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!

Calvin Keys – Shawn-neeq (1971)

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Calvin Keys
Shawn-Neeq
1971 Black Jazz BJ/8

2005 Reissue

B. E.     7:25
Criss Cross     5:50
Shawn-Neeq     5:55
Gee-Gee     7:57
B. K.     9:21

Bass – Lawrence Evans
Drums – Bob Braye
Electric Piano – Larry Nash
Flute – Owen Marshall
Guitar – Calvin Keys

Producer – Gene Russell    Arranged By – Calvin Keys Continue reading

Ben Sidran – Don’t Let Go (1974)

Ben Sidran
Don’t Let Go
1974 Blue Thumb BTS 6012 


A1 Fat Jam 3:23
A2 House Of Blue Lites 3:08
A3 Ben Sidran’s Midnite Tango 2:40
A4 The Chicken Glide 3:43
A5 She’s Funny That Way 3:34
A6 Monopoly 1:27


B1 Don’t Let Go 3:18
B2 Hey Hey Baby 3:30
B3 The Foolkiller 3:45
B4 The Funky Elephant 3:27
B5 Snatch 3:48
B6 Down To The Bone 1:08

Alto Saxophone – Bunky Green
Bass – Kip Merklein (tracks: B4), Phil Upchurch, Randy Fullerton (tracks: A1 to B3, B5, B6)
Drums – Tom Piazza (tracks: B2)
Drums, Percussion – Clyde Stubblefield, George Brown, Phil Upchurch
Guitar – James P. Cooke, Phil Upchurch
Harmonica – Jerry Alexander
Organ – Jim Peterman
Piano, Vocals – Ben Sidran
Tenor Saxophone – Sonny Seals
Horns arranged  by Sonny Burke

Strings arranged by Les Hooper
Art Direction – John P. Schmelzer

 

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Possibly it is because of his uncanny resemblance to Neil Innes – or the suspicious fact that nobody has ever seen them both in the same place, at the same time – but  sometimes I don’t know how seriously to take Ben Sidran.  But I doubt that fact would bother him, because he’s been far too busy accomplishing an insane amount of things in his long and prolific career for my perplexity to concern him at all.  Although at this point in his life as an artist, Ben Sidran is pretty firmly ensconced in the “jazz” area of your local record store, his overall vision and his diverse body of work taken as a whole is pretty hard to categorize, and there is a touch of whimsy to much of it.  Plus, his records are always fun, a word that doesn’t get paired with “jazz” nearly enough.

In his early days, he flirted with the life of rock stardom when he teamed up with his old college friend Steve Miller.  Sidran contributed extensively to his most interesting record (Brave New World), co-wrote his most charming hit single (Space Cowboy), stuck around for a few more records before going back to his old home base of Madison, Wisconsin, where he has essentially stayed ever since. He published his doctoral dissertation (which he earned in England in the 60s while moonlighting as a session man) as a book, back when dissertations were actually readable,  called ‘Black Talk’.  He hosted a late-night television show as idiosyncratic as he was, called “The Weekend Starts Now,”  in which he had guests like Kinky Friedman and Jane Fonda when she was at her anti-war finest, as well as jazz heavies like McCoy Tyner and Danny Richmond.  He’s worked with Tony Williams, Jon Hendricks, Phil Upchurch (who appears on the album here), and produced records for Mose Allison, Van Morrison, and Georgie Fame.  And somehow he has managed all this while also hanging out with Eric Idle and George Harrison and producing an entirely separate body of work under the name Neil Innes.

On his own albums, Sidran’s stable of musicians was always interesting.  For “Don’t Let Go” we have fellow Madison resident Clyde Stubblefield on drums, Phil Upchurch on bass and guitar, and saxophonists Sonny Seals and Bunky Green all joining the party.  Jim Peterman, a colleague from his Steve Miller days, provides some organ on a few tracks. The original songs here are all compelling, and Sidran seamlessly blends in jazz chesnuts from other composers: a very free and liberal interpretation of fellow Wisconsin-ite Freddie Slack’s “House of Blue Lites” seasoned with some profanity and jabs at New York snobbery,  a similarly stylized “She’s Funny That Way” (recorded by Gene Austin), Bud Powell’s brief ‘Monopoly’, and “The Foolkiller” from Sidran’s most obvious musical idol, Mose Allison. The original tracks span jazz, funk, and even soul in the song “Hey Hey Baby,” which is almost catchy enough to be a hit, as soon as understated Mose Allison-like beatnik crooning comes back into style.    Allison’s “Foolkiller” is arranged in an unrecognizable way and ornamented with greasy slide guitars and harmonica.  The only track that really nods to his past as a denizen of 60’s swinging London is the group composition (mostly likely emerging from an improvised jam) titled The Funky Elephant,which sounds like Dr.John dropping acid with The Beatles.  But not the 1968 Beatles so much as the 1974 Beatles, so basically a few years before they formed Klaatu, I guess.  The cut “Snatch” showcases Stubblefield at his best on the drum kit, tossed over a bed of mixed Wurlitzer and piano, and horn and string charts that make it all sound so easy. (It also makes an appearance on Flabbergasted Freeform Fourteen.)

