Jazz

Cymande “Cymande” (Janus, 1972)

R-411517-1141375449.jpeg

Here’s a stone-classic album that’s still not widely known enough—even with its uplifting funk track “Bra” being sampled by De La Soul on “Change In Speak” from 3 Feet High & Rising and appearing in Spike Lee’s 1994 film Crooklyn. (Hip-hop and electronic-music producers have sampled Cymande at least 77 times, according to who-sampled.com.) Cymande put out three strong albums (I’ve not heard their fourth, Arrival), but their debut is the best, if only judging by how often I play tracks from it in DJ sets. It’s one of those rare funk full-lengths that you can play from start to finish without lifting the needle off a tepid ballad.

But to call Cymande merely a funk band is inadequate. The English nonet—who featured musicians from London, St. Vincent, Guyana, and Jamaica—also incorporated jazz, reggae, calypso, and progressive rock in their inspirational tracks, and such hybridization resulted in highly flavorful material that is bathed in a spiritual glow that can’t be faked. Cymande call it “nyah-rock,” which they describe in the liners as “the music of the man who finds in life a reason for living.” I’ll say.

Side 1 is largely mellow and meditative and marked by Patrick Patterson’s fluid guitar ruminations, Steve Scipio’s lithe bass lines, Mike Rose’s circuitous flute motifs, and Ray King’s soulful vocals that carry subtle hints of Caribbean patois. LP opener “Zion I” is the exception: a spiritual reggae tune with righteous massed vocals and a bass line on which you can trampoline.

Side 2 is where Cymande really shines. “Dove” (sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan in “Problems” and the Fugees in “The Score,” among many other places) is simply one of the greatest pieces of music ever waxed. It begins in great intrigue, Patrick Patterson’s guitar modulating a Santana-esque wail, setting the scene for Steve Scipio’s world-beating, sidewinder bass line to lift the track onto a higher, more libidinous level. Stealthy, undulant funk beats and blissed-out “la la la la-la”s contribute to making the 11-minute “Dove” one of the ultimate sex jams. The aforementioned “Bra” is simply one of the most joyous pieces of music ever waxed. The next time you’re really down, play it and feel your worries dissolve amid its levitational rhythms, percolating congas and bongos, and triumphant horn charts. “The Message” is more subdued, but no less seductive with its nocturnal funk strut. “Ras Tafarian Folk Song” is definitely … Read more›

Blurt “Blurt” (Red Flame, 1982)

R-463478-1440068642-8721.jpeg

Blurt don’t get enough respect. Led by poet/saxophonist/blurter Ted Milton, they were one of the oddest and most galvanizing bands from Great Britain’s post-punk movement. Surfacing a year after 1981’s live full-length In Berlin, their self-titled debut studio LP consists of seven tracks that strip funk and jazz-inflected no wave down to insanely logical essentials. These lean vehicles operated by Milton, his brother Jake (drums), and Pete Creese (guitar) get your hips twitching and your brain itching. The songs are both tight and spacey—a rare combo of elements that coheres into trance-funk jams punctuated by Milton’s rude, shredded sax jags and spluttering, megaphoned rants. If you saw Ted Milton doing his thing on the street corner, you’d give him a wide berth. See him onstage or hear him on record and you’re transfixed and repulsed in equal measure.

“Dog Save My Sole” instantly sets the template for Blurt: solid-as-hell, tom-tom-heavy funk beats that hit you in your root chakra; geometrically precise, lightly discordant guitar figures that cycle like ∞; and Milton’s raucous sax squawks and mad shouts. The weirdly galloping “Trees” might appeal to fans of Ornette Coleman’s Of Human Feelings, which also came out in 1982. Milton’s sax is at its most mellifluous and Creese’s guitar takes on a percussive, Afrobeat tenor. “Physical Fitness” crunches your abs with rolling and tumbling tom-tom and kick-drum beats while Ted lays down some knuckle-biting, spy-jazz motifs and Creese scratches out a guitar riff that sounds like a strangled tiger snarl.

