Flabbergasted Freeform seems to be coming back to a monthly thing, the way it was always intended. It’s not quite in time for the blue moon of July but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway. I noticed the Mixcloud stream is markedly lower-resolution than what I uploaded there, so you might consider downloading the files directly below.
Russ Henderson and His Caribbean Boys – West Indian Drums
Gary Bartz NTU Troop – Uhuru Sasa
Honey Cone – When Will It End
Fernando Mendes – Não Vou Mudar
Gene Chandler and Jerry Butler – Sho’ Is Groovin
Watusi – Oio Gere
Space Art – Welcome To Love
The John Betsch Society – Open Pastures
Mississippi Fred Mcdowell – Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning
Milton Wright – Po’ Man
Santana – When I Look Into Your Eyes
S.O.S. Band – High Hopes
Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz – No Tin Pena
Dennis COffey – Can You Feel It?
The Temptations – Do Your Thing
Cold Blood – Watch Your Step
Jack McDuff – The Fourth Dimension
Mary Stallings and Cal Tjader – It Ain’t Necessarily So
Helen Humes – Flippety Flop Flop
Os Originais do Samba – Arrependimento
Paulo Diniz – Encanto
Stone Aliance – Rua da Boa Hora
Big Black – Love, Sweet Like Sugar Cane
Shriley Bassey – Love
Marion Williams – My Sweet Lord
Eddie Cano and Nino Tempo – Hard Day’s Night
Background music from Carib Tokyo Steel Band and from Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtracks for Logan’s Run and Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
“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.
Dora Lopes – Diploma de otário
Rubens da Mangueira – Estrangeiro no samba
Jackson do Pandeiro – Três pedidos
Carmelia Alvez – Eh! boi
Evaldo Braga – Não Atenda
Buddy Rich – Heaven On Their Minds
Los Wemblers de Iquitos – Un Silbido Amoroso
Tata VIega – Give It Up For Love
Sergio Mendes and Brasil 77 – Moçambique
Ronnie Laws – Tell Me Something Good
Tati Viega again – Give It Up For Love (reprise)
Joni Mitchell – Dreamland
Luiz Gonzaga – Festa
Monty Alexander – Sly Mongoose
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires – Hot Sweet and Jumpy
Libre – Tune Up
Jimmy Scott – When Did You Leave Heaven? Tommy McCook & The Supersonics – The World Needs Love
It is amazing how upset some people get over the idea of a cultural boycott. Perhaps that is because they actually make a difference. If they didn’t, the government of Israel and its lobbies would not be spending a boatload of money to defame the BDS movement at every turn as well as attempting to impose a gag order on artists, scholars, and intellectuals who endorse it. For that reason, I’m disabling comments for this post because I don’t have the time or energy to deal with the inevitable abusive trolls and propaganda-bots. The reality is that playing in Israel right now is on the same level as performing in South Africa during the 1980s when the full severity of apartheid could no longer be covered up by its facilitators in Europe and America. Plenty of artists continued to play in South Africa, either indifferent to the suffering or making the same type of excuses being made today by those who see no problem with performing in Israel.
As we approach the one year anniversary of the war crimes and mass slaughter of civilians in the Gaza strip, one which was openly described in genocidal terms by Israel’s far-right government, I’d like to ask you to consider signing a petition asking Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil to cancel their upcoming show in Tel Aviv. These two guys should know better than most people about the consequences of state-sponsored terrorism and censorship, having not only lived through a right-wing dictatorship (that was similarly propped up by US complicity and self-interest), but also for having paid the price for dissent, as both of them spent several years living in exile in London.
One of the interesting objections to cultural boycotts that one often hears is, “Why should the citizens of _____ suffer for the idiocy and repugnance of their government or leaders?” Well, my short answer to that might be “because they keep voting them in,” but let me try to be less crass and assume we are talking about that segment of a population, however small, that disagrees with those policies but happens to like a particular artist. This type of argument came up not long ago when American rock band Wilco chose to cancel a concert in Indiana when that state legalized the discrimination against LGBT persons as second-class citizens. It kind of blows my mind that anyone would consider the “deprived” Indiana Wilco fan as the victim in this situation. If they are really heartbroken die-hard fans, they can get in a car or buy a bus ticket and go an hour or two to the southeast or northeast and see the band perform in Cincinnati or Louisville or Chicago, or someplace else that hasn’t legalized bigotry. (“Back in the day” I actually traveled a greater distance to see an offshoot from that band, Golden Smog, play in a small Chicago club simply because they weren’t coming anywhere near where I lived.) My point is that, in spite of signs of increasing income inequality in Israel itself, its citizens are a heck of a lot more mobile than the people living in lock-down in the Occupied Territories. If they are really zealous about seeing Caetano and Gil, let them travel to do it, because they have that privilege.
If Caetano and Gil organized a concert in Gaza or the West Bank, perhaps making a public gesture towards a genuine two-state solution, a fundraiser for rebuilding, or some other act that recognized Palestinians and Israeli Arabs as worthy of being treated like human beings, then maybe I wouldn’t have a problem with a Tel Aviv concert. But of course, that is not going to happen. So the right thing for them to do is cancel. And presuming that they don’t, I encourage you to think twice about buying tickets to see them in other cities on this tour. I am sure the shows will be really good. I am also sure that a lot of you out there have seen both of these artists on numerous occasions. Consider letting this one pass and writing them a letter about why you will not be attending. You can write to their management here: Gilberto Gil (at Gege Produções), and Caetano Veloso.
