cinematic opus. It’s a track that would be perfect for the dramatic scenes in the next Tarantino movie. 

Navidad Latino you think, is a much more laid-back affair. With a wistful sound that meanders into being, Cesar 830 throw a curveball. Horns blaze, while the rhythm section, piano and percussion drive the arrangement along. It unfolds in waves, revealing its secrets and beauty. A horn rasps and floats above the arrangement, which sashays along, sweeping you in its wake. While not as dramatic as other tracks it has one thing in common, it’s quality.

Azucar is a cover of Louie Ramirez track. It featured on Louis and Pete Bonet’s 1971 album Pete and Louie. It’s an explosive fusion of musical genres. Dramatically bursting into life, thunderous drums join percussion and Santana-esque guitars. Bursts of braying horns add to the drama as everything from funk, jazz, Latin and rock combines. Later, harmonies usher in Linda’s sassy vocal. She sings call and response, before Cesar 830 kick loose. In full flow, it’s an impressive sound. For the fifth time, I’m left asking myself one question, why wasn’t Caesar a hugely successful album? After all it’s shaping up to be a lost classic? 

Gotta Get Away sees Cesar transformed into big band. They unleash a storming slice of Latin jazz. Oozing drama from the opening bars, it’s as if vocalist Linda Tillery is making her escape. There’s an urgency in her vocal. The rest of Cesar 830 pickup on this. Blistering guitar solos, a funky bass, braying, blazing horns and a myriad of percussion provide the dramatic backdrop as Linda sings she’s “Gotta Get Away.”

After the drama and urgency of Gotta Get Away, Bridges sees a change in style. For the moment, the drama and urgency dissipates. The arrangement is driven along by a melancholy saxophone which takes centre-stage. Everyone else plays a supporting role.This includes revving guitars, percussion, keyboards and the rhythm section the drives the arrangement along. The drama, urgency and power of earlier tracks returns. This allows Cesar 830 to showcase their talent and versatility, as they create a delicious fusion of funk, jazz and Latin music.

The Lady In My Life closes Caesar. It was written by Eddie Palmieri. Stabs of horns and bursts of drums announce the arrival of Cesar 830 for the last time. The arrangement sashays along, percussion, piano and vocal uniting. The vocal carries the melody, while drums add occasional bursts of drama. Horns add a sultry Latin sound. Then with two minutes to go, Cesar 830 decide to kick loose. Blistering rocky guitars, galloping percussion and bongos join the rhythm section combine. Having stretched their legs, the track returns to its earlier sound. The arrangement sashays its way to a joyous and dreamy close, bookending the Caesar perfectly.

Earlier, I said that throughout Cesar, I’d wondered why the album wasn’t a huge commercial success? After all, there’s not a poor track on the album. From the open ing bars of Descarga, right through to The Lady In My Life, Cesar oozes quality. It’s an album that’s all killer no filler. Despite this, Cesar was a commercial failure. That  was the end of Cesar 830’s recording career. Abruptly, it came a halt. Since then, Cesar has lain unreleased and unloved. That’s apart from a discerning group of music lovers. They recognised the importance of Caesar and the music released by Flying Dutchman.

Bob Thiele was a musical maverick and visionary.  Often, these musical innovators didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted. This means they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they’d like. So Bob Thiele was determined to give innovative and creative musicians an environment where they could thrive. The result was Flying Dutchman. 

By 1975, his label was six years old and had just enjoyed commercial success with Liston Smith and His Cosmic Echoes’ 1975 album Expansions. Buoyed by this success, Bob realised that Latin music was enjoying a resurgence in popularity. With Cesar 830 a successful act around San Francisco, and thanks to television and radio shows, further afield signing them seemed a no-brainer. 

Sadly, despite providing Cesar 830 the environment and freedom to create groundbreaking music their 1975 debut album wasn’t a commercial success. That’s despite Caesar being a delicious and irresistible fusion of funk, jazz, Latin, psychedelia, rock samba and soul. Dance-floor friendly, jazz-tinged and soulful, Cesar 830 were one of the top Latin bands. However, still commercial success and critical acclaim eluded them. Why?

Maybe the problem was, that Flying Dutchman wasn’t a big enough label for Cesar 830? They were popular throughout Europe and South America. Possibly, Flying Dutchman weren’t big enough to promote them throughout three continents, North America, South America and Europe? A major label would’ve been able to do this. Sadly, major labels weren’t the right place for artists to experiment and innovate. Majors wanted success and wanted it quickly. Smaller labels like Flying Dutchman nurtured artists like Cesar 830 before they released an album. 

Sadly, despite this nurturing  Cesar 830’s only album for Flying Dutchman Caesar wasn’t a commercial success. Instead, Cesar was a victim of circumstances and is best described as a lost Latin classic.  

Cult Classic: Cesar 830-Cesar.

 

 

 

DR. LONNIE SMITH-ALL IN MY MIND.

Dr. Lonnie Smith-All In My Mind.

Label: Blue Note Records.

Forty-six years after he left Blue Note Records, Dr. Lonnie Smith returned in 2016 and released a new studio album Evolution. It was released to critical acclaim and marked the homecoming of the last of the great soul-jazz organists.

His career began in 1960, and in the Dr. Lonnie Smith was about to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday by recording a live album at the Jazz Standard in New York City with his Trio. It was producer by Don Was, the Blue Note Records’ President. 

Joining the veteran Hammond organist were drummer Jonathan Blake and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg. They had been playing together for many years and formed a formidable partnership. That would become apparent when they took to the stage that night and showcased their considerable skills. The set was recorded, and became the live album All In My Mind. It was originally released in 2018, and has just been reissued as part of Blue Note Records’ Tone Poet series. This is a welcome reissue, and according to Dr. Lonnie Smith is much more representative of him as a musician.

“When I’m playing live, the people get exactly what I’m about. When you do studio work, they have a tendency to want you to record over and over again, but you can mess up the song and make it sound very mechanical.” Dr. Lonnie Smith would rather his band plays with freedom, feeling, honesty and sincerity.“That’s what I want, I want exactly what you feel at that moment when you’re playing it. Of course, people say I could have done a better job or there’s a mistake here, but who cares? It’s all about the feeling, and I want to hear that feeling.” That was the case when All In My Mind was recorded.

The set opens with a smoking cover Wayne Shorter’s Juju. It’s Jonathan Kreisberg’s fluid freewheeling crystalline guitar that takes centrestage which he plays effortlessly. When Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Hammond organ enters he’s not to be outdone as his fingers fly up and down the keyboard as subtitles and nuances of the original melody. Later, drummer Jonathan Blake powers his way round then kit during a stunning solo as the guitar plays a supporting role before the maestro returns and stamps his soul-jazz sound on this modal classic.

The tempo drops on Devika which initially has an understated sound as a chirping, spacious guitar meanders as the distant Hammond swirls and wheezes. Meanwhile, drummer Jonathan Blake caresses his kit as the guitar and Hammond move centrestage and play starring roles. The tempo and volume briefly increase before returning to a much more understated sound, and is dreamy, beautiful and ruminative before it reaches a crescendo.

Paul Simon’s Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover might seem an unusual inclusion, but it’s been part of his sets for many years. As it unfolds, Jonathan Kreisberg’s chirping, crystalline guitar plays the melody. Joe Dyson replaces drummer Jonathan Blake and his drums have a ratty sound. However, his funky, syncopated breaks combines well with what’s one of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s best solos. Fleet-fingered and funky he puts fifty-seven years of experience to good use as the Trio reinvent this classic which veers between languid and laid-back to funny and soulful.

Very different is the rendition of Tadd Dameron’s On A Misty Night. It’s a slow, spacious and understated sounding track. Less is more and nobody overplays. Instead they play within themselves on what’s a beautiful, sensuous, expressive and emotive reading of this classic.

A jaunty rework of Up Jumped Spring closes All In My Mind. There’s a playfulness as the veteran organist’s fingers glide and dance up and down the keyboard. Other times he jabs and stabs the keyboard adding a degree of drama. As he works his way through the gears, Jonathan Blake and Jonathan Kreisberg match the maestro every step of the way. They prove the perfect foil on what’s a flawless cover of this Freddie Hubbard composition that closes the album on resounding high.

Dr. Lonnie Smith’s 2018 album All In My Mind was his second album since he returned home to Blue Note Records after a forty-six year absence. He was by then, the last great soul-jazz organist, and showcases his considerable talent and versatility on the album. 

Joining him in the Trio were Jonathan Blake and Jonathan Kreisberg who play their part in the sound and success of All In My Mind. Both are outstanding musicians, and without them, it wouldn’t be the same album. They were augmented by drummer Joe Dyson who plays on Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover. Good as he is, and he’s a talented and inventive drummer he won’t unseat Jonathan Blake anytime soon. The current trio gel perfectly and the chemistry between them resulted in what’s one of the best albums Dr. Lonnie Smith released in a number of years. 

The big question is does it deserve to be part of Blue Note Records’ Tone Poet Series? Looking at the recent instalments like Herbie Hancock’s The Prisoner, Hank Mobley’s Poppin’, Grant Green’s Nigeria and Lee Morgan’s The Cooker are all jazz classics. So were Andrew Hill’s Black Fire, Stanley Turrentine’s Hustlin’,Dexter Gordon’s Clubhouse, Grant Green’s Born To Be Blue and Wayne Shorter’s Etcetera which were all released in 2019 as part of the Tone Poet Series. Does All In My Mind belong amongst what are classic albums?  

That begs the question is All In My Mind a classic album? Personally, I don’t think it is although it’s one of the best jazz albums released in 2018 and on Blue Note Records over the past few years. Maybe that is why it’s been included in the Tone Poet Series?  

All In My Mind  one of the best jazz albums released during 2018, and is All In My Mind is also one the best albums that Dr. Lonnie Smith has released in the past couple of decades. He rolls back the years on All In My Mind which is the latest instalment in Blue Note Records’ Tone Poet Series, which is also a reminder why Dr. Lonnie Smith is regarded as one of the greatest Hammond organists of his generation.

Dr. Lonnie Smith-All In My Mind.

NKEM NJOKU AND OZZOBIA BROTHERS-OZABIA SPECIAL. 

Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers–Ozobia Special.

Label: BBE Africa.

Tabansi Records was founded in Nigeria in 1952, and filled a void when major labels like Decca and later, Philips closed the doors on their Nigerian operations. Chief Tabansi, who lent his name to what would become Nigeria’s most important label, recorded artists and then pressed the records at The United African Company’s pressing plant. After that, record vans promoted the latest releases in Nigerian villages. This was just the start for Tabansi Records.

In the sixties, The United African Company decided to concentrate on importing American and European music. With very little competition, Tabansi Records was able to concentrate on local  music, which The United African Company had turned its back on. This was a big mistake.

During the seventies, Tabansi Records was the most successful Nigerian label, and its founder  Chief Tabansi was one of the leading light’s of country’s thriving and vibrant music scene. He had invested in the company he had founded in, in Onitsha, Lagos, all these years ago, which had its own studios and pressing plant. The company was going from strength-to-strength.

By the eighties, Chief Tabansi was joined in the company by his son Godwin. He helped promoting and developing the artists on the Tabansi roster. This included Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers’ debut album Ozobia Special, which was recently released by BBE Africa, an imprint of BBE Music.

When Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers came to record Ozobia Special in the early eighties, Igbo highlife was still a hugely popular genre. Its roots can be traced back to the late-fifties, and Onitsha,  a city which was located on the banks of the Niger River in Nigeria’s Anambra State. That was where Igbo highlife was born.

Igbo highlife grew in popularity during the sixties,  just after Nigeria gained independence. However, all wasn’t well in Nigeria. There was poverty, wages were low  and housing was overcrowded and dangerous. This resulted in strikes and  by June 1964 the Nigerian people had enough and there was a general strike. Although this resulted in wage increases, therek was tension between the army and civilians who believed the government was corrupt.  It went to the polls at the end of 1964.

On the ‘30th’ of December 1964, there was meant to be an election in Nigeria. However, in some parts of the country the election didn’t take place until the ‘18th’ of March 1965. The Northern People’s Alliance won the election, but the result was marred by violence accusations that the result had been manipulated. Sadly, things were about to get worse for the people of Nigeria.

Ten month later  was a military coup on the ’15th’ of January 1966. Just four months later, the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom began in  May and lasted until September. By then, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Igbos and people of southern Nigerian origin had been murdered. Another million Igbos fearing for their lives fled from the Northern Region to eastern Nigeria. 

This led to the secession of the eastern Nigeria region and the declaration of the Republic of Biafra. Sadly, those that had sought sanctuary were now caught up in the Nigeria-Biafra war which began on the ‘6th’ of July 1967, and lasted until  the ’13th’ of January 1970. After a war lasting two years, six months, one week and two days there had been 100,000 military casualties, while  between 500,000 and three million Biafran civilians died of starvation and Biafra rejoined Nigeria.

During what was a bloody period in Nigerian history,  Igbo highlife’s popularity grew. It was primarily guitar-based music, which also included a combination of horns and vocal rhythms. They’re sung in a call and-response style in Igbo or pidgin English.  The music takes its 6/8 time signature from the Ogene bell that take a prominent place at the front of Igbo gatherings. It can be heard on Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers’s debut album Ozobia Special.

The six tracks that became Ozobia Special  were recorded and later mixed at Tabansi Recording Studio, Onitsha, in Nigeria. Just like all the Tabansi sessions, top musicians were used including a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist George Atomba, bassist Isidore Modjo and John Kante who adds his unmistakable soukous guitar. They were joined by pianist Sonny Enang, Highlife keyboard keyboard maestro Jake Sollo on synths, plus percussionists Chukwudi Nwafor, Friday Pozo and Candido Obajimi. The horn section featured saxophonist Ngoma and trumpeters Kofi Adjololo and Ray Stephen Oche, and adding backing vocals on Ozobia Special were Judith Ezekoka and Kenny George. They played their part in what would later be regarded as a cult classic.

When Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers released  their debut album Ozobia Special the music was joyous, uplifting with an infectious and memorable sound. Igbo highlife combines with boogie era keyboards and funk. The vocals veer between heartfelt, impassioned and soulful. There’s even a touch of gospel righteousness on Ozobia Special. Most of the time, it’s feel-good music that shows another side to highlife.  

Ozobia Special opens the album and  is special with a capital S.  No wonder given the ingredients used to make this musical feast. Part of the recipe is a circus fanfare horn chart. Add to that  boogie synths, a mesmeric guitar motif  and an impassioned vocal  sung in a call and response style. Set the musical oven at 6/8 tempo and enjoy the celebratory sound Igbo highlife in full flight. 

Like the other tracks Ofu Obi (Onye Achuna Uwa Nike) is in 6/8 time but is a shuffle, with bells, whistles and blazing horns getting the party started. A boogie era Prophet synth punctuates the arrangement while the vocal is heartfelt and soulful. It’s Igbo highlife meets boogie, and is joyous, uplifting and memorable with vocalist Nkem Njoku and keyboardist Jake Sollo playing starring roles.  

Unlike other tracks on the albumOsula Nwa Eje Ubi Eje Oba is played in 4/4 time. Straight away, where there’s an elements of drama before the arrangement reveals its secrets and heads for the dancefloor. It’s an irresistibly catchy call to dance with a timeless sound, and  is one of the album’s highlights.

It’s as if Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers are determined to grab the listener’s attention as  Ije Eluwa unfolds. Isidore Modjo lays down an uber funky bass line that bounds over John Kante’s repetitive guitar licks that eventually mesmerise. Old school synths join drums and a myriad of percussion before the vocal enters. Nkem Njoku seems to be in a hurry, his vocal is emotive and a mixture of power and passion. When all this is combined the result is a track that leaves the listener with a smile on their face. 

Akwa Obi is played at 6/8 time and marks the return of the Ogene bell. Initially, the arrangement is understated, soulful and sounds as of it’s been influenced by gospel. Then it’s all change as the rhythm section, chiming guitar, percussion and the Ogene bell combine with Nkem Njoku’s vocal. He alternates between  Igbo or pidgin English as  soulful backing vocals reply to his call . Meanwhile, Ogene drumming,  gospel tinged harmonies and braying horns are a feature of the arrangement. By the, the band and Nkem Njoku are in full flight and it’s a joy to behold on what’s the best track on Ozobia Special.

Closing Ozobia Special is Egwu Oyoliba which bursts into life as if Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers are  keen to close the album on a high.  To do that, they combine percussion and whistles  with robotic and squelchy synths. They provide the backdrop to the vocal on what’s highlife with a twist. Later, blazing horns the whistles are punctuate the arrangement on before the vocal returns and Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers succeed in leaving a lasting impression.  

For anyone with even a passing interest in African music, then Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers’ debut album Ozobia Special will be of in test to them. It’s an album of the finest Igbo highlife which is combined with elements of boogie, funk, gospel, jazz and soul.  Ozobia Special features some of Nigeria’s top musicians making music that is joyful, uplifting, catchy, soulful  and dancefloor friendly. It makes you want to smile and dance for joy even in such difficult times. 

Ozobia Special is just one of sixty albums from the Tabansi Records vaults that BBE Africa, an imprint of BBE Music, will release over a two year period. It’s part of their Tabansi Gold reissue series, which got underway last year and is a reminder of what’s the most important, influential and innovative Nigerian record label of the past six decades. They released so many important albums during the seventies and eighties which was golden era for Chief Tabansi’s label. This was when Tabansi Records released Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers’s oft-overlooked debut album of Igbo highlife Ozobia Special, which is a cult classic that is guaranteed to brighten up your day and will bring some sunshine into your life. 

Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers–Ozobia Special.

ISLANDMAN-KAYBOLA. 

Islandman-Kaybola.

Label: Music For Dreams.

Three years ago in 2017, Islandman released their debut album Rest In Space to widespread critical acclaim. Since then, the Turkish trio have been busy, and have crisscrossed the globe playing gigs in clubs and at festivals. They’ve also spent the best part of two years recording their much-anticipated sophomore album Kaybola, which was recently released by Danish label Music For Dreams. It’s a captivating cross cultural sonic adventure with surprises aplenty in store, and the latest chapter in the Islandman story.

It’s a story that began in 2010, when Istanbul-based singer, songwriter, musician and producer Tolga Böyük started his new solo project Islandman. By then, he was a familiar face in Istanbul’s vibrant psychedelic scene and had self-released a string EPs and albums. Tolga Böyük was also a member of the band Farfara, but Islandman allowed him to take Anatolian psychedelic rock in a new and different direction.

To do this, he planned to fuse disparate musical genres. This was something that Turkish musicians had been doing for many years. The most popular instrument was the guitar, and many musicians started off playing Anatolian folk music and combined it with various Western influences. This was what Tolga Böyük planned to do by combining Anatolian psychedelic music with what was a Mediterranean vibe and a balearic sound. It was very different to the music other musicians were making. 

In 2015, the Islandman LP was released digitally and featured nine unnamed tracks that were mixed into each other. This included early versions of what became Ağit, Ikaru and Hold Your Breath. These tracks would feature on Islandman’s first two albums.

When Islandman began recording Rest In Space, the group was a trio. Tolga Böyük had brought onboard guitarist Erdem Başer and percussionist Eralp Güven. They recorded ten genre-melting tracks which were written and produced by Tolga Böyük, and became Rest In Space.

What’s now regarded as Islandman’s debut album, Rest In Space, was released in October 2017, to critical acclaim and hailed as an album of ambitious and innovative music. Elements of Antolian psychedelic rock were combined with downtempo, electronica, jazz and traditional folk on Rest In Space to create what was an ambitious and innovative debut album from Islandman.

After the success of Rest In Space, Islandman spent part of their time playing live, and were regulars on the festival circuit and often played in clubs. However, they also started work on their sophomore album which became Kaybola. 

When Islandman came to record Kaybola, Tolga Böyük and Erdem Başer both played guitar and synths. They were joined by percussionist Eralp Güven and some guest artists. This included The Swan and The Lake, Frederik Langkilde, DJ Pippi, Copenema and Troels Hammer. They recorded the fourteen tracks that found their way onto the CD version of Kaybola, their much-anticipated sophomore album.

Kaybola is crammed full of ethno-cultural material from all over the world. This includes field recordings from Bulgaria and Japan as well as throat singers from Tuva, in Southern Siberia. Add to this shamanic rhythms, nomadic guitars, the familiar sound of the Roland 808 drum machine, experimental electronics and a sprinkling of Turkish instrumentation that can be heard throughout the album. There’s also electronic structures that transform Kaybola’s jazz elements into dance movements. All these is part of a captivating and magical album where seamlessly genres melt into one.

Kaybola opens with the new single Dimitro, which is a remake of a traditional Bulgarian wedding song. Islandman combine an 808 drum machine, bass and the original vocals which manage to sound both raw and soulful. They also sound as if they’re part of an ancient ritual, and are combined with a slow, sultry and hypnotic hip shaking arrangement. It’s a potent combination and whets the listener’s appetite for what’s to come. 

This includes the beautiful, sun kissed sound of Kaybola. Islandman combine a rock guitar with the Balearic sound and electronica. Very different is Zebra, an atmospheric soundscape where a soliloquy is combined with Antolian psychedelia, dub and electronica. It’s a dreamy, trippy and ruminative sounding track that invites reflection. 

Field recordings are used during Hold Your Breath, where the synths seem to have been influenced by Pink Floyd. Meanwhile, a dark, pulsating bass is combined with haunting and hypnotic sounds to create a lysergic and cinematic soundscape.

It’s all change on Sahara, were a squelchy synth, vocoder, Eastern sounds and trumpet combine to create a memorable sounding track. 

Initially Sem Voce which features DJ Pippi and Copenema is a slow burner as the bass plays before a hypnotic Antolian guitar is added. When the vocal enters, it’s soon obvious that the track is destined for the dancefloor. It becomes joyous and melodic with an unforgettable hook.

Islandman change things around on Khepre which under normal circumstances would be a favourite in beachside chill out bars as the sunsets in places like Ibiza.

Shu! is best described as a slow burner where impassioned and powerful vocal gives way to a combination of traditional instruments and synths. By then, the music is moody, atmospheric and hints of exotic faraway places before eventually becoming a chugging dancefloor filler.  

When Islandman released the lead single from Kaybola they chose Lamani. Whispery vocals, synths and Antolian sounds combine to create an   atmospheric, mesmeric and psychedelic dance track that will fill any dancefloor. 

Atmospheric describes the introduction to Sumeru which closes the album. It meanders along the music sounding moody, haunting and filmic. Then when vocals and synths are added this transforms the track and it becomes joyous and moderne. 

Three years after the release of Islandman’s critical acclaimed debut album Rest In Space, the Turkish trio return with the much-anticipated followup, Kaybola. It’s been well worth the long wait.

Kaybola finds Islandman combining disparate genres  and musical influences throughout the album.   Sometimes, it seems like these combinations shouldn’t work, but they do. That was the case on the penultimate track and dancefloor filler, Shu! However, producer Tolga Böyük takes the pieces of what’s akin to a musical jigsaw puzzle and makes the pieces fit. They aways do and throughout this fourteen track CD.

The two years that Tolga Böyük and the other two members of Islandman spent writing and recording Kaybola were well spent. Islandman have created a magical and captivating cross cultural sonic adventure with surprises aplenty in store, and they become apparent with each listen to Kaybola.

Islandman-Kaybola.

ROY BUDD-THE INTERNECINE PROJECT.

Roy Budd-The Internecine Project.

Label: Trunk Records.

By 1974, London born jazz pianist, arranger, bandleader and composer Roy Budd was twenty-seven, and had been performing professionally since the age of fifteen. A year later, he formed his own quartet, and in 1967,  released his debut album Roy Budd At Newport. The young pianist was a prodigious talent, who by 1970 had turned his attention to the world of film scores.

Roy Budd’s first film score was for Soldier Blue which was directed by Ralph Nelson and released in August 1970. Just a year later he was commissioned to write the score to the gangster film Get Carter which was released in 1971, and starred Michael Caine and Britt Ekland.  Over the next three years Roy Budd continued to combine his work as a bandleader and musician with writing film scores.

He was commissioned to write the score for The Internecine Project, a British thriller which was directed by Ken Hughes and starring James Coburn and Lee Grant. Joining Roy Budd when the soundtrack was recorded were his usual rhythm section of  drummer Chris Karan and bassist Pete Morgan. They were joined by legendary tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes and the National Philharmonic Orchestra when the soundtrack to The Internecine Project was recorded. Sadly, when the film was released no soundtrack album was available, and it’s never been released until Trunk Records recently released The Internecine Project on vinyl for the first time.  It’s a reminder of the multitalented Roy Budd at the peak of his powers.