“Empty Vessels” is streamlined funk with an undulating groove that you never want to end—trust me on this. Creese executes a minimalist, “King Sunny Adé on a short leash” guitar mantra, while Ted spits leery squiggles of sax over everything. The rudimentarily funky “Play The Game” sounds like it’s repeatedly falling down the stairs into a Manhattan jazz club circa 1961, as TM shreds his larynx with some babble. Without warning, the song speeds up… because Dada. “The Ruminant Plinth” is the closest Blurt comes to a single (which it was): It’s the sort of jittery yet maniacally disciplined jazz funk that could make Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 sweat their asses off. With contrarian bullheadedness, Blurt closes with “Arthur,” the LP’s slowest cut; Ted and the guys sound relatively narcotized, but the melismatic jazz funk will surely put you in a strange reverie.

There’s nothing on Blurt that’s as … Read more›

Julie Tippetts “Sunset Glow” (Utopia, 1975)

R-2428587-1430158885-1466.jpeg
Sunset Glow came to my attention in the ’90s when underground-rock musician Bob Bannister of Tono Bungay mentioned in some zine that it was his favorite album of all time. That recommendation spurred me to search for the British soul vocalist’s debut LP, which I’ve only been able to find on CD. (Tip: A label could make a nice chunk of change with a vinyl repress of Sunset Glow.)

Previously Tippetts had sung with Brian Auger’s dynamite soul-jazz group the Trinity and had some success with their epic cover of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch.” (Who didn’t back then?) With Auger, Tippetts—then known as Julie Driscoll; she changed her name when she married prog-rock keyboardist Keith Tippett—belted her numbers with flamboyant bravado and soulful throatiness. She has a voice you remember and savor. Its passion and timbre suggests she lives life to the fullest, and then some. So it’s somewhat of a surprise to dip into the aptly titled Sunset Glow and encounter a suite of seven songs that confront you on much more intimate and poised terms—although if you’re familiar with Driscoll’s superb 1969 album from ’71, the shock’s not quite so strong. In fact, they make wonderful companion pieces in her catalog.

Sunset Glow‘s opening song, “Mind Of A Child,” is a slow-blooming flower of summertime soul balladry that stands up with the best of your Joni Mitchells, Margo Guryans, and Linda Perhacses. You say “YES!” to it within a minute, and revel in its pensive bombast, if you have any damn sensitivity in you at all. “Oceans And Sky (And Questions Why?)” approaches a Linda and Sonny Sharrock-ian level of astral-jazz levitation and chaos. The title track carries a wandering, woebegone air that’s tempered with hints of optimism; one hears similarities here to Tim Buckley at his most oceanically amorphous.

“Lilies” and “What Is Living” find Tippetts in sublime mantric mode, singing in her most dulcet timbre and as if in a trance. You feel as if she and the band are slyly luring you into a slow vortex of sensuality and existentialism. The latter’s lyrics—“What is living—if you can’t live to love?/What is living—if you can’t love to give?/What is living—if you can’t give everything?/What is everything—if it’s not living?”—possess a satisfying circularity and humble wisdom. The final track, “Behind The Eyes (For A Friend, R),” is just Tippetts singing and playing piano in … Read more›

Ramsey Lewis “Mother Nature’s Son” (Cadet, 1968)

R-1729042-1331802900.jpeg

What happens when a black man covers songs on The White Album? Magic, as it turns out. Releasing an LP of 10 interpretations from a record that came out earlier in that year by the blessed Beatles might seem like a crass cash-in, but keyboardist Ramsey Lewis is a helluva classy, exceptionally talented interpreter, and Mother Nature’s Son is mostly fantastic—no matter if it was meant to capitalize on the world’s most popular rock band’s latest opus.

