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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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.

Michael White – Spirit Dance / Pneuma (1972)

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Michael White

SPIRIT DANCE
Impulse! – AS-9215  1972

A1 Spirit Dance
A2 The Tenth Pyramid
A3 John Coltrane Was Here
A4 Ballad For Mother Frankie White
B1 Samba  
B2 Unlocking The Twelfth House
B3 Praise Innocence

   Bass – Ray Drummond
   Percussion, Flute [Bamboo], Vocals – Baba Omson
   Piano – Ed Kelly
   Producer, Photography – Ed Michel
   Violin, Vocals – Michael White
   Vocals – Makeda , Wanika King

   Engineers – Ken Hopkins, Rick Stanley
   Mixed By – Baker Bigsby  
   Artwork and Photography – Philip Melnick

 

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PNEUMA
Impulse! AS-9221

Pneuma (Part 1) 5:16
Pneuma (Part 2) 4:57
Pneuma (Part 3) 4:11
Pneuma (Part 4) 4:13
Pneuma (Part 5) 1:52
Ebony Plaza 9:18
Journey Of The Black Star 2:53
The Blessing Song 6:25

   Bass – Ray Drummond
Engineer – Baker Bigsby
Percussion – Kenneth Nash
Piano – Edwin Kelly
Producer – Ed Michel
Violin – Michael White (2)
Vocals – D. Jean Skinner, Faye Kelly, Joyce Walker, Leola Sharp

If you are a person for whom jazz violin is an acquired taste, then the notion of “free jazz violin” will probably send you running or at least reaching for the earplugs.  I confess that I am personally still grappling with the finer nuances of Leroy Jenkins and occasionally undergo a self-imposed “music appreciation course” at my house featuring his recordings.  So you could say I appreciate the fact that Michael White’s music is not nearly as abrasive as Jenkins and in fact often crosses over into the downright accessible and melodic.  White has a lengthy resume that includes sideman gigs with people as diverse as John Handy and Sun Ra, but it was his electric proto-jazz-rock band The Fourth Way that led me to seek out these two albums.   Well neither “Spirit Dance” or “Pneuma” sound anything like The Fourth Way but if I felt any disappointment at that discovery, it didn’t last long.  These are both excellent records.

Initially the listener is likely to be struck by what the records lack as opposed to what they offer – the absence of any horns whatsoever, as well as a traditional trap drum kit.  The versatile percussionists  (Baba Omsun for “Spirit Dance,” Ken Nash for “Pneuma”) manage to let you hardly miss the drums, and as for lack of reed or brass instruments.. well you’ll just have to deal with it, because the tonal palette is a bit thin in the upper register at times.  The upside is that when he lost the horn charts, White gained not only a unique sound but also the flexibility that makes his avant-garde and free jazz flourishes more focused.  Considering the technical designation of the piano as a percussion instrument, Michael White is often the only voice here that isn’t in the rhythm section, which liberates him to switch between riffing on melodies and freaking out at will.  The stuff stays grounded, though – there are quite a few shortish compositions with audible roots in blues and gospel, and the group often leans more towards modal jazz than free jazz.  Note the very brief use of an overdubbed violin at the end of the first track “Spirit Dance” here, too.  The turgid tabla of The Tenth Pyramid reminds me of the few months that I took tabla lessons – is this in tintal? – but it only lasts for four minutes so if sloppy faux-Indian jazz annoys you then at least your suffering will be brief.  “John Coltrane Was Here,” besides having a great smile-inducing title for a tribute to the late deity, is a lovely modal piece with the almost requisite quotations from ‘A Love Supreme.’ It satisfies your nagging curiosity about what a violin-jazz invocation of Coltrane’s spiritual vision would sound like.  Now that you know, you can finally sleep at night.  Again there is judicious use of overdubbing – is this cheating?  I’m not keeping score so I’ll let it slide.  Another interesting piece here is the unimaginatively titled “Samba,” which may leave you scratching your head until you hear the congas and the electric bass guitar whose notes accent the downbeat where the surdo drum would be.  The abstract  sandbox of “Unlocking The Twelth House” is a great closer for the album.  Unfortunately it doesn’t actually end the record, but since I usually just skip over the last track, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – this is a great way to end the record.   However if atonal wordless vocals sung by children are your thing, by all means crank up “Praise Innocence.”  After all you may have been hoping to annoy your neighbors with this album, and up until now you may have not succeeded.  This ought to do it.

