Charlie Mariano – Mirror (1972)

Charlie Mariano
Mirror
Release 1972 – Atlantic SD 1608
A1     Himalaya     5:56
A2     Shout     2:23
A3     F Minor Happy     5:13
A4     Theme From Summer Of ’42    5:04
B1     Mirror     8:36
B2     Vasi Bindu (Raindrops)     5:36
B3     Madras    3:07
    Acoustic bass – George Mraz
    Drums – Ray Lucas
    Electric Bass – Tony Levin
    Electric Piano, Organ – Pat Rebillot
    Guitar – David Spinozza
    Percussion – Airto Moreira, Ralph McDonald
    Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Nagasuram, Flute – Charlie Mariano
    Vocals (on “Mirror” only) – Asha Puthli
    Written-By – Charlie Mariano (except A4)
Produced and mixed by Arif Mardin
Recording engineer – Gene Paul

Although his name appears on classic records by Mingus, Chico Hamilton, Shelley Manne, Elvin Jones (hey, lots of drummers seem to like him), I think I first started really paying attention to Charlie Mariano through his work with the wonderful Toshiko Akiyoshi, to whom he was married for a few years in the 60s.  Incidentally this is also how I discovered Lew Tabackin, who became Toshiko’s second husband and formed a much longer musical partnership.  Along with Phil Woods, these artists constitute a group of highly prolific jazz cats about whom I’d love to spread some enthusiasm. Might as well start here, even if this is an atypical example.

I had no idea Mariano had made any records this heady until I stumbled on it.  The garish cover art, with a creepy eyeball thing glaring out at you, acts like a sort of magnet.  It either attracts or repels you away, depending on your musical polarity.  I’m not sure the album art does the music justice, and in fact I would nominate it for my art gallery of Garish and Gaudy 1970s Jazz-Funk Album Covers, a project I am initiating right now (other inductees include a Blue Mitchell record I picked up recently, and this amazingly fugly George Duke/Billy Cobham thing).

Musicians of Mariano’s caliber can pretty much do whatever they want and pull it off.  I don’t know what kind of soundscape he had in mind when he went into the studio to make this album, but with the help of some very competent friends, he created a canvas on which he could moan, wail, and shriek (pleasingly) on soprano and alto sax in ways I did not expect.  The band he put together to create this moody, genre-blurring music with vaguely spiritual inclinations is more than up to the task.  One pleasant surprise is the presence of a young Tony Levin on bass, years before he would start progging it up with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson.  Levin was not a complete stranger to soul jazz/funk sessions in the early 70s – other records I have with him from this period include Jack McDuff and Deodato – but this is probably the first time that he really stood out for me in this capacity.  This may partly be due to the fact that he is featured right alongside upright bassist George Mraz.  Levin lays down the lower register funk, freeing up Mraz to do more textured and melodic things in the upper register.

Airto is somewhat underutilized on this record.  He doesn’t seem fully present or into it all the time, sometimes more like a percussionist “playing in the style of Airto” rather than the man himself.  Perhaps Mariano kept his eccentricities on a short leash, or maybe this was just session #374 for Airto in 1972 and goddamnit what do you want from the guy, does he have to be on fire all the time or what? Keysman Pat Rebillot satisfies the urge to hear some Fender Rhodes and also favors us with some acid-drenched, reverby organ on the opening cut, but his solos don’t really push the music anywhere adventurous.  Session vet David Spinozza gets in some nice solos on the guitar, in particular on the title track.  Drummer Ray Lucas is one of those guys who probably never got his due recognition.  His credits include King Curtis, Roberta Flack, Eugene McDonald, Shirley Scott, Donny Hathaway and a ton of other people: he was even briefly a bandmate of Hendrix, as part of Curtis Knight and The Squires.  There is nothing flashy about his playing, it doesn’t call attention to itself, but it casts a solid foundation to build around, and provides agile fills and texture when needed.  Never underestimate the importance of simply playing time.  Indian singer Asha Puthli contributes vocals to the album’s titular track (she also appeared on Ornette Coleman’s “Science Fiction” sessions from the same year).  At first I thought this was wordless vocalizing before I checked the back of the LP cover and saw that she was singing the free verse poem there.  I’ll have to assume her voice is deliberately submerged in the mix, perhaps to trigger subliminal spiritual contemplation.

Deliberate, because producer Arif Mardin was no amateur.  That guy knew how to mix.  And this record sounds great.  In fact, in spite of the fact that I started with a not-quite-perfect copy (although in better shape than the cover would indicate), the sound is pretty solid.  This is not only the mixing but also the famous Monach Pressing Plant who should get a shout-out.  Quality control!