Cadet’s in-house studio wizard Charles Stepney (I highly recommend you especially check out his work with the Rotary Connection) convinced Lewis to record Mother Nature’s Son even though Ramsey was not the biggest Beatles fan. Lewis had covered “And I Love Her,” “Hard Day’s Night,” and “Day Tripper,” but hadn’t been converted into a hardcore Fab Four aficionado. In late 1968, Stepney insisted Lewis listen more deeply to The White Album, and the latter eventually came around—luckily for us.

Bolstered by Lewis’ Moog synthesizer treatments and an orchestra, the soul-jazzed-up instrumental versions on Mother Nature’s Son sound expansive and festooned with baroque ornamentation. Lewis and company blow out Paul McCartney’s spare “Mother Nature’s Son” into a dazzling symphonic tapestry and the unbearable “Rocky Raccoon” is made bearable—see, miracles do happen. John Lennon’s “Julia” is whipped into a creamy, drifting sigh of a piece that soars much higher than his original intimate ballad. “Back In The U.S.S.R.” oozes sophisticated swagger and the drums really bump with what sounds like Bernard Purdie’s funky slaps. Also receiving hot funk injections are “Dear Prudence,” “Cry Baby Cry,” and “Sexy Sadie,” which billow into compositions as grandiose as Isaac Hayes circa Hot Buttered Soul or David Axelrod circa Songs Of Innocence/Experience.

The orchestral confection “Good Night” is a bit too rich for my blood, but “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And Monkey” absolutely scorches; it’s the LP’s most exciting rendition. “Monkey” is among the Beatles’ hardest-rocking tunes, and Lewis transforms it into one of the wildest peak-time party jams the ’60s—a decade famous for its peak-time party jams—has ever witnessed. This version tops the Feelies’, if you can believe it. Album-closer “Blackbird” really elevates and elongates, its melodic contours perfect for jazz virtuosi like Lewis and his mates to extrapolate upon.

Obviously, the raw material of The White Album is mostly superb, but in almost every instance, Lewis and his musicians find Read more›

Joe Gallivan/Charles Austin “Expression To The Winds” (Spitball, 1977)

R-3245047-1340356601-2593.jpeg

Imagine the Sun Ra Arkestra condensed into a duo of one adroit percussionist/synthesizer player (Gallivan) and one versatile saxophonist/flautist/English horn player (Austin). That’s Expression To The Winds, in a nutshell. The twosome immerse you immediately into their unusual, idiosyncratic sound world with an array of rarely heard percussion and keyboard timbres and forlorn yet spiritual wind-instrument arabesques that vaguely recall those on Paul Horn’s proto-New Age Inside LPs. Gallivan and Austin allow lots of space in their fairly brief compositions (the longest is 5:34), creating a sense of intimate immensity, a Saturnian desolation. Gallivan had at his disposal a Moog drum (he was the first recipient of said instrument, along with ELP’s Carl Palmer), and its oddly percolating report ripples throughout Expression To The Winds, lending it alien pulsations.

Listening to the album’s 12 tracks makes you feel as if gravity’s gone AWOL and you’re floating in a mysterious ether, far from earthly concerns. Similar atmospheric qualities to Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch surface in Expression To The Winds, but this is a mid-’70s production, so the delay is thickly applied and the electronics are super-tactile. The musicians are playing tricks with time and with your mind, in a most delicate and austere manner. They overwhelm with understatement.

