Gene Russell – New Direction (1972) (Black Jazz BJ/1)

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Gene Russell
New Direction
1972 Black Jazz BJ/1
2003 CD Reissue Black Jazz BJ/1

1     Black Orchid     3:13
2     Hitting The Jug     4:42
3     Willow Weep For Me     4:48
4     Listen Here     3:15
5     On Green Dolphin Street     5:02
6     Silver’s Serenade     4:54
7     My Cherie Amour     3:01
8     Making Bread     3:21

Bass – Henry Franklin
Electric bass – Larry Gates (tracks: 1, 8)
Congas – Tony William
Drums – Steve Clover
Piano – Gene Russell

Producer – Gene Russell


“New Direction” is maybe the misnomer of the year as far as jazz records released in 1972.  This album looks squarely to the past golden age of acoustic piano-led soul jazz for its inspiration.  There is nothing unpleasant here, by any means, but these are sounds you could find  executed with more panache and variety on  any given Junior Mance, Ahmad Jamal or Ramsey Lewis record.   Mostly this album is of historic interest because Gene Russell was the founder and executive producer of the Black Jazz Records label, which has since developed quite a cult following for its stunning recordings that explored adventurous (but accessible) pathways into modal, spiritual, and ‘conscious’ jazz, like the masterful entries from Doug and Jean Carn.  The history of the label and its reissues is something of a mess, with its master tapes even being sold on eBay at one point.   None of the songwriters are credited on this sketchy CD pressing from the early 00’s, for example, and none of them are originals.  Most casual jazz fans will recognize that a few of them are standards.  This label debut opens up with the Latin jazz of Neil Hefti’s “Black Orchid”, and serves up a memorable groover in Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here.”  I’m not sure Russell has the chops or the vision to make “On Green Dolphin Street” or “Silver’s Serenade” good for much more than background music.  By the time the rather pointless rendition of “My Cherie Amour” comes around, I’m afraid the idea of this record is firmly established: this is solid dinner jazz with which to take your seat and order a cocktail and a small appetizer, while you await the main act to come on stage — in this case, the main act being THE REST OF THE BLACK JAZZ CATALOG.  He closes with Gene Harris ‘”Making Bread,” which seems like a fitting conclusion for all this.  Harris, whether with The Three Sounds or his wonderful records on his own, was the Master Chef who, along with an entourage of other culinary alchemists, made possible the sonic kitchen that would be the playground for the great music to issue forth from the Black Jazz imprint.  So now with the hors d’oeuvres out of the way, the real menu is ready to be rolled out.

Perhaps “New Direction” was designed as a deliberate look back to how we got “here” (‘here’ being soul jazz in 1972), in which case we can hear it as a reverent homage and statement of purpose.  In all other respects, though, I won’t hesitate in saying that this is the least interesting entry in the entire Black Jazz discography.  But since it is my intention to follow through on a promise made long ago about sharing a bunch of that music here at Flabbergasted Vibes, we might as well start with BJ/1.   Rusell gave us a mildly more interesting and considerably more funky record in 1973’s “Talk To My Lady,” which we’ll get to soon enough.


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A word:  times are tough all over, and I’m reinventing myself for the third or fourth time in life to adjust to our New Reality.  I am trying to save some money so that I can relocate to a place where there are actual jobs for people with my kinds of skills.  I’m stuck in a rut, y’all, and it’s been hell getting out. If you enjoy reading these posts, consider making a donation using one of the buttons on the sidebar to help offset the costs of getting this blog online.  Any amounts are welcome.  Thanks!

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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Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes – Cosmic Funk (1974)

Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes
“Cosmic Funk”
Released 1974

Flying Dutchman Records (BDL 1-0591)
1 Cosmic Funk Smith 5:39
2 Footprints Shorter 6:11
3 Beautiful Woman Smith 6:58
4 Sais (Egypt) Mtume 8:16
5 Peaceful Ones Smith 5:03
6 Naima Coltrane 4:01Produced by Bob Thiele
Engineered by Bob SimpsonElectric bass – Al Anderson
Congas, Percussion – Lawrence Killian
Drums – Art Gore
Percussion – Andrew Cyrille , Doug Hammond , Ron Bridgewater
Acoustic and electric pianos, percussion – Lonnie Liston Smith
Soprano saxaphone, Flute, Percussion – George Barron
Vocals, Piano, Flute – Donald Smith

You will have to escuse me if I don’t give this album the presentation and descrption it really deserves. I have wanted to post about here for a long, long time. But for anyone else who is celebrating Christmas alone, as I currently am, I feel an urgent impulse to put this album out there. While all of Lonnie Liston Smith’s records with the Cosmic Echoes may have carried more or less the same variations of messages about peace and love, nothing comes close to the eruption of the first cut off this one that gave the album its name, which introduces Lonnie’s brother Donald Smith on vocals

CITIZENS OF THE WORLD
IT’S TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME for WORLD PEACE!

followed by a long hair-raising scream to let you know he really means this.

This song is one of the heaviest slabs of spiritual/soul jazz funkiness out there. The track, along with much of the rest of the album, combines creative use of electronics in some seriously psychedelic flourishes along with free and post-bop jazz explorations. While his next album, “Expansions”, may get the lion’s share of attention for this former Pharoah Sanders sideman, I find this album to be every bit its equal and in fact I seem to come back to it more often. Beyond the first cut, the rest of the album is a real treat too, with first-rate original compositions along inspired readings of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and, unafraid of taking the risk, a vocal version of Coltrane’s “Naima.”

 

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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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