Charles Earland – Odyssey (1976)

CHARLES EARLAND
ODYSSEY
Released 1976
Mercury SRM-1-1049

After the phenomenal double-LP ‘Leaving This Planet’, which featured Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson as rocket fuel, Earland continued in a similarly cosmic-jazz direction.  He made one more LP for Prestige, a live album of new material called Kharma, and then began a new phase at Mercury Records with this jazz-funk-latin-disco-rock fusion called Odyssey, which also became the name of his spaceship, I mean vehicle, for releasing this kind of thing for the next few years.  This album has never ever been issued on CD.  Meet you after the jump to continue the voyage.. Continue reading

Ben Sidran – Don’t Let Go (1974)

Ben Sidran
Don’t Let Go
1974 Blue Thumb BTS 6012 


A1 Fat Jam 3:23
A2 House Of Blue Lites 3:08
A3 Ben Sidran’s Midnite Tango 2:40
A4 The Chicken Glide 3:43
A5 She’s Funny That Way 3:34
A6 Monopoly 1:27


B1 Don’t Let Go 3:18
B2 Hey Hey Baby 3:30
B3 The Foolkiller 3:45
B4 The Funky Elephant 3:27
B5 Snatch 3:48
B6 Down To The Bone 1:08

Alto Saxophone – Bunky Green
Bass – Kip Merklein (tracks: B4), Phil Upchurch, Randy Fullerton (tracks: A1 to B3, B5, B6)
Drums – Tom Piazza (tracks: B2)
Drums, Percussion – Clyde Stubblefield, George Brown, Phil Upchurch
Guitar – James P. Cooke, Phil Upchurch
Harmonica – Jerry Alexander
Organ – Jim Peterman
Piano, Vocals – Ben Sidran
Tenor Saxophone – Sonny Seals
Horns arranged  by Sonny Burke

Strings arranged by Les Hooper
Art Direction – John P. Schmelzer

 

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Possibly it is because of his uncanny resemblance to Neil Innes – or the suspicious fact that nobody has ever seen them both in the same place, at the same time – but  sometimes I don’t know how seriously to take Ben Sidran.  But I doubt that fact would bother him, because he’s been far too busy accomplishing an insane amount of things in his long and prolific career for my perplexity to concern him at all.  Although at this point in his life as an artist, Ben Sidran is pretty firmly ensconced in the “jazz” area of your local record store, his overall vision and his diverse body of work taken as a whole is pretty hard to categorize, and there is a touch of whimsy to much of it.  Plus, his records are always fun, a word that doesn’t get paired with “jazz” nearly enough.

In his early days, he flirted with the life of rock stardom when he teamed up with his old college friend Steve Miller.  Sidran contributed extensively to his most interesting record (Brave New World), co-wrote his most charming hit single (Space Cowboy), stuck around for a few more records before going back to his old home base of Madison, Wisconsin, where he has essentially stayed ever since. He published his doctoral dissertation (which he earned in England in the 60s while moonlighting as a session man) as a book, back when dissertations were actually readable,  called ‘Black Talk’.  He hosted a late-night television show as idiosyncratic as he was, called “The Weekend Starts Now,”  in which he had guests like Kinky Friedman and Jane Fonda when she was at her anti-war finest, as well as jazz heavies like McCoy Tyner and Danny Richmond.  He’s worked with Tony Williams, Jon Hendricks, Phil Upchurch (who appears on the album here), and produced records for Mose Allison, Van Morrison, and Georgie Fame.  And somehow he has managed all this while also hanging out with Eric Idle and George Harrison and producing an entirely separate body of work under the name Neil Innes.

On his own albums, Sidran’s stable of musicians was always interesting.  For “Don’t Let Go” we have fellow Madison resident Clyde Stubblefield on drums, Phil Upchurch on bass and guitar, and saxophonists Sonny Seals and Bunky Green all joining the party.  Jim Peterman, a colleague from his Steve Miller days, provides some organ on a few tracks. The original songs here are all compelling, and Sidran seamlessly blends in jazz chesnuts from other composers: a very free and liberal interpretation of fellow Wisconsin-ite Freddie Slack’s “House of Blue Lites” seasoned with some profanity and jabs at New York snobbery,  a similarly stylized “She’s Funny That Way” (recorded by Gene Austin), Bud Powell’s brief ‘Monopoly’, and “The Foolkiller” from Sidran’s most obvious musical idol, Mose Allison. The original tracks span jazz, funk, and even soul in the song “Hey Hey Baby,” which is almost catchy enough to be a hit, as soon as understated Mose Allison-like beatnik crooning comes back into style.    Allison’s “Foolkiller” is arranged in an unrecognizable way and ornamented with greasy slide guitars and harmonica.  The only track that really nods to his past as a denizen of 60’s swinging London is the group composition (mostly likely emerging from an improvised jam) titled The Funky Elephant,which sounds like Dr.John dropping acid with The Beatles.  But not the 1968 Beatles so much as the 1974 Beatles, so basically a few years before they formed Klaatu, I guess.  The cut “Snatch” showcases Stubblefield at his best on the drum kit, tossed over a bed of mixed Wurlitzer and piano, and horn and string charts that make it all sound so easy. (It also makes an appearance on Flabbergasted Freeform Fourteen.)

