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!
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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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Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – The Freedom Rider (1961)

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Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
The Freedom Rider
1961 Blue Note (BST 84156)

1         Tell It Like It Is
2         The Freedom Rider
3         El Toro
4        Petty Larceny
5         Blue Lace

    Bass – Jymie Merritt
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Bobby Timmons
Tenor saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trumpet – Lee Morgan

   Cover Design – Reid Miles
Engineer – Rudy Van Gelder
Liner Notes – Nat Hentoff
Photography – Francis Wolff
Producer – Alfred Lion

Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; February 18 (track B2) and May 27, 1961 (tracks A1-B1, B3).

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Ripping details

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Vinyl ; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntabl, 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 light settings, sometimes turned off; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

foobar2000 1.2.2 / Dynamic Range Meter 1.1.1
log date: 2013-02-02 14:42:29

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Analyzed: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers / The Freedom Rider
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DR         Peak         RMS     Duration Track
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DR12      -2.04 dB   -17.13 dB      7:55 01-Tell It Like It Is
DR16      -1.04 dB   -20.89 dB      7:29 02-The Freedom Rider
DR12      -1.05 dB   -15.81 dB      6:21 03-El Toro
DR11      -2.00 dB   -17.64 dB      6:16 04-Petty Larceny
DR12      -1.62 dB   -17.37 dB      6:00 05-Blue Lace
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Number of tracks:  5
Official DR value: DR13

Samplerate:        96000 Hz
Channels:          2
Bits per sample:   24
Bitrate:           3117 kbps
Codec:             FLAC
================================================================================

JUST FOR THE SAKE OF COMPARISON – The Japanese Toshiba RVG pressing dynamic range is as follows:
foobar2000 1.2.2 / Dynamic Range Meter 1.1.1
log date: 2013-02-02 14:43:38

——————————————————————————–
Analyzed: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers / The Freedom Rider
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DR         Peak         RMS     Duration Track
——————————————————————————–
DR10      -0.18 dB   -12.31 dB      7:55 01-Tell It Like It Is
DR16      -0.18 dB   -18.15 dB      7:27 02-The Freedom Rider
DR11      -0.18 dB   -14.21 dB      6:21 03-El Toro
DR11      -0.18 dB   -13.58 dB      6:15 04-Petty Larceny
DR10      -0.18 dB   -12.86 dB      5:59 05-Blue Lace
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Number of tracks:  5
Official DR value: DR12

Samplerate:        44100 Hz
Channels:          2
Bits per sample:   16
Bitrate:           804 kbps
Codec:             FLAC
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Well I had originally planned to post this on Martin Luther King  Day (Jan 21) but like pretty much everything else in my life, I was late with it.  This is actually a vinyl rip that I worked on for months, in spare free moments, so urgency hasn’t exactly been a word I would associate with it.

This is the Jazz Messengers at their most soulful and swinging, with a young Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter reminding us of why they are now legends.  Aside from the drum solo, which is pretty listenable as far as drum solos go – it’s Blakey, after all – they composed everything here and every tune is top notch.  “Tell It Like It Is” and “Petty Larceny” (great title) are classic, deep soul jazz.  The last tune, Morgan’s “Blue Lace,” is breathtaking.  It makes me want to get up and do a little hard-bop waltz around the room.  The close intervals between Morgan and Shorter give an illusion like there are a lot more horn players in the room.  Bobby Timmons’ dances lightly across the piano on his solo.  The whole thing is a fine example of what Hentoff is talking about in his liner notes regarding Blakey’s spirit of youthfulness, also bolstered by his choice to always surround himself  with younger musicians in the Messengers.   If you suffer from depression or seasonal-affect disorder, I highly recommended listening to “Blue Lace” three times a day or as needed.  Side effects may include euphoria and unexpected goatee cultivation.  

I have yet to find a copy of this that includes a lyric sheet for the title track, unfortunately.

