Flabbergasted Focus #2: Vintage soca and calypso

Just in time for Notting Hill carnival.  I’ve only been in London at the same time as that famous celebration once.  I caught some of the steel band showcase  with a good friend on the Friday before the real festivities get underway, and then it proceeded to rain all weekend, and I found myself doing other things.  I keep hearing it’s not the same as it used to be, but I hope to make it back someday anyway.  There’s a lot of history in that celebration.  In the meantime, I made this mix for our mutual edification.  I do hope you enjoy it in good health.


Ray Silvester and his Orchestra – Funk Calypso

Maestro – Reveller

Beckett – Oppression

Duke – Is It Groovy Now?

Singing Francine – She

Sparrow – Play You Mas

Shadow – Carnival Is Fete

Crazy – Back To Pan

Lord Kitchener – Dog Bite You (1978)

Lord Kitchener – Body Argument  (1965)

Ben Bowers & Bertie King’s Royal Jamaicans – Man Smart, Woman Smarter

Ray Silvester and his Orchestra – Statue

Sparrow – What Is Life

Penguin – Finger

Ed Watson – Love Is Not For Sale

Mighty Power – London Soca

Mighty Sparrow and Byron Lee – Sparrow Meets The Dragon (1969)

Mighty Sparrow With Byron Lee And The Dragonaires
Sparrow Meets The Dragon
1969 SpaLee Records – SLP – 001
US Release

A1 Maria
A2 No Money No Love
A3 More And More Amour
A4 Born Free
A5 Sandra
A6 Walk Away
B1 Peace And Love
B2 Only A Fool
B3 Theme From Doctor Zhivago
B4 Make The World Go Away
B5 Try A Little Tenderness

Producer – Byron Lee

RIPPING PROCESS: SpaLee-001 US vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; Audioquest King Cobra cables; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair on light settings, manually auditioning the output; further clicks removed with Adobe Audition 3.0; dithered and resampled using SoX for 16-44 version. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

This is a fun little record that is something of a classic but, in my opinion, probably less than the sum of its parts.  Both these guys have a bazillion records to their names and, no matter what your specific tastes, you can probably find a few that would tickle your earholes a little more than this.  But I suppose the album is a snapshot in an important time in their careers.  It was released and distributed internationally at a time when not many of their recordings were available outside of their home territories, but as their international profile was rising through live performances in North America and the UK.  My American pressing does not have liner notes, but from what I can just barely read from the blurry pics somebody took of the Jamaican gatefold version, this album was almost made like a joint effort of international diplomacy and/or development of the tourist industry.  At the time both Sparrow and Bryon Lee were big names from tiny islands, and the idea of throwing both their combos together into a studio seemed to play up their roles as cultural ambassadors to the world for Caribbean music.  Friends of this blog more knowledgeable in Jamaican music history can no doubt situate Bryon Lee’s career better than I can and are encouraged to leave comments below.  I know he did some important work as a producer and arranger in Jamaica but I mostly know him from a smattering of carnival / calypso-soca records from the 70’s.  (By which I mean the smattering that I’ve heard – he released dozens of ’em!)  I presume those LPs were a direct result of this collaboration with Sparrow, as he seems to have stepped up his engagements in Trinidad and Tobago in the wake of its success.  This album was pressed in dozens of different countries and reissued a whole bunch of times, sometimes under the title “Only A Fool.”  So it’s a pity that it is actually kind of lightweight.

