Jazz

Larry Coryell “Barefoot Boy” (Flying Dutchman, 1971)

From 1969 to 1975, guitar virtuoso Larry Coryell had a phenomenal run of solo albums for prestigious labels such as Vanguard, Flying Dutchman, and Arista. (His date with German avant-jazz keyboardist Wolfgang Dauner on Et Cetera’s Knirsch LP is essential, too.) During this time, Coryell was challenging hotshots such as John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, Pete Cosey, Ray Russell, and John Abercrombie for jazz-rock-guitar supremacy.

Of all the great recordings Coryell cut in that golden period, Barefoot Boy may be the strongest. At points, it predates the fury and finesse of Miles Davis’ On The Corner by about a year. In 1969, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau called Coryell “the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since stretched gut,” and for a change, I agree with him.

Recorded at New York’s Electric Lady Studios and produced by Flying Dutchman label owner Bob Thiele, Barefoot Boy charges out of the gate as if ablaze. Coryell and company radically intensify Gábor Szabó’s “Gypsy Queen” to nearly 12 minutes, forging thrumming, seething jazz rock over which saxophonist Steve Marcus breathes rococo fire while Coryell unleashes a Hendrixian vernacular on guitar: scultped feedback, fleet wah-wah riffs, divebombs. The rhythm’s monomaniacally repetitive and robust, thanks to Roy Haynes’ drumming and Lawrence Killian’s conga. Surely, Mr. Szabó was impressed.

It may take a while to catch your breath after that, but hurry, because “The Great Escape” is gonna make you move some more. It’s a brazen funk cut redolent of the torqued tension of Axis: Bold As Love and On The Corner, with Haynes’ clanging cymbal work accentuating the roiling rhythm. Coryell goes into hyperdrive with thick, corrugated riffs and mercurial, pointillistic runs while Mervin Bronson’s bass line churns lubriciously. Icing this groovy cake, Marcus gets off a Wayne Shorter-esque solo of concise brilliance. Was Miles taking notes?

The 20-minute “Call To The Higher Consciousness” begins with an uplifting fanfare not unlike the one in Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” with Mike Mandel’s piano emulating the rolling bliss of Lonnie Liston Smith’s. Marcus takes the lead in the early stages, blowing golden arabesques over a lovely, loping rhythm. Eventually, Coryell emits a flurry of crystalline notes that ripple with mind-boggling fluency. There’s room for everyone to take a solo in this sidelong journey, including Mandel’s gorgeous shower of high-pitched chords and Haynes’ nimble and rugged drum workout. When the group barge back in, they spew a geyser of spiritual-jazz euphoria akin to that heard on Alice Coltrane and Carlos Santana’s Illuminations. After several bursts of febrile joy, the song downshifts into subdued mode in the last few minutes.

Although rarely touted as such, Barefoot Boy belongs in the fusion pantheon, with your Spectrums, your Emergency!s, your Birds Of Fires, etc. -Buckley Mayfield

Harvey Mandel “The Snake” (Janus, 1972)

The fact that you often see Harvey Mandel’s albums in the used bins is yet more proof that the world’s full of fools. The Detroit-born blues-rock musician is a guitarist’s guitarist who played with some of the best blues-rock musicians of the ’60s (Canned Heat, John Mayall, Charlie Musselwhite) and was thisclose to joining the Rolling Stones. You can hear Mandel auditioning for the slot given to Ron Wood on 1976’s Black And Blue, on which Harv knocked it out of the park on “Hot Stuff” and “Memory Motel.” I can’t be the only one who thought Mick and Keef blundered with their pick (pun intended).

Anyway, Mandel’s string of albums from the late ’60s to the mid ’70s is strong, with The Snake being its peak. Right from go, “The Divining Rod” alerts you to Mandel’s six-string mastery, with its dynamic, swerving rock powered by righteous cowbell. He wrings serpentine, silvery lines of dazzling intricacy and elasticity, and you can tell Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood was listening intently. The zig-zagging, Gábor Szabó-esque jazzadelia of “Pegasus” assumes a Romani tinge thanks to Don “Sugarcane” Harris’ spirited violin coloration. As for “Peruvian Flake,” I learned from the Urban Dictionary that the title’s a slang term for cocaine, so it’s apropos that this song’s quicksilver rock of mind-boggling technical proficiency. It’s kind of shocking that Steely Dan didn’t hire Mandel after this came out.