A curious bit of trivia about the title track of the album: it was written for the original television series adaptation of “Serpico” but was shelved when the project was put on hold for several years due to legal complications.  When the show finally took to the airwaves in 1976 (for only one season, alas), Sidran’s track was not used.  It was written for a scene in which Frank Serpico is a given a surprise birthday party by the rest of his precinct and gets all teary-eyed and starts hugging and kissing everyone.*

Sidran appears to be, constitutionally speaking, a workaholic unable to simply take it easy.  He continues to record, perform, and write.  One of his most recent endeavors is a book regarding the role of Jews in the music business, titled “There Was a Fire: Jews, Music, and the American Dream.”  I’m sure archive-based historians might turn up their noses a bit at his interloping, but as a Jew and a musician I think he’s got a right to explore the subject, and seems to have kept busy on the lecture circuit talking about the book over the last few years.  You can catch some of his talks on his YouTube channel.  This channel, incidentally, is one of the more impressive artist channels I have seen on YouTube, as somebody (if not Sidran himself, then a stalwart staffer) has uploaded a ton of archival material, including lots of clips from the aforementioned television program from the early 1970s.  Check it out here.

(*Disclaimer: this trivia fact may or may not have any basis in our consensual reality.)

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Azar Lawrence – Bridge Into The New Age (1974)

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Azar Lawrence
Bridge Into The New Age
Prestige P-10086 1974
 
 
Bridge Into The New Age     6:45
Fatisha     4:05
Warriors Of Peace     7:59
Forces Of Nature     8:41
The Beautiful And Omnipresent Love     10:07

01 – Bridge Into The New Age  6:45

    Arranged By – Ernie Straughter
Bass – Clint Houston
Drums – Billy Hart
Lyrics By – Ray Straughter
Percussion – Guillerme Franco
Trumpet – Woody Shaw
Vibraphone – Woody Murray
Voice – Jean Carn
Written-By – Azar Lawrence

    02 – Fatisha     4:05

   Percussion – Kenneth Nash
Piano – Joe Bonner
Written-By – Azar Lawrence

03 – Warriors Of Peace  7:59

 Alto Saxophone – Black Arthur
Bass – John Heard
Congas, Percussion – Mtume
Drums – Ndugu
Piano – Joe Bonner
Written-By – Azar Lawrence

04     Forces Of Nature     8:41

    Alto Saxophone – Black Arthur
Arranged By, Written-By – Ernie Straughter
Bass – John Heard
Congas, Percussion – Mtume
Drums – Ndugu
Flute – Hadley Caliman
Piano – Joe Bonner
Trombone – Julian Priester

05 – The Beautiful And Omnipresent Love   10:07

    Arranged By – Ernie Straughter
Bass – Clint Houston
Drums – Billy Hart
Flute [Wood Flute], Lyrics By – Ray Straughter
Percussion – Guillerme Franco
Percussion [Intro Only] – Kenneth Nash
Trumpet – Woody Shaw
Vibraphone – Woody Murray
Voice – Jean Carn
Written-By – Azar Lawrence

Credits

Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Azar Lawrence
Art Direction – Phil Carroll
Engineer – Eddie Harris
Illustration  – Vincent Hollier

    Producer – Jim Stern, Orrin Keepnews

Notes
Recorded at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, Ca.
Tracks 1 and 5 recorded September 1974
Tracks 2-4 recorded May 1974

Oh crap, it’s almost Carnival!  But I don’t have a Carnival blog post for you this year.  In fact I doing away with all topical posts – seasonal, obituary, holiday or otherwise.  I have decided to live in the Eternal Now from here on out, with my bongos and soul patch.  I did however consider posting this album at the beginning of the year when the daily news was just a shitstorm of horrors and negativity.  But the moment got away from me.