All of the compositions are by Mariano except for Michel Legrand’s famous “Summer of ’42” theme, which is here given a languid deconstruction where Charlie plays the flute.  Slow funk grooves are blended with modal and outside riffing.  The second track, “Shout,” is like the opening of a baptist tent revival meeting, with Charlie coaxing harmonics from his sax by overblowing furiously.  F-Minor Happy is very Deodato-esque (Deodatismo?), a more rough-hewn and stoney take on CTI-style jazz funk.  “Vasi Bindu (Raindrops)” is a free and open piece coming halfway through the second album side, as if to help us come down from the plateaus of the massive title track.  The album closes with the short “Madras,” which features Charlie on the nagasuram for the first time on this album.  This South Indian instrument ends the record on a truly ceremonial note, sounding a bit like Mariano may have been trying to beat Don Cherry to doing the soundtrack for The Holy Mountain.  It makes you sit up and pay attention.

This record goes pretty deep, but is also just a damn pleasurable listen that you can enjoy while going about your day.  I feel the need to point that out because a lot of the adjectives used in this post (heady, spiritual, free, modal) would tend to indicate a record that might get in the way of activities like reading a novel, making love, writing a novel, or tidying up the house (unless you are the type of person who likes to fold laundry and clean bathrooms while listening to Anthony Braxton or AEoC in which case this warning doesn’t apply to you).  I hereby declare this record completely safe for “taking care of business.”  It might uplift you and inspire you to seek enlightenment, but it won’t automatically induce a trance state, epileptic fit, or other central nervous system anomaly.

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Ceccarelli – Ceccarelli (1977)

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Ceccarelli
“Ceccarelli”
Released 1977 – Inner City (IC 1057)
 
Forget It    
I’m A Skunk    
Big City Bright    
Ded’s Circus    
Life Is Real Only Here (Part 1)    
Speed It Up    
What The…    
Where Is Here    
Life Is Only Real Here (Part 2)    
His Love    
Space Out



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; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

I saved this album from being thrown in the trash by a college radio station.  A bunch of us volunteer DJs had been tasked with sorting through thousands of LPs in a storage space over the course of several months and deciding what was worthy of putting into the main library and what would be discarded.  I came in at the end of the process, when the management told us we could just scavenge for things to keep before they began tossing stuff for good.  It was and still is a fantastic radio station, but  I discovered  a lot of the indie kids considered a lot of quality music to be unworthy.  And a lot that was pretty collectible too,  without much defacement to the album covers – Judy Sill white label promo, going to the trash?  Bridget St. John on Dandelion? One-off heavy psych rock bands like Alamo or Granicus?  Or Coleman Hawkins and Bud Powell records on Pablo, kind of boring past-their-prime recordings like everything on Pablo but still surely not destined for a landfill.   It was my moral obligation to save these from oblivion and take them home.  Including this album, a specimen that has potential to accomplish the rare feat of pleasing or at least sparking the interest of both the “rare groove” hunter and those into whimsical prog-rock bands fond of making up their own mythological universes.

During the Great Radio Purge of 2008, Most of the good jazz had been put back into the library.  Now granted the first stage of this ‘trim the fat’ operation worked on the honor system, presuming that someone stumbling across a Sun Ra album on Saturn Records was going to keep it at the station and not take it home… This may be why I absented myself from the first stage, wishing to avoid such ethical dilemmas.  Also, volunteering isn’t a very lucrative occupation , I was already doing two radio shows for them, and doing any more would impinge on innate laziness.  In any event, I was remotely aware of André Cecarelli’s name as a figure in European jazz and jazz fusion, but mostly I was attracted by the bright mandala oil painting gatefold cover because I like shiny things.  Opening it up, I found some guide notes that had been typed by the reviewing DJ and glued neatly to the inside jacket, which is a nice touch since usually they are handwritten on index cards fixed sloppily on the jacket with a glue stick, or just written directly on the album covers in ballpoint pen.  After appreciating the DJ-reviewer’s tidiness, I then noticed some of the additional musicians on the recording:  Janick Topp and Claude Engel (Magma), Didier Lockwood (Magma, Pierre Moerlan’s Gong), Ernesto ‘Tito’ Duarte (Barrabas), Alex Ligertwood (Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, Santana).  I mean, c’mon, it had to be worth at least a listen, right?