Some other highlights include “Ode To The Owl,” a moving blues-rock solo guitar tribute to Canned Heat’s Alan Wilson, who died in 1970 at the tragically young age of 27 and “Levitation,” whose sly jazz rock is elevated by Charles Lloyd’s flute, Freddie Roulette’s sublime, pointillistic steel guitar solo, and Kevin Burton’s flamboyant soul-jazz organ solo. My fave cut is “The Snake” (a slightly less sublime and psychedelic version appeared on Mandel’s 1968 debut LP, Christo Redentor). This might be the coolest, most funkadelic track in Mandel’s canon, and as I’ve discovered as a DJ, it segues very well into Herbie Hancock’s “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” Mandel saved the fieriest for the last with “Bite The Electric Eel.” This is a fried blues-rock jam that can hold its own with Peter Green’s The End Of The Game. The song’s full of staggering showboating, but there’s nothing at all annoying about it.

I paid $1 for my used copy of The Snake, but as it’s the zenith of one of America’s most virtuosic and tone-smart blues-rock guitarists, the album’s worth at least 30 times that. Hot stuff, indeed. -Buckley Mayfield

Gong “You” (Virgin, 1973)

Led by guitarist/vocalist Daevid Allen and singer Gilli Smyth, Gong perfectly threaded the needle between prog rock and psychedelia during their early-/mid-’70s peak. The group’s ability to blend the whimsical, the absurd, and the cosmic culminated in their Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy: Flying Teapot (1973), Angel’s Egg (1973), and You (1974). Composed of British and French musicians, Gong combined some of the most interesting traits of both countries’ progressive scenes, creating fetching melodies, funky and jazzy grooves, and deep space excursions. One can hear these elements and more coalesce into a stunning zenith on You.

The album flows like a brilliant DJ set on purest LSD. After two short, inconsequential pieces of goofy space-out and zany prog shenanigans, You really kicks into gear with “Magick Mother Invocation.” With its gong hit, calming “om”s, Smyth’s beatific sighs, and Tim Blake’s arcing, lysergic synth ripples, the song creates the sensation of flipping end over end in space. And how often does that happen?

This heavenly drift sets the scene for “Master Builder”; everything’s been, uh, building to this masterpiece. It’s a tom-tom-heavy astral-jazz-funk mega jam of monumental dimensions, with Allen’s Leslie-speakered vocals adding tasty frosting. Drummer Pierre Moerlen, bassist Mike Howlett, guitarist Steve Hillage, synthesist Blake, and saxophonist Didier Malherbe are all on peak form. A flaming wig-out for the ages, “Master Builder” makes you feel as if you’re on all of the drugs at once. The beneficent comedown after that mindfuck is “A Sprinkling Of Clouds,” a methodical, burbling-synth explosion. This one merely makes you feel as if you’re on most of the drugs and foreshadows chillout-room ambient music by about 16 years, before the beats and bass lines start punching out the stars and the music starts to emulate early Pink Floyd in their most aggressively extraterrestrial zones. An abrupt mood shift occurs on “Perfect Mystery,” which twirls into jaunty, Zappa-esque prog territory, as Allen and Smyth natter on about “cops at the door” and “octave doctors” and “middle eyes.” The xylophone work here is bonkers.

Side 2 goes deep, y’all. One of Gong’s most adventurous tracks, the 10-plus-minute “The Isle Of Everywhere” is totally devoid of the wackiness that occasionally mars their music. Smyth’s opiated chants and murmurs intertwine with Blake’s synths while Howlett’s and Moerlen’s suavely funky groove never stops ascending. Malherbe’s sax solo is one of the most flavorful and sophisticated in rock annals; Hillage’s guitar solo is a serpentine wonder that would make Larry Coryell and Peter Green jealous. I’m high as fuck just listening to this on my headphones on a Tuesday night in the middle of a pandemic.