Roy Budd was born on the ‘14th’ of March, 1947, and by the age of three music was already part of his life.  He used to listen to jazz playing on the radio. Just a year later, when he was four, Roy Budd started to play piano by ear. Then he started to copy the melodies he heard on the radio. This included Knees Up Mother Brown  which he used to tap out with just one finger. Those who watched Roy Budd play said music came effortlessly to him, and he was regarded as a child prodigy.

The following year, 1952, Roy Budd met Winifred Atwell, who was one of his favourite pianists. When she heard the five year old copy the way she played she was stunned and said: “I’ve never seen anything like it, his sense of rhythm is superb. There’s a real genius here all right.”

Just a year later, in 1953, Roy Budd made his official debut at the London Coliseum. Although the six year old  had only recently made his live debut American pianist Liberace had already heard about Roy Budd. He wanted to meet the young pianist, so sent Roy Budd and his parents tickets to one of his shows. Unfortunately, Liberace’s bodyguard didn’t believe the Budd’s had an appointment and they never got to meet him. To ensure this didn’t happen the next time, Roy Budd was sent a photo that included a personal note. This allowed him to prove he had an appointment with Liberace the next time he was in London.  

By the time Roy Budd was eight, he could also play the Wurlitzer organ. This was another example of his prodigious talent. 

Two years later, in 1957, ten year old Roy Budd was already a familiar face on British television, and had played before the royal family at The London Palladium.  He had achieved so much since he  made his debut just four years earlier. He was a special talent who said in an interview: “I have no idea of how the music comes. When I hear the a tune I just sit down at the piano and the music flows from my fingers.” That would be the case throughout his career.  

During his early teens, Roy Budd discovered jazz. This inspired him to form the Roy Budd Trio.

By the time he was fifteen, Roy Budd had already started playing professionally. Soon, he was being nominated and winning awards for the best jazz pianist. This included winning the UK jazz  poll in the category of best pianist for five years running.  Roy Budd’s life was transformed as  he played at some of the most prestigious venues across the globe.

He was by then regularly appearing on radio and television. Roy Budd had also started to write his own jazz compositions. This was a natural progression for the young musician.

So was forming his own band. When he turned sixteen, he formed the Roy Budd Quartet which featured drummer David May, Graham Jones or Steve Clark  on bass with guitarist Pete Smith completing the lineup. They  played at various venues in London, and regularly played at the Green Man and at the Lillipop Hall at Tower Bridge where they were a popular draw. Jazz fans from all over London travelled to see the young pianist and his new band.

Despite forming the Quartet when he was sixteen, the Roy Budd Trio was still going strong. The same year, Roy Budd brought drummer Chris Karan and bassist Pete Morgan onboard and they became what’s regarded as the classic lineup of the Trio. This new lineup of the Roy Budd Trio was influenced by its leader’s love of Brazilian music and would play together for over forty years.

At the time he turned professional, Roy Budd also decided to hire agent Doug Stanley. He would help the young musician for the next three years before emigrating to Australia. By then the two men had become friends and  Doug Stanley had guided Roy Budd’s career.

Later, Roy Budd became the resident pianist at the Bull’s Head, Barnes. That was where he met songwriter Jack Fishman. He  was so impressed with Roy Budd’s musical ability that he used his contacts at MCA to secure him a three-year recording contract. 

This must have looked like the start of another successful chapter in Roy Budd’s career. However,  after year, MCA used a clause in the contract that allowed the company to drop Roy Budd after the release of his 1965 debut single Birth Of The Budd.  For a young musician who was only used to success, this must have been a huge blow to Roy Budd. 

Despite this, Roy Budd bounced back and signed to Pye, and in 1967 released three albums. This included his debut solo album Pick Yourself Up!!! This Is Roy Budd. Later that year, he retained with his sophomore album Roy Budd Is The Sound Of Music. The Roy Budd Trio also released their debut album  Roy Budd At Newport during 1967. It had been a big year for the twenty year old pianist, bandleader and composer.

Roy Budd also wrote the theme for the Granada TV police drama Mr Rose. Little did he realise that he would soon be better known for his film scores. That was all in the future.

In 1969, Lead On Roy Budd was released, with Budd ‘N’ Bossa following in 1970. By then, Roy Budd was about to change direction and write his first film score.

The opportunity arose when he heard that director Ralph Nelson was looking for an English composer to write the score to his controversial revisionist western, Soldier Blue. Roy Budd was so keen to write the score that he sent Ralph Nelson a tape featuring music written by Dimitri Tiomkin, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Lalo Schifrin and Max Steiner’s lesser known works claiming that it was own. Unsurprisingly,  when Ralph Nelson heard the quality of music on the tape, he commissioned Roy Budd to write the score to Soldier Blue. There was a problem though.

Although Roy Budd could write music he couldn’t conduct an orchestra, which he was expected to do when the soundtrack was being recorded. Fortunately, he remembered Jack Fishman’s advice to never look at the control room. Heeding his friend’s he put his head down and conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during the recording of the Soldier Blue soundtrack.

When the controversial and bloody film was released in 1970, the soundtrack to Soldier Blue played its part in the success of the western. Other filmmakers hearing Roy Budd’s soundtrack  commissioned him to write the score to their films.

This included Mike Hodges who was the director of the gangster film Get Carter which starred starred Michael Caine and Britt Ekland. There was a catch though, the budget for the soundtrack was only £450. To save money, Roy Budd only used three musicians, and he played Fender Rhodes and harpsichord on what’s one of his finest soundtracks. 

Sadly, when the film Get Carter was released in 1971, it wasn’t a commercial success. Despite that, Roy Budd was commissioned to write more soundtracks.

Later in 1971, Roy Budd wrote the soundtrack to Flight Of The Doves, then Fear Is The Key which was released in 1972 and The Stone Kill in 1973. Between 1970 and 1974 Roy Budd was prolific and wrote the score to sixteen films. This included The Internecine Project which was released in 1974.

The Internecine Project.

The Internecine Project was a British thriller that was written by Mort W. Elkind, Barry Levinson and Jonathan Lynn. It was directed by Ken Hughes and starred James Coburn and Lee Grant, and was released in 1974, by United Artists.

The film was set in London in the early seventies, and tells the story of a former secret agent Robert Elliot, who is about to be promoted and become a  government advisor. He decides that he wants to get rid of anything and that relates to his past. To do this, he comes up with a plan where his four former associates will unknowingly kill each other on the same night. 

This they do against a soundtrack featuring sixteen  of Roy Budd’s compositions which were arranged by Frank Barber. They were recorded at CTS Wembley in 1974, and featured some familiar faces from Roy Budd’s past. This included drummer Chris Karan and bassist Jeff Clyne while the National Philharmonic Orchestra who he had conducted on Soldier Blue provided the strings. 

They were joined by guitarist Judd Proctor, violinist Sidney Sax, percussionists Frank Barber and Tristan Fry,  while Paul Fishman played synths. Horns came courtesy of tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes and  trumpeter and flugelhorn player Kenny Baker. Roy Budd played piano, harpsichord, clavinet, Fender Rhodes and synths. Together with this multitalented group of musicians he recorded  one of his finest soundtracks The Internecine Project. It has Roy Budd’s name written all over it.

Side One.

Anyone who has listened to and studied the key ingredients of a Roy Budd theme will spot what can only be described as a big theme that is memorable, melodic and tuneful. That is the case from the ruminative sounding Main Theme, with its haunting strings which in an instant transports the listener  back to the early seventies when The Internecine Project was set. Somebody’s Going To Have To Kill Him features dramatic, heavy orchestral riffs and as tablas play and strings sweep. It’s a gripping and full of tension. So is Never Think Twice where Roy Budd takes a less is more approach before the strings sweep and a pulsating bass and pounding piano adds to the drama as it builds. There’s tension and drama throughout The Deal, as if hinting that something could go horribly wrong at any time. It’s one of Roy Budd’s finest moments on The Internecine Project and one where he plays a starring role. Cinematic, chilling, eerie and   haunting describes Find A Solution where the tension continues to build. That’s the case on Alright Alex where Roy Budd combines a  harpsichord, chilling strings and timpani to accentuate the sense of drama and danger. The tension continues in Room 716 where bursts of drama can be heard before the chilling and menacing sounding Waiting For Murder unfolds. 

Side Two.

The arranged to Mr Easy quivers and shivers, as it becomes funky, mesmeric, melodic and filmic. Roy Budd again uses the strings to add darkness and drama to Death In The Shower as percussion, piano harpsichord and horns are deployed and add the finishing touches to another of the soundtrack’s highlights. During Witness the darkness and drama of the previous track returns and strings add a chilling backdrop, timpani adds drama and the harpsichord adds that early seventies sound. Cinematic strings sweep in as You Or Him unfolds as percussion, a pulsating bass and otherworldly sounds combine as a dramatic, menacing sounding track reveals its secrets. Chilling, haunting,  dramatic with a hint of desperation describes Finish The Job. Borrowed Time is a filmic track that is full of drama and paints pictures, while End Theme manages to be both melancholy and beautiful. Then on 5 Minutes Left To Live. funk, fusion and Latin rhythm combine to create a dramatic ending before Roy Budd drops in his trademark harpsichord leaving the listener wondering what happened, who lived, who died and was there a twist in the tail?

Although The Internecine Project wasn’t a high profile film with  big budget, Roy Budd wrote and recorded what was a stunning soundtrack. It’s better than the film itself which wasn’t particularly successful. Very few people saw The Internecine Project when it was released in 1974, and it was about  decade later when it started to appear late at night on commercial television in Britain.  

After writing the score to The Big Bang, which was released in 1987, Roy Budd turned his back on the world of soundtracks and returned to his first love jazz. That was the case until his sudden and tragic death after suffering a brain haemorrhage on the ‘7th’ of August 1993 aged just forty-six. British music had lost a prodigious talent.

Now twenty-seven years after Roy Budd’s death, critics, film fans and record buyers are  looking beyond his best known  soundtracks to Soldier Blue, Get Carter, Flight Of The Doves and Fear Is The Key. Roy Budd wrote the soundtrack to thirty films, and sadly, many of these films weren’t a commercial success. 

That was the case with The Internecine Project, which is an oft-overlooked hidden gem that is worth watching the next time it’s on television.  However, the best thing about The Internecine Project is Roy Budd’s soundtrack which transports the listener back to the early seventies and is chilling, haunting, full of drama and tension, but is also funky, mesmeric, melodic and truly memorable and a reminder of a prodigiously talented  composer, bandleader and musician at the peak of his considerable powers.

Roy Budd-The Internecine Project.

DUKE ELLINGTON, CHARLIE MINGUS, MAX ROACH-MONEY JUNGLE.

Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach-Money Jungle.

Label: Blue Note Records.

On Monday, September the ‘17th’ 1962, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach made their way to Sound Makers Studio, in New York. The two friends were en route to a session where they would record an album with one of the giants of jazz, Duke Ellington and producer Alan Douglas. This album would become Money Jungle, which was recently reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their Tone Poet series. It’s an album whose roots can be traced to Paris, as the sixties dawned.

In the early sixties, producer Alan Douglas and Duke Ellington were both working in Paris, France. One day, the producer was helping the big band leader and pianist. It was the way Alan Douglas was, and he was only too pleased to help Duke Ellington. Little did he realise their paths would cross again in the not too distant future.

In 1962, Alan Douglas took charge of United Artists’ jazz division and moved to New York. One of the first albums he recorded was Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers’ Three Blind Mice. This was followed by trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s a quintet recording Matador, which also featured Jackie McLean and Bobby Timmons. Already, Alan Douglas had recorded two classic albums. Soon, two would become three. However, there’s two versions of how that third classic album came about.

According to Duke Ellington, as soon as  Alan Douglas began his new role at United Artists’ jazz division he called the veteran pianist. During the call, Duke Ellington  came up with  the idea that he record an album with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. However, that is slightly different to Alan Douglas’ recollection of what happened in 1962, when he had an unexpected visit from a giant of jazz.

Alan Douglas’ visitor that day in 1962 was Duke Ellington, who by then, was sixty-three, and without a recording contract. The head of United Artists Jazz remembers it was Duke Ellington who  suggested recording a piano-based album. As the two men spoke, Alan Douglas thought about a possible lineup. He suggested forty year old bassist Charles Mingus who was signed to United Artists, and had very briefly been part of Duke Ellington’s band.

That was in 1953, when Charles Mingus deputised for Duke Ellington’s double bassist. He had only been a member of the band for four days when he got into a fight with trombonist and composer Juan Tizol, who cowrote the jazz standards jazz standards Caravan. Charles Mingus was fired by Duke Ellington but they would be reunited nine years later. There was a but though.

Charles Mingus said he would play on the recording, but insisted that he was joined by thirty-eight year old drummer Max Roach. This was not up for negotiation. If Duke Ellington wasn’t willing to accept Max Roach as drummer the session wouldn’t happen. The veteran bandleader agreed. Without a recording contract he knew that Charles Mingus who was signed to United Artists Jazz was holding all the aces.

Duke Ellington knew Max Roach who had briefly been a member of his band in 1950, and a decade later played on his Paris Blues soundtrack. However, by the time of the Money Jungle sessions, Max Roach like Charles Mingus had stepped out of Duke Ellington’s shadow as they both forged successful careers.

The day before the recording, on Sunday, September the ‘16th’ 1962 the three men met and Duke Ellington who told them to: “Think of me as the poor man’s Bud Powell.” He  also told Charles Mingus and Max Roach that he didn’t just want to play only his own compositions. This wasn’t true though.

The session at Sound Makers Studios, in New York, was due to begin at 1pm on Monday, September the ‘17th’ 1962. Max Roach arrived at the studio at midday to set his drums up and Duke Ellington was already there and writing out some material. That was when it became clear that despite what he had said the previous day, all the compositions that Duke Ellington wanted to use were his own.    

Of the seven compositions that made it onto the album, Duke Ellington wrote Money Jungle, Fleurette Africaine (African Flower), Very Special, Warm Valley and Wig Wise. They were joined by Solitude which Duke Ellington wrote with Eddie DeLange and Irving Mills. Ironically the other track was Caravan, which Charles Mingus’ nemesis Juan Tizol cowrote with Duke Ellington and Irving Mills. When it came to recording the tracks Duke Ellington took an unusual approach.

When Max Roach was asked about the sessions in 1968 he remembered how Duke Ellington passed out: “a lead sheet that just gave the basic melody and harmony.” He also gave them a sheet of paper with a visual image. One said: “crawling around on the streets are serpents who have their heads up; these are agents and people who have exploited artists. Play that along with the music.” 

Having looked at the lead sheet and read the visual images Charles Mingus and Max Roach declined the opportunity to rehearse. Instead, they decided to record straight to tape. This would be the first time that they had played the material together. It’s thought it wasn’t the easiest session.

There’s various versions of the clashes that allegedly took place during the session. According to Alan Douglas, Charles Mingus complained about Max Roach’s playing, and then picked up his bass and left the studio mid-session. Duke Ellington managed to catch up with him and after talking on the street outside, managed to persuade Charles Mingus to return. However, Duke Ellington’s version has one slight difference in that he persuaded him to return as they stood at the elevator. With at least four people in the room there’s other versions of what happened.

Another version was that Charles Mingus was unhappy that none of his compositions were used during the Money Jungle sessions. There was certainly tension in the air during the recording session and that can be heard from the opening track. 

The tracks were recorded in the same order as they appeared on the album, and the tension builds during the uptempo tracks. It’s thought that Charles Mingus left after they recorded the album opener Money Jungle. By then the tension is palpable and is apparent the way he plucks the strings with his fingernails. It’s a mixture of power and frustration as they seesaw and he ensures the track swings. Meanwhile, Max Roach plays pounding polyrhythms as Duke Ellington pounds, stabs and jabs the piano and as he improvises playing dissonant chords. It was after that it’s thought Charles Mingus picked up his bass and left the studio.

After Charles Mingus returns, they record the ballad Fleurette Africaine (African Flower) which unfolds and emerge from what’s essentially a  simple melody. It’s followed by Very Special, another twelve-bar blues, and then Warm Valley which veers between melancholy to dramatic as Duke Ellington’s piano takes centre-stage. 

The tempo rises on Wig Wise, a jaunty, uptempo track where the piano and then bass take the lead. When Charles Mingus’ bass takes the lead this seems to spur Duke Ellington on to greater heights. He has the same effect on Charles Mingus Throughout the rest of the track they drive each other to even greater heights. There’s no stopping the trio and the tempo continues to rise on Caravan where Duke Ellington’s fingers dance across the keyboard as the rhythm section propel the arrangement along and play with a freedom and invention. Again, Duke Ellington jabs and stabs the keyboard which then twinkles and sparkles before becoming dark and dramatic as the track closes and the tension seems to build. Closing Money Jungle is Solitude, a beautiful standard which  offers the chance to reflect and ruminate. Sadly, by then the relationship between the three giants of jazz was  fractured despite having recorded what would later be regarded as a classic album of post bop.

After the session, the trio who had a two album deal with United Artists Jazz couldn’t be persuaded to play together. It was the end of the line for this short-lived collaboration. At the time, Duke Ellington was the biggest loser, as he didn’t have a recording deal. Meanwhile, Charles Mingus and Max Roach stars were in the ascendancy, and were both regarded as pioneering jazz musicians. When Money Jungle was released by United Artists Jazz it was further proof of this.

Money Jungle was released in mono and stereo in February 1963 and the reviews were mostly favourable. Much of the plaudits were reserved for Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Down Beat magazine’s Don DeMicheal called them: “some of the fastest company around.” They were also praised for taking Duke Ellington out of comfort zone and taking him in a new direction musically and he needs to improvise like he’s never done before. He rises to challenge and thrives on an album that has been called everything from “memorable” to a “masterpiece.” Despite that, many critics felt that Charles Mingus stole the show during Money Jungle which was the only album featuring three members of jazz royalty.

This meant that Money Jungle was a historical recording. However, there was a problem with the standard of the original stereo recording of Money Jungle. When the instruments were setup, the piano was at the front and in centre with the double bass panned right and the drums in the left channel behind the piano. Some critics described the recording as sounding “wooly” with instances of distortion emanating from the piano microphone. This was disappointing given the importance of the album.

Critics realised when they heard Money Jungle that despite their  different backgrounds and what had happened during the session that the three giants of jazz had recorded what was a classic album. The critics knew that Charles Mingus and Max Roach were capable of this, as they regularly recorded albums of groundbreaking music. The same critics doubted that Duke Ellington would ever record another classic album.

By 1963, when Money Jungle was released the veteran bandleader and pianist was sixty-four. Duke Ellington was born in 1899, and was regarded by some critics as yesterday’s man and part of jazz’s establishment. He was very different to his collaborators on Money Jungle. 

Charles Mingus and Max Roach were both modernest musicians  and were regarded by critics as musical revolutionaries. Critics hailed their modernist sound as the future of jazz. Despite that, they respected Duke Ellington and his music had influenced both men. However, when they joined forces in 1962 they seemed unlikely collaborators. 

Despite what happened during the session Duke Ellington was spurred on by the two younger men. They brought out the best in the legendary bandleader and encouraged him to improvise like he had never improvised before. There was a chemistry between the three men who poured a roller coaster of emotions into the music. Sometimes,  frustration and anger can be heard, other happiness and joy, and at other times a sense sadness and melancholy. For much of Money Jungle there’s a sense of tension and that’s apparent as the tempo rises, until the closing track Solitude, where the trio seem to reflect on what’s gone before. It was the perfect way to close the Money Jungle.

Since the original release of Money Jungle in 1963, there have been notable reissues of Money Jungle in 1987 and 2002 where the remastering process has resulted in an improvement in sound quality. That is the case on the recently reissued Tone Poet vinyl version which was remastered by Kevin Gray and is without doubt the best vinyl version available. It’s the perfect way to discover this landmark album where sparks fly and Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach, three giants of jazz, make musical history on Money Jungle, a post bop classic that is a must have for anyone who loves and is passionate about jazz.

Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach-Money Jungle.

CULT CLASSIC: CLAUDE LOMBARD-CHANTE.

Cult Classic: Claude Lombard-Chante.

By 1969, twenty-four year old Belgian chanteuse Claude Lombard had been involved in the music industry for seven years, and had already written several scores and appeared as a session singer on numerous singles.  Claude Lombard had also represented Belgium at Eurovision Song Contest and released a number of singles during the rises and rise of yé-yé music. Somehow, Claude Lombard still found time to study for a degree and postgraduate degree. The twenty-four year old had achieved a lot in a relatively short space of time. There was however, one thing she had still to do,…release an album. That changed when she released Chante, which was an album of groundbreaking chanson psychedelia. Chante  was the latest chapter in the Claude Lombard story.

Claude Lombard was born in Brussels in 1945, and brought up in a musical family. Her mother was actress Claude Alix, who later went on to sing rock ’n’ roll as Rita Roque, while Claude Lombard’s father was a jazz pianist and singer. He introduced his daughter to music at an early, and Claude Lombard caught the music bug.

By the time Claude Lombard was a teenager, she was taking music lessons. She studied the guitar, music, harmony, counterpoint and composition. This would stand Claude Lombard in good stead for the future. However, as she prepared to leave high school, Claude Lombard was unsure what the future held for.

As a result, Claude Lombard decided to study law at university. It looked as if Claude Lombard was about to turn her back on music. That wasn’t the case. When she arrived at university, Claude Lombard decided enrol in some dramatic arts courses. However, it wasn’t long before Claude Lombard decided to change direction academically. Law wasn’t for Claude Lombard.

Instead, Claude Lombard decided to enrol at the Superior Institute of Arts and Choreography (ISAC). It soon became apparent that this was Claude Lombard had found her calling. She immersed herself in the new course and studied all aspects of music, dance and theatre.  Some of the classes would prove useful when Claude Lombard embarked upon a musical career. Especially the classes in interpretation and the music lessons that Claude Lombard took. By the time she left ISAC, she had  honed her skills as a pianist and guitarist. This would stand her in good stead when she graduated from ISAC.

Having left ISAC, one of Claude Lombard’s first jobs was writing the score to the musical adaptation of Boris Vian’s The Foam Of The Daze. Not long after that, she joined forces with her mother and wrote the score to Flower Power. Meanwhile, Claude Lombard was working as a session singer, and featured on countless singles and the occasional album. Claude Lombard’s career had taken off.

Still, Claude Lombard found time to write and record her debut single L’Amour De Toi, which was released by Decca in 1965. By then, yé-yé music had swept much of mainland Europe and was hugely popular. Claude Lombard was keen to add yé-yé singer to her burgeoning CV.

By then, Claude Lombard was spending much of her time writing and recording. Although she was constantly busy, Claude Lombard was determined to improve herself musically. She had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and self-improvement, and decided to enrol on a doctorate course. 

Despite returning to the world of academia, Claude Lombard continued to embark on new musical challenges. She became part of the contemporary music group Music Nouvelles and the Jazz Orchestra of Belgian Radio Television. This resulted in Claude Lombard meeting Peter Bartholome, who was one of the leading lights of Belgian music. 

He offered Claude Lombard a role in the Luciano Berio’s opera Laborintus, which was being staged at the Theatre Royal in Brussels. At first, Claude Lombard was unsure about accepting the role as she still unsure about her talent and ability. Eventually, she accepted the role and Claude Lombard’s role in Laborintus received praise and plaudits. This helped Claude Lombard’s confidence.

After her appearance in Laborintus, Claude Lombard was due to make an appearance at the Festival Mundial de la Cancion Latina. The competition was fierce, with forty participants vying for this prestigious prize. Claude Lombard sung Petit Frère, which featured lyrics by Freddy Zegers. While Claude Lombard finishes in a respectable tenth place, Freddy Zegers won the gold medal for his lyrics to Petit Frère, which later opened Chante.  

After returning from the Festival Mundial de la Cancion Latina, Claude Lombard and Freddy Zegers formed a formidable songwriting partnership. Claude Lombard and Freddy Zegers also released the Profond EP Palette in October 1967. Alas, the EP failed to find an audience and it was back to the drawing board for Claude Lombard.