So, I am not going to make claims about anything  sounding “better” than anything else, but for those of us unhappy with Rudy Van Gelder’s remastering of his own work, this vinyl rip is a viable alternative to the (Japan-only) reissue.  I have not heard the original Blue Note CD pressing, presumably if it is a Michael Cuscuna job than it must be a lot more satisfying than the recent RVG.  

I’m no jazz scholar, so this is all you’ll get from me in terms of a write-up.  Nat Hentoff’s original notes are good, as always, so go read those.

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Shirley Scott – Blue Seven (1961)

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Shirley Scott
BLUE SEVEN
with Oliver Nelson and Joe Newman
1961 Prestige  PR 7376
OJC Reissue OJCCD 1050-2, 2001

1. Blue Seven
2. How Sweet
3. Don’t Worry ‘Bout It Baby, Here I Am
4. Nancy (With The Laughing Face)
5. Wagon Wheels
6. Give Me The Simple Life

Recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on August 22, 1961.

Joe Newman (tp) Oliver Nelson (ts) Shirley Scott (org) George Tucker (b) Roy Brooks (d)

So I was listening to one of James Brown’s early instrumental records from the 60s a few days ago, and it left me wanting to listen to somebody who could actually play the organ.  I ended up reaching for this record, a mellow little number from Shirley Scott.  Usually she played with a leaner ensemble, and this has a nice, fleshed-out sound to it with warm trumpet and sax work from Joe Newman and Oliver Nelson.  Newman’s long muted trumpet solo on Wagon Wheels is an excellent companion on a rainy day like I am having today.  The title track, a Sonny Rollins tune, sets the relaxed blues tone for the rest of the set.  I like Roy Brooks but on this session his touch seems a little indelicate at times: even his hi-hat somehow sounds “heavy” and plodding, even on the ballad Nancy (With The Laughing Face).  On this tune Shirley’s organ sounds so wonderful I feel like I am sitting right next to it watching the tubes glow; it’s redundant to compliment Van Gelder on his recording prowess, but there it is.

A short and sweet blog post for a short and sweet album.

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Jimmy McGriff – Countdown (1983)

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Jimmy McGriff
“Countdown”
1983, Milestone  (M-9116)


1. I’m Walkin’ (Domino and Bartholomew)
2. Holly (Jimmy Mcgriff)
3. Down For The Count (Frank Foster)
4. Blow Your Horn (Benny Green)
5. Since I Fell For You (Buddy Johnson)
6. Shiny Stockings (Frank Foster)


Clifford Adams, Jr – trombone
Marshall Keys – alto sax
Arnold Sterling – alto and tenor sax
Jimmy McGriff – organ
Melvin Sparks – guitar
Vance James – drums


Produced by Bob Porter
Engineer – Rudy Van Gelder
Recorded on April 27 and 28, 1983

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 light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
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Organ combos are often a whipping-boy for jazz purists.  Seated behind an instrument with limited emotional range, organists were perhaps in the forefront of artists who extended the jazz tradition of dipping into the “great tradition of popular song” of Cole Porter or Gershwin and looking to the contemporary hit parade to produce jazzed up versions of Carol King, Burt Bacharach, Ray Charles or funkier fare like Sly Stone and Motown, earning the ire of critics who lambasting this ‘pandering’ to commercial trends.  By the nineteen-seventies the funky soul-jazz record was so ubiquitous that it seemed like a handful or artists were able to crank them out quicker than hotcakes from a griddle and with about as much variety.  Even if I personally love most of this stuff, I acknowledge that, as one of my friends Stumpy McFinn (a pseudonym) put it regarding his own feelings for these records, “A little goes a long way.”