You Never Blow Your Trip Forever” is a jolly continuation of “Isle”’s interstellar trek. Allen jibber-jabbers as if he’s auditioning for Monty Python’s Flying Circus before settling into more conventional space-rock vocal mode. The band locks into a centrifugal groove that morphs into a zonked waltz, then downshifts into a “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” creep, filigreed with poignant, trilling flute. Contrary to the title, I think I did blow my trip forever.

In the end, Gong are You, and you are Gong. -Buckley Mayfield

Pharoah Sanders “Karma” (Impulse!, 1969)

Karma is the Sgt. Pepper’s of spiritual jazz, in that it appeals to both the public and critics on a large scale. Dominated by the nearly 33-minute “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” the album has become a totem of transcendental music, at once approachable and challenging in a rare way. Consider it the ambitious offspring of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme—maybe even the student who ends up surpassing his mentor.

“The Creator Has A Master Plan” starts with a glorious two-minute fanfare, putting the listener on tenterhooks. Then Reggie Workman fingers the immortal bass line that emulates Jimmy Garrison’s in Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement”; it’s like a trampoline for your soul. Add in Nathaniel Bettis’ shakers and belltrees, James Spaulding’s flute, and Sanders’ saxophone calligraphy (ranging from gently poignant to catastrophically raspy) and you have the beginnings of a momentous trip. When Leon Thomas brings in his sly “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah”s, you sense things are going to rise to another level. They do.

With his heartfelt lyrics, Thomas outlines the Creator’s basic yet essential blueprint for peace and happiness through all the land, and then embellishes those salubrious words with a series of acrobatic scats and yodels that articulate the song’s theme even more powerfully. Leon truly has too much soul for one body.

The track attains a chaotic peak a bit before the halfway point and then again near 20 minutes; both passages sound like the painful birth of planets that are superior to Earth—and the cries of a panicking elephant herd. They truly are some of the wildest and most transcendent moments in jazz. The last few minutes return to the opening section’s see-sawing bass line, trilling flute, and shiver-inducing belltree/shaker action. Thomas lets off some of his most sublime ululations and hums. He repeats the chorus to the fadeout. You sit there stunned, your life changed forever for the better. Lord—if you’re there—have mercy.

The cumulative effect of “The Creator” is to convince even the most hardcore atheist that just maybe there’s a shred of a chance that the universe is overseen by some god-like authority who has humanity’s best interests at heart. It’s a potent sonic fantasy, for sure. Sanders, Thomas, and company possess the power to make you believe, against your rational mind.

“Colors” has a hard act to follow, but it’s a beauty, too. Undoubtedly, its air of languorous resolution surely influenced Don Cherry’s “Isla (The Sapphic Sleep)” in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. “Colors” features Thomas’ tender paean to Mother Nature, embroidered by Lonnie Liston Smith’s cascading piano, Leon Thomas’ shower of metallic percussion, and Sanders’ swooning sax motifs. After the momentous ebbs and flows of “The Creator,” “Colors” provides a soothing comedown.

A cornucopia of tantalizing textures and heart-searing melodies, Karma is as essential as the oxygen you breathe and that Pharoah’s blowing through his instrument. -Buckley Mayfield

The Headhunters “Survival Of The Fittest” (Arista, 1975)

It’s baffling how certain albums of unimpeachable greatness don’t enter the canon—and even more puzzling, how they remain available for reasonable prices in used bins. One such record is Survival Of The Fittest by Herbie Hancock’s early-’70s group. Free of their leader (who co-produces the LP), the Headhunters let their funk freak flag fly ridiculously high, and the results are stunning.

You know you’re in for a scorching ride as soon opener “God Make Me Funky” starts. It boasts one of the most famous, stripped-down funky breaks ever; no wonder it’s been sampled about 300 times. When DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight’s sly, warped guitar and Paul Jackson’s unstinting bass creep their way in, your libido skyrockets. After this, vocalist Bill Summers’ line, “God can give you anything want and you can do anything you want. God make me funky!” seems totally plausible. Later, Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet solo is a wonder of economical ecstasy. Then near the end, things get hectic and chaotic, with the Pointers Sisters’ chorus of “anything you want!” culminating in a soul-jazz bacchanal. Jesus, how do you follow up such a burner?