A curious bit of trivia about the title track of the album: it was written for the original television series adaptation of “Serpico” but was shelved when the project was put on hold for several years due to legal complications.  When the show finally took to the airwaves in 1976 (for only one season, alas), Sidran’s track was not used.  It was written for a scene in which Frank Serpico is a given a surprise birthday party by the rest of his precinct and gets all teary-eyed and starts hugging and kissing everyone.*

Sidran appears to be, constitutionally speaking, a workaholic unable to simply take it easy.  He continues to record, perform, and write.  One of his most recent endeavors is a book regarding the role of Jews in the music business, titled “There Was a Fire: Jews, Music, and the American Dream.”  I’m sure archive-based historians might turn up their noses a bit at his interloping, but as a Jew and a musician I think he’s got a right to explore the subject, and seems to have kept busy on the lecture circuit talking about the book over the last few years.  You can catch some of his talks on his YouTube channel.  This channel, incidentally, is one of the more impressive artist channels I have seen on YouTube, as somebody (if not Sidran himself, then a stalwart staffer) has uploaded a ton of archival material, including lots of clips from the aforementioned television program from the early 1970s.  Check it out here.

(*Disclaimer: this trivia fact may or may not have any basis in our consensual reality.)

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Charlie Mariano – Mirror (1972)

Charlie Mariano
Mirror
Release 1972 – Atlantic SD 1608
A1     Himalaya     5:56
A2     Shout     2:23
A3     F Minor Happy     5:13
A4     Theme From Summer Of ’42    5:04
B1     Mirror     8:36
B2     Vasi Bindu (Raindrops)     5:36
B3     Madras    3:07
    Acoustic bass – George Mraz
    Drums – Ray Lucas
    Electric Bass – Tony Levin
    Electric Piano, Organ – Pat Rebillot
    Guitar – David Spinozza
    Percussion – Airto Moreira, Ralph McDonald
    Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Nagasuram, Flute – Charlie Mariano
    Vocals (on “Mirror” only) – Asha Puthli
    Written-By – Charlie Mariano (except A4)
Produced and mixed by Arif Mardin
Recording engineer – Gene Paul

Although his name appears on classic records by Mingus, Chico Hamilton, Shelley Manne, Elvin Jones (hey, lots of drummers seem to like him), I think I first started really paying attention to Charlie Mariano through his work with the wonderful Toshiko Akiyoshi, to whom he was married for a few years in the 60s.  Incidentally this is also how I discovered Lew Tabackin, who became Toshiko’s second husband and formed a much longer musical partnership.  Along with Phil Woods, these artists constitute a group of highly prolific jazz cats about whom I’d love to spread some enthusiasm. Might as well start here, even if this is an atypical example.

I had no idea Mariano had made any records this heady until I stumbled on it.  The garish cover art, with a creepy eyeball thing glaring out at you, acts like a sort of magnet.  It either attracts or repels you away, depending on your musical polarity.  I’m not sure the album art does the music justice, and in fact I would nominate it for my art gallery of Garish and Gaudy 1970s Jazz-Funk Album Covers, a project I am initiating right now (other inductees include a Blue Mitchell record I picked up recently, and this amazingly fugly George Duke/Billy Cobham thing).

Musicians of Mariano’s caliber can pretty much do whatever they want and pull it off.  I don’t know what kind of soundscape he had in mind when he went into the studio to make this album, but with the help of some very competent friends, he created a canvas on which he could moan, wail, and shriek (pleasingly) on soprano and alto sax in ways I did not expect.  The band he put together to create this moody, genre-blurring music with vaguely spiritual inclinations is more than up to the task.  One pleasant surprise is the presence of a young Tony Levin on bass, years before he would start progging it up with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson.  Levin was not a complete stranger to soul jazz/funk sessions in the early 70s – other records I have with him from this period include Jack McDuff and Deodato – but this is probably the first time that he really stood out for me in this capacity.  This may partly be due to the fact that he is featured right alongside upright bassist George Mraz.  Levin lays down the lower register funk, freeing up Mraz to do more textured and melodic things in the upper register.

