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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Ceccarelli – Ceccarelli (1977)

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Ceccarelli
“Ceccarelli”
Released 1977 – Inner City (IC 1057)
 
Forget It    
I’m A Skunk    
Big City Bright    
Ded’s Circus    
Life Is Real Only Here (Part 1)    
Speed It Up    
What The…    
Where Is Here    
Life Is Only Real Here (Part 2)    
His Love    
Space Out



Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

I saved this album from being thrown in the trash by a college radio station.  A bunch of us volunteer DJs had been tasked with sorting through thousands of LPs in a storage space over the course of several months and deciding what was worthy of putting into the main library and what would be discarded.  I came in at the end of the process, when the management told us we could just scavenge for things to keep before they began tossing stuff for good.  It was and still is a fantastic radio station, but  I discovered  a lot of the indie kids considered a lot of quality music to be unworthy.  And a lot that was pretty collectible too,  without much defacement to the album covers – Judy Sill white label promo, going to the trash?  Bridget St. John on Dandelion? One-off heavy psych rock bands like Alamo or Granicus?  Or Coleman Hawkins and Bud Powell records on Pablo, kind of boring past-their-prime recordings like everything on Pablo but still surely not destined for a landfill.   It was my moral obligation to save these from oblivion and take them home.  Including this album, a specimen that has potential to accomplish the rare feat of pleasing or at least sparking the interest of both the “rare groove” hunter and those into whimsical prog-rock bands fond of making up their own mythological universes.

During the Great Radio Purge of 2008, Most of the good jazz had been put back into the library.  Now granted the first stage of this ‘trim the fat’ operation worked on the honor system, presuming that someone stumbling across a Sun Ra album on Saturn Records was going to keep it at the station and not take it home… This may be why I absented myself from the first stage, wishing to avoid such ethical dilemmas.  Also, volunteering isn’t a very lucrative occupation , I was already doing two radio shows for them, and doing any more would impinge on innate laziness.  In any event, I was remotely aware of André Cecarelli’s name as a figure in European jazz and jazz fusion, but mostly I was attracted by the bright mandala oil painting gatefold cover because I like shiny things.  Opening it up, I found some guide notes that had been typed by the reviewing DJ and glued neatly to the inside jacket, which is a nice touch since usually they are handwritten on index cards fixed sloppily on the jacket with a glue stick, or just written directly on the album covers in ballpoint pen.  After appreciating the DJ-reviewer’s tidiness, I then noticed some of the additional musicians on the recording:  Janick Topp and Claude Engel (Magma), Didier Lockwood (Magma, Pierre Moerlan’s Gong), Ernesto ‘Tito’ Duarte (Barrabas), Alex Ligertwood (Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, Santana).  I mean, c’mon, it had to be worth at least a listen, right?

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The album may not be as far out as this list of heavy friends playing on it might lead you to believe, nor as good as it probably ought to be, but it has some intense moments.  I am less enamored of it than the DJ tasked with reviewing it in 1978, but then he or she also seemingly did not recognize any of the musicians who played on it and so perhaps had lower expectations than I did.  As the reviewer states, this is much less jazz (as might be expected from something on the Inner City label) and much more fusion or jazz-rock (they suggested calling it “big band fusion…”)  The reviewer makes a comparison to Mahavishnu Orchestra, which I don’t really hear:  this stuff takes itself far less serious than anything John McLaughlin has ever played on.  There is none of the sci-fi loonyness of Magma either, which may be a relief to many of you.  If anything this stuff puts me in mind of Jean Luc-Ponty and George Duke, or maybe just mid-70s Zappa when George Duke was playing on his records.  Bonus points for the use of steel drums on the track “Ded’s Circus.”

If I had to some this album up in one sentence it would be: “The kind of record that Howard Moon from The Mighty Boosh would get very excited about.”  In fact the gravely spoken word on the interlude “What the…” on side two sounds suspiciously like the Spirit Of The Blues character from that show.

As a bonus, I photographed the track-by-track notes from the anonymous late-70s college DJ before having a go at removing them.  Word to the wise, removing adhesive material that has been in place for over thirty-five years is not a guaranteed success (but I knew that before beginning).  The stickers weren’t really bothering anybody, but I knew they were there and it would bother me sometimes late at night and I would consider digging through a few thousand LPs to find this one and try to remove them at 4 a.m.  I opted to leave the reviewer’s overall impressions in place, however.  I mean it’s part of the history now, right?