Later in 1967, Claude Lombard released a solo EP which featured four of her own compositions. Stylistically, Bains De Mousse, Tendresse De Chevet, Aux Quatre Coins and Jupon Vole were all very different and ranged from bossanova to chanson and pop. Alas, when the EP was released on Polydor it also failed to find an audience. However, Claude Lombard wasn’t about to give up.

Her persistence paid off when Claude Lombard was chosen to represent Belgium at the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest, which was being held at the Royal Albert Hall, in London, England. That night, Claude Lombard sang Quand Tu Reviendras and finished in a very respectable seventh place. 

Quand Tu Reviendras was released as a single by Palette in April 1968. On the B-Side was Claude Lombard and Freddy Zegers composition Les Petits Couteaux. It found Claude Lombard and Freddy Zegers reunited as they duetted once again. Despite the relative success of Quand Tu Reviendras at the Eurovision Song Contest, widespread commercial success continued to elude Claude Lombard.

Despite her lack of success in Belgium, Claude Lombard’s singles were released all over Europe, including in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Yé-yé music was still popular across mainland Europe, and Claude Lombard was marketed as a yé-yé singer. This would change when Claude Lombard released her debut album Chante in 1969.

For her debut album Chante, the Claude Lombard wrote the music to eleven new songs while Freddy Zegers penned the lyrics. They joined Petit Frere, which Claude Lombard had sung at the Festival Mundial de la Cancion Latina just a few years previously. It made a welcome return on Chante, which was recorded at Studio Madeleine, in Brussels, with producer Roland Kluger. With Chante complete, all that was left was to release Claude Lombard’s debut album.

The label that Claude Lombard chose to release Chante, was Disques Jacques Canetti. When it was founded in 1962, by Jacques Canetti, it became the first ever French independent record label. Disques Jacques Canetti released Chante in 1969, but sadly, it failed to find the audience it so richly deserved. This was a great shame, as Chante was an album of beautiful, groundbreaking and influential album of chanson psychedelia that sometimes, headed in the direction of avant-garde and sci-fi pop. Sadly, Chante was way ahead of its time and record buyers neither understood nor grasped the importance of this future cult classic.

As Petit Frère opens Chante, plucked plink plonk strings, a strummed guitar and bass combine, while the drummer marks time on the ride as Claude Lombard delivers a rueful and emotive vocal. Soon, the tempo rises, adding to the drama and emotion. Meanwhile, the rhythm section is joined by washes of organ, occasional Arabian sounds and later, swathes of wistful strings. They sweep and swell, adding to the to the sense of melancholia as the arrangement floats along. All the time, the strings provide the perfect accompaniment to Claude’s heartfelt vocal. Still, instruments flit in and out, including a guitar, piano and sci-fi sounds. They all play their part in the sound and success of this beautiful, wistful example of “canonical  chanson.”

Straight away, drums pound and power the arrangement to Polychromés along. Meanwhile, horns bray as Claude delivers a brisk and urgent vocal. Adding to the urgency is the drums, while futuristic keyboards add a lysergic sound to this genre-melting, cinematic track. Already, elements of avant-garde, experimental, jazz, pop, and psychedelia are being combined by Claude and her band. They create an ambitious, dreamy, hypnotic and lysergic backdrop that dance along, and sets the scene for Claude’s urgent and sometimes, ethereal vocal.

Chimes and bells ring as Les Enfants Perle unfolds. Soon, the rhythm section and brisk guitar join shimmering, glistening keyboards and  otherworldly, futuristic sounds. They provide an accompaniment to Claude Lombard’s tender, heartfelt vocal. Later, the chimes and bells flit in and out, playing their part in this beautiful, dreamy reminder of the Queen of chanson psychedelia at her best.

Stabs of piano quicken, creating an urgent backdrop on Midi. It’s joined by the bass, before the rest of the band join the frae. They create a backdrop the flits seamlessly between jazz, soul jazz  and incorporates psychedelia. Meanwhile, Claude’s vocal veers between urgent, sultry, soulful and when the arrangement becomes understated, tender and lysergic. Especially, when reverb is added to her vocal. Adding to the psychedelic backdrop is washes of Hammond organ, before the arrangement takes on jazzy cinematic sound. Claude embraces this new sound, before the tempo rises and she joins her band, who power this cinematic song along until it reaches a memorable crescendo.

It’s all change on Mais, where a piano sets the scene for Claude on this jazz-tinged song. The twenty-four year old chanteuse delivers one of her most tender, heartfelt vocals and shows maturity beyond her years. It’s as if the band realise that this one of Claude’s finest moments and take care not to overpower her vocal. Instead, an organ and joins the piano, which plays a leading role in the sound and success of the song. It features one of the finest vocals on Chante from chanteuse Claude Lombard who delivers expressive vocal as she breathe meaning and emotion into the lyrics.

As La Coupe starts to reveal its secrets sci-fi sounds combine with the rhythm section, piano and guitar. Claude delivers a slow, thoughtful and tender vocal. Sometimes, her vocal soars above the arrangement as it skips along, with a piano combining with the rhythm section and guitar. They’re joined by shimmering keyboards and futuristic, otherworldly sounds. This is the final piece of the jigsaw. Later, effects transform Claude’s vocal, which becomes ghostly as she scats during this genre-melting, cinematic, chanson psychedelic opus.   

A clock chimes as Claude singe “Sleep Well” tenderly. Meanwhile,  chanson psychedelic sound starts to unfold. Sci-fi sounds combine with the rhythm section and guitar. who play slowly and deliberately. Meanwhile Claude’s vocal rises and falls, cascading across the arrangement during what sounds like a modern lullaby. That is apart from when sci-fi sounds are added and briefly, effects are added to Claude’s vocal. They add a twist to this modern lullaby before it reaches a crescendo. By then, Sleep Well sounds as if it belongs in a short gothic film.

A shrill sound drones briefly, before giving way to a funky guitar, rhythm section and tough keyboards that combine on L’Usine to create an urgent backdrop for Claude. Her vocal is equally urgent, but also powerful, ethereal and impassioned. Meanwhile, otherworldly and futuristic sound are added. Later, they become more prominent and create a cinematic backdrop for Claude’s vocal. Adding to the cinematic sound is Claude’s effect-laden vocal which soars high above the arrangement. Latterly, otherworldly sounds dominate the arrangement adding to the cinematic sounds on a track that fuses  drama with avant-garde, experimental, funk, Musique Concrète and chanson psychedelia.

Lush strings sweep and combine with flourishes of piano on Les Vieux Comptoirs. Soon, washes of a swirling Hammond organ and guitar combine as Claude delivers one of her most tender and elegiac vocals.   It sits atop the arrangement as it flows along constantly tugging at one’s heartstrings. By the end of this beautiful, orchestrated track it’s apparent that this is  chanteuse Claude Lombard’s finest moment on Chante.

Drums pound ominously on Les Musiciens, and join stabs of piano and otherworldly sounds that provide the backdrop for Claude’s heartfelt vocal. They’re joined by a funky guitar and swirling Hammond organ. Soon, Eastern, experimental and lysergic sounds are added to this musical tapestry, as Claude delivers her vocal with urgency and emotion. It soars high above the arrangement, with sci-fi sounds and rat-a-tat drums providing a contrast to the funky guitar and the dusty swirling Hammond organ. They accompany Claude as she continues to combine drama, emotion and urgency during this poignant and truly memorable song.

From the opening bars, L’Arbre et L’Oiseau has an unmistakable sixties sound. That is the case from the moment the song bursts into life, with Claude’s band playing as one. The rhythm section and funky guitar combine with the Hammond organ as Claude grabs the song by the scruff of the neck and makes it her own. She combines power and emotion, while her band combine funk, with pop, psychedelia and rock. With just over thirty-seconds left, Claude passes the baton to her multitalented band, who ensure this irresistible song ends on a high.

La Camarde, which closes Chante, is akin to a journey on an old steam train. Drums replicate the sound a steam train makes as it heads across the tracks. Meanwhile, a whistle blows, Hammond swirls and the bass marches the arrangement along and is later, joined by a piano. Adding the finishing touch is Claude’s vocal, which veers between tender to ethereal, dramatic and sultry. While Claude’s vocal plays a leading role during this last part of the musical journey, her talented and versatile band play their part in the sound and success of La Camarde. There’s an element of theatre to this melodic and memorable song that closes Belgian chanteuse Claude Lombard’s debut album Chante.

Seven years after she embarked upon a musical career, Claude Lombard finally got found to recording her debut album Chante. By then, Claude Lombard sung opera, appeared at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1968 and had even been a yé-yé singer. When Claude Lombard released Chante in 1969, it was important, innovative and influential album of. 

That was despite Chante failing to find an audience upon its release in 1969. Back then, people failed to understand an album that was way ahead of the musical curve. While Chante was ostensibly an album of chanson psychedelia and sci-fi pop, there’s much more to this genre-melting album. It finds Claude Lombard fusing and flitting between avant-garde, chanson electronica, experimental, funk, Musique Concrète, pop, psychedelia and rock. The result was an album of music that was variously beautiful, dramatic, dreamy, lysergic, melancholy, orchestral  and wistful. Sometimes, the addition of futuristic and sci-fi sounds transformed the music, and it became otherworldly and cinematic. Given this cinematic sound, it’s as if Claude Lombard’s carefully sculpted songs were meant to be part of the soundtrack to a short films. These songs were also very different from much of music being released in Belgium in 1969. 

Twenty-four year old chanteuse Claude Lombard pioneered the chanson psychedelia and sci-fi pop on Chante 1969. Somewhat belatedly Chante found the audience it so richly deserved and went on to influence and inspire several generations of musicians. Especially, it seems, groups like Broadcast and Stereolab. Their music has obviously been influenced and inspired by Chante which nowadays, is regarded as a cult classic and a truly groundbreaking album. It features twenty-four year old Belgian chanteuse Claude Lombard, who pioneered chanson psychedelia and sci-fi pop  on her 1969 debut album Chante, which went on to influence and inspire several generations of musicians, and will continue to do so.

Cult Classic: Claude Lombard-Chante.

 

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: ISAAC HAYES MOVEMENT-DISCO CONNECTION.

Cult Classic: Isaac Hayes Movement-Disco Connection.

Disco. Never has a musical genre divided opinion like the D word.   It’s been described as musical Marmite. People either love disco, or they loathe it. There’s no in-between. However, forty years ago, in 1976, disco’s star was in the ascendancy. Artists were jumping onto the disco bandwagon. Especially artists whose career was stalling. That however, wasn’t the case with Isaac Hayes.

Ever since he released his sophomore album Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes in 1969, he could do wrong. Hot Buttered Soul reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. The followup, 1970s The Isaac Hayes Movement also reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. Later, in 1970, …To Be Continued reached number eleven in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. 1970 had been a hugely successful year for Isaac Hayes. So would 1971.

In July of 1971, Isaac Hayes released his first soundtrack album, Shaft. Not only did it reach number one on the US Billboard 200 and US R&B charts, but spawned the hit single Shaft. This Blaxploitation classic reached number two on the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B charts. The when Isaac Hayes released  Black Moses later in 1971, it reached number ten in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. Live at the Sahara Tahoe, Isaac’s first live album, reached number fourteen the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. That made it six number one albums on the US R&B charts. However, six didn’t became seven.

The run was broken when 1973s Black Moses “only” reached reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B charts. However, Isaac Hayes seemed to lose his Midas touch in 1974.

During 1974, Isaac Hayes was commissioned to compose two soundtracks. Neither proved particularly successful. Tough Guys stalled at number 148 in the US Billboard 200, while Truck Turner only reached number 158 in the US Billboard 200. So, Isaac Hayes decided to have a musical rethink. A year later, in 1975, and Isaac Hayes returned with a quite different album.

Hot Chip had been influenced by disco, which by 1975, was growing in popularity. So his seventh studio album, Hot Chip incorporated elements of disco. It reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B charts.  Given the popularity of disco, and the response to Hot Chip. Isaac Hayes decided to release a disco album with his backing band the Isaac Hayes Movement. This would be no ordinary album. Disco Connection was an instrumental album from Isaac Hayes.

Disco was a relatively new musical genre by the time Isaac Hayes decided to release Disco Connection in 1975. It had been around since the early seventies. However, what the first disco record was, is still disputed?  

Some critics believe disco was born in 1971, with Barry White and Isaac Hayes pioneering the disco sound. Other critics think 1972 was the year disco was born. They point towards singles like  The O’Jays’  Love Train, Jerry Butler’s One Night Affair or Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa. Even 1972 might be too early for disco’s birth?

It could be that disco wasn’t born until 1973, when the Hues Corporation released Rock The Boat. That argument would find favour with many critics. However, some critics dispute Hues Corporation being one of the earliest disco records. They think disco was born in 1974.

Nowadays, a number of critics think George McCrae’s 1974 number one single got the disco ball rolling. It was released on Henry Stone’s T.K. Records in April 1974 and reached number one in America. Some critics will try to convince you that George McCrae and Henry Stone’s T.K. Records were responsible for getting the disco ball rolling. Others beg to differ.

It’s thought that disco was already celebrating its first birthday by then. The first article in the music press about disco was penned by Vince Aletti for Rolling Stone magazine in September 1973. Little did Vince know, he’d just written the first article about a true musical phenomenon.

Disco was born in America. Music historians have traced disco’s roots to clubs in Philly and New York. These two cities would play an important part in a disco. Philly and New York were where many of the most successful disco records were recorded. They were also home to some of disco’s top labels, Salsoul Records, SAM Records, West End Records and Casablanca. This quartet of labels are perceived as disco’s premier labels. They provided the soundtrack to America’s clubs for the next few years.

Many clubs became synonymous with disco. Especially New York. It was also home to some of the top clubs, including David Mancuso’s Loft, Paradise Garage and Studio 54. While these trio of clubs were soon perceived as some of the most influential clubs of the disco era, disco was making its presence felt worldwide.

Although born in America, soon disco’s influence was being felt worldwide. Around the world, dancers danced to the pulsating disco beat. Disco crossed the continents and provided the musical soundtrack to dance-floors worldwide. 

Among the most successful purveyors were Salsoul Records, SAM Records, West End Records and Casablanca. They were creating what is remembered as some of disco’s finest moments. Other labels and artists looked on enviously. Soon, they decided to jump on the disco bandwagon. 

Before long, artists whose career had been on the slide for years, were reinventing themselves as disco stars. Johnny Mathis, Cissy Houston, Herbie Mann and Tony Orlando were all willing to undergo a disco makeover to revive flagging and failing careers. Isaac Hayes however, was one of the biggest names in soul, funk and R&B.

While a number of yesterday’s stars jumped on the disco bandwagon, Isaac Hayes had enjoyed the most successful period of his career. Granted, it hadn’t been all smooth sailing, but he was happy with where he was. However, Isaac was determined not to stand still. He was determined to move forward musically. There was though a problem on the horizon.

For a while, Stax Records had been experiencing financial problems. Isaac Hayes was owed a lot of money in royalties. When they weren’t forthcoming, Isaac had no option but to issue writs in 1974. Still, the royalties weren’t forthcoming. So, Isaac, with the backing of ABC Records, founded his own Hot Buttered Soul label. Chocolate Chip had been his first album on his new label. Disco Connection would be the second.

For Disco Collection, Isaac Hayes had penned eight new tracks. They were recorded by the Isaac Hayes Movement at Hot Buttered Soul Recording Studio, in Memphis. Lester Snell and Isaac arranged most of Disco Collection, except Aruba, which they arranged with Johnny Allen. Isaac however, took charge of the production. This was quite a challenge, given Isaac Hayes Movement featured twenty-two musicians and a string section. 

The Isaac Hayes Movement’s rhythm section consisted of Willie Cole and William Hall on drums and tambourines, bassist Errol Thomas and guitarists Anthony Shinault, Charles Pitts, Michael Toles and William Vaughn. Keyboardist Sidney Kirk was joined by Jimmy Thompson on congas and Bryant Munch and Richard Dolph on French horn. Add to this a horn section and The Memphis Strings, and the Isaac Hayes Movement took shape. They recorded eight tracks which became Disco Connection.

Disco Connection wasn’t released until 12th January 1976. By then, Isaac Hayes had been back in the studio and recorded his next album, Groove-A-Thon. It would be released on St. Valentines Day, which was less than a month away. This wasn’t a good idea. 

With two albums being released in a short space of time, this confused record buyers. Record buyers looking for Isaac Hayes’ next solo album, mistakenly bought Groove-A-Thon. Similarly, those who had enjoyed Disco Connection, bought Groove-A-Thon thinking it would be more of the same were in for a surprise. By releasing two albums in a short space of time, all that had happened, was that sales of both albums were disappointing. 

Disco Connection stalled at a disappointing eighty-five in the US Billboard 200 and nineteen in the US R&B charts. Groove-A-Thon fared slightly better, reaching number forty-five in the US Billboard 200 and eleven in the US R&B charts. However, in years to come, the sales of Groove-A-Thon would be seen as a success. Isaac Hayes’ years of number one US R&B albums were a thing of the past. Despite embracing disco on Disco Connection, would he later become another victim of the disco phenomenon?

The First Day Of Forever opens Disco Connection. Straight away, elements of Philly Soul, funk and disco combine. Considering Disco Connection was recorded in Memphis, this is ironic. Strings shiver and dance while the rhythm section and congas combine. They’re joined by braying horns and a Norman Harris’ influenced guitar. By then, the arrangement is gliding elegantly along. Above the arrangement sits the dancing disco strings. During the breakdown, the arrangement slows down and the a melancholy French horn sounds. Pounding drums and a chiming guitars combine, as the arrangement cha cha’s along. Then when the dancing string reenter, this glorious slice of tailor made disco comes alive and all of sudden, it’s 1976 again.

While the rhythm section provide the heartbeat to St. Thomas Square, funky guitars, disco strings and woodwind combine. They’re soon joined by rasping horns and galloping congas. Again, there’s a wistful sound to the track. This soon changes, as the horns and strings unite. Along with the funky rhythm section they add a feel good sound. There’s almost a cinematic sound. That’s not surprising, as Isaac Hayes had written three soundtracks. Later,a jazz tinged guitar unites with braying horns and lush strings. Together, they play their part in what’s an emotive, cinematic slice of disco.

The introduction to Vykk II sees the tempo drop. Gone is the disco sound of the two previous tracks. However, the way the organ, horns and the rhythm section combine, have Isaac Hayes name written all over it. It’s much more like his earlier music, and is best described as soulful, sultry, funky, jazzy and dramatic. Horns play an important part. So does Isaac’s keyboards and the strings. They’re slow and lush, while the sultrier of saxophone drenches the arrangement. It’s aided and abetted by subtle horns that add to the soulful, dreamy and sensual sound.

With its neo Shaft introduction, Disco Connection is disco with a twist. The ride is ridden, before elements of Giorgio Moroder’s Euro Disco combines with an industrial sound. It’s like a whip cracking. Meanwhile, the rhythm section and keyboards keep things funky. Horns growl and bray, strings shimmer and dance. A clavinet adds a heavy duty funky sound. By now, it’s like a ride on a musical roller coaster. Everything from disco, Euro disco, funk, fusion and soul are combined the Isaac Hayes Movement. This combination results in a funky slice of dramatic disco.

Disco Shuffle is an eight minute epic, where Isaac Hayes combines elements of Blaxploitation, disco, funk, jazz, rock and soul. From small acorns, a musical oak grows. Buzzing keyboards join a rhythm and horn section that could just as easily belong on Blaxploitation movie. Anthony Shinault Hendrix-esque guitar solo takes centre-stage. Meanwhile, growling horns and sweeping strings join the buzzing keyboards and the rhythm section. They drive the arrangement along. Soon, the Isaac Hayes Movement are in full flow. It’s a joy to behold. Especially, as stabs of horns sound, drums pound and Anthony Shinault unleashes a blistering guitar solo. The result is a funky, strutting symphony.

A wah-wah guitar joins the rhythm section and growling horns on Choppers. Gradually, the arrangement grows in power and drama. Strings sweep and swirl, as the Isaac Hayes Movement threaten to kick loose. Stabs of keyboards and chiming guitars combine. Still, the quivering shimmering strings that threaten to cut loose. Eventually, swathes of strings dance. Having briefly cut loose, Isaac Hayes reigns them in. A funky guitar and looming horns take centre-stage. Soon, they’re joined by the shimmering strings and washes of Hammond organ. Then the strings dance for joy. It sounds as if the classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra had been asked to provide the soundtrack to a blaxploitation movie in 1976. Later, the the Isaac Hayes Movement jam. Seamlessly, the combine musical genres on one of Disco Connection’s highlights.

Keyboards and congas combine to create a dramatic introduction to After Five. Soon, drums, percussion and a flute are added. A chiming, crystalline guitar and deliberate bass are added as the arrangement glides along. Atop the arrangement sits the lushest of strings. Adding a contrast are bursts of pounding drums and a jazz guitar. They add the finishing touches to the genre-melting After Five.

Closing Disco Collection is Aruba. It has an almost avant-garde introduction. For forty-four seconds, an otherworldly sound is accompanied by hypnotic drums and the mellow sound of a Fender Rhodes. Only then does the arrangement unfolds. It’s classic Isaac Hayes. Stabs of blazing horns, swathes of strings, a subtle Fender Rhodes are accompanied by piano and the rhythm section. Gradually, the arrangement builds and builds. That’s until Isaac throws a curveball. The earlier otherworldly sound briefly returns. Then the Isaac Hayes Movement power their way through the rest of Aruba, ensuring Disco Collection ends on a high.

Given the quality of music on Disco Connection, it deserved to fare better than it did. However, the decision to release Groove-A-Thon a month later proved costly. This confused record buyers, who struggled to differentiate between an Isaac Hayes’ solo album and an album by the Isaac Hayes Movement. As a result, confusion reigned and some record buyers ended up buying the wrong album. Other record buyers couldn’t afford to buy both albums, so chose one. The result was that neither album sold in huge quantities. It was a far cry from when eight out of the nine albums Isaac Hayes released between 1969 and 1973, reached number one in the US R&B charts. These were the glory days. Although Chocolate Chip reached number one n the US R&B charts in 1975, that was as good as it got for Isaac Hayes.

Disco Connection and then Groove-A-Thon were the start of a period when Isaac Hayes was no longer the huge star he had once been. His albums either stalled in the lower reaches of the charts, or failed to chart. A few years ago, that would’ve been unthinkable. The most successful album Isaac Hayes released, was 1979s Don’t Let Go. Even then, it only reached number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 200a and number nine in the US R&B charts. The disco years hadn’t been kind to Isaac Years. However, he wasn’t alone.

That had been the case for many soul, funk and R&B artists. Many of these albums were overlooked, despite the quality of music on them. Even albums by some of the biggest names in rock and pop were being cast aside in favour of disco. This was ironic, as the seventies were one of the greatest musical decades ever. Some of the greatest rock music ever was being released. Yet all radio program directors wanted their listeners to hear was disco. Someone had to make a stand. Enter Steve Dahl.

Right up until Christmas Eve 1978, Steve Dahl was a DJ on WDAI, a Chicago radio station. WDAI had been a rock station for a long time. Then on Christmas Eve 1978, it was announced WDAI was going to become a disco station. Given the change in music policy, Steve Dahl was fired. Little did anyone know, that Steve Dahl’s firing would result in disco’s death.

Steve wasn’t out of work long. He was soon hired by WLUP, a rival station. WLUP played rock, which suited Steve Dahl. He had a feeling that disco wasn’t long for this world. The disco bubble was about to burst; and it wouldn’t take long.

Steve wasn’t a fan of disco, and took to mocking disco on-air. Openly, he mocked WDAI’s “disco DAI.” It became “disco die” to to Steve. Soon, Steve had created the Insane Coho Lips, his very own anti-disco army. Along with cohost Gary Meier, they coined the now infamous slogan “Disco Sucks.” The backlash had begun.

From there, the Disco Sucks movement gathered momentum. Events were held all over America. This came to a head at Disco Demolition Derby, which was Steve Dahl’s latest anti-disco event. Each one was becoming bigger, rowdier and attracting even more publicity. Disco Demolition Derby, which was held at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979 surpassed everything that went before. WFUL were sponsoring a Chicago White Sox game at Comiskey Park. if fans brought with them a disco record, they’d get in for ninety-eight cents. These records would be blown up by Steve Dahl. An estimated crowd between 20-50,000 people attended. Quickly the event descended into chaos. Vinyl was thrown from the stands like frisbees. Then when Steve blew up the vinyl, fans stormed the pitch and rioted. Things got so bad, that the riot police were called. After the Disco Demolition Derby, disco nearly died.

