Gary Bartz – Music Is My Sanctuary (1977)

Gary Bartz
Music Is My Sanctuary
Original release 1977, Capitol (ST-11647)

 

01. Music Is My Sanctuary
02. Carnaval de l’esprit
03. Love Ballad
04. Swing Thing
05. Oo Baby Baby
06. Macaroni
 
Produced by Fonce Mizell & Larry Mizell 
Arranged By – Gary Bartz & Larry Mizell
 String Arrangements by Wade Marcus
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer, Vocals – Gary Bartz
    Backing Vocals – Gary Bartz,Larry Mizell, Sigidi, Syreeta Wright
    Bass – Curtis Robertson, Jr., Welton Gite  
    Drums – Howard King, James Gadson, Nate Neblett  
    Guitar – David T. Walker, John Rowin, Juewett Bostick, Wa Wa Watson
     Keyboards – Larry Mizell
    Percussion – Bill Summers, Mtume   
    Piano – George Cables
    Trumpet – Eddie Henderson, Ray Brown
    Vocals – Syreeta Wright
 
 
Co-producers – Gary Bartz & James Carter
Engineer, Recorded By, Mixed By – Jim Nipar
Executive-Producer – Larkin Arnold
Illustration – Michael Bryan
Photography By – Vicki Seabrook-Bartz
Art Direction – Roy Kohara 
This pressing – 2003 Blue Note “Rare Groove Series” – mastered by Ron McMaster
(thanks to Sarge for the EAC rip)

Gary Bartz has been on the short list for “artists I should post more of” since pretty much the first week.  And yet I have done pitifully little about it.  Alas, the story of Flabbergasted Vibes is composed of an endless string of shattered dreams and broken promises.  The Bartz records that most obviously belong here are his NTU Troop efforts (one of which I posted, long ago).  But today I’m going to post something a bit lighter, because there is still a little bit of summer left in the northern hemisphere.

“Music Is My Sanctuary” was the second collaboration between Bartz and the production team of the Mizell Brothers, who were on a dual quest to make dance music more cerebral and cerebral music more danceable, which is my way of saying that they took some very serious jazz heavyweights and helped them put out some of the funkiest, most electric sets of their careers.  In some ways partnering with the Mizells was a natural outgrowth of the work of artists like Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Johnny Hammond and others which dabbled in  hybrid styles like soul jazz, or early-70s CTI jazz-funk.  But in working with these brothers – the Van Dyke Parks and George Martin of jazz-funk and disco-jazz – they were truly diving in deep into waters that had been off limits to “serious” jazz musicians: surrendering one’s sound and aesthetic direction to the sonic thumbprint of a pair of Producer / Arrangers who were the antithesis of transparent in their approach.  Many of the best jazz producers and engineers are known for the purity or elegance with which they let an already-distinctive artist speak through a recording.  The Mizells, on the other hand, were sought after precisely because of their stylizations and aesthetic shaping of the material.  Artists worked with them because they wanted a certain sound.  And Gary Bartz certainly received the full Mizell Treatment here.

“Music Is My Sanctuary” was the second collaboration between Gary Bartz and the Mizells.  The first one, The Shadow Do, is a perfectly okay album but somewhat underwhelming, almost enough to make one think that Bartz had taken a temporary wrong turn. But “Music Is My Sanctuary” is a fully-realized, exemplary work, so it is unsurprising that this is the one that jumps out at everyone and gets remembered.  It doesn’t hurt that the wonderful voice of Syreeta leads the album on the opening title track, where she also sings the word “hypnotical” which I always feel shouldn’t really be a word but the dictionary assures me that it is.  You couldn’t ask for a more upbeat affirmation of one’s chosen profession, and it starts the album off in the right mood.  Later in the record, the intro section of the rather predictably titled “Swing Thing” manage to presage both 90s acid-jazz and hip hop by putting several bars of a straight funk beat behind a walking bass line played on an upright.  The only marginally weak point on the whole record is the somewhat beguiling ‘Ooh Baby’ which is a mostly instrumental cover of the Miracles song.  Syreeta sings a little of the refrain near the beginning, and for a moment I want to hear her launch into the whole thing, but then ultimately I am glad that she doesn’t because I think it would turn pretty schlocky pretty quick.