The calypso songs are pretty solid, especially the opener “Maria”, which essentially appears again as “Peace and Love” with its silly and naughty word-play — the melody and chord progression are basically identical in the two songs.    Lee and the Dragonairres are mostly known for playing instrumental versions of other peoples’ material, and I find the instrumental stuff on this LP pretty groovy. “More and More Amour”  and “Theme From Doctor Zhivago” do not disappoint.  I’m inclined to think it was Lee’s idea to get Sparrow to sing so many contemporary popular songs on this album, and these are much less interesting to me.  For these ballads, Sparrow’s voice takes on crooner proportions in the vein of a hotel lounge singer. His renditions of ‘Born Free’ and ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ are at best fun kitsch, and at worst utterly unnecessary.  I will confess that his rendition of “Walk Away” makes me tear up a little, but that is probably just because its a great song that I can personally relate to.  But the track that ended up a huge hit from this collection is their rendition of “Only A Fool,” an Arthur Prysock tune that has been recorded by a slew of different artists, including Tom Jones.  There is nothing particularly Caribbean about this Sparrow/Byron Lee rendition other than the people performing it, and it’s a bit baffling to me why it became such a huge success.  Obviously it resonated with an audience, though. Not only did it remain in Sparrow’s live repertoire for years, it was even reissued in 1977 by Trojan Records, with an accompanying promotional video clip in which Sparrow manages to invent the future outfit of the Super Mario Brothers while awkwardly singing the hit song, strolling on the beach.

I’ve had this post ready in the wings for months and what I guess prompted me to finally put it up here is that Notting Hill carnival is about to take place in London.  While revelers will be observing a moment of solemnity and attempted silence for the 79 people killed in the horrific Glenfell Towers fire this past June, London police are demonizing the festival through ham-fisted public relations like the “crackdown” described in this Guardian op-ed piece.  With all the blatant, unapologetic racism on display in my own country, it’s a bit disappointing to see Scotland Yard blowing their own dog-whistles.

Music helps bring power to the people, I say, so here’s a small contribution to the cause.  I might even have another surprise post in this genre in the next few days, who knows!



password: vibes

Patrice Rushen – Prelusion (1974) with Joe Henderson

Patrice Rushen – Prelusion
Prestige VICJ-41866
Series: 1000 Jazz (Japan)
Released: 21 Feb 2007
Original release 1974 – Prestige (P 10089)

1 Shortie’s Portion 8:42
2 7/73 12:42
3 Haw-Right Now 8:00
4 Traverse 10:53
5 Puttered Bopcorn 4:15

All songs composed and arranged by Patrice Rushen

Acoustic and electric piano – Patrice Rushen
Bass – Tony Dumas
Drums – Ndugu
Flute, Alto Flute, Soprano Saxophone – Hadley Caliman
Percussion – Kenneth Nash
Tenor Saxophone – Joe Henderson
Trombone – George Bohanon
Trumpet – Oscar Brashear

Art Direction – Phil Carroll
Recording engineer – Eddie Harris, Skip Shimmin
Photography By – Bruce Talamon
Producer – Reggie Andrews

A few months ago I posted an extended 12″ single of one of Patrice Rushen’s early 80’s jams, and promised to come back and delve into her discography a little for the benefit of folks who were unfamiliar with her rewarding body of work.  I am finally getting around to it now.

So, there she is, smiling and lovely, standing barely higher than her grand piano – Patrice Rushen on her debut album.  Barely 20 years old when it was released, she stands on the shoulders of giants here (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), with assistance from the great Joe Henderson on tenor and Leon “Ndugu” Chancler driving the drum kit.  This record was produced by Rushen’s high-school mentor, Reggie Anderson.  Since Joe Henderson had settled in San Francisco in the early 70’s and was working as a jazz educator at the time, I am presuming it was Williams who recruited Henderson to add some “draw” to this session for his former prodigy student, who I believe was in college at USC in Los Angeles at the time this was made.  This is pure speculation on my part, but Patrice had not yet become the ubiquitous, in-demand session player she was soon to become, so it seems as likely a scenario as any.  Presumably she was finding time for live performance and establishing her name in jazz circles that way, but I imagine some intervention and negotiation by Williams and/or Henderson was needed to persuade the mighty Prestige label to sign the relatively unknown Rushen to a three record contract.  In fact the only other album credit that I can find for Patrice before the release of this album is a super obscure Afrocentric spiritual-jazz record called “Msingi Workshop”, made by a bunch of Watts high school students and also produced and arranged by Reggie Anderson.  Anderson also founded the group Karma later in the decade, as well as producing, arranging and co-writing (with Ndugu) the quintessential Dazz Band single ‘Let It Whip.’ The Msingi Workshop album, a rare private-press collectible, also featured future members of Roy Ayer’s Ubiquity, Les McCann’s group, and Rick James’ Stone City Band, among other credits.  That must have been one intense group of kids…