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Cal Tjader – La Onda Va Bien (1980)

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Cal Tjader
La Onda Va Bien
Concord Picante 1980
    1. Speak Low 6:04
    2. Serengeti 5:05
    3. Star Eyes 4:32
    4. Mambo Mindoro 3:47
    5. Aleluia 4:09
    6. I Remember You 4:33
    7. Linda Chicana 5:19
    8. Sabor 4:26
Sleeve notes:
Cal Tjader, vibes
Mark Levine, piano and Fender Rhodes
Roger Glenn, flute and percussion
Vince Lateano, drums and percussion
Rob Fisher, bass
Poncho Sanchez, congas and percussion
“La Onda Va Bien is a slang expression implying smoothness, hip-ness, and first rate quality. These characteristics are indicative to the music of Cal Tjader and also to the taste of those who listen.”
Recorded in San Francisco in July 1979.

This record lacks some of the fire of his Prestige work in the years leading up to this, with the ballads being a little too saccharine-flavored for me, but there are some real cookers on here too.   Serengeti is an aural safari. The one Tjader original, Mambo Mindoro, is a natural centerpiece, with Poncho Sanchez on fire throughout, and also notable for its brevity as it comes in at slightly under four minutes.   I’m rather fond of the very creative, liberal interpretation of the Edu Lobo/Ruy Guerra composition Aleluia.  Of the slower numbers, I enjoy the Johnny Mercer tune “I Remember You” here, with the Rhodes giving just enough gritty texture to balance the sweetness, and a nice jazz flute solo that could only have been improved if Roger Glenn had played it shirtless like Herbie Mann.  Mark Levine contributes a quietly smoldering original descarga jam in Linda Chicana, and the album ends on a high note with a composition from former Tjader band member João Donato, Sabor.

“La Onda Va Bien” apparently kicked off the “Picante” sublabel of Concord Records.  Like all Concord releases the sound quality is flawless – and that’s not always great, because I like a few flaws in both recordings and performances to keep it interesting.  Too much of the Concord catalog is so slick that it becomes sonic wallpaper.  But Tjader and Company carry off a laid-back, final-set-of-the-evening-at-3 a.m. feeling here.  This 80s-era CD pressing sounds stellar too, extremely warm with a ton of dynamic range.  If you’re new to Cal Tjader this might not be the place to start, but it’s a very solid album.

 

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Mongo Santamaria – Afro Roots (1958 – 1959)

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Mongo Santamaria – Afro Roots
Prestige PRCD-24018
Previously released as “Mongo” (1959) and “Yambu” (1958)

1. Afro Blue
2. Che-Que-Re-Que-Che-Que
3. Rezo
4. Ayenye
5. Onyae
6. Bata
7. Meta Rumba
8. Chano Pozo
9. Los Conguitos
10. Monte Adentro
11. Imaribayo
12. Mazacote
13. Ye Ye
14. Congobel
15. Macunsere
16. Timbales Y Bongo
17. Yambu
18. Bricamo
19. Longoito
20. Conga Pa Gozar
21. Columbia

Mongo Santamaria (conga, bongo, percussion)
Armando Peraza (congo, bongo, percussion)
Willie Bobo (timbales)
Vince Guaraldi (piano)
Paul Horn (flute)
Al McKibbon (bass)
Cal Tjader (vibes)
Francisco Aguabella (conga, percussion)
Modesto Duran (conga, percussion)
Emil Richards (vibes)
“Chombo” Silva (tenor sax)
Carlos Vidal (conga, percussion)

Tracks 1-12 recorded May 1959 and released as the LP “Mongo” (Fantasy 8032)

Tracks 13-21 recorded December 1959 and released as the LP “Yambu” (Fantasy 8012)

The track “Mi Guaguanco” was left off due to the time constraints of the CD. Oh, the 80s!
_____________________________________________________

Well there was a bit of unexpected news announced today and my mind is kind of blown.  And burned out too – I’m working against several deadlines right now and have not really had any time to think much about this blog.  But I can’t resist posting today, given that history was just made and all that.  And it is just as well that I don’t have time to pontificate, as even the usual pontificators and bloviators out there seem to have been caught off guard, and even my preferred news sources have largely just fallen back on reporting either contemporary or historical factoids and sometimes a bit of context.  In other words, there will be plenty of time for analysis soon.