So as the golden age of soul-jazz and jazz-funk faded away, where did it leave some of the people who made a healthy livelihood from it and left us some great records like “The Worm,” “Electric Funk,” and “Groove Grease”?   With a recording date of 1983, I braced myself for lower expectations when I picked up this record cheap as dirt, and instead found myself liking it quite a bit.   Relieved not to find McGriff trading in his Hammond for a Fairlight synth or strutting around the stage with a “keytar,” he instead retrenches his roots more than he’d done since his days on Sue Records.  The repertoire is anything but contemporary, leading off with a New Orleans stroll by way of Fats Domino’s hit “I’m Walkin'”, whose vamp outro might be the funkiest thing on the record.  The album embraces a big band sound with small group arrangements, written in a way to create aural illusions that, as McGriff said to the Newark Star-Ledger reporter whose story comprises the liner notes, uses “close harmonies and voicings to make you hear some things that aren’t really there.”  Two selections are Frank Foster tunes from the songbook of the Count Basie Orchestra, “Down For the Count” and “Shiny Stockings,” and the slow blues “Since I Fell For You” has me wanting to burst out into the lyrics —

You made me leave my happy home
You took my love, and now you’re gone
Since I fell for you 

The sideman on this date all hold their own but the potential show stealers are guitarist Melvin Sparks and trombonist Clifford Adams (member of Kool & The Gang and a presence on some of my favorite soul-jazz efforts from the likes of Charles Earland and Lonnie Liston Smith).  Adams gets to trade riffs with saxophonists Marhsall Keys and Arnold Sterling on “Blow Your Horn,” the most driving tune here which also happens to have been written by legendary trombonist Bennie Green.  Drummer Vance James is a no-frills player who holds down the shuffles and the swing with aplomb; he also played on records by frequent McGriff collaborator Hank Crawford during the 80s and 90s.  The sound on this record is wonderfully full-bodied, with Rudy Van Gelder behind the board, and “production” limited to a splash of reverb on the horns.  There may be no surprises or blinding flights of inspiration on this album, but there are no gimmicks either.  A solid low-key listen for a lazy Sunday like today.

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Os Cobras – O LP (1964)

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OS COBRAS
O LP

Released 1964 on RCA (BBL-1290) in Brazil
Reissue 2005 Sony-BMG France
In GLORIOUS MONOPHONIC

01 – Quintessência (J. T. Meirelles)
02 – Nanã (Moacir Santos / Mário Telles)
03 – Depois de Amro (Orlann Divo / Roberto Jorge)
04 – Adriana (Roberto Menescal / Luis Fernando Freire)
05 – Praia (Orlann Divo / Roberto Jorge)
06 – Uganda (Orlann Divo / Roberto Jorge)
07 – The Blues Walk (C. Brown)
08 – 40 Graus (Orlando Costa ”Maestro Cipó”)
09 – Chão (Amaury Tristão / Roberto Jorge)
10 – Menina Demais (Orlann Divo / Roberto Jorge)
11 – Mar Amar (Roberto Menescal / Ronaldo Bôscoli)
12 – Moça da Praia (Roberto Menescal / Luis Fernando Freire)

Tenorio Jr. (piano)
José Carlos “Zezinho” (bass)
Milton Banana (drums)
Raul de Souza (trombone)
Hamilton (trumpet)
Meirelles (sax alto, flute)
Paulo Moura (sax alto)

Special Guests

Jorginho (flute)
Aurino (sax baritono)
Cipó (sax tenor)
Roberto Menescal (guitar on 10 & 12)
Ugo (vibraphone on 10 & 12)

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Lately, in my real job,  I’ve been pushing my way through a chunk of writer’s block rough enough to leave your hands bleeding from the splinters.  That results in a few adverse effects that involve you, blog reader:  I have less time to put into writing for this place, and then when I do have free time it’s usually spent feeling like an idiot about the other stuff I’ve been working on.

