Jazz

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

Weather Report “Sweetnighter” (Columbia, 1973)

Here’s the Weather Report album most loved by club DJs. The grooves these fusion virtuosi wrangle on Sweetnighter run hot, long, and thick.

From the get-go, keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz” proves Weather Report aren’t messing around. Swift, swaggering, and suave, this is epic blaxploitation-film funk. The auxiliary percussion by Dom Um Romao (chucalho, bell, tambourine) and Muruga (Moroccan clay drums) really lifts this undulating python of a track to the next level of groove trigonometry. Another Zawinul-penned marathon, “125th Street Congress,” comes out of the gate growling and prowling, its loping, chunky funk ready to dazzle your legs for 12 freakin’ minutes. Miroslav Vitous’ bass is gravid and funky enough to get Miles Davis to strut (and he never danced) while Romao’s panoply of percussion toys get a serious workout. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s “Non-Stop Home” features phenomenally intricate and unconventionally funky drumming from Eric Gravatt and Herschel Dwellingham (think CAN’s Jaki Liebezeit circa Ege Bamyasi) while he blows an unusual melody. Wayne’s other composition, “Manolete,” boasts complex polyrhythms in a festive, almost prog-rock configuration. It’s one of his most anomalous and interesting tracks.

But Sweetnighter is not all dance-floor heat. Weather Report get sublimely moody here, too. Take Zawinul’s “Adios,” for example: It’s a beautiful, desolate, twinkling meditation clearly left over from his days composing with Miles Davis’ electric-era groups, especially circa In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. On Vitous’ “Will,” the group creates a shaker-heavy fantasia, its languid, Latin jazz introversion all subdued sublimity and subliminal slinkiness.

Make no mistake: Sweetnighter is one of the brightest jewels you can still find in bargain bins. -Buckley Mayfield

Sonny & Linda Sharrock “Paradise” (ATCO, 1975)

Paradise is an odd entry in the Sonny and Linda Sharrock discography. First, they made the leap to a major label—which, if you know the husband/wife duo’s earlier, highly uncommercial Black Woman and Monkey-Pockie-Boo LPs, made little sense. Second, ATCO tapped Turkish avant-garde electronic-music composer Ilhan Mimaroglu to produce Paradise. Huh?! Hahaha. Did the execs think ol’ Ilhan had the golden radio ears? Uh, no. Third, look how glammed-up Linda looks on the cover. ATCO sure seemed determined to get the Sharrocks’ unruly music into many consumers’ ears. Spoiler alert: Paradise bombed.

While the record company’s bigwigs may have been disappointed by this album, you, the smart listener at home, should find at least half of Paradise to be freakin’ amazing. Whereas Linda’s Yoko Ono-esque wails and shrieks and Sonny’s free-jazz skronk and busted blues and gospel excursions dominated the aforementioned two records, Paradise represents the couple’s attempt to temper their wildness into something resembling songs that humans might want to listen to without fear of breaking their leases. Hell, it seems like the Sharrocks were even trying to make folks dance to their music.

“Apollo” starts as if S&L are going to sex you up properly with some soulful balladry. Their hardcore fans must’ve been furiously scratching their heads. But 100 seconds in, the Sharrocks get freaky in a whole different way, accelerating into a bizarre fusion of early Mahavishnu Orchestra and Billy Preston circa “Outa-Space.” Kenny Armstrong goes nuts on clavinet and Sonny sounds like he’s auditioning for a No Wave band—a couple years before No Wave was a thing. It’s one of the craziest guitar solos I’ve ever heard—and I’ve heard a lot. And then for “Apollo”’s last minute, they return to the original balladic blissfulness… because they’re perverse like that.

With its Mellotron, Linda’s plaintive chants, and Sonny’s spidery guitar filigree, “End Of The Rainbow” carries an air of earthy Alice Coltrane mysticism. “1953 Blue Boogie Children” finds Sonny getting off some unbelievably strange guitar tones and outlandish solos within a fairly conventional blues framework. He really shatters the form, while Linda enters near the end for some distressed vocal ecstatics. The celestial gospel reverie of “Peaceful” almost hints at Spiritualized à la “Shine A Light.” Album-closer “Gary’s Step” harks back to the Sharrocks’ 1970 records with its ebbing and flowing amorphousness, Linda’s acrobatic, Annette Peacock-like “ah”s and “la”s, and Sonny’s furious stroking of the strings at the headstock, creating high tension amid the song’s ostensible placidity.