The record I’ve chosen for this post is not particularly symbolic.  It’s a CD of two records from the great Mongo Santamaria that literally straddle the cusp of the Revolution.  The earlier album was put last in the sequence presumably because Prestige/Fantasy thought it might scare white people in the 1980s.

And now for some nice liner notes by Ralph Gleason.  Nice liner notes are really the main reason to buy CDs rather than original LPs, aren’t they?  Oh, that and the outrageous prices that original pressings are fetching now.  Actually the notes are kind of odd in that they say very little about this particular set of recordings and more of an abbreviated primer in music history.  The stories of Cuba and it’s relationships with the US may be complicated and tendentious, but they’ve always had a great soundtrack.

Thanks to my friend Ossian for the EAC rip.  Enjoy, and I’ll try and post again before the end of the year!

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LINER NOTES:

Although the American public got its first view of conga
drums in,of all places, the I Love Lucy show via Desi Arnaz ,those portions of
the public more into jazz, specifically, or just entertainment, generally , had
been familiar with the sound of the instrument and what it stood  for musically
back to the 30s.
Until Castro, Havana had been a kind of Latin Las Vegas
catering to the East Coast (particularly in winter) tourists with gambling (not
just casinos but excellent racing at Oriente Park) , night clubs and girls. The
cultural cross fertilization had begun early, back as far as the beginnings of
jazz when Cuban and Caribbean melodies and rhythms brought to New Orleans by
black exiles from the Caribbean Islands, were incorporated into the new music.  Havana’s adaptation of swing style big bands
and Latin rhythms crossed back to the United States  in the
rhumba and then  the conga line
dance crazes of the 30s. In the 50s it was the mambo and the cha-cha-cha which
brought many Cuban musicians to the States to work  in the Broadway  night clubs or the Hollywood  studios
in bands  such  as
Noro Morales, Enric Madriguera and Xavier Cugat.
Out of them came Miguelito Valdez, who had quite a run as a
popular dance band leader and who
included in his band some of the very best Cuban percussionists.
Musicians such as Chano Pozo worked for him and to all students of conga
drumming, Chano remains the King.
Chano Pozo (Luciano Pozo y Gonzales) was a black Cuban, two
generations from Africa and a native of the Cayo Hueso in Havana where he was a
member of the Abakwa cult. He had been working in the big commercial Latin
bands in New York in the early 40s and had composed several Latin hits. Dizzy
Gillespie, who had long been fascinated by the whole Afro-Cuban rhythmic
concept, brought him to the attention of the world of jazz by featuring him
with the Gillespie big band of the late 40s which recorded “Cubano Be,
Cubano Bop”, “Manteca” and “Guarachi Guaro”. Chano
Pozo was killed in a Harlem bar in 1948, but despite his brief career in jazz
was THE dominant influence in Cuban rhythm.
Present day jazz audiences are probably unaware of it, but
when they hear Joe Cuba playing “I’ll Never Go Back to Georgia” they
are hearing the Dizzy Gillespie big band (with Chano Pozo) version of the
Gillespie-Pozo composition “Manteca” and when they hear Cal Tjader’s
hit, “Soul Sauce” they are hearing another Gillespie-Pozo collaboration,  “Guarachi  Guaro .”
Although the Miguelito Valdez band (which was  a
lot  more  ethnic
than  most  people thought; it included almost complete
the whole Cuban brass section concept as well as the conga drumming) was
popular, it did not last and  the  main commercial  carrier
of  conga drumming in the pop
world was left to Nat King Cole. Stan Kenton featured  a Chicago
born dancer named Jack Costanza as bongo and conga drummer on several
tours and numerous records and Costanza later joined Nat King Cole and toured
with him for several years.
Meanwhile the authentic Latin bands in New York disappeared
, as far as the general public was concerned, playing mainly for their own
ethnic audience. Machito with arrangements by ex-Cab Calloway trumpeter, Mario
Bauza and lito Puente did play the big jazz clubs occasionally as did the more
widely known Perez Prado (remember his hit discs, “EI Mambo” and
“Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”?). Those bands built up a heavy
circuit of engagements in New York with occasional tours to the West Coast.
Emerging  from  those
bands  in the  mid-50s were three musicians who have become
highly  influential  in jazz while retaining their musical
authenticity: Mongo Santamaria , Armando Peraza and Willie Bobo. Mongo toured
with Prado and later joined Tito Puente and then Cal Tjader . In the latter two
bands he was joined with Willie Bobo in some of the most exciting Afro Cuban
rhythymic exchanges the continental United States has ever heard. Armando
Peraza, oddly enough, worked for a long time initially with Slim Gaillard (he
taught Slim how to  play  cow
bell!) and then toured for many years with George Shearing  and  Cal
Tjader .
During the  later 40s
and early 50s, the United States still had a series of taxes on  entertainment   which
included  a night club tax
that  applied only when there was singing. This inhibited, believe it or not, any of the
Afro Cuban bands or groups from using many of the chants (the rituals dating back
to their origins in the barrios or the hill country in Cuba) that might
otherwise have been used. Jazz audiences in general dug the sounds of the
rhythm instruments but were less entranced by the vocals even when, as in the
case of Carlos Vidal who played briefly with Charlie Barnet, the two were
intertwined in an exciting mixture.