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The second track (Carnaval de l’esprit ) is a natural centerpiece of the album for me, given its Caribbean slant and Brazilian cuica drum.  It’s ambitiously funky, but it also features one of the technological innovations that the Mizells helped introduce into the music world of the 1970s.  I refer to a certain guitar effect that appears on virtually all their productions (often more prominently than on this track, in fact).  The story goes back to Larry Mizell’s days as an electrical engineer and part of The Corporation production team and session band.  It was on a Motown promotional tour of Europe that Larry met the Jewish-Italian audio engineer (and soon-to-be aspiring Italo-disco producer) Enrico Manchewitz Tagglione.  Enrico had an idea for a guitar effect pedal that would combine a frequency sweep and envelope follower to sonically realize an audio-visual hallucination that had been coming to him with repeated intensity every time he worked on a recording session:  the image of a nude woman or man pouring a molten liquid of some kind – usually chocolate or honey – all over their bodies in slow motion.  He was convinced that he could express this vision musically through some clever circuit design.  After a particularly animated rap session with Mizell into the early morning hours during that tour of Europe, Larry convinced him to really go for it – and, perhaps most importantly, became his first investor on the new invention.  Without even a prototype to show for it yet, they christened it the Honey Licks 2000.

 photo Studio_zpsmi80ymjs.jpg
Gary Bartz, Enrico Manchewitz “Macaroni” Tagglione, and LarryMizell in the studio

When Tagglione finally had a sample model to show Mizell, somewhat less than a year later, he flew to Los Angeles with the only one in existence.  It was a bit on the large side as far as foot pedals went, and he confessed to Mizell that he had considered starting over again with a rack unit sort of like a Roland Space Echo.  But he insisted the Honey Licks 2000 needed tactile, hands-free toe control.  And indeed, the prototype had four footswitch controls labeled Honey, Chocolate, Caramel, and Butter to control the coloration of tone (he would later attempt to add a switch for ‘Strawberry’, but for unexplained reasons it could only play Shuggie Otis songs), and a single “intensity” toggle switch that could be moved with either your foot or finger, and which could be set to low, medium, or “ultra-sweaty.”   The sonic landscape of jazz-funk and the nascent disco sound would never be the same, as dozens of records would come to feature the sparkling ascending-and-descending, slow-motion seduction of honeyed chocolate dripping on naked flesh.    Unfortunately, neither Tagglione or Mizell thought to patent the device, being more enamored with its hynoptical possibilites in the studio and singing its praises to any guitarist or producer who would listen.  The clock ran out on that business opportunity, as knock-off effects pedals began appearing, with names like Honey Dust and Electric Glide.  Sadly, Enrico’s ambitions to become a successful record producer and arranger in the growing Italo-disco scene never took off either, and he became better known as one of the main suppliers of quality cocaine to recording studios and touring musicians.  In fact, the final song on “Music Is My Sanctuary” is usually considered to be an homage to his work in that capacity, as the majority of American musicians working with the Mizells had trouble remembering his name, and had taken to referring to him by term of endearment “Macaroni.”

 

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Harry Whitaker / Black Renaissance – Body, Mind and Spirit (1976)

Black Renaissance
Body, Mind and Spirit

1. Black Renaissance
2. Magic Ritual

Recorded at Sound Ideas, New York, NY (01/15/1976).

Arranger: Harry Whitaker.

Players: Harry Whitaker (piano); Lani Groves, Edna Holt, Sandy Nakarmura, Assata Dolby (vocals); Azar Lawrence (soprano & tenor saxophones); David Schnitter (tenor saxophone); Woody Shaw (trumpet); Buster Williams (bass); Billy Hart, Howard King (drums, percussion); Mtume, Earl Bennett (percussion)

——–

For those of you who have never heard of this album, it will come as a lovely surprise. For those who have heard about it but have yet to actually hear it, it might well seem a bit over-hyped, due in no small part to the douchebaggery of one Giles Peterson, who prattles on in the liner notes about how cool he is for knowing about it and showing it off to any other DJ’s who “dared to challenge” him. Well if you ignore that bloated musical neocolonialist (and snappy dresser), you can immerse yourself in what was truly a lost gem, lost even to its creator for decades.