But instrumental music is often the only music that I can write to when working on that “other stuff” and this record has gotten a few spins over the last month.  It’s kind of a super group, Brazilian jazz all-stars affair, the result of the label RCA-Victor approaching composer and arranger Roberto Jorge to make a record with the regular heavyweights in Rio’s jazz scene congregating around the jam sessions at places like Little Club and Bottle’s.   The result was a bold declaration of the samba-jazz sound at its best.  On the rhythm section there’s the ubiqutuous Milton Banana – Brazil’s own Art Blakey – on the drum kit, and Tenório Jr. on piano, who was also ubiquitous until he was “disappeared”  and murdered in Argentina while on tour with Vinicius & Toquinho in the mid 70s.   Zezinho is on bass, about whom I can’t tell you much of anything besides that he frequently played with Erlon Chaves.    In the way of horns, there is the brilliant Paulo Moura, whose passing a couple years ago was a huge loss for the world of music.   The guy has probably a million album credits of everything from choro to prog rock, but here we get to hear him in the same group with Meirelles, a sax man every bit his equal.  A lot of the arrangements are by Cipó, who worked with João Gilberto’s first band Garotos da Lua and also contributes one composition and a bit of tenor sax to this record.  There are also a few arrangements by Carlos Monteiro de Souza.

This album really highlights the symbiotic relationship between jazz in the United States and  samba-jazz, jazz-bossa or just jazz in Brazil.  Flows of mutual inspiration were resulting in an amazing amount of innovation and great music on both sides of the equator.  But like in many other contexts, the relationship was also lopsided and unequal.  The infatuation of American jazz for bossa nova, Brazil’s biggest musical export, unfortunately overlooked the immense variety of possibilities presented by other styles of music, such as samba.  If US jazz absorbed anything of samba, it was by way of bossa nova’s own mutations of it.   With apologies for making a simplified, unilineal argument, I’ll do it anyway and say that samba was to bossa nova what the blues was to jazz: the latter would not have existed without the former.  But the blindness to each other’s roots was reciprocal – the blues was not really in the repertoire of musical idioms available to Brazilians either, at least not in the early 60s.  Both jazz and bossa were transnational, globalized music long before anyone used that kind of language to describe them, but when you push back into their roots you find yourself at the limits of the culturally specific.  In spite of a multitude of sociological and economic similarities, a Mississippi sharecropper and a morro resident in Rio were speaking mutually unintelligible languages.

This is another record where singling out individual tracks seems almost superfluous, but their arrangements of a few classic tunes deserve pointing out.  “Naña”, one of Moacir Santos’ most gorgeous and most recorded compositions, is immediately compelling with Tenório’s sparse deconstruction of the chord sequence opening the tune before the lush harmonies of sax, trumpet and flute come in on the main melody.  Remind me some time to post Santos’ “Coisas” album here, as it’s essential listening that makes a lot of the “top 100” lists that people are always making.  Incidentally, Moacir Santos played in a completely unrelated combo calling themselves Os Cobras, who made a one-off album in 1960 and then disappeared.

Another ear-catching track is a version of Clifford Brown’s signature tune, “The Blues Walk”, proving that these guys hold their own on straight bop.  The album is infused with bop throughout, especially noticeable in Meirelles’s own composition “Quintessence” and “Praia” from Orlann Divo & Roberto Jorge, which still sound fresh.  They may start out a bit reverent playing Brown’s tune, but the sense of playfulness and fun soon overtakes everything else. This is followed by the Cipó composition “40 graus” which except for its choruses bears more than a passing resemblance to the rocking samba-jazz-bossa that J.T. Meirelles was making with Jorge Ben at the time.  It’s also the longest track here, clocking in at a whopping four and a half minutes.  The record closes with a short pretty composition by Luiz Fernando Freire and Roberto Menescal (“Moça da praia”, apparently a favorite theme of the bossa crowd), who also features on acoustic guitar.

Using the original liner notes, translated into French for this pressing, it is possible to reconstruct who plays what solo on which tunes.  Anyone who feels so inclined to do so is welcome to compile it and send it to me, and I’ll happily post it here.  As for me, it’s time to get back to chipping away at that writer’s block.

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