It ain’t easy, but the Headhunters do keep the greatness flowing, if not at quite as lofty a level. With “Mugic,” they embark on an Afrocentric spiritual-jazz trip with looped flute, deeply earthy hand drums, and sonorous chants. It builds in intensity, with a monomaniacal, minimalist bass line and slamming congas igniting serious rhythmic heat. “Here And Now” offers a meditative reverie, featuring Joyce Jackson’s blissful flute sighs, but the track gradually shifts into a fleet jazz-funk charge akin to Julian Priester’s Love, Love, but in double time. Our man Maupin gets off an absolutely strafing sax solo.

We’re back to the libidinous funk on “Daffy’s Dance,” with McKnight’s lean, chikka-wah guitar, Jackson’s pimp-struttin’ bass, and Clark’s shuffling, hip-swiveling beats contrasting wonderfully with Maupin’s soaring sax and belafon tinkles. A bizarrely tuned wind instrument’s melody periodically arises from the funky turbulence like an alien mating call before the song inevitably cascades into a controlled frenzy, which is this album’s trademark. “Rima” is the most intriguing work here—a low-key fever dream of Joyce Jackson’s alto flute wisps, Paul Jackson’s suspenseful bass plunges, McKnight’s Pete Cosey-esque guitar squalls, and Maupin’s woozy bass clarinet.

Album-closer “If You’ve Got It, You’ll Get It” is a relentless avalanche of complex funk. The intro with berimbau and other exotic percussion toys builds anticipation and then WHOMP. In come the wonky bass clarinet and flanged guitar chatter, as Jackson and Clark find a pocket that’s both tight and expansive. McKnight gets off a searing, snaking guitar solo worthy of early-’70s Funkadelic (he would join Parliament-Funkadelic in 1978). “If You’ve Got It” is easily the equal of anything on Herbie Hancock’s Thrust, Man-Child, or Head Hunters. It’s a monumental conclusion to a canonical funk document. Most people just don’t realize it yet. -Buckley Mayfield

Yusef Lateef “The Gentle Giant” (Atlantic, 1972)

I’m by no means an expert of Yusef Lateef’s music, having listened to only a half dozen of his 60 or so albums. But of what I’ve heard, I find The Gentle Giant to be the most satisfying from start to finish. Please allow me to explain.

Have you ever heard “Nubian Lady”? Now this is how you start an album. Lateef transforms the Kenneth Barron composition into one of the most tranquil and seductive funk jams ever to caress your erogenous zones, thanks mainly to Yusef’s mellow, mellifluous flute and the languidly groovy interplay between three bassists and drummer Albert Heath. I play this track in DJ sets when I want to help everyone in the club/bar get laid. Note: If you can’t woo somebody to “Nubian Lady,” you may want to reassess your whole approach to mating.

The rest of side 1 goes on some interesting tangents from that heady opener. “Lowland Lullabye” is a melancholy flute and cello duet that induces special feelings and “Hey Jude” is that world-historical Lennon-McCartney hit, obviously. As I’ve mentioned before, it was the law in the early ’70s for major jazz artists to cover Beatles songs, and “Hey Jude” may have been the most covered of them all. Which is cool, because it’s a splendid ballad with one of the most uplifting codas ever conceived. Here, Lateef builds it from near inaudibility to roaring climax in the space of nine minutes, beginning with oboe, guitar, and vibes to outline the main melody. As the Sweet Inspirations provide distant, soulful backing vocals (such glorious “NA NA NA NAAAAS”), the band gradually gradually accelerates and intensifies the sound into a veritable Mardi Gras of clangorous chimes, madly soaring oboe à la Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay, and an Eric Gale guitar solo of wah-wah’d majesty. Yusef and company done took a sad song and made it better. Hoo boy, did they let it out and let it in…

Starting side 2, “Jungle Plum” is the album’s dance-floor filler, a sly funk number—another classic written Barron tune—that glides with a gritty sophistication and swings like an elephant’s dick. Lateef’s scat singing and wavy flute fanfares really make this cut stand out. By contrast, “The Poor Fisherman” tempers the celebratory mood with a flute solo of utterly poignant desolation. And it’s hard to discern why Lateef titled “African Song” as he did, because it’s more of a smooth jazz piece of sweet languor and delicate beauty. Whatever the case, it’s a nice cut.