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The album may not be as far out as this list of heavy friends playing on it might lead you to believe, nor as good as it probably ought to be, but it has some intense moments.  I am less enamored of it than the DJ tasked with reviewing it in 1978, but then he or she also seemingly did not recognize any of the musicians who played on it and so perhaps had lower expectations than I did.  As the reviewer states, this is much less jazz (as might be expected from something on the Inner City label) and much more fusion or jazz-rock (they suggested calling it “big band fusion…”)  The reviewer makes a comparison to Mahavishnu Orchestra, which I don’t really hear:  this stuff takes itself far less serious than anything John McLaughlin has ever played on.  There is none of the sci-fi loonyness of Magma either, which may be a relief to many of you.  If anything this stuff puts me in mind of Jean Luc-Ponty and George Duke, or maybe just mid-70s Zappa when George Duke was playing on his records.  Bonus points for the use of steel drums on the track “Ded’s Circus.”

If I had to some this album up in one sentence it would be: “The kind of record that Howard Moon from The Mighty Boosh would get very excited about.”  In fact the gravely spoken word on the interlude “What the…” on side two sounds suspiciously like the Spirit Of The Blues character from that show.

As a bonus, I photographed the track-by-track notes from the anonymous late-70s college DJ before having a go at removing them.  Word to the wise, removing adhesive material that has been in place for over thirty-five years is not a guaranteed success (but I knew that before beginning).  The stickers weren’t really bothering anybody, but I knew they were there and it would bother me sometimes late at night and I would consider digging through a few thousand LPs to find this one and try to remove them at 4 a.m.  I opted to leave the reviewer’s overall impressions in place, however.  I mean it’s part of the history now, right?

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Paulinho da Costa – Agora (1977)

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Paulinho da Costa
AGORA
Released 1977 on Pablo (2310-785)
OJC Reissue 1991

A1         Simbora     8:44    
A2         Terra     4:23    
A3         Toledo Bagel     5:50    
B1         Berimbau Variations     3:50    
B2         Belisco     6:54    
B3         Ritmo Number One 8:27

Digitally remastered by Phil De Lancie (1991, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California).

Recorded at Kendun Studios, Burbank, California (August 6 through 16, 1976). Includes liner notes by David Griffin and Paulinho Da Costa.

Recording information: Kendun Studios, Burbank, CA (08/06/1976-08/16/1976).
Arrangers: Erich Bulling; Claudio Slon ; Paulinho Da Costa; Steve Huffsteter .

Personnel:
Paulinho da Costa (vocals, whistling, berimbau, tamboura, ocarina, congas, bongos, cuica, guiro, pandeiro, reco-reco, shaker, surdo, triangle, wood block, percussion, waterphone);
Octavio Bailly, Jr. (vocals, bass);
Claudio Slon (vocals, synthesizer, drums, water drum, timabales, percussion);
Larry Williams (saxophone, flute);
Steve Huffsteter,
Gene Goe (trumpet, flugelhorn);
Mike Julian, Frank Rosolino (trombone);
Greg Phillinganes (acoustic and electric pianos); Lee Ritenour (guitar).

——————–

Nothing mind-blowing here but this is a solid record from a guy with a lot more album credits than he has records as a bandleader.  Having played with Brazilian greats like Elza Soares and Martinha da Vila, by this time Paulinho da Costa was well entrenched in the slick LA jazz studio-musician scene.  That slickness threatens to over saturate this entry on the Pablo label but Paulinho’s energy on percussion manages to pull it back from the brink more often than not.  The opening “S’imbora” may not hook you immediately with its crystalline jazz-funk fusion but by the end of it you would be hard-pressed not to admit they are cooking something savory.  “Terra” is one of two percussion-centric cuts here, this one consisting of a dinner-party Santeria or Candomblé groove; the other, “Ritmo Number One” is a samba freakout and easily the most energetic thing on the album.  “Toledo Bagel” lets Paulinho prove his mettle as a salsero.  “Berimbau Variations” is more than what its title implies. It opens up with an otherworldly swell of notes and features an interesting flute riff in a pretty tightly-composed piece clocking in a three and a half minutes.  The band here are all more than capable but somewhat lifeless and restrained for the material, perhaps due to their California studio habitus they just can’t manage to break out.  Keys player Greg Phillinganes (who has some sweet credits with Roy Ayers, Syreeta, Harvey Mason and others) gets some good runs on the electric piano but doesn’t really cut it playing salsa on the acoustic piano.  Larry Williams (Seawind, Shiela E., Michael Jackson) has a nice solo on “Belisco” but elsewhere his playing tends towards nondescript. Steve Huffsteter (Willie Bobo, Shorty Rogers, Moacir Santos and many more) is under-utilized here in my opinion although he gets to employ his arranging skills to great effect on “Belisco.”  Lee Ritanour is still Lee Ritanour.  Drummer Cláudio Slon is a fine drummer and also played with Paulinho in Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’77 group, so it is kind of surprising that they don’t sound more ‘in the pocket’ here.  I think the issue is the mix:  Cláudio’s drum kit is tucked away under the other instruments, foregrounding Paulinho – it is his session, after all – but I think if they had pushed him forward a few decibels it would have given the tracks more impact.  

