Fritz the Cat & Heavy Traffic OST (1972-3)

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FRITZ THE CAT Soundtrack Released 1972 (Fantasy 9406)
HEAVY TRAFFIC Soundtrack Released 1973 (Fantasy 9436)
2-on-1 CD released 1996 on Fantasy (FCD-24745-2)

Fritz the Cat is also known as:

Fritz el gato
El gato caliente
Fritz – kova kolli
Fritz il gatto
Fritz le chat
Fritz, o ponirogatos
Katten Fritz
O Gato Fritz

It has been many years since I saw either of these films, and I never realized the soundtrack had so many great musicians on it back in those days. And then I ran across a CD pressing from Fantasy containing both soundtracks and, damn, what a surprised! First a little about the films. It took me a little internet research to find a review of this film by anyone who took it halfway seriously. Here is a link to the Wikipedia synopsis of the film along with some material on its production and reception as well, including Robert Crumb’s disowning of the film.

These are very pleasant soundtracks to listen to, and the first one for Fritz the Cat should be much better known : grooving soul jazz and funk instrumentals interspersed with classics from Bo Diddley, Billie Holiday. The list of musicians is filled with some serious heavy hitters: Charles Earland, Idris Muhammad, Pretty Purdie, Cornell Dupree, Melvin Sparks, Chuck Rainey — hell, even Cal Tjader appears on one tune. I suppose this could bear a similarity to a “Blaxploitation” soundtrack even though it is about a cat, but with more jazz riffing. With the exception of the inclusion of ‘cameos’ of famous recordings, the material on this album is not found anywhere else (as far as I know) and it is exquisite early-70s soul jazz / funk. If this material had been released on individual albums attributed to the artists themselves, it would be better known and probably have made for successful titles in their catalogs — if nothing else, at least with the recognition and cult-status of a (at one time) rare record like Purdie’s soundtrack for “Leileh” released in 1974. As it stands, this soundtrack seems relatively uncelebrated by the rare-groove crowd.

The soundtrack to Heavy Traffic is also good listening but features mostly uncredited musicians (with Merle Saunders a big exception). It follows the same formula of instrumental grooves but with a few famous artists thrown in (Chuck Berry, Sergio Mendes). It’s solid but not as creative or inspired as the Fritz soundtrack, although the theme of “Scarburough Fair” running through the record is a nice touch. The storyline of this film is equally odd, if not more so, than Fritz, and a synopsis can be found at this link.

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Gato Barbieri – Bolivia (1973) with Lonnie Liston Smith

gato

Gato Barbieri
“Bolivia”
1973 on Flying Dutchman Records (FD-10158)
This pressing 2001, BMG France

Merceditas
Eclypse / Michellina
Bolivia
Niños
Vidala Triste

Produced by Bob Thiele

Bass – J.-F. Jenny-Clark , Stanley Clarke
Drums – Airto Moreira, Pretty Purdie (Merceditas only)
Guitar – John Abercrombie
Percussion – Airto Moreira , Gene Golden , James M’tume* , Moulay “Ali” Hafid
Piano, Electric Piano – Lonnie Liston Smith
Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Vocals – Gato Barbieri

The corporeal memory of pleasures briefly known and longing barely quenched. Her skin still ageless, her scent rich in my lungs, we drifted off together in exhaustion. She left me there sleeping, a note on the kitchen table. She left me there dreaming the Bolivarian dream of an America united across the hemispheres. She left me a folheto she bought from a street hawker who recited it for us from beginning to end and offered to continue with more. She may have bought it just to silence him and send him on his way, a bribe to leave us to our own private somnambulist poetry. A crowded street in the old city, as he walked away from us I barely noticed that all sound faded into a steady hum of a single note in the dark regions of my awareness, hearing only her voice; of all color fading into a uniform grey, seeing only her pale skin in the half-light. All senses withdrawn into one still point of awareness. She left me lost in the Bolivarian dream as she went back to the arms of the beast that bore me, the colossus of the north yawning and stretching its million arms to every corner of this dying earth. Our homes were exchanged in a backroom trade between our saints arm-wrestling the invisible hand that feeds us. They lost. The body memory of longing never quenched and peace in the future conjunctive. Even the strongest of unions could barely hold out against the fading of that dream.