I usually don’t listen to the two records included on this disc back to back, in order to “maximize their efficacy” or something like that.  While “Spirit Dance” manages to keep things fun, “Pneuma” actually ranks a bit higher for me.  It may be a bit more sombre but it also seems more fully-realized, like he went into the studio with a more single-minded approach to make a statement, as opposed to recording a collection of pieces.  The original first side of the LP is comprised entirely of the “Pneuma” suite.  For a spiritual jazz homage to the breath of life, it actually boasts a pretty traditional jazz arrangement, with each instrument getting equal time to lead the group after the primordial swells and slow, sustained crescendos of the opening. First White’s violin, then the bass (acoustic this time, which is a welcome choice), then piano, and finally percussion before wrapping the whole thing up.  It’s pretty brilliant and if you are only going to listen to one “side” of this two-on-one release, I would pick this one.  The second half of “Pneuma” is just as impressive, with the additional textures of vocal arrangements on “Journey of the Black Star” and “The Blessing Song.”  The latter is just downright catchy and merits a place on a compilation of that ill-defined ‘genre’ referred to as “spiritual jazz.”  It’s a beautiful and sweet resolution to the little musical journey Mr. White takes us on, which is one where his intensity is balanced by warmth that is often missing from these styles of jazz.  Solid stuff.  And check out The Fourth Way if you don’t know them.

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Roy Ayers Ubiquity – He's Coming (1972) Verve 2009

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Roy Ayers Ubiquity
HE’S COMING
Released 1972 (Polydor PD 5022)
This REISSUE, DATE UNKNOWN

1 He’s A Superstar 5:35
2 He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother 4:04
3 Ain’t Got Time 2:53
4 I Don’t Know How To Love Him 4:02
5 He’s Coming 6:20
6 We Live In Brooklyn Baby 3:43
7 Sweet Butterfly Of Love / Sweet Tears 5:20
9 Fire Weaver 3:40

Arranged By – Harry Whitaker, Roy Ayers
Backing Vocals – Carol Smiley, Gloria Jones, Victoria Hospedale
Bass – John Williams (8) (tracks: 1 to 5, 7 to 9), Ron Carter (tracks: 6)
Congas – Jumma Santos
Drums – David Lee, Jr.
Drums, Percussion – Billy Cobham
Electric Piano, Organ, Vocals – Harry Whitaker
Guitar – Bob Fusco (tracks: 6), Sam Brown (2) (tracks: 1 to 5, 7 to 9)
Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Sonny Fortune
Strings – Selwart Clarke
Vibraphone, Organ, Vocals – Roy Ayers

Producer – Ed Kolis (tracks: 6), Myrnaleah Williams
Engineer – Rudy Van Gelder
——————————-

This is probably the least ubiquitous of the Roy Ayers Ubiquity albums. Much raw than later efforts, and pretty trippy with a Jesus-freak vibe saturating a lot of the tunes It’s not really a concept album, though, but almost. It includes a cover of a tune from Jesus Christ Superstar (“I Don’t Know How To Love Him”) and the famous Hollies tune “He’s Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” which has been covered by seemingly everyone since it was first recorded, including Cher the year before Ayers. But Donny Hathaway also recorded in 1971, and I’d like to think Roy and Co. were listening to Donny and not Cher when they thought of this arrangement. Keyboardist Harry Whitaker also arranges two songs, including his own “We Live In Brooklyn Baby” which is the strongest, leanest, and song on the album.

And oh yeah, Billy Cobham is pounding the skins on this album. He is playing in stealth mode, however, almost hard to believe he had just joined up with the bombastic Mahavishnu Orchestra or that his own over-the-top ‘Spectrum’ was in the works. Here, he behaves himself. The whole records alternating frantic-mellow dynamic is a welcome holiday-season elixir, and the title track features dueling-keyboard work from Whitaker and Ayers that is undelicately precious.



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Doug Carn – Infant Eyes (1971)

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Doug Carn
“Infant Eyes”
Released 1971 on Black Jazz Records (BJ/3)

Welcome 1:15
Little B’s Poem 3:50
Moon Child 7:56
Infant Eyes 9:50
Passion Dance 5:58
Acknowledgement 8:45
Peace 4:30

Doug Carn – piano, electric Piano, organ
Jean Carn – vocals
Bob Frazier – flugelhorn, trumpet
George Harper – flute, tenor, saxophone
Al Hall Jr. – trombone, trombone
Henry Franklin – bass
Michael Carvin – drums

Produced by Gene Russell

Although he recorded a 1969 album in a trio setting for Savoy (which I’ve never heard), Doug Carn is of course most famous for his relationship with the independent Black Jazz label. His albums on that imprint may be single-handedly responsible for the label’s canonical status in Afrocentric spiritual jazz. They are remarkable for many reasons, not least of which is the presence of innovative lyrics sung by his then-wife Jean Carn, who not unlike Abbey Lincoln used her voice as part of the ensemble arrangements rather than as a vocalist with a backup band. The communal family vibe is accentuated by the beautiful album cover photography and the opening tune Little B’s Poem; together with the cover photo, I feel like I knew their daughter and wonder where she is now and how she feels about all the musical attention today. While the following albums from the Doug and Jean Carn would push further with original material, this first album is noteworthy for it’s reworking of compositions by jazz heavyweights that they admired – Bobby Hutcherson, Horace Silver, Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and Wayne Shorter. In particular, adding lyrics to that material and making the compositions into something else is the big achievement here.

