Thursday, May 22, 2014

Eddie Harris - Silver Cycles

Still riding high from "Listen Here," Harris really started experimenting here with a dazzlingly eclectic LP that must have left his new fans wondering just who the real Eddie Harris was. There is good old Latinized funk in the opening cuts, "Free at Last" and "1974 Blues," but what was one to make of the next one, "Smoke Signals," with its interplanetary Echoplexed electric sax and ethereal wordless female voices? Then it's on to a long-limbed Coltrane tribute on pianist Jodie Christian's "Naima"-like "Coltrane's View," a wailing cry of raw pain with a huge band of horns, strings and voices ("I'm Gonna Leave You by Yourself"), another avant-garde electronic extravaganza ("Silver Cycles") and...well, you get the point; there's a surprise around every bend. The music is by turns swinging, touching, feverish, detached, nightmarish, and peaceful, bursting with new ideas generated from Harris' plunge into electronics. This album has been unjustly overlooked, probably because Harris was selling a lot of records and getting airplay at the time (a cardinal sin for purists), or perhaps for its free, anything-goes '60s spirit. The sound was always curiously distant on LP and on individual tracks reissued on CD; one wonders if this was due to a damaged or third-hand master tape. - by Richard S. Ginell, AMG

Artist: Eddie Harris
Album. Silver Cycles
Year: 1968
Label: Atlantic (24-bit remastered, 2013)
Runtime: 39:00

1.  Free at Last (Eddie Harris) 3:17
2.  1974 Blues (Eddie Harris) 4:28
3.  Smoke Signals (Eddie Harris) 3:02
4.  Coltrane's View (Jodie Christian)  4:12
5.  I'm Gonna Leave You by Yourself (Eddie Harris) 3:02
6.  Silver Cycles (Eddie Harris/Melvin Jackson) 5:52
7.  Little Bit (Eddie Harris) 5:30
8.  Electric Ballad (Eddie Harris) 2:56
9.  Infrapolations (Eddie Harris) 6:39

Eddie Harris (Tenor Saxophone, Electric Piano, Synthesizer)
Jodie Christian (Piano) - 1,2,4,9
Melvin Jackson (Bass) - 1,2,4,6,9
Richard Smith (Drums) - 1,2,4,9
Seldon Powell (Baritone Saxophone) - 1,2,5,7
Snooky Young (Trumpet) - 2,5,7
Bruno Carr (Drums, Percussion) - 1,5-7
Richard Davis (Double Bass) - 3,5,7
Ernie Royal (Trumpet) - 1,5,7
Billy Hart (Drums) - 3,5,7
Haywood Henry (Baritone Saxophone) - 5,7
Monk Montgomery (Bass Guitar) - 5,7
Joe Newman (Trumpet) - 1,2
Benny Powell (Trombone) - 1,2
Marcelino Valdez (Drums, Percussion) - 1,6
Phil Bodner (Clarinet, Flute, Oboe) - 5,7
Joe Zawinul (Piano) - 5,7
Bernie Glow (Trumpet) - 1
Melvin Lastie (Trumpet) - 2
Eileen Gilbert (Vocals) - 3,5
Melba Moore (Vocals) - 3,5
Valerie Simpson (Vocals) - 3,5
Maretha Stewart (Vocals) - 3,5

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Yusef Lateef - The Gentle Giant

Yusef Lateef's music from the early '70s commands large doses of both appeal and skepticism. At a time when funk and fusion were merging with the intensely volatile and distrustful mood of the U.S., Lateef's brand of Detroit soul garnered new fans, and turned away those who preferred his earlier hard bop jazz or world music innovations. Thus The Gentle Giant is an appropriate title, as Lateef's levitational flute looms large over the rhythm & blues beats central to the equation. Kenny Barron's Fender Rhodes electric piano is also a sign of the times, an entry point introducing him to the contemporary jazz scene, and on that point alone is historically relevant. The post-Bitches Brew, pre-Weather Report/Headhunters time period is to be considered, and how this music put Lateef in many respects to the forefront of the movement. While inconsistent and at times uneven, there's more to praise than damn in the grooves and unique musicianship he offers with this small ensemble of focused and singular-minded players. At once funky and cool, Barron's "Nubian Lady" sets the tone out of the gate, the tune totally trumping Herbie Mann's Memphis Underground/Push Push style. The similar-sounding "Jungle Plum" is more danceable, simpler, and less attractive. While "Aftican Song" is also in this vein, it is less about the continent in the title as it is reflective of the era, and a slower number. Perhaps that actual title and the sleigh bell-driven "Below Yellow Bell" could have been reversed, for it is more Afrocentric, with Lateef's wordless vocal counterpoint closer to sounds of the savanna over a baroque rhythm & blues. "Hey Jude," under-produced to the point of inaudibility at the outset (the caveat given is "do not adjust the playback level on your audio equipment, readjust your mind"), busts out on the incessantly repeated "na na" chorus with the Sweet Inspirations doing the honors. The other tracks lay low, as Lateef and Al "Tootie" Heath's flutes and Kermit Moore's cello go into late-night mode for "Lowland Lullabye," "The Poor Fisherman" explores the leader's interest in Asian sounds with call and response, and "Queen of the Night" is a two-minute shortie with Eric Gale's modulated guitar mixing up meters of 4/4 and 3/4 in a slightly macabre way. This recording was produced in the middle of Lateef's commercial crossroads phase that started with the Atlantic label issue Yusef Lateef's Detroit in 1969 and ended in 1977 with the CTI release Autophysiopsychic. Though these tracks are potent reminders of how jazz was willfully being manipulated by the record companies -- Creed Taylor in particular -- this album is clear evidence of how great a musician Yusef Lateef was, but not in the context of his best music. - by Michael G. Nastos, AMG