Following Disco Derby Night, disco’s popularity plunged. Disco artists were dropped by major labels, disco labels folded and very few disco albums were released. Disco was on the critical list, and suffered a near death experience. It took a long time to recover. After disco’s demise, dance music changed. 

No longer were record labels willing to throw money at dance music. Budgets were suddenly much smaller. Gone were the lavish productions of the disco orchestras of the seventies. This was epitomised by The Salsoul Orchestra and John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. Strings and horns were now a luxury. Music would have to go back to basics. 

Replacing strings and horns would be sequencers, synths and drum machines, which during the last couple of years, had become much cheaper. Previously, they were only found in studios or were used by wealthy and famous musicians. Now they were within the budget of many musicians. However, with disco now dead, a generations of musicians who suffered during the disco era, could make a comeback. This included Isaac Hayes.

Although Isaac Hayes had never been away, he might as well have been. Many of his albums were overlooked by record buyers as he wasn’t “on-trend” during the disco years. That’s apart from when he released Disco Connection, which is a long lost and oft-overlooked cult classic that’s a reminder that disco is still alive and thriving  forty-one years after its supposed death.

Cult Classic: Isaac Hayes Movement-Disco Connection.

Disco-Connection-Cov

 

 

 

 

MASAHIKO SATO-KAYOBI NO ONNA. 

Masahiko Sato-Kayobi No Onna.

Label: Mitsuko and Svetlana Records.

By 1969, Tokyo-born composer and pianist Masahiko Sato about to turn twenty-nine, and had been a professional musician since he was seventeen. He had started out accompanying magicians, singers and strippers in a cabaret in Ginza, a district of Tokyo. Now eleven years later he had just written the score to the “suspense drama” Kayobi No Onna which was to to be shown on Japanese televisions during 1969 and 1970. 

After Kayobi No Onna was aired, a decisions was made to release the music from the soundtrack as released as a Masahiko Sato solo album. Kayobi No Onna was released by Toho Records in 1970, and fifty years later, this cult classic has just been released by the Swiss label Mitsuko and Svetlana Records. It was the latest chapter in Masahiko Sato’s career.

Masahiko Sato was born in Tokyo on the ‘5th’ of October 1941. His mother Setsu, and father Yoshiaki, owned various small businesses. In 1944, the Sato family moved into a new home and in the house was a piano. 

Just two years later, aged just five years old Masahiko Sato starting playing the piano. Little did his parents realise that this was how their son would make a living.

When Masahiko Sato was seventeen, he became a professional musician and started out accompanying magicians, singers and strippers in a cabaret in Ginza. This was akin to a musical apprenticeship for the young pianist.

In 1959, Masahiko Sato joined Georgie Kawaguchi’s band. He found himself playing alongside tenor saxophonist Akira Miyazaw and Sadao Watanabe who would become one of the great Japanese saxophonists of his generation. 

Meanwhile, Masahiko Sato was combining his musical career with his studies at Keio University in in Minato, Tokyo. However, when he graduated that wasn’t the end of his studies.

When he was twenty-six moved to America and enrolled at Berklee College Of Music, in Boston. For the next two years, he studied composition and arranging. To make ends meet, Masahiko Sato worked in a food shop and also played the piano in a local hotel. However, he was also writing new compositions during his time at Berklee College Of Music.

In 1968, Masahiko Sato travelled to New York where a series of compositions he had written were going to be combined with music. That night, in the Big Apple he conducted his new compositions when they were being performed. 

After two years at Berklee College Of Music, Masahiko Sato returned home to Tokyo, and soon, began work on a new album. This was the Masahiko Sato Trio’s album Palladium which was released in 1969.The same year, Masahiko Sato began work on the soundtrack to a television “suspense drama.”

Eventually, Masahiko Sato had composed nine new pieces which he also arranged. He played piano and led the sextet during the recordings for the soundtrack to Kayobi No Onna. The lineup included drummer Akira Ishikawa; bassists Kunimitsu Inaba and Yasuo Arakawa; guitarist Kiyoshi Sugimoto and jazz vocalist Yoshiko Goto. They recorded the nine tracks for the soundtrack to Kayobi No Onna which aired later in 1969.

The “suspense drama” Kayobi No Onna was first so shown on Japanese television during 1969 and continued into 1970. After the series was finished, a decision was made to release the soundtrack to Kayobi No Onna as a Masahiko Sato solo album.

When Kayobi No Onna was released by Toho Records in 1970, the music was mixture of jazz-folk, fusion, jazz, modern classical and soul-jazz. Masahiko Sato’s sextet were responsible for music that was variously atmospheric, beautiful, haunting, melancholy  cinematic and melodic soundtrack to Kayobi No Onna. 

Side One.

It’s no surprise that some of the music on Kayobi No Onna has a quintessential 1960s sound. This includes the opening track Yoko Ai To Kako (Mimikazari) where there’s a nod to French films from the sixties. 

Noriko Ai To Omei (Utsukushiki Emono) is a beautiful emotive and dramatic track that has been inspired by modern classical musical. Jazz and lounge music combine on Chie Ai To Shinjitsu (Ame No Hi No Wana) where Yoshiko Goto scats and adds a melancholy sound. There’s an understated and ruminative sound to the jazz-tinged Miyako Ai To Tsuiseki (Koi No Wana). Then he rest of the band create an element of drama on Nobuko Ai To Tobo (Shi To Sora To) before Yoshiko Goto scats on one of the album’s highlights. 

 Side Two.

Atmospheric, dramatic and cinematic is the best way to describe Miyako Ai To Gisei (Aoi Kemonotachi) is a cinematic. Then Misako Ai To Kibo (Tobosha) which features a tender, heartfelt scat from Yoshiko Goto  heads in the direction of folk jazz. Sakiko Ai To Uragiri (Hitokui) is another track with a Gallic influence. It’s also filmic and becomes dramatic as the tempo rises. Closing Kayobi No Onna is Sanae Ai To Kyofu (Konoha No Fune) a stunning example of late-sixties fusion where guitarist Kiyoshi Sugimoto steals the show.

Fifty years have passed since the release of Kayobi No Onna in 1970. Since then, it’s become something of a cult classic and is regarded as one of the hidden gems in Masahiko Sato’s discography. He’s released over eighty albums during a long and distinguished career. His music is highly regarded by aficionados of J-Jazz.

While Masahiko Sato and his play straight ahead jazz on Kayobi No Onna, there’s much more to the album than that. There’s elements of easy listening, folk jazz, fusion, lounge, modern classical and soul-jazz on  this oft-overlooked soundtrack. It’s atmospheric, beautiful, melancholy and melodic as Masahiko Sato and band paint pictures on this cinematic sounding and genre-melting album Kayobi No Onna. It’s the perfect introduction to a truly talented composer, arranger, bandleader and pianist Masahiko Sato. 

Masahiko Sato-Kayobi No Onna.

GRANT GREEN-NIGERIA.

Grant Green-Nigeria.

Label: Blue Note Records.

On January the ’13th’ 1962 Grant Green journeyed to New Jersey, and what were by now the familiar environs of the Van Gelder Studio. He was twenty-five and had already recorded eight albums for Blue Note Records since he signed for the label in 1960. Grant Green had his friend Lou Donaldson to thank for that.

He thought back to that day in 1959 when alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson discovered him playing in a bar in St. Louis. He was so impressed that he hired Grant Green for his touring band. This was just the start for Grant Green.

Having moved to New York, Lou Donaldson introduced Grant Green to Alfred Lion the cofounder of Blue Note Records. When he heard Grant Green play his guitar he was so impressed that he arranged for him to record an album as bandleader rather than sideman. This was almost of unheard of, but Grant Green was a special talent who thought and played like a horn player. He had a different mindset and this was apparent throughout his career.

First Session.

Grant Green like so many musicians who had just signed to Blue Note Records travelled to the Van Gelder Studio on  November ’16th’ 1960,  where he led a quartet that recorded five tracks. However, when Alfred Lion heard the recordings he shelved the project, and decided to record another session which would become his debut album.

Sadly, what became First Session wasn’t released until 2001, and by then, Grant Green had been dead for twenty-two years. The album featured seven tracks including two takes of Woody ‘N You recorded  on October the ’27th’ 1961. 

Critics were won over by First Session and felt that the album featured an album who had already matured and was blossoming when surrounded by an all-star band.There was a simplicity to Grant Green’s playing as well as a warmth and urgency on the album. First Session more than hinted at what was to come from Grant Green who would become one of the great jazz guitarists of the sixtes and seventies.

Grant’s First Stand.

After his first recording was shelved, Grant Green returned to the Van Gelder Studio on January the ‘28th’ 1961. This time he was accompanied by drummer Ben Dixon and organist Baby Face Willette. The trio recorded six tracks including three by Grant Green. Alfred Lion who was producing must have felt vindicated as he watched on.

Grant’s First Stand was a stunning album of hard swinging soul-jazz. The album was released to widespread critical acclaim in May 1961, and later, was regarded as the purest album of soul-jazz Grant Green ever recorded. He had set the bar high early on in his career. 

Sunday Mornin’.

Alfred Lion wasted no time getting Grant Green back into the Van Gelder Studio, and on  June the ‘4th’ 1961  he led a quartet that recorded Sunday Mornin’. Drummer Ben Dixon returned and was joined by bassist Ben Tucker and pianist Kenny Drew. They recorded an album that combined new compositions and cover versions

Eighteen months passed before Blue Note Records released  Sunday Mornin’ in November 1962. It was Grant Green’s fourth album and was well received by critics. Some felt it was his finest album and a flawless set with a distinctive sound. Already Grant Green had established his own sound.

Grandstand.

There was no rest for Grant Green between his session work and recording his solo albums. He returned to the Van Gelder Studio, and on  August the ‘1st’ 1961 and with an all-star that featured  drummer Al Harewood,  bassist Ben Tucker, organist Brother Jack McDuff and Yuseef Lateef who played flute and tenor saxophone. With Alfred Lion producing the quintet recorded a smoking album of soul-jazz. 

When Grandstand was released in April 1962, the album was hailed as another stunning and swinging album of soul-jazz. The new band clicked and were responsible for what’s new regarded as another of Grant Green’s finest soul-jazz albums. 

Remembering.

Four weeks after he recorded Grandstand, Grant Green returned to the Van Gelder Studio on the ‘29th’ August 1961 for another session. This time, it was a trio recording with drummer Al Harewood and bassist Wilbur Hare accompanying Grant Green. The new band recorded an album of standards which later became Remembering.

Just like Grant Green’s debut album First Session, the tracks that became Remembering weren’t released by Blue Note Records Japan until 1980. 

By then, Grant Green was dead and jazz critics and fans were Remembering one of its great guitarists. Critics were won over by Remembering and praised Grant Green’s playing. They realized that they were hearing him at the peak of his powers on this pared back trio recording. It was a welcome addition to Grant Green’s discography. 

Gooden’s Corner.

Two days before Christmas 1961, Grant Green made his way to the Van Gelder Studio to record what became Gooden’s Corner. He was joined by a different lineup to the one that featured on Remembering. 

Drummer Louis Hayes, bassist Sam Jones  and pianist Sonny Clark accompanied Grant Green. They recorded six tracks that ranged from standards to a cover of Shadrack which gave Brook Benton  hit single and two Grant Green compositions Gooden’s Corner and Two For One.

Just like Remembering, Gooden’s Corner wasn’t released until 1980. This was ironic as it was released to critical acclaim with the interplay between Grant Green’s guitar and Sonny Clark’s piano playing starring roles in the sound and success of what’s a sometimes overlooked album.

Nigeria.

It was a case of deja vu as Grant Green travelled to the Van Gelder Studio at 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on  on the ‘13th’ of January 1962.  Grant Green had recorded a solo album just three weeks previously and here he was again making the same journey again.  It was the perfect environment to record an album, and he felt at home in Rudy Van Gelder’s custom built recording studio with its high ceilings. The studio had opened in 1959 which was the year Grant Green was discovered by Lou Donaldson. Now he was about to record one of the most important albums of his career Nigeria, which has just been reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their Tone Poet series. 

Grant Green had come a long way in a relatively short space of time. He was twenty-six and  had  come a long way since his days playing in bars in St Louis. That was where his friend Lou Donaldson had discovered him. Now Grant Green was about to record another album with some of the best jazz musicians America had to offer.

For the Nigeria sessions drummer Art Blakey, bassist Sam Jones  and pianist Sonny Clark accompanied Grant Green. They were about to record five tracks with producer Alfred Lion. This included  Sonny Rollins’ Airegin and the standards It Ain’t Necessarily So, I Concentrate On You, The Things We Did Last Summer and The Song Is You. These tracks Grant Green must have hoped would be his next album.

Sadly, history repeated itself and just like  Remembering and Gooden’s Corner, Nigeria wasn’t posthumously  released until 1980. For eighteen years jazz fans missed out on hearing Nigeria, which ironically was one of Grant Green’s finest albums.

Opening Nigeria was the Sonny Rollins’ composition Airegin, which is Nigeria spelt backwards. Sonny Rollins said that: “It was an attempt to introduce some kind of black pride into the conversation of the time.” Airegin was originally recorded on the album Miles Davis With Sonny Rollins and later on Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet which featured John Coltrane. On Nigeria, Art Blakey’s thunderous drums power the arrangement along while Grant Green’s playing is clear, clean and melodic and then when he improvises he comes into his own during what’s a breathtaking performance. Pianist  Sonny Clark also enjoys the opportunity to shine during the solos and so does Art Blakey.  The quartet set the bar high and whet the listener’s appetite for the rest of the album.

The tempo drops on George and Ira Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So. Art Blakey plays his trademark shuffle and Sam Jones is responsible for a walking bass line. Having locked into a groove, pianist Sonny Clark  and Grant Green improvise and seem to feed off other as the all-star band drive each other to even greater heights. As they do, this much-love standard is transformed  into a ten minute opus. It  takes on a late-night bluesy sound and seductive and sensual sounding. 

In Grant Green and his quartet’s hands Cole Porter’s I Concentrate On You takes on new life. Their uptempo take on this standard glides along the arrangement spacious and propelled by the rhythm section who ensure that arrangement swings. Art Blakey adds fills while  Sonny Clark’s piano accompanies Grant Green and provides the perfect foil to the guitarist and bandleader. His playing seems effortless as he plays an elegance and fluidity and a sound that is instantly recognisable as Grant Green.  Later he leaves space for a Sonny Clark solo and lets him shine as he plays a supporting role in the sound and success of this timeless take on a standard.

Sammy Cahn wrote The Things We Did Last Summer which Grant Green and his ensemble rework. It’s best described as laid-back, understated, melodic and mellifluous with Grant Green deciding taking a less is more approach.  Sometimes, there’s a wistful, melancholy sound to Grant Green’s guitar. As the tempo increases his fingers fly across the fretboard and his playing is flawless. The same can be said of pianist Sonny Clark. They form a potent partnership and not for the first time play starring roles on Nigeria.

Closing Nigeria is Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s The Song Is You. The tempo rises and the quartet unleash a brisk swinging arrangement.  Grant Green seems to have saved his best performance until last playing with speed, fluidity and a dexterity. Sonny Clark who has been  Grant Green’s muse throughout the album plays a supporting role and then steps out of the shadows when he plays one of his finest solos. They seem to bring out the best in each other. Then bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Blakey both showcase their considerable skills during the solos before Grant Green picks up where left off, before he and the rest of quartet take a well deserved bow.

Sadly, after the recording of Nigeria, Alfred Lion decided to shelf the album. It’s thought that he didn’t want to confuse Grant Green’s fans who had grown to love his soul-jazz sound, by issuing what was essentially an album of hard bop flavoured standards. However, many other artists signed to Blue Note Records released albums that were different stylistically. 

For Grant Green the shelving of Nigeria must have have been  huge disappointment. He had recorded seven albums and First Session, Remembering, Gooden’s Corner and Nigerian had all been had all been shelved and Grant Green never saw them released.

Grant Green was a solo artist between 1961 and 1970, yet still found time to work as a sideman, However, between 

August 1971 and April 1978 he only recorded eight albums.

After that, his health deteriorated in 1978, and Grant Green was forced to spend much of that year in hospital. During this period, Grant Green wasn’t earning money, and before long the guitarist’s finances were in a perilous state.

Against doctor’s advice, Grant Green headed back out on the road to try to make some much-needed money. His final gig was at his fiend George Benson’s Breezin’ Lounge in New York, but sadly, Grant Green collapsed in his car of a heart attack and died on January the ’31st’ 1979 aged just forty-three. That day, jazz music lost a truly talented and versatile guitarist, bandleader and composer who left behind a rich musical legacy. This includes Nigeria, which was released posthumously in 1980 and is a reminder of Grant Green at the peak of his powers as he leads an all-star quartet on what’s now regarded a classic album.

Grant Green-Nigeria.

LEE MORGAN-THE COOKER.

Lee Morgan-The Cooker.

Label: Blue Note Records.

’1st’ May 2020.

When eighteen year old trumpeter Lee Morgan signed to Blue Note Records as a solo artist in 1956, he was already a prodigious talent and had the potential to become one of the greatest trumpeters of his generation. That talent was soon apparent.

Introducing Lee Morgan.

On November the ‘4th’ 1956, Lee Morgan made his way to the Van Gelder Studio, in Hackensack, New Jersey, to record his debut album. This became Introducing Lee Morgan, which was released in early 1957, and hinted at what was to come from the prodigiously talented Philly born hard bop trumpeter.

Lee Morgan Sextet.

Just under month after recording his debut album, Lee Morgan returned to the Van Gelder Studio on the ‘2nd’ of December 1956 to record another album. The album became Lee Morgan Sextet, which included pianist Horace Silver and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Both were vastly experienced and hugely talented musicians but recognised that there was something special about the young bandleader and trumpeter. When Lee Morgan Sextet was released in May 1957, this latest album of hard bop was well received by critics. They realised that Lee Morgan was a special talent with a bright future ahead of him.

Lee Morgan Volume 3.

By the time Lee Morgan returned to Van Gelder Studio to record what became Lee Morgan Volume 3 on March ’24th’ 1957 his debut album just been released. Just like his sophomore album, Lee Morgan Volume 3 was another sextet recording that featured tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and pianist Wynton Kelly. Just like so many Blue Note Records’ albums, it only took the one session to record Lee Morgan Volume 3.

When Lee Morgan Volume 3 was released later in 1957, the album was hailed as the finest of the nineteen year old trumpeter’s career. He was one of rising stars of the jazz, and critics forecast that here was a young man whose star would shine brightly for a long time.

City Lights.

Just over five months later, Lee Morgan returned to Gelder Studio on August the ‘25th’ 1957 to record his fourth album, City Lights. For the session, drummer Art Taylor was recruited and joined what was a talented and experienced sextet. 

Playing alongside such experienced musicians didn’t phase Lee Morgan who had no problem holding his own. He seemed to thrive in their company and City Lights was called his finest album when it was released later in 1957. It seemed that Lee Morgan was improving with every album.

The Cooker.

That was definitely the case, and his fifth album The Cooker, was Lee Morgan’s first classic album. The Cooker will be reissued by Blue Note Records on the ‘1st’ May 2020 as part of their Tone Poet series. It’s a welcome addition to the series and is a reminder of the prodigiously talented Lee Morgan when was just nineteen.

Lee Morgan had turned nineteen on July the ‘10th’ 1957, and just over two months later, he was making the now familiar journey to New Jersey and the familiar environs of the Van Gelder Studio. He planned to record two of his own compositions Heavy Dipper and New-Ma, and augment them with three standards. This included Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night In Tunisia, Cole Porter’s Just One Of Those Things and Jimmy Davis, Roger Ramirez and James Sherman’s Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be)? These five tracks Lee Morgan would record with his quintet.

For the recording of The Cooker, trumpeter Lee Morgan was joined by drummer Philly Joe Jones, bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Bobby Timmons and baritone saxophonist Art Pepper. Rudy Van Gelder was the recordist and engineer while Alfred  Lion took charge of production on The Cooker. Once the album was recorded, the release was scheduled for March 1958.

By the time The Cooker was released, Lee Morgan was still nineteen and was maturing with every album. He had already played in Dizzy Gillespie’s band and had just played on John Coltrane’s first great album Blue Train. More recently, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan had collaborated on the album Peckin’ Time which they had recorded on February the ‘9th’ 1958. However, just like his friend John Coltrane, Lee Morgan was about to release his first classic album, The Cooker.

When Lee Morgan recorded with Blue Train with John Coltrane, he had to produce a series of disciplined performances as he read the carefully drafted arrangements on what wasn’t just an album, it was an artistic concept. The Cooker sessions were very different and much more relaxed as the young bandleader decided to let his quintet off the leash. He decided that  they were going to have a blowout, and play hard and fast and with flair, freedom and spontaneity. Lee Morgan wanted things to be informal which he hoped would bring out the best in the multitalented band.

In the engine room were drummer Philly Joe Jone and bassist Paul Chambers were part of Miles Davis quintet, Lee Morgan had recruited Philly born pianist Bobby Timmons. However, Art Pepper’s baritone saxophone added a different sound, which was much darker, especially when it combined with Lee Morgan’s trumpets.

The Cooker opened with a reworking of the classic A Night In Tunisia. Philly Joe Jones thunderous toms open the mid tempo track before the rhythm section and create an understated percussive groove. Pepper Adams blows his baritone sax and meandering solo before Lee Morgan plays the instantly recognisable Eastern-tinged melody. After that, it’s time for the solos and despite being in the company of much more experienced musicians, it’s Lee Morgan’s star that shines the brightest as he fuses scampering chromatic runs with palpitating tremolos. Not to be outdone, Art Pepper unleashes a flowing, explosive solo and his playing is innovative and melodic. Meanwhile Bobby Timmons showcases his considerable skills but it is Lee Morgan who plays a starring role on this nine minute epic rework of a standard.

Heavy Dipper is the first of two Lee Morgan compositions. It finds the quintet swinging as they play with power and intensity. Then when the solos come round, it’s not just Lee Morgan that shines, it’s other band members, including briefly drummer Philly Joe Jones. However, when the quintet play together they deliver tight and cohesive performances. Despite his relative youth, Lee Morgan proves to be a talented composer, bandleader and as a musician was maturing with every performance.

The cover of Just One Of Those Things can only be described as a turbocharged performance. That is the case from the moment Art Pepper unleashes a baritone saxophone solo. Meanwhile, it’s more like a yomping bass line that Paul Chambers plays. Lee Morgan is content to let others shine for the first three minutes and then steps forward and plays his solo. Within just a few bars it’s apparent that the nineteen year old is a special talent who was destined for greatness. 

Lee Morgan and his quintet decide to drop the tempo on Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be)? This romantic ballad that was written for Billie Holliday, and initially it’s just Lee Morgan’s trumpet and Paul Chambers’ bass that combine before the rest of band enter. When the solos arrive it is Art Pepper’s rasping, croaky baritone saxophone is played with a fluidity and expressiveness that breathes new life into this much-loved standard.

Closing The Cooker is New-Ma, the second Lee Morgan composition on the album. The quintet relaxes into a mid tempo groove with drummer Philly Joe Joes and combining with Paul Chambers’ walking bass. His playing is almost laid back as he feeds off Bobby Timmons’ piano playing. He enjoys the chance to shine, and just like Lee Morgan this is a hint of what’s to come from him.

After releasing five albums for Blue Note Records, Lee Morgan had released his first classic album The Cooker. The four albums he had released had been leading up to this moment, for the prodigiously talented and gifted trumpeter, composer and bandleader. 

Lee Morgan would go on to release other classic albums like The Sidewinder and Cornbread. However, his first classic was The Cooker, a breathtaking and spellbinding album that showcases a prodigiously talented musician. His star shines bright throughout The Cooker which was his first classic album, and a reminder of one the greatest trumpeters of his generation Lee Morgan.

Lee Morgan-The Cooker.

JETHRO TULL- STORM WATCH.

Jethro Tull-Storm Watch.

Label: Chrysalis.

By September 1979, Jethro Tull was still one of the most successful British bands of their generation, and were about to release the twelfth album of their career, Stormwatch, It was the final album in a trilogy of folk rock albums and Jethro Tull hoped that Stormwatch would build on the success of which had been released in April 1978 and was certified old in America and Canada as well as silver in Britain. Storm Watch which was the final instalment in Jethro Tull’s folk rock trilogy, which was a new chapter in their career which began seventeen years earlier.