On “Below Yellow Bell,” Lateef’s scat singing verges on the goofiness of Bill Cosby’s in the Quincy Jones track “Hikky-Burr,” but the bells, In A Silent Way-like organ drones, slinky bass line, and understated funky drums and percussion balance out the quirkiness. “Below Yellow Bell” is an engrossing oddity and an unexpected way to end an album.

Yusef Lateef was a strange bird, and he soared high for decades. Pick any record of his and dig in; you likely won’t be disappointed—yes, even with his “disco” LP, Autophysiopsychic. -Buckley Mayfield

Emil Richards & The Microtonal Blues Band “Journey To Bliss” (Impulse!/ABC, 1968)

Sometimes you can judge a record by its cover. Check out Journey To Bliss by Emil Richards & The Microtonal Blues Band. Dig the Sanskrit font on the front cover, as well as the hypnotic patterns in the painting, and Richards wearing a beatific grin and a top native to India. The back cover features a Van Gogh-esque painting of a swami. And though it’s a Bob Thiele production bearing the Impulse! imprint, Journey To Bliss ain’t your father’s typical jazz record… unless your pop is Timothy Leary. This is a venerable jazz label trying to cash in with a psychsploitation elpee. It didn’t quite win over the kids, but heard over 50 years later, Journey To Bliss still has the power to charm.

Impulse! helpfully provides a list of all the instruments used by the Microtonal Blues Band (who include Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco; Richards was a well-connected LA session muso). It runs to 57 items. Some of the more obscure ones include flapamba, tumbeg, crotales, dharma bells, temple blocks, surrogate Kithara (a variation of a Harry Partch invention), and boobams. So there you go. Buckle up for a strange ride the likes of which you likely have never experienced, unless you’re familiar with the catalog of the aforementioned Partch.

“Maharimba” instantly launches into a jaunty jazz-exotica gait in 7/4, piquant percussion timbres flying everywhere; big ups to those tuned wastebaskets. This song could segue nicely out of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” even though it’s in a different time signature. “Bliss” proves that 11/4 is a very good time. It tumbles headlong into the titular state with an array of sublimely slapstick percussion timbres (22 tone xylophone and who knows what else). The peppy and peripatetic “Mantra” (in 5/4) unsurprisingly comes across like Brubeck meeting Partch at the cantina. “Enjoy, Enjoy” is a strangely undulating tune just rippling with extranjero percussion. Periodically you’ll hear Hagan Beggs narrating some mystical mumbo jumbo that was in vogue during the late ’60s over the music. This may be a deal-breaker for some, but I like the dude’s sense of wonder and sonorous delivery.

Side two is dominated by the 18-minute “Journey To Bliss,” and what an oneiric odyssey through intriguing paths of Eastern music it is. “There is a river running through me and sometimes I let it pull me in/it cradles me in its ever-so-gently rocking current and carries me along to bliss,” Beggs intones in a hypnotist’s cadence, not too different from Timothy Leary’s on Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out. It works well over the faux-gamelan ritual procession.

The final two parts of the six-part suite build to a tumultuous climax, with scorching sitar riffs and Rashied Ali-esque drum splatter—and loads of dissonant bell tones. If this is bliss, it’s a particularly hectic strain of it. Beggs proclaims, “My heart is the sun/My body is the universe/My soul iiiiiisssssssss” [cacophony engulfs everything] “Jai guru dev.” (Translation: Victory to the Greatness in you.) And scene.