I confess, I’ve been holding out on you.  I’ve had this vinyl rip sitting on my computer hard drive for at least a year and a half.  There were some things about the transfer that bugged me a little and I
wanted to start it all over, with some minor adjustments to the equipment, but alas I never got around to it.  Now I have a new cartridge and was thinking about re-doing it again and finally just
realized this is getting way too obsessive-compulsive.  This is a great record, and having only been briefly available once in Japan on CD, not terribly easy to find in the digital realm.

 Now I love lots of Prestige stuff from the 70’s, but this first record by Azar Lawrence, a sax player in the modal mold of Coltrane, could have sat comfortably side by side with anything being released by the Strata-East
label, flush as it is with spiritual-jazz and Afrocentric accents.  The Black Jazz label comes to mind too, if only because it is book-ended with a pair of tracks featuring the not-yet-famous Jean Carn on vocals.  Presumably it Lawrence’s affiliation with (ex-Coltrane quarter member) McCoy Tyner, in whose band he played for a while in the early 70s, that brought him to the attention of Orrin Keepnews and the Milestone/Prestige/Fantasy family.

There are a bunch of heavyweights from the outer limits on this album. Julian Priester and Arthur Blythe have credits on one track each, while Woody Shaw shines on two, as does the ubiquitous Billy Hart on drums.  The singularly named soul searcher Mtume runs the drum and percussion throne on other tracks.   There are also some arrangement credits given to Ernie Straughter, who went on to contribute to a ton of more mainstream but funky modern soul records in addition to a Bobbi Humphrey album.  In all it’s an eclectic collection of a musicians for a very focused record.  Very upbeat and driven, even on the laid-back Fatisha. It occurred to me yesterday that the track “Warriors of Peace” would be perfect for an imaginary Blaxploitation film  It features a scene involving a few dozen Afro-hippies dressed in Egyptian headdresses, descending on the Pentagon, serving macrobiotic food to everyone, and handing out artisinal Shea butter to spread their message of universal harmony.  However, this could have been a side effect,  a combination of what sounds like a harmonic minor scale while walking around in the scorching heat where I am currently hiding out.  The heat will pass but this music shall remain.  Dig it.

Enjoy the Beautiful Omnipresent Love!

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James Moody – The Blues And Other Colors (1969)

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James Moody
THE BLUES AND OTHER COLORS
Original release 1969 (Milestone MSP 9023)
OJC Reissue 1997


1. Main Stem
2. Everyone Needs It
3. Savannah Calling
4. A Statement
5. Gone Are The Days
6. Feeling Low
7. You Got To Pay
8. Old Folks
—————–





Lineup


Tracks 1, 4, and 8


James Moody: flute, soprano sax
Johnny Coles: trumpet, flugelhorn
Tom McIntosh: trombone
Joe Farrel; alto flute, oboe, alto sax
Cecil Payne: baritone sax
Kenny Barron: piano
Ron Carter: bass
Freddy Waits: drums


Tracks 2 and 3
add Sam Brown – electric guitar, Ben Tucker (acoustic and electric bass) replaces Ron Carter


Tracks 5-7


James Moody: flute
Britt Woodman: trombone
Jim Buffington: french horn
Linda November: voice
Alfred Brown: viola
Charles McCracken: cello
Kermit Moore: cello
Dick Katz: piano
Ron Carter: bass
Connie Kay: drums


Recorded August 14, 1968; January 3, 1969, and February 11, 1969


—————–
Produced by Dick Katz and Orrin Keepnews. 
Recording engineer – George Sawtelle
Digitally remastered by Kirk Felton (1997, Fantasy Sound Studios, Berkeley, California).
——————
=======================================================

Well this is an odd little record.  James Moody’s body of work is kind of all over the place but somewhere between Dizzy Gillespie, his Argo albums, and his Perception Records albums, he found time to make a handful of records for the Milestone label.  This one, recorded with two entirely different ensembles (except for Ron Carter, who is the common denominator of all jazz equations, apparently*).  It runs the gamut from modern jazz, hard bop, and toe-tapping soul jazz.  A lot of it is the sound of a small band playing big band arrangements courtesy of trombonist Tom McIntosh, who dropped out of jazz shortly after these sessions.  And the arrangements here are always interesting.  The dissonant soul treatment of Ellington’s “Main Stem” is a gem  The summer stroll through a city park that is “Everybody Needs It” is lovely.  The jazz combo + chamber ensemble idea works well on this record, better than his Moody With Strings album on Argo, for example.   And considering that the album is culled from two sessions separated by six months, it holds together as a long player.  About the only weak spot for me is “Gone Are The Days,” a deconstruction of Stephen Foster that was probably intended as sociomusical critique but ends up being just kind of forced.  (I was somewhat surprised to see that it scored so favorably on the liner notes, both of the reissue and the original release).  Maybe it doesn’t work for me  because it seems to be trying so hard to make a statement, and pales before the previous track, ironically titled “A Statement,” which is truly breathtaking.