—————–

This is another beautiful record from Gato Barbieri, making music quite unlike anything else going on at the time and with an ensemble that’s hard to beat. Lonnie Liston Smith receives co-billing on the front cover, and its no coincidence as his Cosmic Echoes band was putting out their first album on Flying Dutchman the same year. The opening track “Merceditas”, having no less than Pretty Purdy, Airto, and M’tume playing together, would seem to be a climax before foreplay, and in any other hands that might be the case. Barbieri pulls this off, though, as the strength of the rest of material is more than enough to carry the album. The title track is particularly rich, beautiful and terrifying. It is difficult for me to write about this record because the liner notes from Nat Hentoff, a much better writer than I’ll ever be, humble the movement of my pen. I will, however, freely quote from him:


“The life-affirming, surging spirit of these performances – with their supple range of colors, rhythms, soaring melodies – is the essence of that basic, visceral beauty that gives hope to lovers and revolutionaries and to all those who believe in real life before death. His music is an embodiment of perennial possibility that is made of blood and flesh rather than vaporous dreams. Gato, in sum, is among the the least abstract of musicians because he is so explosively, specifically alive.”

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Gato Barbieri – El Pampero (1971)

Jorge Ben needs a Jorge Break. And so I bring you…


Gato Barbieri
“El Pampero”
Released 1971 as Flyind Dutchman FD-10151

This reissues 2002 BMG France / RCA Victor Gold Series

1. El Pampero (Gato Barbieri)
2. Mi Buenos Aires Querido (Carlos Gardel – Alfredo Lepera)
3. Brasil (Aldo Cabral – Benedicto Lacerda)
4. El Arriero (Atahualpa Yupanqui)
5. El Gato (Oliver Nelson)

Tracks 1 through 4 recorded on June 18, 1971 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland

Personnel: Lonnie Liston Smith, piano; Chuck Rainey, electric bass; Bernard Purdie, drums; Sonny Morgan, conga; Nana Vasconcelos, percussion, berimbau; Gato Barbieri, saxophone, vocal on track 4.

Track 5 recorded in May, 1972 at RCA Studios, NYC. Personnel includes:
Romeo Pengue, alto flute, English horn; Phil Bodner, flute, alto flute; Danny Bank, bass clarinet; Oliver Nelson, alto saxophone, conductor, arranger; Hank Jones, piano; David Spinozza, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Bernard Purdie, drums; Airto Moreira, percussion.

Phenomenal live set from Gato Barbieri at the peak of his feline prowess and with an amazing ensemble that was essentially a pick-up gig for most of them. But not just any pick-up band, no siree! Bernand “Pretty” Purdie on skins along with Chuck Rainey on bass (playing the festival with Aretha Franklin and King Curtis) aren’t exactly some music-school hacks you pick up at the bus station on the way to the show. Lonnie Liston Smith and the one and only Nana Vasconcelos were the only regular band members on stage with Gato, and both give it everything they’ve got. In spite of being improvised by the seat-of-their-pants, the only time I notice the Purdie/Rainey rhythm section lag, if not quite falter, is in the beginning section of Brasil where Rainey comes in a measure behind Pretty Purdie’s triumphant drum entrance about three minutes in. Other than that, they sound like they had all been playing together for years. The ambient place-making of “Mi Buenos Aires Querido” is as evocative a piece as Gato ever played. But the highlight for me is “El Ariero”, a song by the very influential Argentinian composer and writer Atahualp Yupanqui. Gato had also recorded in the studio and released it on the album “Fenix” earlier in the year, where I think it has a little more *power* or some similar descriptor, particularly the vocal, but this version has a nice spontaneous intensity to it. The last track, written by frequent collaborator Oliver Nelson, is a bonus cut to this CD, having appeared on a Flying Dutchman compilation of the same name (El Gato) where it was the sole original, unreleased track. This reissue does us the favor of placing it here, and saving us from looking at the awful front cover design of Barbieri turning into a cat, werewolf-style. The lineup is a considerably augmented ensemble which now includes Ron Carter on bass and Airto Moreira on percussion in place of Nana. A beautiful tune, particularly the double flute arrangements.