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 co

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 Michael Barre realize that Stand Up marked the start of a period where Jethro Tull would sell over sixty-million albums.

Stand Up.

With new guitarist Michael Barre onboard, work began on Jethro Tull’s sophomore album Stand Up, which was a much more eclectic album to This Was. Ian Anderson who was now Jethro Tull’s primary songwriter, penned nine of the ten tracks and drew inspiration from everything from blues rock, Celtic, classical, folk and rock. These ten tracks became Stand Up, which was recorded over three months in 1969.

Recording of Stand Up took place at Morgan Studios and Olympic Studios. The sessions began on the ‘17th’ of April 1969, and continued through to the ‘21st’ of May 1969. Three months later, and Stand Up was released.

Before the release of Stand Up in September 1969, the reviews of Jethro Tull’s sophomore  album were positive, with the musicianship and production receiving praise from critics. They also noted that the Jethro Tull’s music was starting to evolve, although Stand Up still featured blues rock sound. Elsewhere on Stand Up, Jethro Tull had started to expand their musical palette and  this struck a nerve with critics and record buyers.

On Stand Up’s release in the UK on the ‘1st’ of August 1969  Jethro Tull’s sophomore album. topped the charts.  When Stand Up was released on the ‘29th’ of September 1969 it reached number twenty in the US Billboard 200 Charts and was certified gold. This was the start of  a golden period in Jethro Tull’s career. 

Benefit.

Following the commercial success of Stand Up, Jethro Tull returned to Morgan Studios, in London, on the ‘3rd’ of September 1969 and spent the next five months recording ten new tracks which were penned and produced by Ian Anderson. By the ‘25th’ of  February 1970 Jethro Tull had completed Benefit, which was much more experimental and darker album and the first album of the progressive rock years.

Before the release of Benefit, the critics had their say on Jethro Tull’s third album, which they noted had a much more experimental sound as the band flitted between progressive rock and  folk rock. Ian Anderson had allowed Jethro Tull more freedom to express themselves as he also wanted Benefit to have a live sound. This shawn through, as does Benefit’s darker sound which Ian Anderson claimed was because of the pressure of a forthcoming American tour, and his disillusionment with the business side of the music industry. However, the new sound didn’t affect sales.

Jethro Tull released Benefit on the ‘20th’ of April 1970, and it reached number three in the UK, and eleven in the US Billboard 200 Charts. Just like Stand Up, Benefit was much more popular stateside than in the UK. It seemed American record buyers “got” Jethro Tull more than their British counterparts. This would the case when Jethro Tull released their first classic album, Aqualung.

Aqualung.

By December 1970, Jethro Tull had just returned from a gruelling American tour, and were about to head into the studio to record their fourth album Aqualung. This wasn’t  ideal, and already, Ian Anderson wasn’t enjoying the months away from home. He missed his friends and family which was one of the downsides of being a member of one of the most successful rock bands in the world. To make matters worse, while his  friends and family were readying themselves for the forthcoming festive season, Ian Anderson and the rest of Jethro Tull were about to begin recording their fourth album, and their second progressive rock album, Aqualung.

Despite Jethro Tull’s gruelling touring schedule, Ian Anderson’s creativity hadn’t been stifled, and he returned with the lyrics to the band’s  most ambitious and cerebral album, Aqualung. It was a concept album that examined ”the distinction between religion and God.”  This seemed an unlikely subject for an album, even a seventies concept album. However, Aqualung, which feature two new band members was a game-changer of an album.

Joining Jethro Tull arrived at Island Studios in December 1970, where Ian Anderson and Terry Ellis took charge of production were new recruits, keyboardist John Evans and bassist Jeffrey Hammond. Both were looking forward to  recording their first album with their new band, which was another album of progressive rock that featured elements of folk rock. Aqualung  took until  February 1970 to complete, but was worth the wait as it was Jethro Tull’s most cerebral and philosophical album and also their most successful album.

Once Aqualung was completed, neither Chrysalis in Britain, nor Reprise in America wasted time in releasing Jethro Tull’s fourth album. Given the subject matter, there must have been a degree of trepidation amongst the executives at both record companies as concept albums were controversial. However,  a concept album that examined ”the distinction between religion and God” could prove hugely controversial and there could be a huge backlash against the album given its subject matter.

As copies of Aqualung were sent out to critics, executives at Chrysalis and Reprise awaited their reviews with bated breath. They need not have worried as most of the reviews were positive, with critics remarking upon the quality of the music, the standard of the musicianship and Ian Anderson’s thought-provoking and cerebral lyrics. Many critics hailed  Aqualung  as Jethro Tull’s finest album and a  progressive rock classic. Record buyers agreed.

On the release of Aqualung on the ‘19th’ of March 1971, it reached number four in the UK. Meanwhile, Aqualung reached seven in the US Billboard 20 and was certified triple platinum in America. Elsewhere, Aqualung reached number five in Germany, and was certified gold and Jethro Tull’s fourth album sold  seven million copies worldwide. This transformed Jethro Tull’s fortunes, who now one of the biggest rock bands in the world. 

For the two new members of Jethro Tull, this must have been hard to take in. Suddenly, they were part of a band who had just sold over seven million albums which must have seemed surreal for the newcomers.  Meanwhile,  another member of Jethro Tull decided to call it a day after the success of Aqualung.

Drummer Clive Bunker had been a member of Jethro Tull since the early days and it wasn’t going to be easy to replace him. He had decided to bow out after Jethro Tull’s most successful album, and must have known that following up Aqualung wasn’t going to be easy.

Thick As A Brick.

After the commercial success and critical acclaim of Aqualung, critics, record company executives and the record buying public wondered what Ian Anderson had in-store for the fifth Jethro Tull album?As always, it was a case of expect the unexpected.

What nobody expected, was that Ian Anderson would pen one lengthy track that took up both sides of Thick Of A Brick. Side one of the original album featured Thick as a Brick Part I, while side two featured Thick as a Brick Part II. This song of two parts comprised Jethro Tull’s latest concept album which was recorded at Morgan Studios, in London during December 1971 and was the first to feature new drummer, Barriemore Barlow.

Following critics conclusion that Aqualung was a “concept album,” Ian Anderson decided to have some fun at the critic’s expense. He decided to “come up with something that really is the mother of all concept albums.” Among his influences were Monty Python and the movie Airplane. Just like Airplane poked fun at the cinema goers, filmmakers and critics, Thick Of A Brick saw Jethro Tull poke fun at their audience and music critics. However, Jethro Tull weren’t laughing at their audience, they were laughing with them and maybe, were laughing at other groups.

Later, Ian Anderson would say Thick As A Brick was a reaction against the concept albums being released by groups like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. That would explain why Ian Anderson produced an album that he later described as “bombastic” and “over the top.” 

Thick As A Brick was recorded in a day. It was meant to be an adaptation of an epic poem written by a fictional eight year old prodigy, Gerald Bostock. Ian Anderson even went as far as giving the fictional Gerald Bostock a co-credit. The poem was meant to be pseudo Homeric, but with a bombastic, humorous style. The album came wrapped in a cover that replicates a comedic newspaper and  features the poem penned by the child prodigy. Although Thick As A Brick’s album cover and the album had spoof written all over it, many people didn’t get Jethro Tull, or more specifically, Ian Anderson’s unique style of humour. It was way too subtle.

With Thick As A Brick complete, and the fictional Gerald Bostock’s epic poem brought to life, copies of the album were sent out to critics. They hailed the album one of Jethro Tull’s finest. The music on Thick As A Brick was groundbreaking, innovative, slick and sophisticated. Most critics were won over by music that was complicated, but tinged with subtle humour. Incredibly, some critics failed to find the funny side of Thick As A Brick, and bought it hook, line and sinker. They failed to see that Jethro Tull were poking fun at the concept album, and laughing along with their audience at what Ian Anderson perceived as its pomposity. However, what very few critics overlooked was Jethro Tull’s first true progressive rock offering.

Thick As A Brick marked the completion of Jethro Tull’s move towards progressive rock which they had toyed with on their two previous albums. On Thick As A Brick they embraced  progressive rock fully, on album  which featured numerous musical themes, changes in time signature and tempo shifts. This proved popular with their legion of fans.

When Thick As A Brick  was released on the ‘10th’ of March 1972 it reached number one in Australia, Canada and the US Billboard 200 charts. Back home in Britain, Thick As A Brick reached number thirteen which wasn’t unlucky for Jethro Tull. Thick As A Brick  proved to be Jethro Tull’s most popular album in Britain and was certified silver. Meanwhile Thick As A Brick was certified gold in America and Ian Anderson’s parodic concept album saw Jethro Tull triumph again, as they became progressive  rock pioneers.

A Passion Play.

In March 1973, Jethro Tull returned to Morgan Studios, where they began work on their sixth album A Passion Play. It was another concept album where individual songs were arranged into a single continuous piece of music that followed the progress of the spiritual journey of Ronnie Pilgrim in the afterlife. Just like Aqualung, it was an ambitious and innovative album that was cerebral and through-provoking.

By the time work began on A Passion Play, the members of Jethro Tull were contemplating moving to France to escape the punitive tax rates that were imposed on high earners like rock stars. Jethro Tull had even identified the Château d’Hérouville as a potential venue to record A Passion Play which was meant to be a double album.

Eventually, Jethro Tull had only enough material for three sides of the double album, and they decided that A Passion Play should be a single album. One of the tracks, The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles seems to have been inspired by Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf, while other parts of A Passion Play are reminiscent of to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and John Milton’s A Passion Play, as Jethro Tull decided to head further down the road marked progressive rock. However, they also incorporated elements of traditional English folk music and played an array of disparate instruments on A Passion Play which was scheduled for release in July 1973.

Prior to the release of A Passion Play, critics had their say on Jethro Tull’s sixth album, but the majority of reviews were highly critical of the album. Although none of the critics were won over by A Passion Play, but record buyers were.

Despite the poor reviews, A Passion Play still reached thirteen in the UK on its release on the ‘13th’ of July 1973 and was certified silver. Ten days later, A Passion Play was released in North America on the ‘23rd’ of July 1973 and reached number one in Canada and the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Jethro Tull had triumphed over adversity for Jethro Tull, and had now old in excess of five million albums in America alone.

War Child.

Following the criticism of A Passion Play, it looked as like the end of the road for Jethro Tull, and it was rumoured that Ian Anderson was going to disband the group. However, eventually, Jethro Tull returned in October 1974 with a new album War Child.

Some of the tracks that hadn’t been used on Aqualung and A Passion Play resurfaced on War Child, which had been recorded in Morgan Studios, London, and in the Château d’Hérouville. Despite the poor reviews of A Passion Play, it was a much more relaxed Jethro Tull that recorded the new tracks at Château d’Hérouville that would feature on War Child. 

It was meant to be a double album that accompanied a film project The War Child, which was described as a metaphysical black comedy based on a teenage girl in the afterlife, who meeting characters based on God, St. Peter and Lucifer who were portrayed as shrewd businessmen. However, the film was abandoned after failing to find a major movie studio willing to finance it. This left just War Child.

When War Child was finished, it followed in the footsteps of A Passion Play, and was another album of orchestrated album of progressive rock that sometimes, headed in the direction of a more traditional rock sound. However, just like A Passion Play, critics disliked War Child, and wrote scathing reviews of the album. No longer were Jethro Tull the darlings of the critics.

Despite that, War Child was released on the ’14th’ of October 1974, and reached fourteen in the UK and two on the US Billboard 200. This was enough for another gold disc for Jethro Tull, who knew that they needed to change tack for their next album.

Minstrel In The Gallery.

By the time Jethro Tull began work on their eighth album Minstrel In The Gallery, they were one of the biggest selling groups of the seventies. However, this came at a cost to songwriter-in-chief and lead vocalist, and the constant cycle recording an album and then touring it, had cost him his marriage. Commercial success and critical acclaim had come at cost, by April 1975, Ian Anderson’s marriage to Jennie Franks had ended in divorce. It wasn’t a good time for the Jethro Tull frontman.

When Ian Anderson began work on what became Minstrel In The Gallery, it proved a cathartic experience, he wrote about his divorce, and the pressures of having to constantly, write, record and tour. These songs were recorded between the ‘5th’ of May 1975 and the ‘7th’ of June 1975 at Maison Rouge Mobile Studio, in Monaco. Ian Anderson had brought onboard a string quartet, to replace the orchestra that featured on the two previous albums. This he hoped would help transform Jethro Tull’s fortunes.  Once Minstrel In The Gallery was completed, it was scheduled for release in September 1975. Before that, the critics had their say.

The reviews of Minstrel In The Gallery were hardly glowing and some critics slated the album. Rolling Stone’s unnamed critic didn’t hold back. Their review called Minstrel In The Gallery “instantly forgettable.” However, Rolling Stone weren’t alone, and only a few reviews were favourable and the majority of the reviews were mixed. No longer was Jethro Tull’s fusion of progressive rock, folk rock and hard rock as popular amongst the critics. It was a different case with the record buying public, who had the final say.

On its release in Britain on the ‘5th’ of September 1975, Minstrel In The Gallery reached number twenty and was certified sliver. Three days later, Minstrel In The Gallery was released on the ‘8th’ of September 1975 and reached number two in the US Billboard 200, and was certified gold. Meanwhile, in Austria, Germany, Norway and Sweden, Minstrel In The Gallery sold well and Jethro Tull were still one of the biggest bands of the seventies, thanks to Minstrel In The Gallery.

Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young To Die!

After the gruelling Minstrels In The Gallery tour, bassist Jeffrey Hammond was exhausted. Life with Jethro Tull seemed to be a schedule of record an album, then tour the album. It was non-stop and Jeffrey Hammond wanted to slow down,  so, after the Minstrels In The Gallery tour, he announced he was leaving to become an artist. For Jethro Tull, this presented a problem, as they were about to record their ninth album Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!

Fortunately, John Glascock was recruited and joined Jethro Tull just in time to record their latest concept album Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young To Die! at Radio Monte Carlo, using the Maison Rouge Mobile Studio. This wasn’t the same studio that Jethro Tull had used to record Minstrels In The Gallery. However, Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! which was recorded between the ’19th’ of November 1975 and the ’27th’ of January 1976 was a very different album to its predecessor.

Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young To Die! told the story of Ray Lomas,  an ageing rock star, who had retired from music, when the music he played fell out of fashion. Still, Ray Lomas was a greaser who wasn’t going to have a makeover. Not even when he went onto the “Quizz” show and won the jackpot. Even money however, didn’t bring Ray Lomas happiness.

After winning the money, Ray Lomas tries to commit suicide, and like the Sleeping Beauty, he falls into a deep sleep. When Ray Lomas wakes up, the greaser fashion is back in style, and he makes a comeback. Never did he lose faith that his style would come back into fashion. This was the story that Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die was attempting to tell and which featured on cartoon printed on the album cover. However, not everyone was impressed by Jethro Tull’s latest concept album.

Critics on hearing Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die weren’t impressed with the album, and felt that the plot lacked clarity and Ian Anderson may have been a gifted lyricist, but wasn’t a  storyteller. The reviews of Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die ranged from poor to mixed, but not all of these reviews were an honest reflection on the music on the album. 

The rise of punk, which was the antithesis to progressive rock, resulted in groups like Jethro Tull being labelled musical dinosaurs by a new breed of gunslinger critics. They perceived Jethro Tull as remnants of the music’s past and slated their albums. This affected sales of Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die.

When Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die was released on the ’23rd’ of April 1976, it stalled at fifteen in the UK. Three weeks later, on the ’17th’ of May 1976 Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200, and this time there was no gold disc for Jethro Tull. By then, Jethro Tull realised that they had to change direction and  soon, the folk rock years would begin.

Songs From The Wood.

Following the disappointment of Too Old To Rock N’ Roll: Too Young To Die, Jethro Tull decided to reinvent their music and move in the direction of folk rock. This new era began at Morgan Studios, in London where between September and November 1976 Jethro Tull recorded the nine songs that became Songs From The Wood.

It’s an album that is rich in imagery from medieval Britain, while Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain seems to have inspired Ian Anderson as he wrote Songs From The Wood. Songs Jack-In-The Green, Cup Of Wonder and Ring Out Solstice Bells are full of medieval imagery and transport the listener back in time to another time and another place. Meanwhile, Velvet Green and Fire At Midnight showcase what’s best described as an ornamental folk arrangements while Pibroch (Cap in Hand) has a much more experimental sound. However, despite the strong folk influence on Songs From The Wood, Ian Anderson was quick to dismiss this description as irrelevant, and instead saw the album as Jethro Tull reaffirming their British identity. 

With Songs From The Wood complete, critics had their say on Jethro Tull’s first folk rock album. The majority of the albums were positive, and this made a change from recent Jethro Tull albums which had been slated by critics. It looked as if their luck was changing.

When Songs From The Wood was released on ’4th’ of February 1977, it reached number twenty in the UK and eight in the US Billboard 200. This was enough for gold discs on both sides of the Atlantic, as Jethro Tull announced their return with Songs From The Wood which marked the start of the folk rock years.

Heavy Horses.

Buoyed by the success of Songs From The Wood, Jethro Tull began work on their second folk rock album, Heavy Horses. Although Ian Anderson was still Jethro Tull’s songwriter-in-chief Martin Barre and David Palmer who both contributed to Heavy Horses. Mostly, though, Heavy Horses was an album written by Ian Anderson  and which featured telluric, imaginative and esoteric themes than those that feature on Songs From The Wood.

Journey Man saw Ian Anderson writing about how humans have to conform each and every day of their life. On a lighter note, Rover was dedicated to Ian Anderson’s dog and …And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps for his cat and No Lullaby was written for his young son, James. However, other songs found Ian Anderson contemplating the ever-changing and disappearing world which prove poignant and powerful. Meanwhile, Acres Wild and Weathercock find Ian Anderson hoping and pleading that better days are ahead for planet earth. Then there’s Heavy Horse, which is the second of two complicated suites that is comparable to the music on Aqualung, as it progresses from a  piano led ballad to the galloping arrangement which Ian Anderson knew that the older and more experienced lineup of Jethro Tull would cope with admirably as they began recording their eleventh album in May 1977.

This time, Maison Rouge Studio, in Fulham, London, was where Jethro Tull recorded their much-anticipated eleventh album Heavy Horses between May 1977 and January 1978. By then, Jethro Tull’s rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Barriemore Barlow, bassist John Glascock and guitarist Martin Barre. John Evan played piano and organ while David Palmer played  pipe organ, keyboards and  took charge of the orchestral arrangements. Ian Anderson played flute, mandolin, acoustic and occasionally electric guitar. Augmenting Jethro Tull was Curved Air violinist Darryl Way who featured on Acres Wild and Heavy Horses. He played his part on what was another carefully crafted, cerebral and thought-provoking album.

On Songs From The Wood, Jethro Tull decided to reinvent their music again, by eschewing the folk lyrical content that featured on their previous album, Songs From The Wood. It was replaced by a much more realistic outlook at a wold that was changing, and changing fast. Despite that, Heavy Horses was dedicated by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull to the: “indigenous working ponies and horses of Great Britain.” 

With Heavy Horses completed, critics were keen to hear the followup to Songs From The Wood, and were pleasantly surprised to hear Jethro Tull at their tightest for many years rocking hard on an album of folk rock that sometimes headed in the direction of progressive rock. It seemed that progressive rock wasn’t in Jethro Tull’s past despite their recent reinvention as a folk rock band. However, Jethro Tull unlike many of their contemporaries weren’t willing to embrace punk and post punk in an attempt to win back listeners.

Instead, Jethro Tull stuck to their guns, and recorded Heavy Horses which was the folk rock album they had always intended to record. Granted, it was a harder rocking album and much more progressive album than Songs From The Wood, and won that found favour with critics.

Just like Songs From The Wood, critics lavished praise and critical acclaim on Heavy Horses and especially the instrumental arrangements, esoteric, cerebral and thought-provoking lyrics and when Jethro Tull decided to kick loose and rock hard. However, winning over critics was only half the battle, and Jethro Tull had still to win over record buyers with Heavy Horses.

They need not have worried, because when Heavy Horses was released on the ’10th’ of April 1978, it reached twenty in the and nineteen in the US Billboard 200. This was enough for a silver disc in the UK and a gold disc in America. However, that wasn’t the end of the story of Heavy Horses which was also certified gold in Canada. Record buyers just like critics in Britain and North America had been won over by Jethro Tull’s latest folk rock album.

Heavy Horses which was the second of Jethro Tull’s folk rock trilogy, continues where Songs From The Wood left off, and finds Ian Anderson continuing their return to form. They were once again enjoying commercial success and critical success and had now sold in excess of seven million albums in America alone. Jethro Tull had come a long way since their early days as a blues rock band, and were still one of the most successful British bands of the seventies.

Ironically, Jethro Tull was still more popular in America than in Britain, where record buyers never seemed to ‘get’ their music. That was the case during their progressive rock years, and also when they reinvented themselves as a folk rock group. This began with Songs From The Wood and  continued on on their eleventh album Heavy Horses. The chameleon like Jethro Tull had returned with another carefully crafted, cerebral, progressive and thought-provoking folk rock album which features them at their hard rocking best on Heavy Horses.

It continues where Songs From The Wood left off, and finds Ian Anderson and Co. continuing their return to form. They were once again enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim and had now sold in excess of seven million albums in America alone. Jethro Tull had come a long way since their early days as a blues rock band, and were still one of the most successful British bands of the seventies. They hoped that the success would continue on the last of their folk rock trilogy Storm Watch.

Storm Watch.

 

Just four months after Jethro Tull had released their critically acclaimed and commercially successful eleventh album Heavy Horses in April 1978, Ian Anderson and the rest of the band were already preparing to record the followup Storm Watch. 

Storm Watch was the third instalment in Jethro Tull’s folk rock trilogy, and has just been reissued on CD by Chrysalis. Just like previous Jethro Tull reissues, Storm Watch has been remixed by Steven Wilson. As an added bonus, there’s also eight associated tracks which will be of interest to all fans of Jethro Tull. By the time they began work on Storm Watch, they were already one of the most successful British bands of their generation.

For Storm Watch, Jethro Tull’s songwriter-in-chief  Ian Anderson penned nine out of the ten songs on the album. David Palmer contributed the instrumental  Elegy which closed Storm Watch, which was recorded in two studios.

Recording took place in Maison Rouge Studios and Townhouse Studios, in London. By the time recording began, tragedy had struck for Jethro Tull. Their bassist John Glascock was suffering from a congenital heart valve defect and was only able to play on three tracks Onion, Flying Dutchman and Elegy. This was a huge loss as John Glascock was one of the finest bassists of the seventies. 

Replacing John Glascock during the rest of the Storm Watch sessions was Ian Anderson who played bass, acoustic guitar, flute and added vocals. He was joined  in the rhythm section by drummer and percussionist Barriemore Barlow. Martin Barre switched between electric and classical guitar as well as mandolin;  John Evan played piano and organ and Dee Palmer played synths, portable organ and took charge of the orchestral arrangements. However, Storm Watch which was produced by Ian Anderson and Robin Black took a while to record.

Although the first session took place during August 1978, after that there was a break until February 1979. Then Jethro Tull recorded right through until July 1979.  After seven months Storm Watch was completed and was released later in 1979.

Before that, critics had their say on Storm Watch which was the final album in Jethro Tull’s folk rock trilogy. However, while the album was well received by some critics who were won over by Storm Watch, while other reviews were mixed. Some critics felt it wasn’t as strong as Jethro Tull’s previous albums and the band was starting to run out of ideas. There was no consensus amongst critics. However, some of the critics had an agenda.

Many of the younger critics weren’t fans of progressive rock and saw bands like Jethro Tull as the musical establishment. They were nothing more than cheerleaders for their punk and post punk heroes, and there was no way Storm Watch was going to get a fair hearing from them.

Despite that, Storm Watch reached twenty-two in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Across the border in Canada, Storm Watch was certified gold and in Britain the album reached twenty-seven. Just like previous albums, Storm Watch was more popular in America than their native Britain.

