Shirley Scott – Blue Seven (1961)

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)

 
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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Rabbits & Carrots – Soul Latino (1969)

Rabbits & Carrots
“Soul Latino” 1969
Reissue on Vampisoul 2007 with extra tracks (Vampi CD 088)

1. Pais Tropical
2. Hip City
3. Romeo Y Julieta
4. Funky Chicken
5. Jarabe
6. Las 4 Culturas
7. Everyday People
8. Oh Calcuta!
9. Los Pelos Tiesos
10. Workin’ On A Groovy Thing
11. Spill The Wine
12. We Got More Soul
13. Sex Machine
14. Express Yourself

The first time I heard this all-instrumental record I was skeptical. Why bother, I asked myself, covering James Brown and Sly Stone in the late 60s when those artists were still putting out great music at incredible levels of productivity? The second time I listened to this, I asked myself, “Why the hell not?” This record is a lot of fun, even if the hype from Vampisoul about the hip DJ’s who spin it doesn’t do anything to excite me (in fact its more likely to make me ignore it..)

How can I *not* like a record that opens up with a soul-jazz take on País Tropical with a slightly-overdriven pseudo-Wes Montgomery guitar lead playing the vocal melody? If you can’t find that catchy then you’re hopeless. On first hearing this record I had thought that maybe these guys were Nuyorican because of the emphasis on black American music. Imagine my surprise to find out they were a bunch of Mexicans. Rabbits & Carrots were basically a nightclub / bar band in Mexico City, founded by Salvador Aguero with his brothers, that included mostly a lot of anglophone contemporary hits in their repertoire. But whereas there were tons of Mexican rock bands at the time with fuzzed-out guitars playing psychedelic or progressive rock with long wanky guitar solos, English lyrics, and beards, these guys were enamored with soul and funk music. Jorge Ben, Rufus Thomas, Kool & The Gang… Neil Sedaka.. Oddly enough the liner notes mention that the song “Las Quatras Culturas” is the one original composition on the album, somehow “about” the May 1968 massacre of students in Mexico City, when really the song is a blatant James Brown rip-off. But no matter, it’s still pretty cool albeit a little too upbeat for a song ostensibly about state repression. My favorite tune on here is an arrangement of a traditional tune, “Jarabe” that shows off just how well this band could cut loose in a style that really did blend a Latin rhythmic sense with soul from its northern brothers. On the whole this record has a lounge lizard, rather cheesy quality that must be what the ironic hipsters are enamored with, but the band approaches their material with enough inspiration (and some serious jazz chops from saxophonist Ramón Negrete) to make them stand apart from just a generic bar band.

The unique musical synthesis that was Rabbits & Carrots can perhaps best be expressed by way of a photo essay that I’ve composed just for this occasion.

First, some famous rabbits:

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Second, some famous Mexicans:
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In conclusion,
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The last four tracks on this disc come from an EP released years later by their label Musart. The band rather tragically abandons the exclusively instrumental approach they had adhered to in favor of incorporating a singer, identified only as “Max” in the typically ramshackle liner notes provided by Vampisoul. Although I can appreciate the effort of attempting to translate “Sex Machine” into Spanish, this guy is no James Brown. The results are kind of hilarious, but still doesn’t qualify as “so bad it’s good.” In fact I would have to say that these four tracks are just fucking godawful. Repeated listens only confirm how awful they are. The version of “Spill The Wine” just makes me want to pull out my Eric Burdon & War LP from my dusty archives. These songs require a vocal swagger and charisma that the singer just lacks, and I must say the results of the translation are questionable. They fall flat, and are rather embarrassing, and I think Vampisoul would have done these guys a service by leaving them off the album. But they are kind of a sketchy label anyway, seemingly consulting with nobody on these reissues (they have even been sued by Fania, for example), but they have been unearthing some nice treasures from the musicial seen of D.F., Mexico, for the rest of the world.

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Jimmy McGriff – Soul Sugar & Groove Grease (1971)

Jimmy McGriff
Soul Sugar / Goove Grease
Two albums both released 1971 on Groove Merchant
Reissue on Groove Hut Records 2007 (GH66704)
McGriff

1 Sugar Sugar
2 Ain’t It Funky Now
3 Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours
4 Dig on It
5 Bug Out
6 Now Thing
7 You’re the One
8 Fat Cakes
9 New Volume
10 Spirit in the Dark

McGriff

11 Groove Grease
12 Bird
13 Plain Brown Bag
14 There Will Never Be Another You
15 Canadian Sunset
16 Mr Lucky
17 Moonglow
18 Red Sails in the Sunset
19 Secret Love

I think the only way these two records could make me happier is if they opened up with a soul version of “Yummy Yummy Yummy I’ve Got Love in My Tummy.” Since it does not I suppose I can accept “Sugar Sugar” in its place. If this disc was any more fun it would be illegal. Before Jimmy Smith thought of covering pop and soul hits with marvelously funky results, Jimmy McGriff was already laying down cuts to make the jazz purists wince while turning up their erudite noses. McGriff didn’t care and doesn’t seem to have been restrained by such labels, often positioning himself as more of a blues player anyway. I have been meaning to do a post here about another fabulous Groove Merchant disk he did with soul-blues singer Junior Parker that is just amazing. All in good time, even though I’ve been thinking about doing that post for over a year now…

Since a great deal of songs on these two albums are all-instrumental covers of hit songs, you can feel free to use it at your next karaoke party. That is if you are not only prepared to tread the same musical ground as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and Aretha Franklin, but also spar with the infectious chops of Mr. McGriff. My guess is that he will upstage you. But feel free to give it a go.