Airto is somewhat underutilized on this record.  He doesn’t seem fully present or into it all the time, sometimes more like a percussionist “playing in the style of Airto” rather than the man himself.  Perhaps Mariano kept his eccentricities on a short leash, or maybe this was just session #374 for Airto in 1972 and goddamnit what do you want from the guy, does he have to be on fire all the time or what? Keysman Pat Rebillot satisfies the urge to hear some Fender Rhodes and also favors us with some acid-drenched, reverby organ on the opening cut, but his solos don’t really push the music anywhere adventurous.  Session vet David Spinozza gets in some nice solos on the guitar, in particular on the title track.  Drummer Ray Lucas is one of those guys who probably never got his due recognition.  His credits include King Curtis, Roberta Flack, Eugene McDonald, Shirley Scott, Donny Hathaway and a ton of other people: he was even briefly a bandmate of Hendrix, as part of Curtis Knight and The Squires.  There is nothing flashy about his playing, it doesn’t call attention to itself, but it casts a solid foundation to build around, and provides agile fills and texture when needed.  Never underestimate the importance of simply playing time.  Indian singer Asha Puthli contributes vocals to the album’s titular track (she also appeared on Ornette Coleman’s “Science Fiction” sessions from the same year).  At first I thought this was wordless vocalizing before I checked the back of the LP cover and saw that she was singing the free verse poem there.  I’ll have to assume her voice is deliberately submerged in the mix, perhaps to trigger subliminal spiritual contemplation.

Deliberate, because producer Arif Mardin was no amateur.  That guy knew how to mix.  And this record sounds great.  In fact, in spite of the fact that I started with a not-quite-perfect copy (although in better shape than the cover would indicate), the sound is pretty solid.  This is not only the mixing but also the famous Monach Pressing Plant who should get a shout-out.  Quality control!

All of the compositions are by Mariano except for Michel Legrand’s famous “Summer of ’42” theme, which is here given a languid deconstruction where Charlie plays the flute.  Slow funk grooves are blended with modal and outside riffing.  The second track, “Shout,” is like the opening of a baptist tent revival meeting, with Charlie coaxing harmonics from his sax by overblowing furiously.  F-Minor Happy is very Deodato-esque (Deodatismo?), a more rough-hewn and stoney take on CTI-style jazz funk.  “Vasi Bindu (Raindrops)” is a free and open piece coming halfway through the second album side, as if to help us come down from the plateaus of the massive title track.  The album closes with the short “Madras,” which features Charlie on the nagasuram for the first time on this album.  This South Indian instrument ends the record on a truly ceremonial note, sounding a bit like Mariano may have been trying to beat Don Cherry to doing the soundtrack for The Holy Mountain.  It makes you sit up and pay attention.

This record goes pretty deep, but is also just a damn pleasurable listen that you can enjoy while going about your day.  I feel the need to point that out because a lot of the adjectives used in this post (heady, spiritual, free, modal) would tend to indicate a record that might get in the way of activities like reading a novel, making love, writing a novel, or tidying up the house (unless you are the type of person who likes to fold laundry and clean bathrooms while listening to Anthony Braxton or AEoC in which case this warning doesn’t apply to you).  I hereby declare this record completely safe for “taking care of business.”  It might uplift you and inspire you to seek enlightenment, but it won’t automatically induce a trance state, epileptic fit, or other central nervous system anomaly.

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Gary Bartz – Music Is My Sanctuary (1977)

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Gary Bartz
Music Is My Sanctuary
Original release 1977, Capitol (ST-11647)

 

01. Music Is My Sanctuary
02. Carnaval de l’esprit
03. Love Ballad
04. Swing Thing
05. Oo Baby Baby
06. Macaroni
 
Produced by Fonce Mizell & Larry Mizell 
Arranged By – Gary Bartz & Larry Mizell
 String Arrangements by Wade Marcus
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer, Vocals – Gary Bartz
    Backing Vocals – Gary Bartz,Larry Mizell, Sigidi, Syreeta Wright
    Bass – Curtis Robertson, Jr., Welton Gite  
    Drums – Howard King, James Gadson, Nate Neblett  
    Guitar – David T. Walker, John Rowin, Juewett Bostick, Wa Wa Watson
     Keyboards – Larry Mizell
    Percussion – Bill Summers, Mtume   
    Piano – George Cables
    Trumpet – Eddie Henderson, Ray Brown
    Vocals – Syreeta Wright
 