All in all this is a strong record.  His Pablo release “Muito Bem!” with Joe Pass gets a “pass” from me in spite of seeming like it might be a promising record.  His second record as a bandleader, “Happy People” (not to be confused with the Brazilian-themed Cannonball Adderley album) is also pretty good.

Hermeto Pascoal – Zabumbê-bum-á (1979)

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Hermeto Pascoal
Zabumbê-bum-á
Original release 1979 Warner Brothers
Reissue 2011 – Coleção Cultura / Warner Brasil

A1         Sâo Jorge     2:36
A2         Rede     6:27
A3         Pimenteira     6:27
A4         Suite Paulistana     5:27
B1         Santo Antonio     4:07
B2         Alexandre, Marcelo E Pablo    5:16
B3         Suite Norte, Sul, Leste, Oeste     3:55
B4         Susto     3:03
B5         Mestre Mará     4:28

    Composed By, Arranged By, Producer – Hermeto Pascoal (tracks: A1 to B1, B3 to B5)
Engineer, Mixed By – Vitor Farias
Producer, Arranged By, Mixed By – Hermeto Pascoal

– Hermeto Pascoal / arrangements, piano, clavinet, acoustic guitar, flutes, keyboards, saxophones, vocals and percussion
– Cacau / flute and saxophones
– Jovino Santos Neto / keyboards, clavinet and percussion
– Antônio Celso / guitars and mandolim
– Itiberê Zwarg / bass
– Nenê / drums, percussion and keyboards (6)
– Pernambuco / percussion
– Zabelê – vocals, percussion and acoustic guitar (6)
– Mauro Senise / flute and saxophone
– Hermeto Parents (Seu Pascoal & Dona Divina) / vocals (1 and 5)

Release information

LP: Warner Bros. Records WB 91 018 (Germany), WEA International Inc .BR 36104 (Argentina)
CD Reissue: 2011 “Coleção Cultural” / Livraria Cultura / Warner