B1 The Wine Is Bitter (But The Grapes Are Sweet) 4:08
B2 Touch 3:35
B3 Making Love In The Rain 3:15
B4 I Want You Back 3:12
B5 You Got Me Going In Circles 2:46
Producer – Hadley Murrell
Black Ice is: Antone Curtis, Gerald Bell, Cleveland Jones, Frank Willis, Ralph Lars
Associate producers: Ray Jackson and Eddie Horan
Arranged by Ray Jackson
Strings by Bill Henderson
Audio engineers: Angel Balestier and Dennis Sands (ALB Productions)
Mastered by Bob Mac Leod and Kevin Gray (Artisan Sound)
Distributed by Amherst Records, Buffalo NY
This is the sole sentence that somebody has entered into the Discogs entry for Black Ice: “A funk and soul unit from US who never sustained much commercial success or had any lasting aesthetic impact.” Ouch. Sounds like somebody who is owed royalties or is otherwise carrying around a grudge opened up a Discogs account just to write that. If I limited my listening habits only to artists who had a “lasting aesthetic impact,” my library would be much smaller. After all, all that ‘seminal’ stuff has to impact something, right?
Black Ice, who only made three albums spread out between 1976 and 1982, do come off a bit like a group in search of an identity, and their sound on this first record was slightly anachronistic. Although the perfectly-cropped erotic cover of this album may have still been contemporary with 1977, the music recalls the early to mid 70s, a combination of The Spinners and a less complex version of early Kool and The Gang. In fact a listen to the best-known (and best) track off of it, “Breakdown” – recorded and released as a single before the rest of the material – is likely to give the impression that you are in for a wilder, funkier ride than you will actually get. That song is a raw, uncut funk monster (which incidentally features a riff that is only a few sixteenth-notes shy of being Jungle Boogie). Although the remaining tracks on the record can get pretty funky too, there is nothing nearly as heavy, nor anything where the band are given the space to cut loose as they do on this track. So my own first reaction on buying this LP was a bit of anti-climax, based on the expectations of this first cut. Most of the other tracks are slower or mid-tempo ballads. But being influenced by or even emulating The Spinners or The Four Tops is not a bad thing at all, so it didn’t take long for me to readjust the parameters of my listening. The fact is that Black Ice were a really solid vocal group and these are solid songs.
The first three minutes of “Shakedown” can be found here (the album version is 7 minutes!)
As harsh as the anonymous Discogs critic might have been, he or she is kind of right. In the compressed time-space of popular music, this kind of group probably seemed a bit old-fashioned by 1977, and the sound of their next album, which didn’t come out until two years later – the wonderfully titled “I Judge The Funk” – reflects a consciousness of that and a desire to update their sound. This had mixed results. That record has its moments in the way of a few well-written ballads and at least one monster jam (the somewhat goofy ‘Play More Latin Music’), but there are also stabs at disco-funk that are not quite convincing.
Short of having a visionary in the group (or someone determined to leave “a lasting aesthetic impact), vocal groups frequently need a good producer to set an agenda and direction. The small HDR Records seemed to lack this, although most of the tracks on their first two records have a writing credit from “Associate Producer” Eddie Horan. I also don’t know anything about Horan, but he apparently recorded an album of his own in 1978 (which I have not heard), released on HDR but also picked up by TK Records out of Miami – oddly enough, a label that I would have recommended to Black Ice had I been around and had anybody asked me. I am not even a blip on the map of soul music crate-digger scholarship, so what do I really know. But TK Records (and their large family of affiliated subsidiaries) had a knack for taking artists who may have cultivated regional interest in clubs or local radio and getting some modestly-successful commercial recordings out of them. With no releases between 1979 and 1981, the intervening history of Black Ice is unknown to me. But their last album (also titled simply Black Ice) once again shows a stylistic shift, this time into the early 80s with bass synths and perhaps a mild influence of electro-funk – once again, these are elements that make up many a great record in my collection, but not ones which Black Ice were necessarily good at incorporating. In my imagined, filling-in-blanks history of the group, I propose a narrative of the group slipping into an undefined hiatus while some of them attempt solo careers, not having much luck, and then reconvening around 81-82 for one last reach for the stars. This final album also involved a switch to a new label, Montage, who with artists on their roster like Rose Royce represented a potentially higher profile for the band. Things didn’t seem to work out too well for them at Montage either.
Is this ’77 record a lost classic? I don’t know. But the opening track is pretty phenomenal, and the rest of it holds up well after repeated listens. My one gripe might be the gratuitous female groaning during “Making Love In The Rain” that is mixed twice as loud as the music and makes me reach for the volume knob if there is anyone within earshot with whom I am not getting freaky. It sounds like a producer’s afterthought, and the song doesn’t need it.
This was another vinyl transfer I had sitting on my hard drive for two years, reluctant to share because I didn’t like the audio quality. My copy is kind of crispy, my stylus and cartridge at the time were a bit on the bright side, and there is one track with the hi-hat mixed so high that it might kill you (“decapitation by hi-hat” was a finishing move I tried to pitch to the creators of Mortal Kombat but nobody seemed to think it was as cool as I did). While typing up this post, I noticed that one of the mastering engineers was a young Kevin Gray, which explains why (hi-hat on one track notwithstanding) the album actually sounds really good. Gray has gone on to become one of the most respected mastering engineers out there, and in particular has been working on stellar reissues lately released by a few audiophile labels.
To make my delay in this post even more shameful, a reader specifically requested this album after I played ‘Breakdown’ on one of my first podcasts. I told him I planned to get around to it… Well here it is!