Aretha Franklin – Sparkle OST (1976) (with Curtis Mayfield)

Aretha Franklin – Sparkle
1976 Atlantic SD 18176
Produced and composed by Curtis Mayfield
This reissue by 2012 HDtracks

1 Sparkle –  4:13
2 Something He Can Feel –  6:21
3 Hooked on Your Love –  5:00
4 Look into Your Heart –  4:04
5 I Get High –  4:11
6 Jump – 2:19
7 Loving You Baby –  3:48
8 Rock with Me –  3:11

Recorded at Curtom Studios, Chicago
Remixed at Record Plant, Los Angeles

Arranged By, Orchestrated By – Rich Tufo

Backing Vocals – Kitty Haywood Singers
Recording Engineer – Roger Anfinsen
Horns – Lenard Druss
Photography By – Sam Emerson
Producer, composed and arranged  by Curtis Mayfield
Strings – Sol Bobrov


There have been no shortage of eulogies and retrospectives on the life and career of the great Aretha Franklin in the last few weeks.  Some well-done, some shallow and superficial.  But I’ve been happily busy “in the real world” and am well overdue for a blog post, and rather than add my own verbosity to the amen corner praising Aretha, I thought I’d just share one of her under-appreciated gems, a collaboration with the luminous Curtis Mayfield.  These two titans both managed to be pioneers in their field, voices for civil rights and black liberation, and tremendously successful commercially, so they are on the short list of artists who can tick all those boxes.  The first track that really jumps out at you from this album is “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” which – if I am completely honest with my readers, and when am I not? – I almost definitely first heard as the cool remake by En Vogue in 1992.  They also covered (less memorably) ‘Hooked On Your Love’ from this album.  I’ve never seen the film and am not in a huge hurry to see it: this was the era of soundtracks being exponentially better than their associated films, after all.  Apparently, the film was remade in 2012, which I didn’t even know until making this blog post.

Mr. Palmer’s original review of the record is pretty spot-on so I am including it here (even his observations of Curtis’ production “formula” by the mid-70s is on point — I just happen to still really like his formula.)

 

Review by Robert Palmer, Rolling Stone, August 12, 1976

The instrumental tracks Curtis Mayfield produces at his Curtom Studio in Chicago always sound a little contrived. There’s a swirling harp every time you turn around, the syncopated horn figures lie just so against the bass and drums, and there is often a surfeit of trebly percussion instruments like bells, chimes and cymbals. But Mayfield understands the gospel roots of the most powerful black pop vocalists as well as, if not better than, any producer alive, and he’s carried this understanding from his earliest sides with the Impressions right on up to his latest work with the Staple Singers and, now, Aretha Franklin. Mavis Staples and Aretha are probably the most distinctive singers in the field, and although Mayfield’s work with them has suffered somewhat from sameness of material and of instrumental sound, he has understood their voices.

 

Sparkle, which consists of Mayfield’s tunes from the motion picture of the same name and a few extra originals, could easily have been a cheap shot, a momentary deviation from the mainstream in Aretha Franklin’s career. Instead, it is her most consistently exciting album in some time. It never quite scales the heights of the early Atlantic sides, which were recorded in the South and often sounded like off-the-cuff testifying from the back of the church. They weren’t, of course. They were as carefully put together as any great pop records, but the seams didn’t show. Sparkle is more obvious — one often feels a certain tension between the singer and the prerecorded tracks — but ultimately its manufactured sound isn’t very important. Aretha may be singing with tracks which are slick and occasionally overproduced, but she is singing her heart out.

 

The most satisfying aspect of the spectacular vocal performances that dominate the album is Mayfield’s channeling of their energy. Aretha has always sung with passion, but here, due no doubt to the producer’s directions, the passion rises and falls along carefully plotted curves. When she ad-libs, which is often, the results don’t just mark time between verses, they carry the song further along its developmental path. This may sound terribly calculated for an artist as emotive as Aretha, but the most successful pop producers have always known how to channel excitement. Energy that’s let out at a performer’s whim can dissipate into the air; energy that’s shaped and guided has the power to move an audience like nothing else.

 

A track-by-track rundown of Sparkle‘s high points would be tiresome, but one Franklin/Mayfield collaboration, “Rock with Me,” deserves special praise. It’s a deliberately paced, walkingtempo tune that avoids most of Mayfield’s songwriting and production clichés and steams along irresistibly, rising several times into the hottest hook Aretha has had to work with in some time. The rest of the album is only slightly less stirring; you can listen from beginning to end without coming upon any inappropriate filler material or lackluster vocal performances. Sparkle, even more than the Staples/Mayfield match on Let’s Do It Again, deserves an encore.