 
Co-producers – Gary Bartz & James Carter
Engineer, Recorded By, Mixed By – Jim Nipar
Executive-Producer – Larkin Arnold
Illustration – Michael Bryan
Photography By – Vicki Seabrook-Bartz
Art Direction – Roy Kohara 
This pressing – 2003 Blue Note “Rare Groove Series” – mastered by Ron McMaster
(thanks to Sarge for the EAC rip)

Gary Bartz has been on the short list for “artists I should post more of” since pretty much the first week.  And yet I have done pitifully little about it.  Alas, the story of Flabbergasted Vibes is composed of an endless string of shattered dreams and broken promises.  The Bartz records that most obviously belong here are his NTU Troop efforts (one of which I posted, long ago).  But today I’m going to post something a bit lighter, because there is still a little bit of summer left in the northern hemisphere.

“Music Is My Sanctuary” was the second collaboration between Bartz and the production team of the Mizell Brothers, who were on a dual quest to make dance music more cerebral and cerebral music more danceable, which is my way of saying that they took some very serious jazz heavyweights and helped them put out some of the funkiest, most electric sets of their careers.  In some ways partnering with the Mizells was a natural outgrowth of the work of artists like Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Johnny Hammond and others which dabbled in  hybrid styles like soul jazz, or early-70s CTI jazz-funk.  But in working with these brothers – the Van Dyke Parks and George Martin of jazz-funk and disco-jazz – they were truly diving in deep into waters that had been off limits to “serious” jazz musicians: surrendering one’s sound and aesthetic direction to the sonic thumbprint of a pair of Producer / Arrangers who were the antithesis of transparent in their approach.  Many of the best jazz producers and engineers are known for the purity or elegance with which they let an already-distinctive artist speak through a recording.  The Mizells, on the other hand, were sought after precisely because of their stylizations and aesthetic shaping of the material.  Artists worked with them because they wanted a certain sound.  And Gary Bartz certainly received the full Mizell Treatment here.

“Music Is My Sanctuary” was the second collaboration between Gary Bartz and the Mizells.  The first one, The Shadow Do, is a perfectly okay album but somewhat underwhelming, almost enough to make one think that Bartz had taken a temporary wrong turn. But “Music Is My Sanctuary” is a fully-realized, exemplary work, so it is unsurprising that this is the one that jumps out at everyone and gets remembered.  It doesn’t hurt that the wonderful voice of Syreeta leads the album on the opening title track, where she also sings the word “hypnotical” which I always feel shouldn’t really be a word but the dictionary assures me that it is.  You couldn’t ask for a more upbeat affirmation of one’s chosen profession, and it starts the album off in the right mood.  Later in the record, the intro section of the rather predictably titled “Swing Thing” manage to presage both 90s acid-jazz and hip hop by putting several bars of a straight funk beat behind a walking bass line played on an upright.  The only marginally weak point on the whole record is the somewhat beguiling ‘Ooh Baby’ which is a mostly instrumental cover of the Miracles song.  Syreeta sings a little of the refrain near the beginning, and for a moment I want to hear her launch into the whole thing, but then ultimately I am glad that she doesn’t because I think it would turn pretty schlocky pretty quick.

c
The second track (Carnaval de l’esprit ) is a natural centerpiece of the album for me, given its Caribbean slant and Brazilian cuica drum.  It’s ambitiously funky, but it also features one of the technological innovations that the Mizells helped introduce into the music world of the 1970s.  I refer to a certain guitar effect that appears on virtually all their productions (often more prominently than on this track, in fact).  The story goes back to Larry Mizell’s days as an electrical engineer and part of The Corporation production team and session band.  It was on a Motown promotional tour of Europe that Larry met the Jewish-Italian audio engineer (and soon-to-be aspiring Italo-disco producer) Enrico Manchewitz Tagglione.  Enrico had an idea for a guitar effect pedal that would combine a frequency sweep and envelope follower to sonically realize an audio-visual hallucination that had been coming to him with repeated intensity every time he worked on a recording session:  the image of a nude woman or man pouring a molten liquid of some kind – usually chocolate or honey – all over their bodies in slow motion.  He was convinced that he could express this vision musically through some clever circuit design.  After a particularly animated rap session with Mizell into the early morning hours during that tour of Europe, Larry convinced him to really go for it – and, perhaps most importantly, became his first investor on the new invention.  Without even a prototype to show for it yet, they christened it the Honey Licks 2000.