Recorded on Martin Luther King Day in 1976, Whitaker invested his own hard-earned money as an arranger, writer, and session player into making this boldly uncommercial soul-jazz exercise in musical stretching. It features understated riffing from Azar Lawrence, David Schnitter, and the eternally-underrated Woody Shaw. Anchoring the rhythm is stalwart bassist Buster Williams with Howard King on drums and James Mtume on percussion. These latter two would go on to release the first album from the band Mtume the following year, and it’s interesting to keep that in mind while listening to this. While the first side of this album straddles a line between between mellow funk and spaced-out soul jazz (and is a bit long-winded at 23 minutes), the second and shorter side ‘Magic Ritual’ is a more aggressive, agitated piece of Afrocentric celebration. There is effective use of spoken word here that puts us comfortably in Strata-East and loft scene territory. More industry/label hype is compelled to claim this is “one of the earliest examples of rap” or some such nonsense. How many records are we going to bestow that honor on? At any rate claiming this for an album released as late as 1976 is a ludicrous statement that ignores so many musical ancestors it barely merits discussion. So, I’ll stop discussing it.

Since it is Martin Luther King Day in the United States, and since the next US president is likely to abolish that holiday, this makes today probably the last opportunity to celebrate this album without being locked up and held in indefinite detention without Habeas Corpus.

The sound on the CD is burdened with distortions, but given that the masters were destroyed and the source used here is presumably the Japanese bootleg that until now was the only available release, at the end of the day it sounds surprisingly good.

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password: vibes

Jimmy McGriff – Soul Sugar & Groove Grease (1971)

Jimmy McGriff
Soul Sugar / Goove Grease
Two albums both released 1971 on Groove Merchant
Reissue on Groove Hut Records 2007 (GH66704)
McGriff

1 Sugar Sugar
2 Ain’t It Funky Now
3 Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours
4 Dig on It
5 Bug Out
6 Now Thing
7 You’re the One
8 Fat Cakes
9 New Volume
10 Spirit in the Dark

McGriff

11 Groove Grease
12 Bird
13 Plain Brown Bag
14 There Will Never Be Another You
15 Canadian Sunset
16 Mr Lucky
17 Moonglow
18 Red Sails in the Sunset
19 Secret Love

I think the only way these two records could make me happier is if they opened up with a soul version of “Yummy Yummy Yummy I’ve Got Love in My Tummy.” Since it does not I suppose I can accept “Sugar Sugar” in its place. If this disc was any more fun it would be illegal. Before Jimmy Smith thought of covering pop and soul hits with marvelously funky results, Jimmy McGriff was already laying down cuts to make the jazz purists wince while turning up their erudite noses. McGriff didn’t care and doesn’t seem to have been restrained by such labels, often positioning himself as more of a blues player anyway. I have been meaning to do a post here about another fabulous Groove Merchant disk he did with soul-blues singer Junior Parker that is just amazing. All in good time, even though I’ve been thinking about doing that post for over a year now…

Since a great deal of songs on these two albums are all-instrumental covers of hit songs, you can feel free to use it at your next karaoke party. That is if you are not only prepared to tread the same musical ground as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and Aretha Franklin, but also spar with the infectious chops of Mr. McGriff. My guess is that he will upstage you. But feel free to give it a go.

A glance at the lineup on these two platters may not cause any names to jump out at some of you. But his musicians here all have a pretty impressive pedigree, having played with the likes of Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, Pharoah Sanders, B.B.King, Lonnie Liston Smith, Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, among others and many more. Particularly noteworthy is bassist Richard Davis who just dominates these two albums like the monster he was. He sometimes plays with a phasor enevelope-follower effect on his bass that adds a nice subtle twist to his tone.

Both albums also have fabulously tacky blaxploitation jackets, the better to arouse you with.

Weird side note: according to a friend of mine, the first three tracks of Groove Grease on this reissue are HDCD encoded. Although it’s not uncommon to find HDCD coding on discs that don’t mention it on the packaging, it is somewhat mysterious why they would encode three tracks and stop. I actually have an HDCD player packed away in a storage shed full of audio gear but I am not about to drag it out to verify this. I will take my friend’s word for it, and pass it on to you for what it’s worth.

I think anybody with a pulse will find themselves enjoying this music. And I promise I will have that collaboration with Junior Parker here before the year is out..

McGriff

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Hugh Masekela – Home Is Where the Music Is (1972)

HUGH MASEKELA
Home Is Where The Music Is
Original release 2xLP on Blue Thumb BTS 6003
Reissue 2008 Verve B0011230-02

Part Of A Whole 9:37
Minawa 9:38
The Big Apple 7:52
Unhome 5:20
Maseru 7:12
Inner Crisis 5:52
Blues For Huey 6:26
Nomali 7:20
Maesha 11:49
Ingoo Pow-Pow (Children’s Song) 6:47 Continue reading