 

Tito Puente and Machito, as well as the Pal­ mieri brothers
and the other Latin big bands , were unable to make regular tours outside the
ethnic showcases for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the whole
economic pinch which had reduced the big bands to a mere handful. But both the
Shearing Quintet and the Tjader Quintet worked constantly through the 50s and
60s and brought to every jazz club-and to the
giant  jazz  festivals-in the country authentic Cuban
percussion virtu­ osi in Mongo, Armando and Willie Bobo.
Tito Puente and Machito, as well as the Pal­mieri brothers
and the other Latin big bands , were unable to make regular tours outside the
ethnic showcases for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the whole
economic pinch which had reduced the big bands to a mere handful. But both the
Shearing Quintet and the Tjader Quintet worked constantly through the 50s and
60s and brought to every jazz club-and to the
giant  jazz  festivals-in the country authentic Cuban
percussion virtu­ osi in Mongo, Armando and Willie Bobo.
As evidence of the importance  of
Chano Pozo, there is Mongo’s own composition in his honor on this album
. Most of the numbers in this package, incidentally , are compositions of Mongo
Santamaria and sev­ eral of them include chants and have sym­ bolic and direct
references to various aspects of authentic Afro Cuban culture . Mongo’s own composition,
“Afro Blue” , has had at least 17 versions by other artists in the
years since it was first cut by him. Joining Mongo in some of these numbers is
another Cuban virtuoso percussionist , Pablo Mozo, who is well known in Latin musical
circles though almost totally unknown to the public. He is an expert in the
dexterous use of sticks on any object that will produce a sharp resonance. Even
a chair or box will sometimes do. He is also an expert on the use of the cowbell
and was  brought to these sessions specifically
to perform that function.
Once,  in a  rare
interview,  Mongo  Santamaria said that the best and most
important of all rhythms was produced by “skin on skin”. His whole
life has been a proof of that.
-Ralph J. Gleason

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password: vibes

Michael White – Spirit Dance / Pneuma (1972)

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Michael White

SPIRIT DANCE
Impulse! – AS-9215  1972

A1 Spirit Dance
A2 The Tenth Pyramid
A3 John Coltrane Was Here
A4 Ballad For Mother Frankie White
B1 Samba  
B2 Unlocking The Twelfth House
B3 Praise Innocence

   Bass – Ray Drummond
   Percussion, Flute [Bamboo], Vocals – Baba Omson
   Piano – Ed Kelly
   Producer, Photography – Ed Michel
   Violin, Vocals – Michael White
   Vocals – Makeda , Wanika King

   Engineers – Ken Hopkins, Rick Stanley
   Mixed By – Baker Bigsby  
   Artwork and Photography – Philip Melnick

 

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PNEUMA
Impulse! AS-9221

Pneuma (Part 1) 5:16
Pneuma (Part 2) 4:57
Pneuma (Part 3) 4:11
Pneuma (Part 4) 4:13
Pneuma (Part 5) 1:52
Ebony Plaza 9:18
Journey Of The Black Star 2:53
The Blessing Song 6:25

   Bass – Ray Drummond
Engineer – Baker Bigsby
Percussion – Kenneth Nash
Piano – Edwin Kelly
Producer – Ed Michel
Violin – Michael White (2)
Vocals – D. Jean Skinner, Faye Kelly, Joyce Walker, Leola Sharp