 


password: vibes

Bohannon – Summertime Groove (1978)

Bohannon – Summertime Groove
Mercury SRM-1-3728| Released 1978 | Disco / Funk
Vinyl rip in 24 bit 192 khz | Art at  300 dpi |

 

A1 Let’s Start The Dance 5:30
A2 Listen To The Children Play 4:22
A3 Me And The Gang 5:16
A4 Let’s Start The Dance (Finals) 1:08
B1 I Wonder Why 3:18
B2 Summertime Groove 8:10
B3 The Street Dance 7:55 Continue reading

Herbie Mann – Do The Bossa Nova (1962) (Atlantic 1397, Mono pressing)

Herbie Mann
Do The Bossa Nova
1962 Atlantic 1397
Mono pressing

Before bossa nova became the semiotic index for the synthetic happiness of mass consumer culture and alienation (and long before it was featured in the supermarkets and the Commander’s dinner parties in the current adaptation of A Handmaid’s Tale), bossa nova was  associated with the cool and cosmopolitan, with goatee-sporting hep cats like Herbie Mann.  For this record, he went to Rio and actually recorded with a bunch of the leading lights of the movement, which sets this apart from a lot of the contemporary North American jazz-bossa crossovers of the time.  The personnel includes Baden Powell, Paulo Moura, Tom Jobim, and Sérgio Mendes. A fun version of Clifford Brown’s ‘Blues Walk’ gives it a Brazilian twist.

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Larry Coryell – Coryell (1969) – Special Blog 10th Anniversary Post!

Larry Coryell – Coryell
1969 Vanguard Apostolic VSD 6547 | Vinyl rip in 24 bit 196 khz | Art at 600 and 300 dpi
Jazz-Rock / Jazz-Funk / Soul / Fusion / Psychedelic

I’ve been holding back on posting about this album until I could commemorate the 10th ANNIVERSARY of this blog.  It’s a very special record to me from the great guitarist Larry Coryell, who passed away in 2017.  It’s unique in that it captures him in a kind of transition between his time playing in the psychedelic rock group The Free Spirits and his future as an icon of jazz fusion, in the pre-Bitches Brew era when that genre was still fresh and nascent.  And it’s soul-shaking, mind-melting grooviness from start to finish.  I like to imagine that Hendrix heard this album and  decided to shelve the Experience on the spot and start up his Band of Gypsies.  Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on the drums and Chuck Rainey on bass are holding down a solid soul groove  here, which just elevates the vibe to transcendent levels. Continue reading

Flabbergasted Freeform #19 – The “Lost Episode”

It’s been a year since the last Flabbergasted Freeform, and ten months since the last “Focus” podcast of old calypso and soca.  There are a bunch of reasons why I didn’t feel like doing them any more, but I won’t go into them here.  But since this month marks the TEN YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the blog, I thought it called for some special commemorations.  This Freeform mix was done in December of last year and was only circulated privately.  It’s a good time, though, so I’m sharing it with the world now and hope the world enjoys it.  The first person to find the couple bars of “Them Changes” quoted in another song gets a free Secret Decoder Ring. That is, as soon as I get them from the magazine I ordered where I ordered a dozen of these powerful devices, which happened to be a back issue from 1958, so please be patient.

You can stream the podcast at Mixcloud or get it directly from the link below the widget.

Novos Baianos – Novos Baianos (1974) (Bomba Japanese reissue 2016)

Novos Baianos – Novos Baianos
1974 Continental SLP-10.144 (Original release)
2016 Japanese reissue, Bomba Records Continental SLP-10.144 

Last Sunday, Brazil’s first World Cup match ended in a tie, and now they’ve won their a match against Costa Rica.  I didn’t watch.  I don’t care about the World Cup.  Even if I did, I’m not sure I would be cheering for Brazil this year.  Country has lost its damn mind, and Neymar continues to be whitening. Also FIFA continues to be an ethically dodgy facilitator of slave labor littering the world with disused stadiums built as monuments to their power.  So let’s listen to a record by some people who embody the “beautiful game” as, in my uninformed naiveté, I imagine it to exist in some parallel utopia – Os Novos Baianos, lovers of futebol and purveyors of fine music, still in the midst of their heyday.

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