Both Gallivan and Austin have impressive pedigrees. Austin’s played with Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, and others; Gallivan anchored the world-beating Love Cry Want with Larry Young, and drummed in groups featuring Soft Machine members Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean, Evan Parker, Keith Tippett, Gil Evans, and formed Powerfield with Gary Smith and Pat Thomas. You could classify Expression To The Winds as jazz, but its enigmatic allure makes it as much of a natural draw for heads into experimental improv and even ambient electronic music. Forget categories, though: Gallivan and Austin have created a sound that inventively refracts soulful emotion into the most beguiling abstract shapes. No wonder the music industry didn’t know what to do with these mavericks. –Buckley Mayfield… Read more›

Annette Peacock “X-Dreams” (Aura, 1978)

41BGWJEBMBL

Let’s be blunt: X-Dreams is all about “My Mama Never Taught Me How To Cook” and “Real & Defined Androgens.” The rest of the seven-track LP by singular American singer-songwriter-producer Annette Peacock is fine, but its aforementioned first two cuts tower over everything like the most dominant dominatrix.

“My Mama” is a tour de force of Peacock’s offbeat storytelling and innuendo prowess and surprising vocal shifts, from arena-ready belting to pillow-talk whispers. She relates how her upbringing didn’t predispose her for domesticity but rather for independence and sexuality. The backdrop is subdued funk rock in a tricky meter. “Daddy never taught me how to suck-seed, that’s why I’m so crazy crazy crazy,” she intones. “My destiny’s not to serve/I’m a woman/My destiny is to create.” Here’s your unsung ’70s feminist anthem.

But wait—it gets better. “Real & Defined Androgens” stands (or lies) as one of the sexiest songs ever written. This is low-slung, dangerous funk that would just as soon knife you as fuck you; maybe it’ll do both simultaneously. Peacock again flaunts her vast range, mostly reciting detachedly erotic lyrics in slow, seductive Sprechstimme, but occasionally blossoming into full-on testifying-Aretha Franklin mode. The music gradually intensifies into a madly thrusting yet controlled freakout haloed by a wild sax solo and laced with insanely cascading keyboards. “Real & Defined Androgens” is a perfect fusion of male and female energies and unlike anything I’ve ever heard… and I’ve heard a lot, because I’m old and obsessive.

Side two simmers with sophisticated, romantic jazz-pop ballads that feature Peacock using her most conventional crooning voice, with intermittent sensuous spoken-word passages to heighten the intimacy. There’s also a cover of the Otis Blackwell-penned Elvis Presley hit “Don’t Be Cruel” that Peacock smooths and accelerates into a Steely Dan-like, limousine-funk glide. The musicianship throughout X-Dreams is impeccable, featuring King Crimson/Yes drummer Bill Bruford, guitarists such as Mick Ronson, Chris Spedding, and Brian Godding (Blossom Toes), plus many other studs. It’s all very… nice, but the real thrills come hot and heavy on that opening diptych.

Thom Jurek summed up the record well on allmusic.com: “[X-Dreams] still sounds a bit ahead of its time. Peacock may have been wringing her own personal exorcism from these tracks, but for the rest of us, she offered a guidebook of complex emotional terrain, a treatise on the messy state of love, and a Read more›

Soft Machine “Six” (Columbia, 1973)

51MErwwTDTL._SX355_

By this point in Soft Machine’s history, drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt was long gone and the Dadaist art pop of the first two LPs had vanished in a thick cloud of jazz-fusion smoke. But it would be a mistake to ignore Soft Machine’s post-Wyatt output. While many praise Third as the group’s peak after sweet Bobby W. left, I’m partial to Six—and it’s mainly because of two epic tracks: “The Soft Weed Factor” (John Barth allusion noted) and “Chloe And The Pirates.” I’ll explain why shortly. But first, it’s important to say that Six consists of one live LP and one studio record. The latter is where the best tracks lie.

Don’t get me wrong—the 11 live songs here are quite good. Whenever you have musicians the caliber of Hugh Hopper (bass), Mike Ratledge (keyboards, celeste), John Marshall (drums, percussion), and former Nucleus member Karl Jenkins (oboe, saxes, pianos), you’re going to get smart, complex, timbrally interesting compositions. Ratledge and Jenkins dominate the songwriting, and their PhD-level prog and jazz chops keep your neurons on their proverbial toes (clunky metaphor alert), as you try to figure out their crazy time signatures. The highlight of the concert recordings may be “Lefty,” which sounds like Miles Davis in At Filmore/Live-Evil/Big Fun mode—surprising and explosive.