Goodness gracious. It’s all too much… thankfully. -Buckley Mayfield

Minoru Muraoka “Bamboo” (United Artists, 1970)

Recent years have seen several labels—Light In The Attic, Palto Flats, Jazzman, We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want, et al.—reissuing obscure gems from Japan. England’s great Mr Bongo imprint also has gotten into the act, most recently with jazz shakuhachi player Minoru Muraoka’s Bamboo coming out this summer. That’s a relief, as original copies of this idiosyncratic 1970 crate-digger’s classic go for hundreds of dollars.

Six of Bamboo‘s nine tracks are covers, and the quality varies among them. Jazz musicians covering Beatles songs was practically law in the ’60s and ’70s, but few artists have attempted to interpret the sentimental 1964 ballad “And I Love Her.” Minoru exoticizes the somewhat sappy melody and takes this middling cut from A Hard Day’s Night to a higher level. Similarly, Minoru does interesting things with the oft-covered folk ballad “The House Of The Rising Sun.” His is probably my favorite rendition—partially because there are no overbearing vocals, just four or five instruments burnishing a poignant melody that, it turns out, is ideal for the shakuhachi’s timbre.

Minoru also excels at archetypal lightweight mid-’60s pop such as Bacharach/David’s “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” and Tony Hatch’s “Call Me,” an EZ-listening standard made famous by Chris Montez and Petula Clark. Minoru transforms these overfamiliar melodies into something more touching through his serene blowing. The latter is the epitome of suave coolness in Minoru’s hands and mouth. These covers display Minoru’s instinct for tackling songs that have been frequently interpreted and injecting them with elements of distinctiveness. You can also hear this when he bathes Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” in a holy penumbra; it’s unbearably touching and somehow more powerful for not having a singer, even one as gifted as Art Garfunkel.

Perhaps Bamboo’s finest cover is that of Paul Desmond’s “Take Five.” It’s a fantastic version that illuminates and slightly accelerates Dave Brubeck’s famous, sprightly rendition. Like every song here, “Take Five” gains a sheen of freshness thanks to the airy coolness of the shakuhachi, a flute-like instrument popular in Japan. The unexpected robust and rapid drum solo three-fifths of the way in is a nice homage to Brubeck drummer Joe Morello.

Minoru’s originals rule, too. “Nogamigawa Funauta” is a gorgeous, courtly piece in which Minoru’s shakuhachi wafts and spirals into sacred space, twining around some phenomenal koto ornamentation. (The koto sounds like some magnificent compromise between a banjo and a harp.) “The Positive And The Negative” bears incredibly funky drum and bass breaks, which have made this track a holy grail for hip-hop producers. Lord have mercy, the beats are rotund on this one. Above the irrepressible grooves, shakuhachi and koto engage in a celestial dance, a mellifluous dream soundtrack. The other original, “Soul Bamboo,” sounds like one of the inspirations for DJ Shadow’s mystical-funk masterpiece, “What Does Your Soul Look Like?”

It’s so great to have Bamboo back in circulation at a reasonable price. Don’t sleep. -Buckley Mayfield

Charles Lloyd “Waves” (A&M, 1972)

One sees a lot of Charles Lloyd LPs in used bins—especially Forest Flower, Love-In, and Journey Within. That ubiquity suggests that the American jazz saxophonist/flautist had a spasm of commercial success, followed by a substantial disenchantment with his popular releases. It’s a common phenomenon, and it often pays dividends for crate-diggers decades later. While Waves isn’t quite as easy to find as the aforementioned records, it does pop up with some frequency for fairly low prices. I’m here to suggest that you should snap it up when you see it, as it punches way above its price point.

Like a handful of serious jazz artists, Lloyd intermingled with rock royalty at a time when jazzers and hippies often shared similar worldviews and aesthetics. That’s how Lloyd ended up corralling Beach Boys members Mike Love, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, and Billy Hinsche and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn to make Waves. You can hear these West Coast rock gods in full flower on album opener “TM” (yes, it’s a blissful paean to transcendental meditation, and it sure sounds like it). Add the fantastic Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó to the mix and you have a gilded gem of a tune that you can imagine appearing on Friends, 20/20, or Surf’s Up, what with its patented honeyed, intricate vocal interplay by those Beach Boys cats. Plus, Pamela Polland is no slouch on lead vox.