————————————

It is often said that Hermeto Pascoal’s music is uncharacterizable.  This is essentially true.  Although you will find his records in the “jazz” section of most record stores lucky enough to stock his albums, he doesn’t always fit comfortably there.  A musical polymath, he can seemingly play any instrument, including many of his own invention.  He may have sat in with Miles Davis (during his most polemical period), inspired Cannonball Adderley and fellow-traveler Airto Morreira, but his music is alternately tightly composed and “free”, drifting easily from fusion-esque readings of regional musical traditions from his native Northeast Brasil, to cacophonous bursts of electronics, found sounds, unorthodox instrumentation or heterodox uses of traditional instruments.  This album, Zubumbê-bum-a, followed his very important and better-known Slaves Mass album from 1977.  It’s possible that this record is more “out” than its predecessor, pushing on his avante-gard tendencies while delving deeper into cannibalistic experiments with Nordestino music and including a fair amount of spoken word and poetry.  The opening track is an idiosyncratic homage to São Jorge, whose place in Brazilian cosmology cannot be overstated – syncretized with Ogun in the myriad Afrobrazilian religion traditions, patron saint of the city of Rio, he is the protector of warriors, he who vanquishes our adversaries whether ethereal or corporal, the slayer of dragons, but the track is uplifting and breeze-worthy.     “Não tem preço não..”  there are vocals from Hermeto and Dona Divina, some of them wordless, some of them Hermeto rambling in his unique way in what might be a private oração to São Jorge –  “a carreira da nossa é isso… cavalho ligeira” … his voice is mixed under the music for the most part, giving his actual words kind of a subliminal, secondary importance.  And I’ll admit this – I have an interview with him that he gave to the famous MPB Especial program, and I can’t follow what the hell he’s talking about half the time in his free-associative jive talking.  Adjectives I’ve often heard in relation to Hermeto, both in Brazil and abroad – “crazy”, “mad genius.”  I’ve seen him perform live, only once, and it tended to confirm this reputation.  The man is a transnational treasure to humanity. But probably a bonafide nut.
With this pleasant trot on Saint George’s steed behind us, the album really takes off with the beguiling “Rede”.  Beginning slowly with spoken word evoking a lazy afternoon swinging (or rather being swung) on a hammock,  and an angular chord progression dominated by Fender Rhodes and flute, developing hypnotically into a crescendo of drums and saxophones dancing circles around the same plodding, angular chord structure.   The song moves almost seamlessly into the next, “Pimenteira.”  This is pretty much full-on jazz fusion in the good sense of that phrase/idea, until breaking down about five minutes into the track into a flute and zabumba jam worthy of the Banda de Pifanos de Caruarú, which lasts for less than a minute before leading back into the main theme.  This is as good a place as any to stop and mention an analogy or comparison I’ve seen about Hermeto: I’ve read comparisons of him to Frank Zappa, which initially made me wince.  This is not necessarily a dis to Frank but simply because I don’t like easy comparisons made out of convenience.  But it sort of stuck in my craw ever since, and tracks like this make me lend it some credence.  This piece wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Zappa’s instrumental albums from his “Studio Tan” era, and in general Hermeto’s sense of fun and levity,  albeit with different cultural reference points, in collusion with an infatuation with musique concrete and avant-guardism make this a more productive comparison than I would have anticipated.  “Suite Paulistana” is performed entirely by Hermeto via layered overdubs in the studio, a fact I would not have guessed had I not looked at the album jacket.  It’s a frenetic, free-music approximation of the chaos and incessant movement of Brazil’s industrial nerve-center, Sâo Paulo, that sounds for all the world like a group of musicians improvising collectively.  How on earth Hermeto managed to record this with overdubs is nothing short of breathtaking, leading to the suspicion that the chaos is actually closely controlled and composed.  More Anglophone comparisons here that wouldn’t be totally off base might be Henry Cow, a group who similarly straddled lines of jazz improvisation, progressive rock, and the avant-garde, but famously lacked any sense of humor. “Santo Antônio” begins with what is essentially an interview fragment with a “Divína Eulalia de Oliveira”, credited with “story and improvising” on the jacket, describing a traditional religious procession probably in the interior of Ceará where Hermeto is from, where a group of people go door to door asking for donations or begging alms on behalf of the saint, asking for kitchen staples, farinha, feijão, arroz, ovos, macaxeira — “Oi dona da casa! Esmola pra Santo Antônio … qualquer coisa pra ajudar..”.  The feast of Saint Anthony is commemorated on June 13, making it part of the month-long series of Festas Juninas that exists with a singularity in Northeast Brazil in ways that it simply does not in the rest of the country.    This track has so much of what is magical about Hermeto.  Its demonstrably ethnographic, musically cinematic, and cut from an entirely different cloth from the pedantic and ultimately xenophobic traditionalism of the Movimento Armorial, for example, who by the mid 70s were the self-appointed guardians of all things “cultura popular” in the northeast.  Hermeto’s eclecticism, his mixture of affection and irreverence, must have been anathema to those people.
This little write-up is quickly becoming ungainly and unwieldy so in the interest of wrapping it up, I’ll gloss over the next three tracks by saying they are bit more tame, by which I mean *almost* accessible in a conventional sense of jazz fusion but still always coming back to the album’s regionalism with fragments of baião mixed in to the stew.  Some nice clavinet on Susto, which ends up with bombastic blasts of atonality at the end which are wonderful.  Another of Hermeto’s skills – diving into atonal waters without alienating the “casual” listener is a pretty unique quality.  Not that Hermeto has that many casual listeners.  In a somewhat circular way the album closes with a experimental “Mestre Mará”, which gives a nod to the music form of maracatu nação (or maracatu baque virado, as distinct from the unrelated form of maracatu ‘rural’ or baque solto), using one of its common syncopated rhythms along with agogô. But this is quiet and pensive, whereas maracatu nação is performed with large groups of drummers whose pulse you can feel in your gut from three city blocks away.  Instead, this quiet and mysterious tone poem seems to deliver us up to a mesa branca in the curtained-off room of a mestre, with the voices of the possessed joining in, suddenly wracked by fits of coughing from the defumação of incense and herbs.  It’s not frivolous that Hermeto is sometimes called “o bruxo.”

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paragraph from the back album cover:

“A música pelo músico, sem experiências nem vanguardas, apenas música sentida nota por nota, formando arranjos nos quais os instrumento, num só tempo, convivem e são individualmente explorados, escute.”

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