I have a repress vinyl of this that sounds pretty good and began to mess around with a digital rip of it, but am unsure whether or not to keep working on it. This CD pressing from 1997 sounds okay but the second side (of the original LP) suffers from nasty wow and flutter from whatever source tape they used. This was the first appearance of this album on CD and I am not sure if there has been any other remastered versions since, but I kind of doubt it. In fact last year somebody claiming to have a set of Black Jazz master tapes was selling the whole bundle on Craig’s List for a hefty sum; the auction was dubious as they were comprised of 1/2″ reels, which even for a studio on a budget in the early 70s would have been a substandard format, and claimed to come with full reproduction rights. Most likely the reels were production copies or just plain counterfeit, the listing was not online long before it was either met with an offer or taken down. Hopefully that doesn’t mean that we’ll be seeing a new series of reissues mastered from 1/2-inch tape.. Unfortunately a few of the other extant Doug Carn reissues have the same wow-and-flutter problem. Badly stored tapes, damaged playback equipment, sloppy transferring, or all of the above, it doesn’t really matter – the end result is that this precious, important music hasn’t received the treatment that it merits. But the most important thing is that it is still available and people can hear it. Since the reissued vinyls were most certainly just the CD master with an R$AA equalization curve applied, there isn’t much point in having both versions except for purely fetishistic reasons. Unless I can manage to get my hands on original vinyl pressings, they are however all we’ve got..

The liner notes by Doug Carn are a treasure. Written just for the reissue, they have a remarkable amount of detailed recollections for being composed more than thirty years after the recordings, showing just what a special time this was for everyone involved. While this is not my favorite of the Carn albums on Black Jazz, it is unique and on its own it is a great record. The title cut, which according to the notes was the first fruits of Doug’s experience with writing lyrics to other peoples’ music, stands out as the most fully realized work here.

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Juju – Chapter Two: Nia (1974) Strata- East – Black Fire 24/96khz vinyl

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JuJu – Chapter Two: Nia

Originally released on
Strata-East – SES-7420 in 1974
This repressing, Black Fire Records (date unknown)

To find peace, you must BE it.
– Ngoma Ya Uhuru, “Complete the Circle”

1 Introduction 2:40
2 Contradiction (For Thulani) 5:10
3 Black Experience 3:44
4 Nia (Poem: Complete The Circle) 8:36
5 The End Of The Butterfly King (Poem: Things Comin’ Along) 6:10
6 Black Unity 15:58

Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Percussion – Plunky Nkabinde
Bells, Vocals,Poetry – Ngoma Ya Uhuru
Congas – Simbo
Drums, Congas, Whistle – Babatunde
Electric Bass – Phil Branch
Piano, Shekere, Percussion – Al-Hammel Rasul
Vibraphone, Percussion – Lon Moshe

Engineer – Tom Williams
Liner Notes – Thulani Nkabinde

Arranged by Plunky Nkabinde
Art Direction, Photography, Layout – Collis Davis

Recorded June, 1974 at Eastern Recording Studios, Richmond, Virginia

Video Playback Equipment: Center For Puerto Rican Studies, New York City
—————————

Video playback equipment?? I wish I know what that was all about. Presumably it involved some heady stuff at the The East, the collectively-run tiny jazz club / pedagogical outreach / Afrocentricity home base for so much great music that ended up released on the associated Strata-East record label. (The Center for PR Studies was and still is part of Hunter College and linked to the CUNY system).

“JUJU” was the name of the ensemble that would become the funk-jazz-fusion outfit known as ‘Oneness of Juju’. Their first two albums were made for the famed Strata-East label. The first one dipping from the well of free jazz outfits like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, while this album goes further into Afro-centric themes with layers and layers of percussion, a few unrelentingly-groove-based compositions, and poetry over a couple tunes, very much in the spirit of early 70s spiritual-jazz sociopolitical-revolutionary-love and political fire music. Their take on Pharaoh Sanders ‘Black Unity’ is frenzied — two electric bass guitars giving it a heavy fusion sound (although they are the only electric instruments featured). Drummer ‘Babatunde’ definitely has jazz chops but sometimes he sounds like Billy Cobham on on a tight budget, something about the way he tunes his kit and his heavy hands. The couple of drum solos he takes are a little weird to my ears but when all the rest of the percussionists kick in it starts to gel very nicely. You can actually hear the band transitioning from the more free-jazz, heavily AEoC-inspired first album to their leaner jazz-funk identify as Oneness of Juju, with this album acting as a spiritual bridge between them. The radical spaces created around The East saturate this album, and if anyone needed convincing that those messages are still relevant they need only open a newspaper or look out in the streets.

“A new day is coming. A new day is here. Seize the time … everything comes in time… I don’t believe in time. Only change. Change the time. It’s ours now brothers, sisters. It’s ours now if we use it. There is no time. Only rhythm and change. There is no time, only rhythm and change. Only change. Only change. Change.”

These Black Fire vinyl repressings are, like so many vinyl repressings, a bit inconsistent. You will definitely notice the surface noise in some of the quiet passages , which there is no way of removing without leaving digital artifacts much more offensive to the ear. But the majority of the album has the band playing fairly loud, and so the surface noise really doesn’t bother me much. If it bothers you, I’ll be happy to refund your money.

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