Storm Watch was much more than an album of folk rock, and features elements of progressive rock and hard rock on Storm Watch. The album opener North Sea Oil shows that Ian Anderson was still capable of writing  cerebral, thought-provoking songs full of social comment as he sings of environmental problems. It gives way to another of the trio of high profile tracks Orion which refers to the constellation located on the celestial equator. The third is the rocking epic Dark Ages where Ian Anderson draws inspiration from history. Another hard rocking track is Something’s On The Move. 

Quite different is the ballad Home with its classical influence and the folk-tinged instrumental Warm Sporran. Dun Ringill is regarded as one of Jethro Tull’s most memorable acoustic tracks, while Old Ghosts one of their most underrated. After this hidden gem, Jethro Tull paint pictures as they tell the story of the mythical and elusive ship the Flying Dutchman. Closing the album is the soothing and ruminative instrumental Elegy. It’s one of the album’s highlights of Storm Watch which was the end of on era for more than one reason.

Storm Watch was the final album in Jethro Tull’s folk rock trilogy. It was also the last album to feature what’s regarded as the classic lineup of Jethro Tull.

After the release of Storm Watch, Jethro Tull embarked upon a tour to promote the album. During the tour John Glascock passed away on the ‘17th’ November 1979, aged just twenty-eight. He had been suffering from a congenital heart valve defect, and it was exacerbated by an abscessed tooth. Jethro Tull and music were in mourning after John Glascock’s death.

When Jethro Tull returned from the Storm Watch tour resulting in Barriemore Barlow, David Palmer and John Evan all left the band. Since then, different reasons have been given for the departures of three members of what was one of the most successful rock bands of their generation.

Storm Watch marked the end of an era for Jethro Tull. It was the final album in their progressive folk trilogy and the swansong from the classic lineup of the band. By then, Storm Watch had been certified gold in America and Canada and their success continued. 

The departing members of the classic lineup of Jethro Tull were able to leave with their heads held high. They had released several classic albums including Aqualung, Benefit and Minstrel In The Gallery and consistently released ambitious and innovative music. Sadly, it was only later that some of the more ambitious and innovative albums received the recognition and critical acclaim that they deserved. 

That was the case with albums like Thick As A Brick and Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll…Too Young To Die and to some extent, their twelfth album Storm Watch

Some critics weren’t sure about Storm Watch when it was released in 1979, and felt that it wasn’t Jethro Tull’s most cohesive album. Maybe, Jethro Tull in their current form were running out of things to say? Maybe after reading the criticism that was why Ian Anderson decided to press the reset button and start all over again with a new lineup of Jethro Tull?

Forty-one years later and Storm Watch has been reissued by Chrysalis, and remixed by Steven Wilson. Just like  the previous Jethro Tull albums he’s remixed, he does a sterling job and there’s a newfound clarity to the mix. It seems to take on new life, as suddenly, new sounds emerge from the mix and so do a myriad of subtleties and nuances. It’s a wider mix with much more depth and for anyone yet to hear Storm Watch, this is the version to buy. There’s also eight associated tracks recorded at the same time as Storm Watch. These will be of interest to all fans of Jethro Tull.

Storm Watch was the final instalment in Jethro Tull’s folk rock trilogy, and was the last album to feature the classic lineup of one the greatest British rock bands of their generation. It’s one of the most underrated albums Jethro Tull released during the seventies heyday and features a talented and versatile band who were capable of rocking hard as they switched between folk rock and progressive rock during Storm Watch which marked the end of era when they consistently released ambitious, groundbreaking and timeless music.

Jethro Tull-Storm Watch.

SUN RA-CELESTIAL LOVE.

Sun Ra-Celestial Love.

Label: Modern Harmonic.

Nowadays, maybe music journalists are guilty of using the words innovator and musical pioneer all too freely, but that is the perfect description of the inimitable Sun Ra. He’s quite rightly regarded as one of the true pioneers of free jazz and a truly innovative and influential musician who pushed musical boundaries to their limit, and sometimes, way beyond.

Sun Ra was also a prolific artists who released around 125 albums during a career that spanned six decades. This includes Celestial Love, which has just been reissued on CD by Modern Harmonic. It was the final studio album to be released by El Saturn Records. These albums are all part of Sun Ra’s fascinating life story.

Before dawning the moniker Sun Ra, Herman Poole Blount was born on the ‘22nd’ of May 1914, in Birmingham, Alabama, but very little is known about his early life. So much so, that for many years, nobody knew what age he was. However, at an early age Herman immersed himself in music. 

He learnt to play the piano at an early age and soon, was a talented pianist. By the age of eleven, Herman was to able read and write music. However, it wasn’t just playing music that Herman enjoyed. When the leading musicians of the day swung through Birmingham, Herman want to see them play and saw everyone from Duke Ellington to Fats Waller live. Seeing the great and good of music play live only made Herman all the more determined to one day become a professional musician.

By his mid teens, Herman was a high school student, but even by then, music was his first love. His music teacher John T. “Fess” Whatley realised this, and helped Herman Poole Blount’s nascent musical career. 

John T. “Fess” Whatley was a strict disciplinarian, and this rubbed off on Herman who would layer acquire a reputation as a relentless taskmaster when he formed his Arkestra. The future Sun Ra was determined that the musicians in his Arkestra to reach his high and exacting standards and fulfil the potential that he saw in them. At rehearsals, musicians were pushed to their limits, but this paid off when they took to the stage. Led by Sun Ra, the Arkestra in full flow were peerless. However, that was way in the future. Before that, Herman’s career began to take shape.

In his spare time, Herman was playing semi-professionally in various jazz and R&B groups, and other times, he worked as a solo artist. Before long, Herman was a popular draw. This was helped by his ability to memorise popular songs and play them on demand. Strangely, away from music, the young Herman was very different.

He’s remembered as studious, kindly and something of a loner and a deeply religious young man despite not being a member of a particular church. One organisation that Herman joined was the Black Masonic Lodge which allowed him access to one of the largest collection of books in Birmingham. For a studious young man like Herman this allowed him to broaden his knowledge of various subjects. However, still music was Herman Poole Blount,’s first love. 

In 1934, twenty-year-old Herman was asked to join a band that was led by Ethel Harper. She was no stranger to Herman Poole Blount, and just a few years earlier, had been his high school biology teacher. Just a few years later, and he was accepting Ethel Harper’s invitation to join her band.

Before he could head out on tour with Ethel Harper’s band, Herman joined the local Musicians’s Union. After that, he embarked on a tour of the Southeast and Mid-West and this was the start of Herman’s life as a professional musician. However, when Ethel Harper left her band to join The Ginger Snaps, Herman took over the band.

With Ethel Harper gone, the band was renamed The Sonny Blount Orchestra, and it headed out on the road and toured for several months. Sadly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra wasn’t making money, and eventually, the band split up. However, other musicians and music lovers were impressed by The Sonny Blount Orchestra.

This resulted in Herman always being in demand as a session musician. He was highly regarded within the Birmingham musical community, so much so, that he was awarded a music scholarship to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1937. Sadly, he dropped out after a year when his life changed forever.

In 1937,  Herman experienced what was a life-changing experience, and it was a story that he told many times throughout his life. He describes a bright light appearing around him and his body changing. “I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn’t in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn. They teleported me. I was down on a stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop attending college because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak through music, and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.” For a deeply religious young man, this was disturbing and exciting. It certainly inspired the young Herman Poole Blount.

After his: “trip to Saturn,” Herman Poole Blount decided to devote all his time and energy to music. So much so, that he hardly found time to sleep. Day in, day out, Herman spent his time practising and composing new songs in his first floor home which he had transformed into a musical workshop. That was where also where he rehearsed with the musicians in his band. Away from music, Herman took to discussing religious matters. However, mostly, though, music dominated his life. 

It was no surprise to when Herman announced that he had decided to form a new band. However, his new band was essentially a new lineup of The Sonny Blount Orchestra. It showcased the new Herman Poole Blount, who was a dedicated bandleader, and like his mentor John T. “Fess” Whatley, a strict disciplinarian. Herman was determined his band would be the best in Birmingham. This proved to be the case as seamlessly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were able to change direction, as they played an eclectic selection of music. Before long, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were one of most in-demand bands in Birmingham, and things were looking good for Herman. Then in 1942, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were no more when Herman was drafted.

On receiving his draft papers, Herman declared himself a conscientious objector. He cited not just religious objections to war and killing, but that he had to financially support his great-aunt Ida. Herman even cited the chronic hernia that had blighted his life as a reason he shouldn’t be drafted. Despite his objections the draft board rejected his appeal, and things got worse for Herman.

His family was embarrassed by his refusal to fight and some turned their back on him. Eventually, Herman was offered the opportunity to do Civilian Public Service but failed to appear at the camp in Pennsylvania on the December ‘8th’ 1942.

This resulted in Herman being arrested, and when he was brought before the court, Herman Poole Blount debated points of law and the meaning of excerpts from the Bible. When this didn’t convince the judge Herman Poole Blount said he would use a military weapon to kill the first high-ranking military officer possible. This resulted in Herman being jailed and led to one of the most disturbing periods in his life.

Herman’s experience in military prison were so terrifying and disturbing that he felt he no option but to write to the US Marshals Service in January 1943. By then, Herman felt he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He was suffering from stress and feeling suicidal. There was also the constant fear that he would be attacked by others within the military prison. Fortunately, the US Marshals Service looked favourably on his letter. 

By February 1943, Herman was allowed out during the day to work in the forests around Pennsylvania, and at nights, he was able to play the piano. A month later, Herman was reclassified and released from military prison which brought to an end what had been a harrowing period of his life.

Having left prison, Herman formed a new band that played around the Birmingham area for the next two years. Then in 1945, when his Aunt Ida died, Herman left Birmingham, and headed to the Windy City of Chicago.

 Phase One-Chicago.

Now based in Chicago, Herman quickly found work within the city’s vibrant music scene. This included working with Wynonie Harris and playing on his two 1946 singles, Dig This Boogie and My Baby’s Barrelhouse. After that, Herman Poole Blount worked with Lil Green in some of Chicago’s strip clubs. Then in August 1946, Herman Poole Blount started working with Fletcher Henderson but by then, the bandleader’s fortunes were fading.

By then, Fletcher Henderson’s band was full of mediocre musicians, and to make matters worse, the bandleader was often missed gigs. This couldn’t be helped as Fletcher Henderson, was still recovering after a car accident. What Fletcher Henderson needed was someone to transform his band’s failing fortunes and this was where Herman came in. His role was arranger and pianist, but realising the band needed to change direction, he decided to infuse Fletcher Henderson’s trademark sound with bebop. However, the band were resistant to change and in 1948, Herman left Fletcher Henderson’s employ.

Following his departure from Fletcher Henderson’s band, Herman formed a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith. Alas, the trio was somewhat short-lived and didn’t release any recordings. 

Not long after this, Herman made his final appearance as a sideman on violinist’s Billy Bang’s Tribute to Stuff Smith. After this, Herman Poole Blount became Sun Ra.

By then, Chicago was changing, and was home to a number of African-American political activists. Soon, a number of fringe movements sprung up who were seeking political and religious change. When Herman became involved  he was already immersing himself in history, especially, Egyptology. He was also fascinated with Chicago’s many ancient Egyptian-styled buildings and monuments. This resulted in Herman Poole Blount discovering George GM James’ book The Stolen Legacy which turned out to be a life-changing experience.

In The Stolen Legacy, George GM James argues that classical Greek philosophy actually has its roots in Ancient Egypt. This resulted in Herman concluding that the history and accomplishments of Africans had been deliberately denied and suppressed by various European cultures. It was as if Herman’s eyes had been opened and was just the start of a number of changes in his life.

As 1952 dawned, Herman had formed a new band, The Space Trio. It featured saxophonist Pat Patrick and Tommy Hunter. At the time, they were two of the most talented musicians Herman knew. This allowed him to write even more complicated and complex compositions. However, in October 1952 the author of these tracks was no longer  Herman Poole Blount was Sun Ra had just been born.

Just like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, adopting the name Sun Ra was perceived by some as Herman choosing to dispense with his slave name. This was a kind of spiritual rebirth for Sun Ra, and was certainly was a musical rebirth.

After Pat Patrick got married, and moved to Florida, this left The Space Trio with a vacancy for a saxophonist. Tenor saxophonist, John Gilmore was hired and filled the void. He would become an important part of Sun Ra’s band in the future. 

So would the next new recruit alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. They were then joined by saxophonist James Spaulding, trombonist Julian Priester and briefly, tenor saxophonist Von Freeman. Another newcomer was Alton Abraham, who would become Sun Ra’s manager. He made up for Sun Ra’s shortcomings when it came to business matters.

While he was a hugely talented bandleader, who demanded the highest standards, Sun Ra, like many other musicians, was no businessman. With Alton Abraham onboard, Sun Ra could concentrate on music while his new manager took care of business. This included setting up El Saturn Records, an independent record label, which would release many of Sun Ra’s records. However, El Saturn Records didn’t released Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s debut album, Jazz By Sun Ra.

Instead, Jazz By Sun Ra was released in 1956, on the short-lived Transition Records. However, Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s sophomore album Super Sonic Jazz was released in March 1956, on El Saturn Records. Sound Of Joy was released on Delmark in November 1956. However, it was El Saturn Records that would release the majority of Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s albums.

In 1961, Sun Ra deeded to leave Chicago and move to New York where he would begin a new chapter in his career. Much had happened to Sun Ra since he first arrived in Chicago 1945 as the World War II drew to a close. Back then, he was still called Herman Poole Blount and was trying to forge a career as a musician. By the time he left Chicago he was a pioneer of free jazz

Phase Two-New York.

Sun Ra and His Arkestra journeyed to New York in the autumn of 1961, where they lived communally. This allowed Sun Ra to call rehearsals at short notice, and during the rehearsals, he was a relentless taskmaster who was seeking perfection. However, this paid off and Sun Ra and His Arkestra recorded a string of groundbreaking albums. This included Secrets of the Sun in 1962 which was the most accessible recording from their solar period. However, Sun Ra and his music continued to evolve in the Big Apple

The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Volume 1 was released by Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra in 1965. Sun Ra had dispensed was the idea of harmony and melody, and also decided there should be no continuous beat. Instead, the music revolved around improvisation and incorporated programmatic effects. This was the case The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Volume 2 which was released later in 1965.

As Sun Ra and His Arkestra came to the end of their time in New York, their music was often described as “avant-garde jazz” or “free jazz.” However, Sun Ra  started to reject the free jazz label that was attached to his music. He pointed out that his music had been influenced by different types of ethnic music and he often used percussion, synths and in one case strings. 

A case in point was Strange Strings which was released in 1967 and found Sun Ra and His Arkestra playing an array of stringed instruments while he adds vast quantities of reverb. Strange Strings was just the latest innovative album Sun Ra released during his New York period, which came to an end in 1968. By then, the cost of living was proving prohibitive and Sun Ra decided to move his band again.

Phase Three-Philadelphia.

Sun Ra wasn’t moving his Arkestra far, just to Philadelphia where it was much cheaper to live. Again, Sun Ra and His Arkestra lived communally in Philadelphia which was their “third period.” 

During this period, Sun Ra’s music became much more conventional and often incorporated swing standards when they played live. However, still Sun Ra’s concerts featured performances where his sets were eclectic and the music full of energy as they veered between  standards and always at least, one lengthy, semi-improvised percussive jam. 

In the studio, Sun Ra and His Arkestra continued to innovate, releasing albums of the quality of 1970s My Brother The Wind Volume 1, The Night Of The Purple Moon and 1972s Astro Place. However, Sun Ra in 1973 released two classic albums like Space Is The Place and Discipline 27-II. Sun Ra was at the peak of his powers and seemed to have been reinvigorated creatively after moving to Philly.

The Next Phase.

Buoyed by the critical acclaim and commercial success of Space Is The Place and Discipline 27-II had enjoyed during 1973, Sun Ra knew that 1974 was going to be yet another busy year. He was used to this, as Sun Ra and His Arkestra had been working non stop since 1972. They embarked upon lengthy tours and recorded several albums in Chicago, California and Philly. It was more of the same in 1974, with Sun Ra and His Arkestra embarking upon yet another lengthy and gruelling tour of America. Still, Sun Ra found time to prepare a couple of live albums for his label El Saturn Records  including 1975s Pathways To Unknown Worlds; 1976s What’s New and Live At Montreux, and 1977s Somewhere Over The Rainbow and Taking A Chance On Chances and Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue. However, in 1978 Sun Ra and His Arkestra began work on another new album, The Other Side Of The Sun which was released in 1979 but was an oft-overlooked and vastly underrated album.

As the seventies gave way to the eighties, Sun Ra continued to record new albums including Celestial Love in 1982. 

Celestial Love.

When Sun Ra began work on Celestial Love he was sixty-eight and had been a professional musician since he was twenty. With forty-eight years of experience behind him he was a vastly experienced and highly respected bandleader, composer and musician who in 1957, had cofounded his own label El Saturn Records. 

For the previous twenty-five years the label had released many albums by Sun Ra and the Arkestra. Sun Ra planned to release Celestial Love on El Saturn Records. That was all in the future as the album still had to be recorded.

For Celestial Love, Sun Ra decided to record a total of nine tracks. This included five of his own compositions: Celestial Love, Interstellarism, Blue Intensity, Nameless One No. 2 and Nameless One No. 3. They were joined by four cover version of familiar songs including Sometimes I’m Happy and Smile. The other two tracks were cowritten by Duke Ellington. During his long and illustrious career he had penned Sophisticated Lady with Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, and Drop Me Off In Harlem with Nick Kenny. The inclusion of these tracks should’ve hinted to onlookers that the Celestial Love sessions had the potential to produce one of Sun Ra’s most.

Recording of Celestial Love took place in the familiar surroundings of Variety Recording Studio which had been  owned and run by Warren Allen Smith and Fred Vargas since 1961. It had been Sun Ra’s studio of choice in New York since the sixties and he had recorded some of his best and most innovative albums in Variety Recording Studio. He liked the familiar surroundings and was joined by many familiar faces.

Joining Sun Ra who played piano, organ and synths  and produced the Celestial Love sessions was his Arkestra. It included a rhythm section of drummer Samarai Celestial aka Eric Walker and bassists Hayes Burnett and John Ore. They were augmented by percussionist Atakatune aka Stanley Morgan and James Jacson who played infinity drum and bassoon. The horn section included alto saxophonist and flautist Marshall Allen; baritone saxophonists and flautist Danny Ray Thompson; tenor saxophonist John Gilmore; trombonist Tyrone Hill; trumpeter Walter Miller and Vincent Chancey on French horn. June Tyson the Queen of Afrofuturism added vocals on Sometimes I’m Happy and Smile during the sessions in 1982.

After the Celestial Love sessions, only eight of the nine tracks recorded made their way onto the album. The cover of Drop Me Off In Harlem was omitted from the original album. However, it has been included as a bonus track on Modern Harmonic’s recent reissue of Celestial Love.

It wasn’t until 1984 that Celestial Love was released on vinyl by El Saturn Records and was the last Sun Ra studio album to be released by the label. Although the label continued to release live albums by Sun Ra, Celestial Love marked the end of an era for El Saturn Records. 

Meanwhile, in Europe much of Celestial Love featured on the full-length Nuclear War record which was issued in by the post punk label Y Records. That was ironic given how different the apocalyptic sounding Nuclear War single was to the music on Celestial Love.

When Celestial Love was released in 1984 it was one of Sun Ra’s most accessible albums, and whether by design or accident, was the perfect introduction to his music. For newcomers to Sun Ra, and those who struggled with his music, Celestial Love was the perfect primer to one of the pioneers of jazz. 

On Celestial Love, Sun Ra and his Arkestra combines jazz and swing standards with his own compositions. This includes the album opener Celestial Love, where Sun Ra plays an organ which sounds as if it belongs in a church and is at the heart of the arrangement. It combines with drums and wistful, braying horns as Sun Ra and the Arkestra fuse elements of blues, gospel, jazz, soul-jazz and swing during a quite beautiful track that’s a roller coaster of emotions. June Tyson’s croons her way through Sometimes I’m Happy and plays a starring role in this joyous, swinging track. 

When Sun Ra recorded Interstellarism in 1959, John Gilmore and Marshall Allen played on the recording. Twenty-five years later when Celestial Love was released they feature on this slow, swaying and sometimes spacious remake. The tempo increases on Blue Intensitywhere Sun Ra’s organ and saxophone play leading role as the track swings and then some. Then as Sophisticated Lady unfolds its slow and bluesy before the tempo gradually increases and Sun Ra and the Arkestra unleash the first of his homages to one of his heroes.

There’s two version of Nameless One on Celestial Love. The first is Nameless One No Two which starts off briskly, with the blazing horns playing a leading role as a walking bass propels the arrangement along as Sun Ra plays keyboards. They’re part of another swinging arrangement. It’s a similar case on Nameless One No Three where rasping, braying and sultry horns play a leading role and Sun Ra plays synths. Together, they play their part in a truly memorable and swinging track. 

Very different is the cover of Smile, which sounds as if it were recorded during a different era. Sun Ra and the Arkestra show their versatility while June Tyson’s vocal is tender and hopeful. Closing the reissue of Celestial Love is a joyous, upbeat cover of Duke Ellington’s Drop Me Off In Harlem. 

Celestial Love is one of Sun Ra’s most accessible of the 125 albums the great bandleader, composer and musician  released during what was a long and illustrious career. It finds Sun Ea combining jazz’s past and present with sometimes the music of the future as he and the Arkestra innovate and combine free jazz, avant-garde, blues, soul-jazz and swing. In doing so, Sun Ra creates Celestial Joy, which is an uplifting and joyous genre-melting album bristling with optimism and positivity.     

Sun Ra-Celestial Love.

CULT CLASSIC: BOB FRANK-BOB FRANK.

Cult Classic: Bob Frank-Bob Frank.

In 2007, Jim Dickinson described Bob Frank as: “the best songwriter you never heard.” By then, he had known Bob Frank for forty-five years.

Jim Dickinson first met Bob Frank way back in the summer of 1963. Back then, he was part of a group of singers and songwriters hanging out in an old butcher’s shop in Crosstown Farmer’s Market. Bob was different from the rest of the group though.  Aged just nineteen, the Memphis born singer had graduated in 1962  and was already writing his own songs. They were different from much of the music around in ’63. 

Bob Frank drew inspiration from American history with heroes, anti-heroes and tragedies peppering his songs. His worldweary, lived-in voice brought the lyrics to life. He was a cross between a wizened sage and troubled troubadour. Given his undoubted talent, the future looked bright for Bob Frank. Sadly, it wasn’t. Nine years passed before he released his eponymous debut album Bob Frank. That was in the future.

When Jim Dickinson and Bob Frank first met, it was in a Memphis coffee shop, and they were both part of Memphis folk scene. He was nineteen year old native of Memphis who was born in 1944, and had graduated high school in 1962. Now he was devoting his life to music, folk music in particular.

Having met Jim Dickinson, Bob Frank came to regard him as a friend. He looked up to the talented  multi-instrumentalist, who back in 1963, was like a one-man band. Jim Dickinson  was also a natural and talented guitarist, who drew inspiration from the old blues players. The pair played together in coffee shops and house parties. Bob Frank would also write songs and this was how he made his living for a couple of years.

Over the next few years, Bob Frank and Jim Dickinson’s fortunes varied. During the sixties Bob Frank worked at Chips Moman American Studios. Meanwhile, Jim Dickinson recorded what has been described as the last great single released  by Sun Records, Cadillac Man.

Then by the late sixties, Bob Frank was a member of the Memphis’ based band The Dixie Flyers. They went on to work with some of the biggest names in music, and in the early seventies, was Atlantic Records’ house band. While Jim’ Dickinson’s career was going from strength to strength, Bob’s career had stalled.

While his old friend’s career was progressing nicely, Bob Frank had headed to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. During his time in Nashville, Bob made ends meet by writing songs. Essentially, he was a hired gun, tasked with writing commercially successfully popular country music. However, disaster struck when in his second year, he was kicked out of University for playing his guitar in his dormitory. The University authorities had given him an ultimatum, either stop playing guitar or leave. So Bob Frank picked up his guitar and left, heading home to Memphis in 1964. Then second time lucky, he graduated.

Having returned home, Bob Frank got a job for a couple of years. His luck changed, and he got into Southwestern University. After two years, he graduated in early 1966 and later  that year met an old friend.