Now about those two standouts mentioned in the first paragraph. Jenkins’ 11-minute “Soft Weed Factor” is a patiently unspooling piece featuring Jenkins and Ratledge’s intertwining keyboards, a helix of slow-motion, Terry Riley-esque hypnosis. When the methodical funk beats, sinuous bass line, and sax come in, it sounds like Miles and his In A Silent Way band have infiltrated the studio. Chills ensue. It would be okay if this were three times longer. Ratledge’s “Chloe And The Pirates” begins with a spacey electric-piano-dominated fantasia not unlike the intro to Deodato’s “Thus Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” before gradually shifting into a showcase for Jenkins’ beautiful oboe arabesques. He kind of puts Andy Mackay’s part in Roxy Music’s “Ladytron” to shame. Six ends on a very weird note, with Hopper’s “1983” evoking a spinal-fluid-chilling horror-soundtrack vibe with chthonic piano and percussion whose spooked-wind-chime timbres I’ve never heard anywhere else. (If they haven’t already, Demdike Stare really should sample this.) Here’s to world-class studio trickery… -Buckley Mayfield  Read more›

Swing Sideways: Oakland’s Black Jazz Records

New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Fort Worth, Los Angeles… By the 70’s Jazz had gone through many form changes and developments, many defined by geographic location. Retrospect shows that these changes were refreshing; groups went electric or funky or free. But for many in the dark at the time, smaller developments unfortunately went overlooked as they veered ears toward Brubeck or Piven.

In Oakland, a small grouping of interesting musicians previously involved with Charlie Parker, Nat Adderly, Count Basie… is some fashion recorded a strange brew of music for Black Jazz Records, a small label set up by pianist Gene Russell. The label itself was one of the only active Jazz companies of the day run by African Americans. Like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, they could be political. Like Davis, they incorporated funk and soul. And like many free units of the 70’s, spirit and energy trumped virtuosity most of the time.

Active for only six years, Black Jazz ended abruptly after Gene’s passing in the early 1980s. Since then the master recordings have traded hands numerous times, and copies were used for samples by hip hop artists. Many key tracks recently ended up on a compilation curated by Detroit selector and DJ Theo Parrish (“Black Jazz Signatures: 1971-1976”), renewing interest in the label.

A little history on the movers and shakers…

R-2007750-1385445097-7070.jpegGene Russell himself made the recordings on Black Jazz happen. His best known album “Talk To My Lady” was self-released via the label and prior to that he had one obscurity lost in the shuffle from Decca. “Talk To My Lady” features a very interesting rework of “My Favorite Things” that alone is worth the price of admission…

R-3915079-1349083436-8351.jpegDoug Carn was most prolific for the Oakland label in the early 70s, putting out a release typically once a year. A principal funk and soul player back in the day, his style of jazz-funk was spacey but starkly recorded in contrast to Herbie’s sci-fi releases. Theo’s compilation features his infectious “Trance Dance” track, miles away from his earlier work with Earth Wind and Fire.

R-1397979-1284815604.jpegThe Awakening produced little but left a big impression in the way that reminds one of the Art Ensemble rhythm section, but not so much Roscoe or Lester, more like a conventional modal horn and reed format. Their work could move from tight and funky to cool. Only two albums were released by Black … Read more›

Blurt “Beneath Discordant Skies” (Metadrone, 2015)

R-7711828-1447237295-8380.jpegThey’re back, though they never went away, really… Equal parts punk, noise performance and square-one rock racket, Blurt is a band that always has a pulse and it’s always pumping. For those that don’t know, Blurt is usually a trio run by sax player Ted Milton, and has been one of the most inventive groups to grace us from the late Seventies onward.