A glance at the lineup on these two platters may not cause any names to jump out at some of you. But his musicians here all have a pretty impressive pedigree, having played with the likes of Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, Pharoah Sanders, B.B.King, Lonnie Liston Smith, Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, among others and many more. Particularly noteworthy is bassist Richard Davis who just dominates these two albums like the monster he was. He sometimes plays with a phasor enevelope-follower effect on his bass that adds a nice subtle twist to his tone.

Both albums also have fabulously tacky blaxploitation jackets, the better to arouse you with.

Weird side note: according to a friend of mine, the first three tracks of Groove Grease on this reissue are HDCD encoded. Although it’s not uncommon to find HDCD coding on discs that don’t mention it on the packaging, it is somewhat mysterious why they would encode three tracks and stop. I actually have an HDCD player packed away in a storage shed full of audio gear but I am not about to drag it out to verify this. I will take my friend’s word for it, and pass it on to you for what it’s worth.

I think anybody with a pulse will find themselves enjoying this music. And I promise I will have that collaboration with Junior Parker here before the year is out..

McGriff

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Hugh Masekela – Home Is Where the Music Is (1972)

 

Engineered by Rik Pekkonen
Recorded at Island Studios, London, January 1972
Remixed at Wally Heider Studios, Los Angeles
Art by Dumile Feni
Original package designed by Mphoeng Kgama
Graphic design and photo by Tom Wilkes and Barry Feinstein (Camouflage Production)

Review by Thom Jurek (AMG)

Released as a double LP on Chisa/Blue Thumb in 1972, Hugh Masekela’s Home Is Where the Music Is marked an accessible but sharp detour from his more pop-oriented jazz records of the ’60s. Masekela was chasing a different groove altogether. He was looking to create a very different kind of fusion, one that involved the rhythms and melodies of his native South Africa, and included the more spiritual, soul-driven explorations occurring in American music at the time on labels like Strata East, Tribe, and Black Jazz as well as those laid down by Gato Barbieri on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman imprint. The South African and American quintet he assembled for the date is smoking. It includes the mighty saxophonist Dudu Pakwana and drummer Makaya Ntshoko, both South African exiles; they were paired with American pianist Larry Willis and bassist Eddie Gomez, creating a wonderfully balanced, groove-oriented ensemble. Produced by Stewart Levine and composer Caiphus Semenya, this is a near mythic date that was reviewed favorably but infrequently back in the day.

The ten tunes here range between five and 11 minutes; half were written by Semenya, Masekela and Willis wrote one apiece, and the balance were covers — including a gorgeous arrangement of Miriam Makeba’s “Uhomé.” “Part of the Whole”opens the set with Willis on Fender Rhodes piano, with a lazy rolling blues groove that is equal parts soul-jazz and South African folk melody. The horns enter behind him playing a vamp before they ramp it up in the chorus twice before Pakwana takes his solo against the rhythm section. Willis’ sense of time is indomitable and the funky breaks laid down by Ntshoko are beautifully balanced by Gomez’s woody tone. Pakwana wails emotionally, swerving between post-bop and more free explorations. Masekela answers his solo on his flugelhorn in tight, hard blues lines. His flight remains inside with the rhythm section offering this deep groove-laden backing. It’s merely a taste of things to come however, as the following cut, Sekou Toure’s “Minawa,” makes clear. Willis opens it with his own solo backed by the rhythm section; his touch is deft, light, elegant, and deeply melodic. It feels like a different band until the horns enter. When they do, they open that intricate lyric line into waves of passion and restraint. Semenya’s “The Big Apple,” feels like a tune written by Ramsey Lewis with a horn section backing him. It’s all bass note groove, hypnotic repetition, and soulful blues before the horns get to move around one another and solo above Willis’ beautiful fills on the grand piano. This set marks the first appearance of Willis’ tune “Inner Crisis,” the title track of his debut solo LP which would appear a year later on Groove Merchant — only this time with an acoustic piano intro before moving to the Rhodes. This track is a funky spiritual jazz classic and this version may be better than his — largely due to this killer horn section. Other standouts include Kippie Moeketsi’s loping “Blues for Huey,” the ballad “Nomali,” and Masekela’s knotty, joyous “Maseru.” In sum, Home Is Where the Music Is, is a stone spiritual soul-jazz classic, that melds the sound of numerous emerging jazz schools in its pursuit of musical excellence; it succeeds on all counts and is one of the greatest recordings in Hugh Masekela’s long career. In a year full of amazing titles, this is still a standout.

 

There isn’t really much that Flabbergast can add to the thorough review above. It’s one of the (rare) instances where an AMG staffer got it right. It’s a fantastic record and one of Masekela’s best ensembles.