That old friend was Jim Dickinson. Bob Frank was still playing in clubs. That was where he met his old friend  The pair caught up and Jim Dickinson asked Bob Frank to play a couple of songs. Having heard them, Jim Dickinson  told Bob Frank he was going to record him. Sadly, he lucked out. He was drafted in the summer of 1966. It would be another five years before he entered a recording studio.

Having been drafted in the summer of ’66 Bob Frank spent the next couple of years in Vietnam. He left the army in 1968. His luck hadn’t changed though. He returned to university in Memphis through the G.I. Bill. After a year Bob dropped out and headed to Nashville. Through an old friend Jerry Thompson, a journalist, Bob Frank got a job at Tree Publishing. History was repeating itself. 

Yet again, Bob Frank was a hired gun. He was a songwriter for hire, and  by day wrote throwaway country tracks. Having fought in Vietnam, now Bob Frank was a contract songwriter in Nashville.  Jim Dickinson joked: “he didn’t know which was worse.” There’s more than a grain of truth in that. And irony. After six months, Bob Frank hitchhiked to California.

Having followed the sun to California, Bob Frank spent six months there. He hung out with other musicians. They wrote songs, sang and played live. In some ways, this was a reaction to Bob’s structured life. He’d been at University, fought in Vietnam and worked in Nashville. Now he was being himself and finding himself. He also found his future wife Deirdre.

The trips to California became a regular occurrence. Bob spent six months in California and six months in Nashville. During one of these trips, he met Deirdre. They lived together, had children and got married. Over forty years later, they’re still together. This pattern of spending time in California and Nashville was interrupted in 1971.

Although Bob Frank was still a songwriter for hire, none of the songs he’d written were being picked up by record companies. This must have made his job something of a thankless task so he quit. Then he caught a break. Vanguard Records, who’d been a big company in the late-fifties and sixties, wanted to sign him.

Bob Frank’s songs were pitched to Atlanta based Lowery Publishing by Cletus Haegart. Gary Walker who worked for Lowery Publishing liked what he heard. So a deal was struck with Vanguard Records for an album. Twelve songs were chosen for what became Bob Frank. All of the songs were written by Bob Frank and he co-produced his eponymous debut album with Cletus Haegart. Recording took place in two studios.

The first recording sessions took place at Woodland Studios, Nashville in late 1971. Bob Frank played guitar, Charlie McCoy harmonica and Buddie Spicher fiddle. The next sessions took place at Vanguard Studios in New York. Russell George’s bass and Eric Weissberg’s guitar were over-dubbed. Both were veteran of Vanguard sessions, so knew what was necessary. Once the over-dubbed parts were laid down, Bob Frank was ready for release.

There was a problem though. Bob Frank wasn’t happy about a photograph on the album and a guitar double on one of the songs. The photograph on the album wasn’t even him  and instead featured someone who’d just walked out one of the houses on the cover. Rather than the photo, Bob Frank wanted Vanguard Records to use a picture a friend of his had drawn. The other problem was he didn’t like Eric’s double on Judas Iscariot. Vanguard said they wouldn’t release Bob Frank unless was he approved the album. He didn’t. Despite this, Vanguard went back on their word. Bob Frank was released.

At Bob Frank’s release party, he wasn’t happy. Rather than play songs from his album, he played a bunch of new songs. They reflected his new lifestyle. He was living an alternative lifestyle. His home was in the woods, where he lived with his wife, family and newly born baby. That Bob wasn’t playing his new songs, didn’t please the Vanguard people. When Maynard Solomon asked Bob to play songs from his new album, Bob suggested that they: ”  buy the f***ing album.” That was the last Bob heard from Vanguard. 

On its release Bob Frank wasn’t a commercial success. It sunk without trace. Despite this,  a small group of people realised that Bob Frank was a very special album. The problem was, it was released at the wrong time. Bob Frank was the wrong album at the wrong time. Despite this, it’s gained cult status. Original copies of Bob Frank now change hands for huge sums of money. No wonder.

Opening Bob Frank is Wino, where Bob’s worldweary, languid vocal is accompanied by his trusty guitar. Bob tells the story about a down and out, who lives of cheap wine he buys with quarters he’s bummed of working men. As Bob delivers his lyrics, they come to life. You imagine the scenes. The poverty, squalor and hopelessness of the situation seems very real. Wino lives in he bottle he’s crawled into, but can’t crawl back out of.

She Pawned Her Diamond For Some Gold is the story of a woman who pawned her wedding ring for some dope. Bob’s vocal is a mixture of admiration, bravado and guilt. Accompanying him is an arrangement straight out of Nashville. Just fiddles,  acoustic guitar and bass accompany Bob. There’s a twist in the tale though, as Bob sings: “just as my stash was running low.” 

Waitsburg sees Bob draw inspiration from the music Ian Tyson and a true story. The song sounds as if it was recorded in the fifties. Especially, when you listen to the America Bob describes. It’s fifties America, not seventies America. Bob seems out of step with the times. As the lyrics unfold, they’re like a tragicomedy, as he tells the story of a “relationship” that ends up going badly wrong.

Cold Canadian Pines is one of the most poignant songs on Bob Frank. His heartfelt vocal quivers, as the song takes on a country sound. He sings about a young man dodging the draft. You can picture him as his father: “puts a bible in my hand, and told me not to kill.” Despite that, his father can’t understand why his son doesn’t want to go to war. With just a wistful fiddle, guitars and harmonica, this a truly beautiful, poignant song. 

Judas Iscariot was probably the most controversial song on Bob Frank. Think about it, here’s a song about a soldier making a $30 bet with a guy called Judas that Jesus Christ is invincible. The song ends with Jesus hanging dead from a cross and Judas laying dead in a tree. In some Southern states, this would be enough to get the album banned. Having said that, Bob’s lyrics are cerebral and evocative. Whether by design or accident, he sounds like Bob Dylan on what’s another of the album’s highlights.

Before The Trash Truck Comes is a throwaway track. Bob remembers that when he write this song, he was just “clowning around.” That’s apparent. His lyrics are tinged with a dark humour, as sings about man dying on the ground looking for a quarter or two. That’s all he needs for his last meal.

Way Down In Mississippi sees Bob change direction. He plays this track like a blues. It’s maybe his homage to the blues greats he met in Memphis coffee shops. His lyrics are almost surreal, and tinged with humour. Especially, when he describes  teaching a woman to swim. He sings: “I took her down to the river, she sank all the way to bottom, I never saw that girl again.” After that, he proceeds to seduce her sister. Bob’s vocal is accompanied by a wailing blues harmonica, which is the perfect foil for Bob’s vocal.

Jones And Me is a song about two old friends meeting and talking about their hopes and dreams, then how life really turned out. Bob and his old friend and talk about things that you both wanted to do but never did. It’s a tale of broken dream, regrets and two friends who grew apart. Listen carefully to the melody, and it’s Loch Lomond.

Return to Skid Row Joe is a song Bob wrote after a heavy night. It’s based upon what happened. When he woke up the next day, he sat down and wrote the lyrics about a poet, songwriter and down-and-out. Bob’s lyrics are vivid and evocative. The character comes to life. His life unfolds and we hear what’s caused him to fall so far. This is a woman and a bottle. Then comes the sting in the tale. Skid Row sells some pills which must be taken with alcohol. The person he’s pouring his heart out to, reluctantly agrees and when they went home passed out. It’s only then  the listener realises Skid Row isn’t really a victim of circumstances. The result is a poignant track with a twist.

The Deer Hunter is a song about looking for love. It’s not a straightforward love song as Bob Frank doesn’t do songs like that. This is much more grownup. Full of symbolism, Bob’s voice is full of longing, as he yearns for love which has eluded him so far.

Memphis Jail closes Bob Frank. It’s the type of song everyone from early blues singers to Johnny Cash have written and sung. It’s all about getting drunk, stealing a car and ending up in a Memphis Jail. Weeping guitars and harmonica accompany Bob’s vocal, which is rueful and full of regret at his newfound plight. 

Looking back at Bob Frank with the benefit of hindsight, there’s several reasons why the album wasn’t a commercial success. The main reason was it’s the wrong album at the wrong time. By 1972, singers like Bob Frank had been usurped by men in matching suits singing about Backstabbers. Bob however, was a real artist though. Here was an artist who had everything. He was a singer, songwriter and musician who wrote the twelve songs on Bob Frank. Not only that, but Bob produced his debut album Bob Franks. The only problem was, that Bob Franks was an album that was released too late. Folk, country and blues music wasn’t as popular in ’72. That’s what Bob Frank contains. Then there was the fact that neither Bob nor Vanguard promoted the album.

This all stems to the launch party. At Bob Frank’s release party, Bob wasn’t happy. Rather than play songs from his album, he played a bunch of new songs. They reflected his new lifestyle. That Bob wasn’t playing his new songs, didn’t please the executives from Vanguard. When Maynard Solomon asked Bob Frank to play songs from his new album, he suggested that they:  ” buy the f***ing album.” That was the last Bob Frank heard from Vanguard and after that, the album sank without trace.

Since then, it’s become a cult classic and original copies of Bob Frank, now change hands for huge sums of money. It’s very much a collector’s piece where one of music’s best kept secrets made his musical debut. As Jim Dickinson described Bob Frank he’s: “the best songwriter you never heard” and that’s definitely the case. 

Cult Classic: Bob Frank-Bob Frank.

CULT CLASSIC: PYRAMID-PYRAMID.

Cult Classic: Pyramid-Pyramid.

Although Winston Churchill’s said: “it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” in the context of Russia, what’s become one of his most famous quotations can just as easily be applied to Robin Page’s Pyramid Records which has been the source of heated debate for over twenty years. This debate continues to the present day, with the two sides firmly entrenched in their believes about what has become one of the most controversial record labels in the history of modern music. Adding fuel to the fire was Pyramid’s eponymous debut album,  another album that is shrouded in mystery.

That is something of an understatement, as nothing whatsoever is known about the group Pyramid, even  their lineup when they recorded their debut album Pyramid. Speculation even surrounds when Pyramid recorded the thirty-three minute epic that features on their eponymous debut album. It’s claimed that Pyramid was recorded by Tony Robinson  in Cologne, around 1975 and 1976. However, even that is disputed by those who despite the Pyramid Records’ story, and claim that the music was recorded at a later date and is part of some elaborate musical hoax.

This might seem far-fetched, but each Pyramid Records release is forensically examined in an attempt to prove or disprove the story of Robin Page’s Cologne-based label. No doubt this will the case with Pyramid, with musical armchair sleuths poring over the album and its sleeve-notes for clues in an attempt to unravel the mystery of Pyramid Records.

The Mystery Of Pyramid Records.

Pyramid Records was founded by British expat Robin Page, in 1972 who was forty and one of the leading lights  in the burgeoning Fluxus arts movement. He had moved from London, England to Cologne, in West Germany in 1969, which had been his home ever since. However, Robin Page wasn’t the only expat who was living in Cologne during that period.

Cologne was also home to Tony Robinson, a South African, who had travelled from his home in Cape Town, to West Germany to work with the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen, the Godfather of modern German electronic music at the WDR Studio. This was akin to serving an engineering apprenticeship, and would serve Tony Robinson well in the future. When he left Karlheinz Stockhausen’s employ, Tony Robinson went to work at Dierks Studio in Cologne, which was where the future Mad Twiddler met Robin Page.

By then, Robin Page was a successful and established artist whose work within the Fluxus movement was regarded as  groundbreaking, daring and ambitious. One of the trademarks of Robin Page’s work was humour, which he used to challenge what was regarded as good taste within the art establishment. Before long, Robin Page’s paintings found an audience, and became particularly sought after. This was what Robin Page had dreamt of, and worked towards ever since ‘he had left’ art college in Vancouver. His new-found success and financial security allowed Robin Page to work towards fulfilling another of his dreams, making music.

Robin Page was so serious about making music, that he had invested some of his newfound fortune in building a recording studio. This wasn’t a luxurious state-of-the-art recording studio that was situated within a fashionable part of Cologne. Instead, the studio was in the basement of what looked like a derelict building. It was an unlikely place for Cologne’s newest recording  studio, and where the nascent Pyramid Records first album was recorded.

It was then pressed by a Turkish entrepreneur, who just happened to keep his cutting lathe within the same building. Although the lathe was often to used to produce bootlegs, it was able to cut what became PYR 001, Pyramid Records’ first ever release.  Robin Page then commissioned a local student to design the album cover to PYR 001, which was released later in 1972. Robin Page had just made with the release of Pyramid Records’ first album.

Just like many private presses released in 1972, Robin Page had only a small number of copies of PYR 001 pressed. He decided to press between 50 and 100 albums, which became the norm for Pyramid Records’ releases. Some of the albums were sold in Cologne’s art galleries and clubs, while Robin Page gave some of his closest friends copies of PYR 001. This included one of his one newest friends, Toby Robinson, the future Mad Twiddler.

Robin Page also managed to persuade Toby Robinson to provide the material for Pyramid Records’ second release. Toby Robinson’s recordings featured sounds that were bounced from one reel-to-reel tape recorder to another. After he had an album’s worth of material, a master was cut, and between 50-100 copies of PYR 002 were either given away to Robin Page’s friends, or sold in Cologne’s art galleries and clubs. However, there was a problem with the label’s first two releases.

Over the next few years, the master tapes and the last remaining copies of PYR 001 and PYR 002 were mislaid, and  it was as if the two albums had never existed. This was something that those who were keen to disprove the existence of Pyramid Records  seized upon at a later date.

During 1973, Pyramid Records released PYR 003 and PYR 004, but incredibly the master tapes and remaining copies of both album were lost in the mists of time. Forty-five years later, it’s as if Pyramid Records first four releases never existed. This would later provide more ammunition to those trying to disprove the very existence of Pyramid Records.

The first Pyramid Records release to survive is believed to be PYR 005, which is the Cozmic Corridors’ eponymous debut album. It’s one of just eleven recordings that remain in the Pyramid Records’ vaults. These recordings were made between 1974 and 1976 and include Pyramid’s eponymous debut album Pyramid. 

The Further Mystery Of Pyramid.

Very little is known about Pyramid’s eponymous debut album, which like so much of the music recorded and released by Robin Page’s Pyramid Records, is shrouded in mystery. All that is known is known about Pyramid, is that they recorded their one and only album in Cologne around 1975 or 1976. Just like the majority of albums recorded for Pyramid Records, the recordist was Tony Robinson.

Joining Tony Robinson for the recording of what later became Pyramid, was a group of musicians whose identity is now unknown. Some of them were thought to be familiar faces, who had played on previous recordings for Pyramid Records. There’s also been speculation that some of the musicians who played on the various Pyramid Records’ recordings were members of well known Krautrock bands and had to dawn a cloak of anonymity. Sadly, nobody will ever know for sure the identity of the musicians who played on the various Pyramid Records’ recordings including Pyramid.

The musicians that recorded Pyramid were attempting to follow in the footsteps of The Cosmic Jokers, who had recently released two albums. These albums were the result of lengthy jam sessions which were recorded by Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser of the Ohr label. However, the Pyramid jam sessions were recorded by Tony Robinson.

He joined the musicians that would later become known as Pyramid at Robin Page’s Cologne studio, as the group embarked upon their first recording session. Setup in the studio were drums, bass and electric guitar for Pyramid’s rhythm section, which were augmented by a Hammond organ, mellotron, Mini-Moog, Fender Rhodes and Tibetan bells. The members of Pyramid put this impressive musical arsenal to good use during the recording of what became the first part of the lengthy genre-melting jam Dawn Defender. It took at least one further recording session to complete Dawn Defender, which lasted thirty-three minutes.

During Dawn Defender, the music is lysergic and spacious as Pyramid take the listener on a mind-blowing, magical mystery tour. All the time, the music ebbs and flows as Pyramid throw curveballs and spring surprises. To do that, they put their impressive musical arsenal to good use, and deploy a myriad of effects that adds to the trippy, otherworldly and spacious sound that gradually unfolds during thirty-three magical and mesmeric minutes. What follows is a captivating fusion of avant-garde, electronica, Krautrock, psychedelia and space rock, while Pyramid draw inspiration from everyone from Agitation Free, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, to Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and unsurprisingly The Cosmic Jokers. The result was a truly ambitious, innovative and imaginative multilayered soundscape that is akin to a musical tapestry that was woven by Pyramid during just a few short sessions. It’s full of  bubbling, dark, dramatic, dubby, eerie, futuristic,  hypnotic, lysergic, otherworldly,  rocky and sci-fi sounds that became part of what’s one of the most ambitious tracks that was recorded  for Pyramid Records.

Despite having recorded what was an ambitious, genre-melting album, Pyramid was never released by Robin Page’s Pyramid Records. It became the latest album that was shelved, and never saw the light of day for twenty years. For Robin Page and everyone involved with the recording of Pyramid, this was a missed opportunity, as nobody got to hear the innovative thirty-three minutes Magus Opus, Dawn Defender.  Sadly, later in 1976 Pyramid Records closed its doors for the final time.

Robin Page had founded Pyramid Records in 1972 with his newfound wealth, and set about fulfilling his dream of making music, and before long, he had decided to take this even further by releasing other people’s music. This he had been doing on a small-scale for the best part of four years. However, Robin Page didn’t see music as a way to make money, and instead, his actions could be construed as a mixture of benevolence and small-scale philanthropy. Maybe Robin Page wanted to highlight and champion new and exciting music, including music that other labels wouldn’t release. This he continued to do until he decided to emigrate, and start a new life in Canada.

With him, Robin Page took Pyramid Records’ master tapes and the remaining albums that he hadn’t sold or given away to his friends. Robin Page left almost nothing of Pyramid Records behind in Germany, and before long, it was as if the label had never existed.

That was until twenty years later, when Tony Robinson approached Virgin Records with some of Pyramid Records’ master tapes. This resulted in the release of Unknown Deutschland-The Krautrock Archive Volume 1 in 1996. Later that year, two further volumes followed, and Pyramid’s eponymous debut album was released for the first time in 1996. Collectors of Krautrock were keen to add the album to their collection and the album soon sold old. Since then, it’s been out of print and almost impossible to find.

Pyramid is one of the many cult classics that were recorded during the Krautrock era. Sadly, this hidden gem which it is thought was recorded in 1975 or 1976, and was belatedly released in 1996 never found the audience it deserved. Since then, Pyramid has become something of a cult classic. However, like the other albums released or recorded by Pyramid Records its authenticity is the source of heated debate by the earnest aficionados and self-appointed and often pompous experts of all things Krautrock. 

Despite the debate, Pyramid features a truly talented group of musicians whose identity is sadly unknown, as they showcase their considerable skills on the genre-melting thirty-three minute lysergic Magnus Opus Dawn Defender.

Cult Classic: Pyramid-Pyramid.

HERBIE HANCOCK-THE PRISONER.

Herbie Hancock-The Prisoner.

Label: Blue Note Records.  

In the summer of 1968 Herbie Hancock left Miles Davis Quintet to form his own group. This was a risky move, but one he felt he had to make to develop as a composer, bandleader and pianist.

During the summer of 1968 Herbie Hancock also released his sixth album for Blue Note Records, Speak Like A Child. It was one of the most ambitious albums of his career, 

Speak Like A Child was an album that featured Herbie Hancock’s own philosophy which had been inspired by his childhood. The only problem was he knew his music didn’t reflect what was going on in modern day America. When he turned on his television there were reports about the economy which had taken a downturn, the riots in cities across America which was still blighted by racism. 

Instead, Herbie Hancock wanted to offer “a forward look into what could be a bright future “ on Speak Like A Child. He wanted to rediscover some of the  qualities of childhood: “we lose and wish we could have back — purity, spontaneity. When they do return to us, we’re at our best.” With all this in mind, Speak Like a Child where the listener can: “think and feel in terms of hope, and the possibilities of making our future less impure.”

Speak Like A Child featured Herbie Hancock’s sextet, and was recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, on the ‘6th’ and ‘9th’ of March 1968. Joining pianist Herbie Hancock was drummer Mickey Roker, bassist Ron Carter and an unusual horn section that featured alto flautist Jerry Dodgion, bass trombonist Peter Phillip and Thad Jones on flugelhorn. Taking charge of production was Duke Pearson on a swinging album of hard bop that to some extent, was an extension of Maiden Voyage.

When Speak Like A Child was released it was well received by critics. However, just like so many ambitious and innovative albums critics and record buyers didn’t quite “get” Speak Like A Child. Despite that, Herbie Hancock was determined to continue to create music that pushed musical boundaries and took jazz in a new direction for his next albumThe Prisoner, which has just been reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their Tone Poet series.

The Prisoner.

By the time Herbie Hancock was ready to begin work on The Prisoner, executives at Blue Note Records knew it was his swansong for the label that had been his home since he released his debut Takin’ Off in 1962. Seven years had passed and now he was preparing to record his seventh album before signing a lucrative contract with Warner Bros. Records. However,  Herbie Hancock was determined to go out on a high with the most ambitious album of his career The Prisoner.

Herbie Hancock said that The Prisoner was dedicated to the memory of Dr Martin Luther King, and was a “social statement written in music.” The Prisoner is now regarded as one of Herbie Hancock’s most ambitious albums and his greatest and grandest album since My Point of View. It finds Herbie Hancock who had just turned twenty-nine, leading an eleven piece band that featured some of the best and most inventive and imaginative jazz musicians. 

Just like Speak Like A Child, Duke Pearson produced The Prisoner which was recorded at Van Gelder Studio,Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Joining Herbie Hancock who switches between acoustic and electric piano are drummer Tootie Heath, bassist Buster Williams. They were joined by flautist Herbert Laws, trombonist Garnett Brown, bass trombonists Tony Studd and Jack Jeffers, Johnny Coles on flugelhorn,bass clarinetist Romeo Penque and Jerome Richardson who also played flute. Joe Henderson switched between tenor saxophone and alto flute on the five tracks that became The Prisoner.

Herbie Hancock wrote I Have a Dream, The Prisoner, He Who Lives in Fear and Promise of the Sun. The other track was Firewater a Buster Williams composition. These tracks were recorded on the ‘18th,’ ‘21st’ and ’23rd’ of April 1969 with Duke Pearson, and once the album was completed it was scheduled for release later that year. 

Not only was The Prisoner Herbie Hancock’s swansong for Blue Note Records, it was also his most ambitious album. The concept behind The Prisoner was a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King who had been assassinated on April the ‘4th’ 1968 aged just thirty-nine. Herbie Hancock wants the music to evoke his spirit and dreams through what spacious, experimental post bop. For much of the album, the music doesn’t follow conventional patterns, and at times can be challenging. However, the music is still melodic and Herbie Hancock remembered to leave space in his compositions and arrangements during what’s still an accessible album with a story behind each composition.  

Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous phrase I Have a Dream, lent its name to the album opener. It’s an ambitious eleven minute epic, and was followed by the title-track. Its composer, Herbie Hancock, explained that The Prisoner is about: “how black people have been imprisoned for a long time.”  Firewater was meant to sympbolise the duality of the oppressor and the oppressed. Fire was meant to symbolise the heat in violence as well as the abuse of power, while the feeling of water recalls Dr. Martin Luther King. He Who Lives In Fear refers to Dr King as he “had to live in an atmosphere charged with intimidation.” Herbie Hancock explained how Promise Of The Sun which closes the album symbolises: “how the sun promises life and freedom to all living things, and yet blacks are not yet free.” 

During The Prisoner, Herbie Hancock, Johnny Coles on flugelhorn and Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and alto flute exchange a series of breathtaking solos and drive each other to greater heights. Joe Henderson plays a starring role and was picked out for praise by calling him one of the finest flautists classical or jazz music. That was high praise but it’s soon apparent why.

It’s a case of  expect the unexpected during the solos which take twists and turns veering between alluring and provocative, to emotive, haunting, and soul-baring. There’s a starkness to the melodies which became sombre, and ruminative and invites reflection. No longer is there anything to celebrate and the joyous is gone after Dr. Martin Luther King was ruthlessly and heartlessly gunned down. As a result, the music makes the listener contemplate and wonder what might have been? It’s a powerful and poignant album from Herbie Hancock who was leaving Blue Note Records on a high.

When critics heard The Prisoner, the majority wrote positive reviews praising an ambitious, innovative and cerebral concept album. However, just like Speak Like A Child some critics didn’t seem to understand the album or the concept behind it. Ironically both Speak Like A Child and The Prisoner are regarded as classics.

When The Prisoner was released later in 1969, Herbie Hancock was a happy man and said: “Generally speaking, I’ve been able to get closer to the real me with this album than on any other previous one.” 