Normally this would be a capsule review of one record, but I have to touch on their self-titled LP and “Live In Berlin” because they are just so unique. In Manchester they were briefly on Factory and I dare say their records outshine the flashier groups like Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and the rest from that time pretty easily. Those records don’t sound the least bit dated. And as a live act, they were probably more rough and raucous than The Fall.

So here is the new one, with Ted as an old man, but he STILL sounds as inventive as ever. His playing is a unique spew and can’t be summed up as an Ayler/Ornette imitation. Lyrically he’s great and he always sounds wonderfully garbled. Longtime rhythm guitarist Steve Eagles is here. New drummer David Aylewood pumps along diligently. What more should I say? If you haven’t heard what some would call a post-punk gem, I’d give Blurt some attention. I’d also just call them a heck of a modern band. -Wade… Read more›

Wayne Shorter “Speak No Evil” (Blue Note, 1966)

Speak_No_Evil-Wayne_ShorterFeaturing fresh members Herbie Hancock out of the Miles Davis Quintet and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne continues his ideas in hard bop that he had done so well in previous work. However, Miles influences rub off as much as Coltrane had previously on him… The music is still as modal as it was on “Juju” and reminds us of his work on classic Davis releases.

In fact, shades of more classic Miles and Coltrane make up much of “Speak No Evil,” while Davis and Trane themselves were going down more precarious avenues in the mid-Sixties. That’s no slight on Shorter though, who makes fine compositions. Elvin Jones drums here but he’s kept in check, anchoring the rhythm section diligently. Bassist Ron Carter comes from Eric Dolphy’s world and is a good foil for him.

Wayne delivers an extension on the sound that Miles was known for before his forays into electric music. This was also a few steps before Wayne would get more involved with fusion himself in Weather Report… “Speak No Evil” is a great sixties Jazz album, looking back but contemporary in the best ways, sporting a talented mix of players. -Wade… Read more›

John Coltrane/Archie Shepp “New Thing At Newport” (Impulse! 1965)

John-Coltrane-New-Thing-At-Newp-450028The Classic Coltrane Quartet in fine form, by 1965 they were at the pinnacle. The New Thing in question was a mix of Avant and Free music that Trane and company waded into, not immersing themselves totally in atonality. On the official vinyl album, we here the twelve minute, “One Down, One Up,” which is well worth the price of the LP by itself…

But then there is the second track and second side, and while Coltrane’s music takes us higher throughout and expresses more in ascending spurts and rips, Archie Shepp’s music revels in mid to low-tempo vibraphone rhythms. Archie himself plays sax like he’s being suffocated by a pillow, or strangled. And he staunchly reveals political leanings in spoken word moments like “Scag.”

This is a sea-change moment in Jazz, and for Coltrane in particular. A great live album by itself, the expanded CD edition is also worth grabbing for an absolutely searing rendition of “My Favorite Things” that is totally joyous and leaves the crowd screaming for more. This is right up there with “Live At Birdland” and hints the coming days and tangents of Jazz to come through two unique sets. -Wade… Read more›

Kalima “Four Songs” (Factory, 1985)

R-1549929-1227690914.jpegA mid-period release that didn’t seem to fit anywhere with their label-mates going House and Electro, Kalima were an interesting group… a tangent of flagship Factory band A Certain Ratio they might have been, but very much a stand alone act.

While ACR had a dark, brooding Velvet Underground meets Mutiny vibe about them, Kalima craned their ears to more sophisticated Jazz and South American pop. Members of ACR make up Kalima’s rhythm section and more, but the direction behind Kalima’s lush numbers comes from siblings Ann and Tony Quigley, who provide vocals and sax, respectively.

The “Four Songs” EP is a great introduction to this interesting Factory venture, not quite sophisti-pop (no electronic keyboards or drum machines), they come off as earnest practitioners of forms gone by, around a time in the U.K. when House music was coming into vogue. -Wade… Read more›