If you are a person for whom jazz violin is an acquired taste, then the notion of “free jazz violin” will probably send you running or at least reaching for the earplugs.  I confess that I am personally still grappling with the finer nuances of Leroy Jenkins and occasionally undergo a self-imposed “music appreciation course” at my house featuring his recordings.  So you could say I appreciate the fact that Michael White’s music is not nearly as abrasive as Jenkins and in fact often crosses over into the downright accessible and melodic.  White has a lengthy resume that includes sideman gigs with people as diverse as John Handy and Sun Ra, but it was his electric proto-jazz-rock band The Fourth Way that led me to seek out these two albums.   Well neither “Spirit Dance” or “Pneuma” sound anything like The Fourth Way but if I felt any disappointment at that discovery, it didn’t last long.  These are both excellent records.

Initially the listener is likely to be struck by what the records lack as opposed to what they offer – the absence of any horns whatsoever, as well as a traditional trap drum kit.  The versatile percussionists  (Baba Omsun for “Spirit Dance,” Ken Nash for “Pneuma”) manage to let you hardly miss the drums, and as for lack of reed or brass instruments.. well you’ll just have to deal with it, because the tonal palette is a bit thin in the upper register at times.  The upside is that when he lost the horn charts, White gained not only a unique sound but also the flexibility that makes his avant-garde and free jazz flourishes more focused.  Considering the technical designation of the piano as a percussion instrument, Michael White is often the only voice here that isn’t in the rhythm section, which liberates him to switch between riffing on melodies and freaking out at will.  The stuff stays grounded, though – there are quite a few shortish compositions with audible roots in blues and gospel, and the group often leans more towards modal jazz than free jazz.  Note the very brief use of an overdubbed violin at the end of the first track “Spirit Dance” here, too.  The turgid tabla of The Tenth Pyramid reminds me of the few months that I took tabla lessons – is this in tintal? – but it only lasts for four minutes so if sloppy faux-Indian jazz annoys you then at least your suffering will be brief.  “John Coltrane Was Here,” besides having a great smile-inducing title for a tribute to the late deity, is a lovely modal piece with the almost requisite quotations from ‘A Love Supreme.’ It satisfies your nagging curiosity about what a violin-jazz invocation of Coltrane’s spiritual vision would sound like.  Now that you know, you can finally sleep at night.  Again there is judicious use of overdubbing – is this cheating?  I’m not keeping score so I’ll let it slide.  Another interesting piece here is the unimaginatively titled “Samba,” which may leave you scratching your head until you hear the congas and the electric bass guitar whose notes accent the downbeat where the surdo drum would be.  The abstract  sandbox of “Unlocking The Twelth House” is a great closer for the album.  Unfortunately it doesn’t actually end the record, but since I usually just skip over the last track, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – this is a great way to end the record.   However if atonal wordless vocals sung by children are your thing, by all means crank up “Praise Innocence.”  After all you may have been hoping to annoy your neighbors with this album, and up until now you may have not succeeded.  This ought to do it.

I usually don’t listen to the two records included on this disc back to back, in order to “maximize their efficacy” or something like that.  While “Spirit Dance” manages to keep things fun, “Pneuma” actually ranks a bit higher for me.  It may be a bit more sombre but it also seems more fully-realized, like he went into the studio with a more single-minded approach to make a statement, as opposed to recording a collection of pieces.  The original first side of the LP is comprised entirely of the “Pneuma” suite.  For a spiritual jazz homage to the breath of life, it actually boasts a pretty traditional jazz arrangement, with each instrument getting equal time to lead the group after the primordial swells and slow, sustained crescendos of the opening. First White’s violin, then the bass (acoustic this time, which is a welcome choice), then piano, and finally percussion before wrapping the whole thing up.  It’s pretty brilliant and if you are only going to listen to one “side” of this two-on-one release, I would pick this one.  The second half of “Pneuma” is just as impressive, with the additional textures of vocal arrangements on “Journey of the Black Star” and “The Blessing Song.”  The latter is just downright catchy and merits a place on a compilation of that ill-defined ‘genre’ referred to as “spiritual jazz.”  It’s a beautiful and sweet resolution to the little musical journey Mr. White takes us on, which is one where his intensity is balanced by warmth that is often missing from these styles of jazz.  Solid stuff.  And check out The Fourth Way if you don’t know them.

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