Just like Speak Like A Child, he had also succeed in making an album that was accessible. “I want my music to evolve toward a point where it can contain that part of me that is relatively most musical to people–but in a jazz climate that can communicate to the general public. I am trying to write hummable tunes with a kind of rhythmic element people can be infected with, and one key to the rhythmic thing is the duple meter. People can identify more with duple meter, so the drummer does play a meter but does not, however, play rock per se, so you hear the drummer playing jazz.” 

He went on to say: “Harmony is the element that offers even more flexibility. The differentiated positioning of chords in my Maiden Voyage is an example, and Speak like A Child is somewhat like a pop ballad. It’s an extension of the concept of simple melody and rhythm related to a more advanced harmony. It’s like a huge door with a lot of little doors to the outside public and I’m trying different doors.”

Herbie Hancock’s decision to try “different doors” meant he was able to compose and record music that was modern, exciting, experimental, innovative and different to everything that had gone before. He was ensuring jazz evolved and to do this, he expanded his band and added different instruments including the bass trombone and bass clarinet which other bands didn’t use. 

What also helped he explained was that: “All my soloists, play a different style, but some part of each is related to each other, and I do some of all of their thing.” This he does throughout The Prisoner. 

Different accents, clusters, splashes and sounds are used throughout The Prisoner by Herbie Hancock’s and his band combine musical genres to paint pictures and create music that is melodic, rich in imagery and full of emotion on what’s a powerful and poignant concept album that remembered Dr. Martin Luther King on what’s a now considered a jazz classic. 

Herbie Hancock-The Prisoner.

DANIEL HAAKSMAN-BLACK ATLANTICA EDITS.

Daniel Haaksman-Black Atlantica Edits.

Label: BBE Music.

Release Date: ’24th’ of April 2020.

Over the last few years, Berlin-based DJ, producer and record label owner Daniel Haaksman has been reworking tracks by everyone from CK Mann + Carousel 7 and Soul Brothers to Francis Bebey, Bonde Do Rôlé and Kaba Blon and these edits have become favourites of many top tastemaker DJs including Gilles Peterson and Mr Scruff. Now ten of these edits feature on Black Atlantica Edits, which will be released by  BBE Music on the ’24th’ of April 2020. It’s the latest compilation from the globetrotting DJ and producer.

Daniel Haaksman has enjoyed a career that has already spanned three decades, and much of that time has been spent crisscrossing the globe DJ-ing. The rest of the time he’s spent working as a producer, running his own label Man Recordings and compiling and curating compilations.

This began in 1999 when he compiled Dub Infusions 1989–1999, with More Dub Infusions following in 2001. However, three years later came the most important compilation of Daniel Haaksman’s career so far.

This was Rio Baile Funk Favela Booty Beats which was released in 2004, and for the first time ever, music fans around the globe were able to hear the music of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Daniel Haaksman had just releaseda critically acclaimed compilation which put put Brazilian baile funk on the map

The following year, 2005, Daniel Haaksman founded his own label Man Recordings which would release the sound of Rio De Janeiro.  Although three years passed before the nascent released any music, it went on to release a number of important and innovative releases by Daniel Haaksman, Diplo, Schlachthofbronx, Crookers and Bert On Beats, as well as top  Brazilian artists like Deize Tigrona, Edu K, João Brasil, Lovefoxxx and Marina Gasolina from 2008 onwards.  

Before that, More Rio Baile Funk Favela Booty Beats was released in 2008. It continued to introduce the music that Daniel Haaksman was passionate about to a wider audience.

In 2009, Daniel Haaksman compiled Bossa Do Morro for Universal Germany. However, the other compilation he curated in 2009 with DJ Sandrinho and DJ Beware was Rio Baile Funk Breaks which he released on Man Recordings.

Then in 2011 Daniel Haaksman released his debut solo studio  album Rambazamba. By then, he was an experienced producer and globetrotting DJ who knew how to fill a dancefloor.

Daniel Haaksman was travelling the world and playing to huge audiences. This ranged from clubs and festivals to Hollywood wedding parties where he rubbed shoulders with stars of screen, stage and music. Other times, Daniel Haaksman was playing ghetto jams and during his eclectic sets he played everything from baile funk to house, kuduro and trap. Meanwhile,  gunmen patrolled the parties, but still Daniel Haaksman’s mixes were still smooth and seamless as he crowds filled the dancefloor and partied into the small hours.

Away from DJ-ing in clubs and at festivals, between 2013 and 2016 Daniel Haaksman hosted the weekly radio mix show Luso FM on German public radio, WDR Funkhaus Europa. Still he managed to find time to work as a music journalist and wrote for various daily and weekly publications in his native Germany. Despite such a busy schedule Daniel Haaksman was still making music during this three year period.

Five years after the release of his debut album, Daniel Haaksman returned in 2016 with African Fabrics the much-anticipated followup to Rambazamba. It featured a whole host of guest artists including Colombian guitarist Bulldozer with Tony Amado, Dama Do Bling, Tshila and Throes + The Shine adding vocals. The album was released to plaudits and praise and Daniel Haaksman’s star continued to rise.

Over the next few years Daniel Haaksman continued to DJ and work as a producer. His DJ-ing career saw him continue to crisscross the globe, but he found time to write, record and release his third album With Love, From Berlin in 2019 which received positive reviews. Meanwhile, Daniel Haaksman was working on another project.

This was the album of dancefloor friendly reworks that later became the album Black Atlantica Edits. It’s an album that explores the Afro-Latin diaspora and features ten artists from different parts of the globe. There’s edits of tracks by Bonde Do Rôlé, CK Mann + Carousel 7, DJ Havaiana, Francis Bebey, Kaba Blon, Master Chivero, Pinduca, Soul Brothers, Super Mama Djombo and Super Mama Djombo on Black Atlantica Edits whose title was inspired by Paul Gilroy’s 1993 book The Black Atlantic : Modernity and Double Consciousness.

In his book Gilroy investigates how the Black diasporic history of the Atlantic has challenged art and knowledge to find new forms. This is especially true with music. Daniel Haaksman looked at Gilroy ́s theory that the Black Atlantic is a transnational cultural realm when he began the process of deconstructing and reworking the ten tracks that eventually became Black Atlantica Edits.

The only difference between Gilroy ́s book and the forthcoming album of edits is that Daniel Haaksman has added an “a” the “Atlantic” in the title. There’s a good reason for this, and this is to highlight the non-English speaking Portuguese, Spanish or French cultures that are considered to be part of the wider “Black Atlantic space.” This includes countries like Brazil and Angola, as well Cameroon, Mali and Peru. Each and every one of these countries have been affected by the transcontinental dialogues and the resulting fusion of cultures. Musicians from each of these countries contribute tracks to Black Atlantica Edits.

Victoria Santa Cruz is from Peru and opens Black Atlantica Edits is with Me Gritaron Negra. It’s a powerful song full of social comment as it deals with racism, prejudice and intolerance within the Latino community especially against Afro Latinos.

Sunny Crypt is by Francis Bebey from Cameroon and has an understated and even wistful sound as a flute, percussion and birdsong combine. Together they create a cerebral and later joyous song that makes us think of the things around us that we sometimes take for granted like nature and the changing of the seasons and the arrival of spring and summer. 

From Cameroon Daniel Haaksman takes the listener to Brazil with his edit of Vamos Farrear by Pinduca. It’s a joyous, celebratory edit that’s akin to a call to dance. This is sure to become a favourite of dancers and DJs.

Black September by Master Chivero is a song from the  Zimbabwean War of Liberation and was sung in the guerrilla camps. A mbira, thumb piano, drums and gourds accompany Master Chivero on this edit of Black September, which is powerful protest song. 

Super Mama Djombo are from Guinea Bissau and the edit of Dissan Na M´bera (Suur Di No Pubis) was reworked in such a way by Daniel Haaksman that it was more “mix friendly.” He’s succeeded in dong so, and this is a quite beautiful and welcome addition to the compilation. 

By 1971, CK Mann from Ghana was known as the King Of Highlife. The music he made was a unique fusion of African, European and Latin American music and Asafo Beesuon his best known song is proof of this. It’s a collaboration by CK Mann and Carousel 7 that originally was thirteen minutes long. However, Daniel Haaksman edited it to just over six minutes of prime Afro-funk that’s one of the highlights of Black Atlantica Edits. 

During their career, South African based Soul Brothers have released over thirty albums. A tantalising taste of the Kings of their trademark take on mbaquanga music is Akabongi. It’s joyous, uplifting, timeless and dancefloor friendly.

Pinduca from Brazil contributed Vamos Farrea which is an urgent, driving genre-melting track. It’s a fusion of Afro-carimbo, funk, jazz and soul that results is a truly memorable track designed to brighten up any day. 

Another genre-melting track comes courtesy of the Brazilian trio Bonde Do Rolê. They successfully fuse Afrobeat, calypso and North Eastern Brazilian surf music on Dança Molengo. 

Closing Black Atlantica Edits is Moribiyassa from Malian balun group Kaba Blon. They combine hip hop with traditional music  including samples. It’s a captivating combination, especially the  rap which is delivered at breakneck speed in a call and response style and accompanied by percussion. Daniel Haaksman has kept the best until last and there’s no doubt about that.

For someone who has spent so much of his career highlighting what modern Brazilian music has to offer, Black Atlantica Edits is something of a departure for Daniel Haaksman. While he returns to Brazil for two of the ten tracks, he heads further afield as he takes the listener on a journey to through nine countries in South America and Africa. 

During this journey he celebrates the music made by some truly talented musicians in Brail, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Peru, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Sadly, most people won’t have heard of most the artists and groups who contribute songs that are beautiful, celebratory, joyous and uplifting while other wistful sounding, cerebral and thought-provoking. There’s songs about war and protest songs, while the most powerful is Victoria Santa Cruz’s Me Gritaron Negra highlights racism, prejudice and intolerance. Such a powerful song is the perfect way to open Black Atlantica Edits, which is a captivating celebration of black creativity from musicians in nine countries. 

These songs were chosen and edited by Berlin-based tastemaker DJ, producer and record label owner Daniel Haaksman. While Black Atlantica Edits showcases his impeccable musical taste and editing skills, the compilation acts as a perfect primer that offers a tantalising taste to artists and the  musical genres that sadly, many people never encounter but thanks to Daniel Haaksman do on Black Atlantica Edits

Daniel Haaksman-Black Atlantica Edits.

DR JOHN THE NIGHT TRIPPER-THE SUN, MOON AND HERBS.

Dr John The Night Tripper-The Sun, Moon and Herbs.

Label: Speaker’s Corner.

By July 1970, twenty-nine year old Dr John was about to begin recording his fourth album for Atco which eventually became The Sun, Moon and Herbs which has just been reissued on vinyl by Speaker’s Corner.  Dr John had written six new track and cowrote Familiar Reality (Opening) with Jesse Hill. These tracks he planned to record with what was an all-star band in London, Miami and Los Angeles. He hoped that his musical friends would play their part in an album that transformed his fortunes.

Dr John had already released three ambitious genre-melting  albums for Atco, that had failed to find the audience they deserved. He knew deep in his heart he knew that if his next album didn’t chart he could be looking for a new label. The problem was critics, record buyers and even the founder of Atlantic Records didn’t understand his music which was ahead its time.  That was the case with his debut album Gris Gris, which was released in 1968 and marked the start of Dr John’s Atco Records’ years.

Gris Gris.

When a copy of Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris was sent to Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun he disliked the album so much, that he was reluctant to even release the album and said: “how can we market this boogaloo crap?” This wasn’t the response that Dr John had been hoping when he recorded Gris Gris which was a combination of psychedelia, blues, free jazz, R&B, soul, funk, jazz. Add to this psychedelic stew the authentic music of the melting pot that is New Orleans and the voodoo image that Dr John had carefully cultivated  and Gris Gris was like no other album that Atlantic Records had released. That presented the label with a huge problem. 

Atlantic Records’ PR department had idea to promote an album like Gris Gris, as they had no cultural reference points, nothing to compare the album to. Despite the best efforts of Atlantic Records PR department, when Gris Gris was released on January the ’22nd’ 1968 and introduced the world to Dr John The Night Tripper, it failed to trouble the charts and neither critics nor record buyers understood Dr John’s groundbreaking debut album. However, like so many albums that fail to find an album on their release, Gris Gris was later reappraised and belatedly, was recognised as a seminal album that was the start of a rich vein of form from Dr John.

This was the start of a six-year period when Dr John could no wrong, and released seven innovative albums that are among the his finest work. These albums are the perfect introduction to Dr John, who followed up Gris Gris with Babylon.

Babylon.

Babylon which was recorded in late 1969, which was a turbulent time for Dr John, who was experiencing  problems in his personal life. “I was being pursued by various kinds of heat across LA” and this influenced the album he was about to make. So would the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr and the Vietnam War which is referenced in The Patriotic Flag-Waiver. The title-track Babylon was recorded in 3/4 and 10/4 time, and featured Dr John thoughts on the state of world in late 1968. It was a part of a powerful album that was released in early 1969.

Babylon was released on January the ’17th’ 1969 was a powerful, cerebral and innovative genre-melting album which socially had much in common with Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris. However, critics didn’t ‘get’ Babylon and the album which failed commercially. However, just like Gris Gris, Babylon was later reappraised by critics and nowadays is regarded as one of his finest albums and a minor classic.

Remedies.

Following the commercial failure of Babylon, things went from bad to worse for Dr John, before he could begin work on his third album Remedies. This started when a deal went south, and he was arrested by the police and ended up in jail. It was a worrying time for Dr John who was parole, and if he ended up with a parole violation, he knew he might end up in the infamous Angola jail. That didn’t bare thinking about, and already Dr John was desperate to get out of the local jail. However, he needed someone to post bail, so contacted his managers who he remembers: “were very bad people.” This proved to be an understatement. 

Not long after this, Dr John’s managers had him committed to  a psychiatric ward, where he spent some time. By then, it was obvious to Dr John that his managers were no longer playing by the rules. All he wanted to do was make music, and everything that had happened recently were nothing to do with music. Instead, it was all connected to Dr John’s increasingly chaotic lifestyle, which made it all the more frustrating for those that realised just how talented the Gris Gris Man was.

Eventually, having managed to put his problems behind him, Dr John wrote the six tracks that became Remedies using his real name Mac Rebennack. Among the tracks Dr John had written was What Goes Around Comes Around which later became a favourite during his live shows and Mardi Gras Day which paints pictures of New Orleans when it comes out to play. Very different was Angola Anthem which was inspired by a friend of Dr John’s who had just been released from Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary after forty years. Dr John paid tribute to his friend with an eighteen minute epic that took up all of side two of Remedies. It was produced by one of the most successful producers of the day.

Although Harold Battiste had produced Gris Gris and Babylon, he was replaced by Tom Dowd and Charles Greene who were tasked with transforming Dr John’s career. However, although Tom Dowd was enjoying the most successful period of his career, he had never worked with anyone like Dr John. 

When the recording of Remedies began, Dr John was joined by a small band that featured Cold Grits who played drums, bass and guitar and backing vocalists Shirley Goodman, Tami Lynn and Jessie Hill who also played percussion. Dr John played piano, added his unmistakable vocals and despite losing part of a finger during a shooting a few years previously, he played guitar on Remedies which was released in the spring of 1970.

Just like his two previous albums, critics didn’t seem to understand Remedies, which was credited to Dr John The Night Tripper. Remedies was another ambitious album of genre-melting, voodoo-influenced album where Dr John The Night Tripper through everything from psychedelia, blues, R&B, soul, funk and jazz into the musical melting pot and gave it a stir to create an album where the music was mysterious, otherworldly and haunting. 

That was the case from the album opener Loop Garoo while there’s a darkness and defiance to the lyrics to the hook-laden What Comes Around (Goes Around) which showed another side to Dr John. His recent problems and  experiences had influenced Wash, Mama, Wash where soaring backing vocals and horns accompany Dr John on a track that is tinged with humour. The horns return and play their part in the success of Chippy Chippy, before the darkness describes and music becomes moody and broody as chants, moans and cries emerge from this lysergic voodoo stew of Mardi Gras Day which gives way to the otherworldly eighteen minute epic Angola. It brought Remedies to a close, which was a potent and heady brew from Dr John The Night Tripper.

By the time Remedies was released on April ‘9th’ 1970, some FM radio stations had picked up on the album, and were playing it on their late shows. Despite the radio play Remedies had received, the album never troubled the charts, and it was only much later that record buyers realised that they had missed out on another important and innovative album from Dr John The Night Tripper.

The Sun, Moon and Herbs.

Despite Dr John The Night Tripper’s first three albums failing to find an audience, many of his fellow musicians were fans of his music, and were only too happy to feature on his fourth album The Sun, Moon and Herbs. This included Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bobby Whitlock, Graham Bond, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Doris Troy. They were joined by The Memphis Horns as Dr John and Charles Greene took charge of production as they recorded the album at Trident Studios in London, Dimension Recorders in Hollywood, Los Angeles and Criteria Sound in Miami. When the album was finished it was the most important of Dr John The Night Tripper’s career. 

He and his all-star band were responsible for a dark and swampy sounding album that is rich in imagery and paints pictures of New Orleans on a hot, sticky night as thunder crackles and rumbles in the distance like the drums on The Sun, Moon and Herbs. When it was released on August the ’31st’ 1971, still critics struggled to understand Dr John’s music. However, this time, The Sun, Moon and Herbs which featured an all-star cast, spent five weeks in the US Billboard 200 and peaked at 184. At last, Dr John’s music was starting to find a wider audience. However, given the quality of the music this cult classic should’ve been much more successful.

Side One.

The Sun, The Moon  Herbs opens with Black John The Conqueror where  Dr John plays a dramatic, jangly piano solo before his lived-in, worldweary vocal enters. He’s accompanied by drums, a pulsating bass and soaring, soulful female backing vocalists. They provide the perfect contrast to Dr John’s vocal, By then, the horns have entered and the arrangement has grown as elements of soul, New Orleans funk and jazz are combined by Dr John and his all-star band and backing vocalists. They play a starring role in a track that’s dramatic, atmospheric, funky , soulful and features some of the best lyrics on the album.

Stabs of grizzled  horns open Where Ya At Mule before Dr John’s piano ushers in the backing vocalists and guitar. They accompany Dr John whose voice veers between joyous and hesitant as if not sure what to expect when he arrives home. Meanwhile, braying horns, a bluesy guitar and backing vocalists combine elements of jazz, New Orleans funk, swampy soul and gospel-tinged harmonies. Later, a searing  guitar cuts through the arrangement, a trumpet plays and swaying harmonies accompany Dr John. His vocal grows in power and becomes joyous and emotive as the drama builds as the soulful backing vocals, growling horns and searing rocky guitar combine as the arrangement to one of the album’s highlights sways and swings.

Craney Crow has a slow, hesitant start, with the arrangement atmospheric and almost eery. A pulsating bass, rumbling drums, haunting guitar, mournful, braying horns, chanted vocals and sweeping harmonies are combined with a sample of child’s voice. Eventually, Dr John’s growling vocal enters, accompanied by soulful backing vocals. They’re a contrast to Dr John’s raspy, menacing growl. Behind him, drums are spacious, atmospheric, while guitars and bass play occasionally. Mostly, it’s call and response between Dr John and the backing vocalists. When Dr John sings, the lyrics are atmospheric, telling of the colourful side of New Orleans. Meanwhile, a slide guitar, prowling bass, drums, percussion and brief bursts of Hammond organ play their part in this dark, atmospheric and moody sounding song with a soulful side thanks to the backing vocalists

Side Two.

The tempo rises on Familiar Reality-Opening as the rhythm and horn section combine before Dr John’s vocal enters.  It’s loud and strong as he plays piano. Meanwhile, horns soar above the arrangement and is accompanied by a weeping and later searing, scorching guitar. Add to this percussion and a pulsating bass and Dr John’s jangling piano. Later, his vocal becomes a soliloquy  as horns bray, percussion plays and the bass prowls. By then, Dr John and his band are in the groove and are fusing jazz,  funk, blues and R&B during one of the album’s highlights which features a standout performance from his all-star band.

Understated and melodic describes the shuffling  introduction to Pots On Fiyo (File Gumbo/Who I Got To Fall On (If the Pot Gets Heavy)). After the meandering, melodic opening, Dr John whispers the vocal as he plays his piano. Quickly his vocal get stronger as backing vocalists accompany him, their voices high. Congas play, accompanying the piano as the arrangement starts to fill out, the tempo rising. Drums, percussion, rasping saxophone and soulful backing vocalists join in. Their voices grow in power as they  repeat the same line while guitars, rhythm and the horn section play. They’re part of a genre-melting arrangement briefly that latterly, becomes discordant and adds to the atmospheric and eerie ending.

A tuba plays slowly opening Zu Zu Mamou before the rhythm section guitar, percussion and then Dr John’s whispery vocal enters. It’s joined  backing vocalists who add to atmospheric, sinister and  moody meandering arrangement. Behind Dr John’s vocal,  a bass prowls menacingly,  drums rumble, as backing singers coo and percussion adds to the almost pedestrian paced arrangement. Occasionally a piano or guitar plays, but everything just enters and disappears, and at one point it’s just Dr John and a backing vocalists whispering the lyrics eerily. Once the arrangement rebuilds, it’s just Dr John, backing vocalists, rumbling drums, a meandering guitar and wailing trumpet. By the end, one can only marvel at what’s been eight of the eeriest and most atmospheric minutes of music brought to you courtesy of Dr John.

The Sun, The Moon and Herbs, ends with Familiar Reality-(Reprise), a short track, which begins with a tuba playing, and Dr John’s whispery vocal, almost rapping, against a backdrop of slow, spacious drums. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the track burst joyously into life. Backing vocalists sing as if giving thanks and a guitar piano and drums fill out the  arrangement as they combine to bring the track to a close. Sadly, this only lasts for under two minute and although short and sweet is ensures the album closes on a high.

Dr John The Night Tripper was joined on The Sun, Moon and Herbs by an all-star band who recorded an album of genre-melting, voodoo-influenced, swampy sounding music that was rich in imagery and paints pictures of the New Orleans and sometimes of the Big Easy’s dark underbelly.  

To do that, Dr John The Night Tripper and his all-star band combine elements of blues, funk, gospel, jazz, Louisiana R&B, rock and soul. This coproducers Dr John and Charles Greene throw into the musical melting pot and give it a stir to create an album where the music was dark,  moody, mysterious, otherworldly, eerie, haunting and swampy. It’s the sound of hot, steamy night in New Orleans as thunder claps and crackles and forks of lightning light up the night sky.  This is the pictures that Dr John The Night Tripper, his all-star band and backing singers create on The Sun, Moon and Herbs which became his first album to chart.

Sadly, The Sun, Moon and Herbs stalled at just 184 in the US Billboard 200 and dropped out of the chart after just five weeks. However, it was a start and gave Dr John as he became known as something to build on. He released three more albums on Atco Records Dr John’s Gumbo, In the Right Place and Desitively Bonnaroo which came out in 1974. The seven albums that Dr John released on Atco Records snow different sides to his music which continued to evolve over a six-year period.

Between 1968 and 1974 Dr John released what was some of the finest music of a long and illustrious career. Sadly, for much of his Atco Records’ years critics, record buyers and some of the people who ran and staffed the record label didn’t “get” Dr John. He was a musical visionary who was way ahead of his time and it was only later that albums that critics and record buyers understood and appreciated albums like Babylon and The Sun and Moon and Herbs which have been released on 180 gram by the Speaker’s Corner label. Unlike so many rereleases on vinyl The Sun and Moon and Herbs is an all analogue reissue which allows newcomers to hear the album the way the Dr John The Night Tripper intended.

It’s a case of sit back and enjoy what’s without doubt one of Dr John The Night Tripper’s finest albums The Sun and Moon and Herbs. It’s a reminder of what’s now regarded as a golden era for  Dr John who for six years could do no wrong. He enjoyed a career that spanned six decades  and sadly, Dr John passed away nearly a year ago on  the ‘6th’ of July 2019. That day when  a true musical legend was taken from us aged just seventy-seven, and  sadly, there will never be anyone quite like Dr John, a charismatic showman, musical visionary who supremely-talented singer, songwriter and piano player par excellence as The Sun, Moon and Herbs shows.

Dr John The Night Tripper-The Sun, Moon and Herbs.