Last but most, “Miss Doris” is a funk-rock scorcher, but with frenetic Moog embellishments last heard on Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein.” Linda scats up a feral storm as the band bustles with the bravado of Funkadelic circa the crazily cataclysmic “Wars Of Armageddon,” cowbell and all. I occasionally spin this in DJ sets, and its 9 eventful minutes of splintering guitar heroics and undulating rhythms—including Dave Artis’ On The Corner-evoking bass line—sure get everyone’s attention.

Paradise may strike some Sharrock aficionados as too slick for their avant-skronk tastes, but listen closely and you’ll hear Sonny and Linda inserting tons of subversive actions into the mix—and on a major label’s dime. I don’t care if it gets me kicked out of the Actuel Records Fanboy Club, but Paradise is my favorite Sharrock album… by a plectrum. -Buckley Mayfield

Lydia Lunch “Queen Of Siam” (ZE, 1980)

Lydia Lunch has a reputation as a provocative, profane No Wave icon and as a spoken-word badass who would just as soon kick you in the ‘nads (with her words) as look at you. Her band Teenage Jesus And The Jerks tore it up on Brian Eno’s No New York comp, and she’s loaned her caustic wit and withering sneer to several other groups (8-Eyed Spy, Harry Crews) and collabs, including a memorable cameo on Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley 69” and a fruitful link-up with Birthday Party’s Rowland S. Howard that included a gothy stab at Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s “Some Velvet Morning.”

But Lunch’s debut full-length under her own name shocks by being accessible—relatively speaking. It contains two covers that suggest the range and vibe of Queen Of Siam: “Gloomy Sunday”—made famous by Billie Holiday and Associates (joking about the latter) and “Spooky,” the chill lounge-pop gem from 1967 that Classics IV took to the charts. Lunch imbues the latter with kittenish charm as her band jazzes it up with boozy gusto. The former is a paragon of insular moroseness—so beautifully hopeless.

Opener “Mechanical Flattery” captures the weird balance of song-oriented approach and arty knottiness that appears throughout the album. Lunch’s numbed deadpan somehow approximates the effect of a coquettish diva, but the stilted beats, oblique piano, and melancholy horn thwart any easy commercial pay-off. This sort of tension makes Queen Of Siam a riveting experience that just improves with each listen. The sleepwalking ballad “Tied And Twist” lumbers lithely, a No Wave plaint in slow-motion. Lunch’s sparse, laggard guitar solo is fantastically wonky; Robert Quine would be proud.

“Atomic Bongos” is the closest thing on Queen Of Siam to a hard-rocker, with its maddeningly repetitive and rugged bass riff and scathing, Contortions-esque guitar tang. “Lady Scarface,” by contrast, exudes a cabaret/big-band-jazz aura—shades of Quincy Jones—as Lunch recounts a lurid scenario about seducing a 16-year-old boy. In fact, most of the record bristles with a strange strain of carnality, at once sleazy and classy, edgy and retro. “I’m split and unbled and I’m ripped to the sore/Every man’s madness and I’m hurdling ripped to the core/There’s knives in my drain/Empty splints in my brain” Lunch leers in “Knives In My Drain” as a David Lynchian nightmare jazz tune slinks behind her. It conjures a pleasingly queasy feeling. (It should be noted that multi-instrumentalist Pat Irwin [the Raybeats and 8-Eyed Spy] and the Billy Ver Planck Orchestra are the low-key stars here.)

[Note: Amphetamine Reptile Records reissued Queen Of Siam on vinyl and CD in 2017.] -Buckley Mayfield

McDonald And Giles, “McDonald And Giles” (Island, 1970)


McDonald And Giles sounds like the name of a high-level law firm, but it actually was the evanescent project of multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and drummer Michael Giles, who played on King Crimson’s groundbreaking 1969 LP, In The Court Of The Crimson King. (Michael’s brother Peter plays bass on McDonald And Giles.) They left the band following a US tour that year, although Michael Giles helped out on King Crimson’s second album, In The Wake Of Poseidon. It was one and done for Ian and Michael, but oh what a relic they left behind.

McDonald And Giles begins with the multi-part epic “Suite In C,” which exudes an elegance and pulchritudinous intricacy that were the province of British prog-rock musicians of the late ’60s and early ’70s. What I mean is, there was a post-Sgt. Pepper’s frou-frou quality that mated with the folkadelia of Pentangle, Incredible String Band, and Fairport Convention to form a pastoral, beatific sound that transported you to Elysian Fields—but in a very circuitous manner. This was beyond the ken of Americans. Although there is a point at 7-and-a-half minutes in when the song swerves into a parody of old-timey genres à la the United States Of America’s “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar,” so I contradict myself. Sorry.