“Prelusion” seems determined to establish Patrice’s jazz bona-fides right away with the cutely titled “Shortie’s Portion” providing some fairly mundane but thoroughly pleasant straight-up jazz, with a standard solo/chorus/solo/chorus arrangement that has Henderson and trombonist George Bohanon putting in solid performances.  The second track, 7/73, begins with some loose percussion and vaguely Asian flute melodies from Hadley Calimen,  tape-delayed electric piano (Roland Space Echo?) that hints at a cosmic Hancock-style exploration of the nether regions, with the group reaching a minor crescendo broken up by a brief drum solo that is really more of a cymbal solo.  The group pulls back to a relaxed , almost-funky, almost-spiritual piece that makes me.  Behind Calimen and Bohanon’s solos, Patrice plays some chord inversions on the Rhodes that evoke a hipper trolley gliding through Mr. Rogers neighborhood.   For her own solo she switches to acoustic piano for a kind of nebulous ending.  If this were an LP you’d be flipping it over shortly to hear “Haw-right Now,” on which Tony Dumas lays down some of the funkiest upright acoustic bass playing you’re likely to hear.  After a strident and brassy statement of the main theme, the groups settles into a pressure-cooker of a groove and lets Joe Henderson take a blistering solo, pushing notes through that steam valve, making you check that the lid is locked down tight so you don’t have an accident.  Patrice reduces the heat with a simmering turn at her solo…. Okay, I’m really sorry folks, I was cooking black beans while listening to this earlier.  I will set aside that metaphor (and let stand for five minutes before serving).  The next track, “Traverse”, bounces along like a fairly standard, finger-snapping post-bop number until about three-quarters the way through its 10-minute length, at which point the ensemble effortlessly morphs the whole thing into jazz samba.  Amazing work by Ndugu and Kenneth Nash on the percussive side of things here, and Patrice develops her own understated solo as the song fades out.  Makes me want to hear the unedited cut, and also to peruse through a snapshot of Patrice’s record collection as a young lady to see if she was deep into the 60’s jazz-samba-bossa combo permutations of the day or just absorbing these grooves second-hand through the oodles of American-Brazilian collaboration and ‘crossover’ albums.   Was the title “Traverse” itself an homage to Milton Nascimento’s “Travessia,” a favorite among American jazzers of the early 70s?  Please ask Professor Rushen next  time you see her for me.  The final track, Puttered Bopcorn, foreshadows the jazz-funk-fusion of her next Prestige effort, with Much Moog and Copious Clavinet™.  Apparently this short but tasty track was left off a 2-on-1 CD repackaging of her first two albums because of its cholesterol content, with the official FDA justification given as “time considerations.”  So as of the time of this post, the only way to hear the entire album without tracking down the vinyl is to get hold of this out-of-print Japanese pressing, which has the kind of stellar, dynamic sound you expect from out-of-print Japanese pressings.

TL;DR – Perhaps not a debut to blow your top over, “Preclusion” is a very solid jazz outing for a young Patrice Rushen, full of enough eclectic surprises to keep this listener engaged, and  enough jazzy jazz to make the purists wring their hands and agonize over the inevitable “what if she hadn’t turned to (gasp!) R&B later in her career?!” question.  Which is of course a very silly question.  Her R&B stuff is brilliant.  As we’ll see when I continue these slow and occasional installments in exploring her discography.

password: vibes