Artist: Yusef Lateef
Album: The Gentle Giant
Year: 1972 (Warner)
Label: WEA Japan (24bit remastered, 2013)
Runtime: 37:34

1.  Nubian Lady (Kenneth Barron) 6:37
2.  Lowland Lullabye (Traditional) 2:23
3.  Hey Jude (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) 9:03
4.  Jungle Plum (Kenneth Barron) 4:34
5.  The Poor Fishermen (Yusef Lateef) 3:41
6.  African Song (Kenneth Barron) 3:50
7.  Queen of the Night (Yusef Lateef) 2:13
8.  Below Yellow Bell (Yusef Lateef) 5:09

Yusef Lateef (Flute, Tenor Saxophone, Bamboo Flute, Oboe)
Ray Bryant (Piano, Electric Piano) - 1,4,6,8
Kenneth Barron (Electric Piano, Piano) - 1,4,6,8
Sam Jones (Double Bass) - 1,4,6,8
Bob Cunningham (Double Bass) - 1,4,6,8
Bill Salter (Bass Guitar) - 1,4,6,8
Kuumba "Tootie" Heath (Drums, Flute) - 1,2,4-6,8
Ladzi Cammara (Percussion) - 1,4,6,8
Eric Gale (Guitar) - 3,7
Chuck Rainey (Double Bass) - 3,7
Jimmy Johnson (Drums) - 3,7
Kermit Moore (Cello) - 2
Neal Boyer (Vibraphone, Chimes) - 3
The Sweet Inspirations (Choir) - 3

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hank Crawford - Mr. Blues

When Ray Charles' musical director has the words "blues" and "soul" in large type on the covers of his own releases, there's a strong chance that's what the listener will find inside. They're definitely there in this compilation that reissues two of altoist Hank Crawford's Atlantic albums from the late '60s. The Mr. Blues set from 1968 is Crawford and a small horn section playing rocking blues riffs with a crack rhythm section. Instrumental R&B doesn't get much hipper. Crawford's tough but lyrical sound -- informed by a bebopper's command and facility -- is tailor-made for this blues-charged music. Highlights include the title track, a cool, finger-popping "Route 66," a sleazy, churning "Lonely Avenue," and a couple of no-nonsense Crawford originals. A middle-of-the road "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)" is the only departure from the set's satisfyingly gritty feel. - by Jim Todd, AMG

Artist: Hank Crawford
Album: Mr. Blues
Year: 1965-66
Label: WEA Japan (2013, 24 bit remastered)
Runtime: 33:03

1.  Mr. Blues (Hank Crawford) 3:48
2.  On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever) (Alan Jay Lerner/Burton Lane) 3:40
3.  Hush Puppies (Hank Crawford) 3:07
4.  Danger Zone (Percy Mayfield) 4:15
5.  Route 66 (Bob Troup) 3:28
6.  Lonely Avenue (Doc Pomus) 3:06
7.  Teardrops (Sylvester Thompson/Seaphus Scott) 3:32
8.  Smoke City (Hank Crawford) 3:52
9.  The Turfer (Hank Crawford) 4:15

Hank Crawford (Alto Saxophone, Piano)
Fielder Floyd (Trumpet)
John Hunt (Trumpet)
Wendell Harrison (Tenor Saxophone)
Sonny Forriest (Guitar) - 1,2,4,6,7
Lonnie Shaw (Baritone Saxophone) - 1,3,5,7,8
Howard Johnson (Baritone Saxophone) - 4,6,9
Charles Green (Double Bass) - 1-3,5,7,8
Charles Lindsay (Double Bass) - 6,9
Charles Dungey (Double Bass) - 4
Milt Turner (Drums) - 5,7,8
Wilbert Hogan (Drums) - 3,6,9
Isaac Walton (Drums) - 1,2
Joe Dukes (Drums) - 4


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