“Flight Of The Ibis” is startlingly similar to KC’s lilting, gorgeous ballad “Cadence & Cascade,” but “Ibis” is even more sublime and as fragilely spectacular as peak Left Banke. Somehow, Giles just nudges out Greg Lake for vocal poignancy. Whenever I play this zither-enhanced tune in a DJ set, I’m disappointed when the whole bar or club isn’t in tears and hugging one another. Similarly, “Is She Waiting?” is a melancholy ballad with spindly acoustic guitar and piano that can hold its own with the Zombies, Moody Blues, and White Album-era Beatles.

McDonald And Giles‘ zenith is the Giles-penned “Tomorrow’s People – The Children Of Today,” which contains some of the most robust, funky drums in prog history. No wonder the Beastie Boys sampled it for “Body Movin’”; it’s surprising more hip-hop producers haven’t leveraged its meaty hits. McDonald’s flute takes flight in a display of rococo jauntiness while Michael Blakesley’s trombone and McDonald’s clarinet form soar in an incomparable effusion of optimism. We could all benefit from shooting this horn chart into our veins daily.

The 21-minute suite “Birdman” features former KC lyricist Peter Sinfield scripting another many-tentacled composition, this time about a man who learns how to fly. This is one of those sidelong marathons that flaunt McDonald and Giles’ prog inventiveness and eclecticism (freakbeat, jazz, churchy organ prog, orchestral soundtrack bombast, etc.). It’s not all amazing, but the ambition is breathtaking.

If you dig the first two King Crimson albums, you should check out McDonald And Giles—and maybe sample that killer drum break in “Tomorrow’s People” while you’re at it. -Buckley Mayfield

Larry Young’s Fuel “Larry Young’s Fuel” (Arista, 1975)

By 1975, jazz keyboardist Larry Young was straying far from his modal, Coltrane-esque dates for Blue Note, his contributions to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and his fiery fusion experiments with Tony Williams Lifetime and Love Cry Want—and even his 1973 oddity, Lawrence Of Newark [a review of which you can find on this blog]. Signing to a major label like Arista may have had something to do with this change in direction, as it represents some of Young’s most accessible work. Yet for all its leanings toward R&B libidinousness and funk decadence, Larry Young’s Fuel remains an interesting and very DJ-friendly anomaly in the avant-gardist’s catalog.

“Fuel For The Fire” immediately lets you know that though the songwriting’s more overtly commercial, Young is still going to fire off some bizarre flourishes on his Moog, Hammond, and Rhodes. The funk here is complex, with bassist Fernando Saunders (Lou Reed, John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, etc.) and drummer Rob Gottfried engaging in twitchy interplay that’s as groovily coiled and coked up as anything on Miles’ On The Corner. Laura “Tequila” Logan’s scat vocals aren’t as off-the-wall as Linda Sharrock’s or Urszula Dudziak’s, but they’re still odd for a funk/R&B context. “I Ching (Book Of Changes)” sounds like ELP going off on a torrid funk bender, with Young channeling Keith Emerson’s manic, rococo filigrees. “Turn Off The Lights” could easily be a Betty Davis sex-scene-setter thanks to Logan’s lusty vocal pyrotechnics and a bass line that’s rated XXX. Young gets off some amazing Moog ejaculations, to boot. An exciting side one, to be sure.

Side two begins with the instant dance-floor-filler/mood-elevator, “Floating.” The lithe buoyancy of Saunders’ bass and Gottfried’s hi-hat-enhanced 4/4s coupled with Young’s radiant Hammond whorls gives the track an almost cosmic-disco atmospheric strut. “H+J=B (Hustle+Jam=Bread)” is another proggy funk workout in which Saunders and Young appear to be dueling each other to see who can most peel off the most outré notes and chords (Young wins). The hyperkinetic, intricate “New York Electric Street Music” replicates the furious bump and grind of On The Corner (that record again), with Santiago Torano’s guitar finally breaking through Young’s extravagant solos to snarl and wail with authority. The only thing keeping this track from classic status is Young’s goofy vocalizing about the the titular city and ad libs like “Humor is better than a tumor” and “Charisma is better than a caramba.” Oy.