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Gary Bartz, Enrico Manchewitz “Macaroni” Tagglione, and LarryMizell in the studio

When Tagglione finally had a sample model to show Mizell, somewhat less than a year later, he flew to Los Angeles with the only one in existence.  It was a bit on the large side as far as foot pedals went, and he confessed to Mizell that he had considered starting over again with a rack unit sort of like a Roland Space Echo.  But he insisted the Honey Licks 2000 needed tactile, hands-free toe control.  And indeed, the prototype had four footswitch controls labeled Honey, Chocolate, Caramel, and Butter to control the coloration of tone (he would later attempt to add a switch for ‘Strawberry’, but for unexplained reasons it could only play Shuggie Otis songs), and a single “intensity” toggle switch that could be moved with either your foot or finger, and which could be set to low, medium, or “ultra-sweaty.”   The sonic landscape of jazz-funk and the nascent disco sound would never be the same, as dozens of records would come to feature the sparkling ascending-and-descending, slow-motion seduction of honeyed chocolate dripping on naked flesh.    Unfortunately, neither Tagglione or Mizell thought to patent the device, being more enamored with its hynoptical possibilites in the studio and singing its praises to any guitarist or producer who would listen.  The clock ran out on that business opportunity, as knock-off effects pedals began appearing, with names like Honey Dust and Electric Glide.  Sadly, Enrico’s ambitions to become a successful record producer and arranger in the growing Italo-disco scene never took off either, and he became better known as one of the main suppliers of quality cocaine to recording studios and touring musicians.  In fact, the final song on “Music Is My Sanctuary” is usually considered to be an homage to his work in that capacity, as the majority of American musicians working with the Mizells had trouble remembering his name, and had taken to referring to him by term of endearment “Macaroni.”

 

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Harry Whitaker / Black Renaissance – Body, Mind and Spirit (1976)

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Black Renaissance
Body, Mind and Spirit

1. Black Renaissance
2. Magic Ritual

Recorded at Sound Ideas, New York, NY (01/15/1976).

Arranger: Harry Whitaker.

Players: Harry Whitaker (piano); Lani Groves, Edna Holt, Sandy Nakarmura, Assata Dolby (vocals); Azar Lawrence (soprano & tenor saxophones); David Schnitter (tenor saxophone); Woody Shaw (trumpet); Buster Williams (bass); Billy Hart, Howard King (drums, percussion); Mtume, Earl Bennett (percussion)

——–

For those of you who have never heard of this album, it will come as a lovely surprise. For those who have heard about it but have yet to actually hear it, it might well seem a bit over-hyped, due in no small part to the douchebaggery of one Giles Peterson, who prattles on in the liner notes about how cool he is for knowing about it and showing it off to any other DJ’s who “dared to challenge” him. Well if you ignore that bloated musical neocolonialist (and snappy dresser), you can immerse yourself in what was truly a lost gem, lost even to its creator for decades.

Recorded on Martin Luther King Day in 1976, Whitaker invested his own hard-earned money as an arranger, writer, and session player into making this boldly uncommercial soul-jazz exercise in musical stretching. It features understated riffing from Azar Lawrence, David Schnitter, and the eternally-underrated Woody Shaw. Anchoring the rhythm is stalwart bassist Buster Williams with Howard King on drums and James Mtume on percussion. These latter two would go on to release the first album from the band Mtume the following year, and it’s interesting to keep that in mind while listening to this. While the first side of this album straddles a line between between mellow funk and spaced-out soul jazz (and is a bit long-winded at 23 minutes), the second and shorter side ‘Magic Ritual’ is a more aggressive, agitated piece of Afrocentric celebration. There is effective use of spoken word here that puts us comfortably in Strata-East and loft scene territory. More industry/label hype is compelled to claim this is “one of the earliest examples of rap” or some such nonsense. How many records are we going to bestow that honor on? At any rate claiming this for an album released as late as 1976 is a ludicrous statement that ignores so many musical ancestors it barely merits discussion. So, I’ll stop discussing it.

Since it is Martin Luther King Day in the United States, and since the next US president is likely to abolish that holiday, this makes today probably the last opportunity to celebrate this album without being locked up and held in indefinite detention without Habeas Corpus.

The sound on the CD is burdened with distortions, but given that the masters were destroyed and the source used here is presumably the Japanese bootleg that until now was the only available release, at the end of the day it sounds surprisingly good.

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