The presence of frequent collaborator Johnny Coles is welcome here, as is Cecil Payne.  Kenny Baron plays capably.  Holding down the drum throne are future M’Boom member Freddie Waits and MJQ stalwart Connie Kay.

The last batch of compositions feature wordless vocals by one Linda November.  Her calendar-girl name sounded vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place it, so I looked her up.  Alongside her credits as a pop backup singer, she more famous as the anonymous voice of TV jingles like the Meow Mix song and the “I’d Like To Give The World A Coke” song.  I have no idea how she ended up on this record.  Even when it’s awkward it still works, though, like on the McIntosh composition “You Got To Pay,” which I happened to have played recently on one of my freeform radio hours. The one fact that might legitimately scare some people off is that Moody eschews alto and tenor sax for soprano for the first half and stays on flute for all of the second half.  I happen to love jazz flute but it drives some people crazy for reasons I refuse to comprehend so don’t even bother trying to explain it to me.

* There is an equation for predicting the probability of Ron Carter appearing on any given album.  Take the year of release, add the catalog number (substituting numerological values for any letters), divide by the number of tracks, and multiply by 100.

 

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The Awakening – Hear, Sense, and Feel (1972) [Black Jazz BJ9]

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The Awakening
Hear, Sense and Feel
1972 Black Jazz Records BJ9

1     Awakening – Prologue / Spring Thing     9:36
2     When Will It Ever End    7:16
3     Convulsions     6:37
4     Kera’s Dance     10:05
5    Jupiter     7:33
6     Brand New Feeling    5:50
7    Awakening – Epilogue     1:08


Bass – Reggie Willis
Drums – Arlington Davis, Jr.
Flugelhorn, Trumpet – Frank Gordon
Piano, Electric Piano – Ken Chaney
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Ari Brown
Trombone – Steve Galloway
Electric bass on “Brand New Feeling” – Richard Evans

Produced by – Gene Russell
Recorded at Streeterville Studio, Chicago

———————————–

A lovely, dare I say a gorgeous record from jazz ensemble The Awakening, all of whose members seemed to have connections of the AACM collective founded by Muhal Richard Abrams in Chicago.   While Frank Gordon and Ken Chaney were co-credited as bandleaders, the record has the kind of musical egalitarianism you might expect.  Recording for the short-lived Black Jazz label, they were only around for about four years and put out two excellent albums of mostly mellow, modal, moody jazz in the more soulful corner of the Afrocentric “spiritual” jazz idiom.  In spite of having a track titled “Convulsions”, everything on the record is melodic, with the occasional free riffing or over-blowing coasting on top of solid grooves.  The record opens up with a invocation-type poem that leads into “Spring Thing,” which eases us into the album.  If I have any criticism of the record it might be that, while this first track features obligatory solos from everyone as a way of introducing their voices, it somehow ends up not particularly representing the musical identity of the group.  But that is okay, because 1972 was a time when people seemed to have more time to sit and listen to music and didn’t have to be `hooked` in the first few minutes to stay interested. Patience, my friend.  “When Will It End” has a circular-time thing going apropos of the title, with the bass playing a five-note ascending riff that barely changes over the course of seven minutes.  Chaney switches to electric piano for this one with delicious results.  Speaking of piano, for whatever reason, random association or coincidence, the two compositions by (trumpeter) Frank Gordon remind me a lot of McCoy Tyner

With the exception of special guest Richard Evans, who plays the only electric bass on the record on the funky closer “Brand New Feeling,”  the two members with the broadest pedigree outside the AACM seem to be Steve Galloway and Ken Chaney.  Galloway played with Count Basie in addition to credits on the cult-classic “Funky Skull” album by Melvin Jackson and a respectable number of soul sessions (Jerry Butler, The Dells, The Staples), and Ken Chaney, who among his other accomplishments played on the massive hit “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited.

“Hear, Sense, and Feel” is an immediately accessible, uplifting jazz record.  Their next album, “Mirage,” was a bit funkier and a little bit more “out” as well.

A long time ago I promised to share a whole bunch of stuff from the Black Jazz discography.  Well as the saying goes, promises were meant to be broken.  Anyway this should help ease the pain until I dip back into their catalog again here.