“Pyramid,” cowritten by guitarist Tom Trujillo, is an epic psych-jazz ramble with plenty of Lloyd’s flute dazzlement and a guitar/bass duel that makes me think of Wolfgang Dauner’s astounding Et Cetera album from 1970. “Majorca” is pretty much a continuation of “Pyramid,” but with Szabó unspooling rococo guitar filigree all over the shop. These two songs will make you feel about 67 percent more sophisticated than you actually are. Let it be known that this is one helluva side one.

Side two kicks off with the nine-minute “Harvest,” another Szabó extravaganza; it’s jaunty, fleet hippie jazz spiced by Gábor’s pointillistically pretty guitar origami. On the gorgeous psych-jazz meditation “Waves,” McGuinn exudes restrained lustrousness on his 12-string guitar while the melody recalls Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light”—which also came out in 1972; weird. The triptych “Rishikesha” concludes Waves with a gentle psychedelic reverie that strives for a peace beyond understanding. Whether you think it attains that exalted state depends on your own tolerance for long-haired utopian soundtracks and Mike Love’s quasi-mystical lyrics. Luckily for me, I at least have a healthy appetite for the former.

Waves is a testament to Lloyd’s aptitude for adaptability. He proved that a respected jazz musician could smoothly transition into the precarious freak zone of fusion and hippie rock and create a lasting work—even though too few people realize it. -Buckley Mayfield

King Crimson “Earthbound” (Island, 1972)

I’m generally not a huge fan of live albums, but Earthbound definitely merits as much undivided attention as any King Crimson LP from their peak era (1969-1975). Recorded at various dates on their 1972 US tour, the five tracks on Earthbound represent some of the pioneering British prog-rock group’s funkiest and farthest-out moments—in addition to tracks not found on any other studio releases. It’s kind of an odd mishmash, but it never sounds less than vital and thrilling—no matter how hard the anal-retentive audiophiles on Prog Archives bitch about the original release’s notoriously poor sound quality. (Earthbound got upgraded with several remasters/reissues in the 21st century. I would recommend getting an HDCD of it, just this once.)

You can’t beat the start of Earthbound: a scorched-earth rendition of prog’s Big Bang, “21st Century Schizoid Man” (you know, the song Kanye West sampled for “Power”). This 11-plus-minute bad boy is unbelievably heavy, and electrocuted by vocals so distorted they sound as if they’re being run through an air-conditioner fan. King Crimson whip this warhorse into the fiercest shape it’s ever been in. Bassist Boz Burrell is so much more of a beast on the mic than was Greg Lake on In The Court Of The Crimson King, and the notorious instrumental breakdown is longer and more brutal and chaotic than that in the 7-minute-plus original. Saxophonist Mel Collins blows articulate fireballs while Fripp shreds at peak fury. They take what was already one of rock’s most spasmodically dynamic and explosive numbers and nuclear bomb it further. CATHARSIS, AHOY!

“Peoria,” by contrast, is funky, straightforward rock with a slurring, alpha-male sax solo. It’s the closest King Crimson ever have come to Grand Funk Railroad or Rare Earth. (You may think that’s a diss, but you’d be wrong.) The instrumental freak-rock of controlled madness that is “The Sailor’s Tale” diverges from the version on Island in that it’s rougher and vocal-free. “Earthbound” flaunts an incredibly funky 40-second open break by Ian Wallace at its beginning that’s nearly as heavy as Bev Bevan’s beats in the Move’s “Feel Too Good.” Burrell grunts like a boar in heat, as if he’s auditioning for Bad Company, but the groove is so lubricious, one can (almost) forgive him. The album closes with “Groon,” a loose quarter-hour jam that encompasses contemplative spiritual jazz, rugged jazz-rock, a thuggish, rumbling drum solo, and Pete Sinfield filtering Wallace’s drums through a VC3S to cause zonked-to-hell electronic tumult that foreshadows mid-’90s IDM. Holy shit, what a bizarre climax!