Oh, well, that’s a rare misstep on an album that will surely rankle Young’s more purist jazz fans, but should please those open to a world-class musician trying to weird up a mid-’70s mainstream genre on a big corporation’s dime. -Buckley Mayfield

Sun Ra “Disco 3000” (El Saturn, 1978)

In the last half of the ’70s, music-biz law mandated that every artist had to cut a disco record. James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, the Meters, esteemed jazz veterans like Yusef Lateef and Miroslav Vitous—it didn’t matter how established and respected you were; the industry-wide disco diktat had to be obeyed.

In 1978 while in Italy, Sun Ra and his tight quartet, the Myth Science Arkestra, paid lip service to disco (see the LP title), but as you’d expect from Herman Sonny Blount, the results here don’t at all conform to the genre’s major traits; nor are they exactly music to snort coke to, nor do they serve as preludes to getting laid. Rather, Disco 3000 is yet another anomaly in Sun Ra’s vast, strange discography. And that’s quite enough for me—and for you, too, I would wager.

On the astonishing 26-minute title track, over a chintzy rhythm-machine’s quasi-cha-cha beat, saxophonist John Gilmore and trumpeter Michael Ray blow mad, exclamatory arabesques, while Mr. Ra busts out some of his most severely warped tones on multiple keyboards and Moog synthesizer, raising plumes of alien glitter gas. All pretenses of regular meter quickly fly out the window. Throughout, Ra engineers passages of brilliant chaos, letting his insane menagerie of feral fibrillations and disorienting drones lift the piece into freeform, uncharted territory. If this is disco (it isn’t, let’s be honest), it’s a particularly Saturnine interpretation of the genre. I don’t think even renowned Italo-disco DJ Daniele Baldelli could smoothly segue “Disco 3000” into a KC & The Sunshine Band or Tantra track.

On “Third Planet” and “Friendly Galaxy,” piano, sax, drums, trumpet, and drums (played by Luqman Ali) cohere into rather conventional, bustling bop compositions. They offer respite before Ra and company head outward-bound again on “Dance Of The Cosmo-Aliens,” whose splenetic, galloping rhythm-box beats get wreathed with the sort of eerie, fairground organ motifs that haunted the Eraserhead soundtrack. The piece throbs with a manic intensity not unlike that of Killing Joke’s “Change,” oddly enough. Again, this ain’t disco as your lewd uncle Tony knows it.

On Disco 3000 in Sun Ra’s eloquent hands, space continues to be the place. And that’s quite enough for me. (Art Yard beneficently reissued Disco 3000 on vinyl in 2009.) -Buckley Mayfield

Mustafa Özkent Ve Orkestrasi “Gençlik İle Elele” (Evren, 1973)

After much listening and thought, I have to conclude that Mustafa Özkewnt VE Orkestrasi’s Gençlik İle Elele is a perfect record, a paragon of Turkish funk. Its 10 instrumental tracks average a little over three minutes in length, but they’re so rhythmically tight and tonally and texturally fascinating, that they feel like teases. Every element here—swarming, swirling John Medeski-esque soul-jazz organ, trebly, frilly-tendrilled guitar, in-the-pocket drums, furious bongo- and conga-slapping and other hand-percussion accents—is laser-focused to get your head bobbing, your hips swiveling, and your loins flooded with do-it fluid. So, yeah… a perfect record.

This LP, as you may surmise, contains loads of chunky funk that’s ripe for sampling by enterprising hip-hop producers; it’s a veritable breakbeat orgy. But according to online authority whosampled.com, only four Mustafa Özkent tracks have been sampled. That seems low for an album of such bumpin’ bounty. Not surprisingly, Madlib’s brother Oh No used two songs from Gençlik in his own work; surprisingly, Madlib himself hasn’t plundered it… not yet, anyway.

The concision and airtight beat science displayed by Mustafa Özkent and company recall the Meters’ disciplined approach to funk. Of course, being Turkish, Mustaf Özkent sound a tad more non-Western in their melodies and timbres. (According to Andy Votel’s liner notes in the 2006 B-Music reissue, Özkent modified his guitars with extra frets to make it sound more like a saz or a lute.) And that makes a big difference with regard to the stunning impact this album makes on the Western listener. All that being said, the phenomenal bass solo on “Dolana Dolana” would make Larry Graham give two thwapping thumbs up.