Plenty of Crimson fans malign Earthbound, but I recommend that you keep an open mind about this rough-round-the-edges anomaly, as it contains some dome-cracking revelations. -Buckley Mayfield

Hal Blaine “Psychedelic Percussion” (Dunhill, 1967)

Hal Blaine died of natural causes last month at age 90. A session drummer on 150 top-10 hits and a member of the world-famous Wrecking Crew studio band, he had perhaps the most impressive music career of anyone who isn’t a household name. While the obits reeled off the many chart smashes and TV themes—both sublime and cheesy—to which Blaine contributed his impeccable timing and tone, they failed to mention this wonderful oddity in his discography. And that’s a damn shame…

Psychedelic Percussion is truth in titling. With help from Paul Beaver of Beaver & Krause non-fame on electronics and Emil Richards and Gary Coleman (not the actor) on percussion, Blaine goes wild in the studio with drums, gong, xylophone, organ, bongos, congas, and timpani. Free to follow his own instincts instead of adhere to the whims of other musicians and producers, the legendary sticksman let loose with a freaky panoply of non-4/4 beats and unusual textures and tones. The result is 12 instrumentals that sounds like a combo of Raymond Scott-esque slapstick jazz, ’50s exotica on dexedrine, and an LSD-laced library record. Conservative estimate, Blaine packed 20 pounds of action into a 10-pound bag here. It’s one of the craziest party platters with which you’ll ever have the pleasure of baffling your guests.

Psychedelic Percussion truly is an unclassifiable one-off, obviously unlike anything Blaine did while on the clock during other people’s sessions. Whatever the case, it’s strange that this album’s never received a proper vinyl reissue in the 52 years since its initial release. (Universal Japan re-released it on CD in 2002.) I write this review partially in the hopes that some enterprising label will finally do the deed. In the meantime, you can hear it in its entirety on YouTube… or score it on Discogs for big bucks. -Buckley Mayfield

Earth, Wind & Fire “Open Our Eyes (Columbia, 1974)

The first popular Earth, Wind & Fire album, Open Our Eyes went gold and topped the R&B charts, but Maurice White and company still hadn’t made the leap to superstardom. That would come in 1975 with That’s The Way Of The World, with its hit singles “Shining Star,” “Reasons,” and the title track. But the Chicago group’s fifth LP, Open Our Eyes, represents their last stand of stripped-down funk and R&B before their act inflated to a soul revue for stadia. As such, it’s an interesting transitional work and a solid entry point into the EW&F universe.

White front-loaded the LP with two hits. “Mighty Mighty” is the better of the two: fleet, flinty, feel-good funk that hints at the supernova soul to come soon after. Very much in the vein of early-career Kool & The Gang, the song boasts a chorus (“We are people of the party/party people of the sun.”) that can’t help lifting your spirits. It reached #4 on the US R&B chart, #29 on the singles chart. “Devotion” is a silky Commodores-like ballad that verges on innocuous, although Philip Bailey’s supple falsetto and equally smooth backing falsettos are undeniably sweet. This one reached #33 on the singles chart.

Co-written by Rotary Connection mastermind Charles Stepney, “Fair But So Uncool” rolls out some bittersweet midtempo funk that could’ve comfortably slotted onto Sly & The Family Stone’s Fresh, while “Kalimba Story”’s strutting, coiled funk showcases the titular instrument’s enchantingly wonky metallic timbre. The album’s zenith comes on “Drum Song,” a deep, sinuous, kalimba-enhanced afro-funk jam that sounds nothing like future big-budget EW&F smash “September.” The slow, sleazy funk of “Tee Nine Chee Bit” is the closest EW&F ever came to emulating early Funkadelic and Ohio Players, and therefore is great. The closing title track surprises with its slick, Latin soul-jazz and bubbly scat singing, somehow bringing to mind Santana and early Chicago.

Obviously, Earth, Wind & Fire released a lot of amazing music after Open Our Eyes, but they definitely lost some of the gritty charm exemplified by the best moments of this important 1974 record. -Buckley Mayfield