Reissued again by Portland label Jackpot in 2016, Gençlik İle Elele—which means Hand In Hand With Youthshould never fall out of print, nor stray far from your DJ bag, if indeed you DJ. Hell, this record just may inspire to start working the 1s and 2s yourself… -Buckley Mayfield

Phil Upchurch “The Way I Feel” (Cadet, 1970)

ORCHESTRA ARRANGED AND CONDUCTED BY CHARLES STEPNEY” it reads under the title of The Way I Feel, and if that doesn’t sell you on this album, then I don’t know what to tell you. Because Stepney, as you should know, was a studio wizard who conjured certified magic for Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton, Marlena Shaw, Ramsey Lewis, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and other talented musicians in Chicago during the ’60s and ’70s. But, of course, there’s more to The Way I Feel than Stepney’s exceptional ideas. Phil Upchurch—who also played with Rotary Connection and several other Stepney-associated artists—is a wonderfully expressive, virtuosic guitarist and bassist who issued a grip of very good LPs in the era mentioned above, including this one. (I don’t waste my time with mediocrity, dig?)

It must be said that this album contains its share of fluff—albeit sophisticated, extremely well-played and arranged fluff. Two Gordon Lightfoot covers? Not sure that’s totally necessary. Those E-Z listenin’, airy fantasias plus Quincy Jones/Cynthia Weil’s “Time For Love (Is Any Time)” find Upchurch in restrained, contemplative mode, offering classy dinner music. Similarly, the effervescent soul pop of “Wild Wood,” buoyed by a bevy of female backing vocalists singing “Hey baby, sha la la sha la la la,” is rather lightweight compared to Upchurch’s best material.

Much better is “Peter, Peter,” an Irwin Rosman composition that Upchurch turns into serpentine psychedelia while flaunting his mercurial jamming skills and facility for shifting between phenomenal fuzz and crystalline tones. Other highlights include “I Don’t Know,” a “Willie The Pimp”-style slab of nasty blues rock, and “Pretty Blue,” a laid-back, lascivious instrumental.

But with “Electrik Head,” Upchurch perversely saves the best for last. And, whoa, holy shit! It’s a career-peak song, an effusion of translucent guitar pyrotechnics, a cascade of icy, pointillist, tonal eloquence. I’ve played this psychedelic mind-blower in many a DJ set, and will continue to do so for as long as I can. Because I like to make a room full of people stop their chatter, put down their drinks, and gawk in amazement at the Hendrix-level sorcery going on here. Because it’s one of the greatest pieces of music the 20th century has yielded. Because I’m a sonic philanthropist who wants to take you to (Up)church. -Buckley Mayfield

Urszula Dudziak “Urszula” (Arista, 1975)

Yoko Ono, Linda Sharrock, and Urszula Dudziak—behold the holy trinity of extreme female vocalists, gentle reader. The latter is the undisputed queen of Polish jazz singers, using her electronically treated five-octave range to embroider compositions that encompass a cappella fantasias, rococo fusion workouts, and spacey funk. Dudziak’s gift for improvising enchanting and unpredictable patterns with her quirky and delicate delivery turn her records into minefields of flighty frissons.

Produced by husband and renowned fusion violinist Michał Urbaniak, Urszula kicks off with “Papaya,” a ridiculously effusive disco-jazz number featuring Dudziak nimbly scatting in her upper register, which is very high, indeed. It’s almost impossible not to dance and laugh yourself silly simultaneously. “Mosquito” follows with methodical, elastically funky soul, over which Dudziak babbles like a European Sharrock on a track reminiscent of Larry Young’s Fuel. An extra boost comes from Miles Davis sideman Reggie Lucas’ guitar solo, which flares in the same extravagant zones as Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin’s. “Mosquito Dream” is a sparse, a cappella chantfest somewhere between Joan La Barbara and Diamanda Galás; it’s geared to freak you the fuck out. “Mosquito Bite” closes the insect quadrology with UD going HAM at imitating an analog synthesizer, à la Annette Peacock. Joe Caro’s scorched-earth guitar riffs propel this song into the fusion/porn-flick-score hall of fame (admittedly a narrow niche).

The second side can’t quite equal the first’s bizarre iconoclasm, but it’s still full of loopy joie de vivre, circuitous songwriting, and frou-frou fusion frolics. Special mention goes to “Funk Rings,” which belongs in the pantheon for weirdest funk tracks of all time, as Dudziak splutters rhythmically over what sounds like one of the stranger cuts off Herbie Hancock’s Man-Child (another 1975 LP reviewed recently on this blog).

Make no mistake: Urszula Dudziak is a unique talent. If you seek otherworldly beauty and unconventional vocal timbres and tricks, she’s your woman. (Check out other titles like Newborn Light and Future Talk, as well as her contributions to Urbaniak’s Inactin, for further enlightenment.) -Buckley Mayfield