Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’77 “Primal Roots” (1972)

As the title suggests, this isn’t another excursion into Brazilian pop. Here, there’s no pandering to Tropicália, disco or whatever was en vogue in 1972 -yes despite being played by the Brasil ’77, the album was actually recorded in 1972 under the alternate title “Raízes.” This is an album of traditional Brazilian music. The compositions feature traditional percussion instruments such as the gogó, cuica, pandeiro and atabaques. Much of the compositions emphasize the African origins of Brazilian music. While “Primal Roots” doesn’t sell out to commercial pressures, it is far from a field recording of traditional music. While some songs feature minimalist chanting and drumming, others feature those silky smooth female vocalists, flutes and some psychedelic keyboard work. Sergio Mendes may never be remembered in the same light as Astrud Gilberto, Airto Moreira and Gilberto Gil but “Primal Roots” will always be remembered as his ‘important album.’ —The Delite RancherRead more›

Arthur Blythe “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” (1978)

Not just a great jazz album, but a great album, period. First of all, there’s the fact that this little masterpiece slipped out in the period in which Branford Marsalis seems to think that “jazz just kind of died” which is a nice little thing in itself. But as a record, there’s not just great tunes and great playing here, though they’re there in spades, but the way it’s constructed from the uplift of the leading cut “Down San Diego Way” down to the darker, troubling “Odessa” is a thing of note as well. Rare are the jazz guys who work hard at constructing an album as a total listening experience, so it always pleases me when it’s done well. But to go back to the beginning, and what makes this good jazz in the first place, is the playing and the tunes. Blythe has never sounded better on any record of his that I’ve heard – or anyone else’s record either. The brilliant and underrated James Newton is given loads of fine moments here, while James ‘Blood’ Ulmer is unusually restrained, playing mostly backgrounds and fills, soloing only on the closing track. Bob Stewart’s tuba gives a unique character to the ensemble, and his couple of solos are also fine. Rhythm is taken care of by the amazing Jack DeJohnette, who’s all over his kit, Guillermo Franco’s percussion complements Jack’s wild rhythms, and the amazing Cecil McBee’s bass provides the solid grounding that the whole group needs to make it fly. Simply a great album however you slice it. —PatrickRead more›

Brand X “Moroccan Roll” (1977)

Any band or artist that was blessed with Phil Collins presence on the drums in the 70’s would instantly improve their sound. Brand X, of course, was no exception. In fact, If I had to choose one band to prove the greatness of Phil Collins behind the drum kit, it would be Brand X. As much as I love Genesis, it’s here that he seems most confident to create whatever he feels like and to develop a style with no restrictions. In Genesis he was brilliant on the drums, but he was always conscious of the boundaries imposed by Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks compositions. In Brand X he sounds like there’s nothing he can’t do. The other guys are brilliant as well, but it’s Phil Collins that makes them sound so tight.

The music is unmistakingly late 70’s funk-prog-fusion with a jazzy flavor. This is fusion that never becomes tiring and self-absorbed. It’s music for people who love to get lost in a sound filled with intricate patterns and cool atmospheres created by musicians in perfect control of their own vision and who know how to explore new boundaries without losing their sense of fun on the way! —SomRead more›

Eberhard Weber “The Colours of Chloë” (1974)

In the documentary Jazz by Ken Burns, Wynton Marsalis says that Jazz Fusion was a dead end, so Burns, ever a dupe of authority, leaves most of the great work of the 1970’s out of the documentary as if it never existed.

He and Ken Burns ought to have listened to this great album, a work of subtly, grace, and ethereal moods, using not just jazz instruments, but a complete range of orchestral colors. A masterpiece of style, and a template for the ECM sound as well, a place where jazz’s best attributes, technique, melodic playing, experimental strides, and lack of cliche, moved Jazz in a truly new direction. —MarkRead more›

Where’s That Confounded Bridge?
A Rock Listener’s Guide to Exploring Jazz

Growing up with rock, I heard some of my favorite bands incorporate jazz into their sound. From The Stones’ heavy use of brass in the mid-seventies to the The Dead’s free-form improvisations and the jazz-infused rock of Zappa and Traffic, the influence of jazz was all around me. Meanwhile a bridge from the rock section to jazz remained elusive. I owned the prerequisite recordings: Miles’s Kind of Blue and Brubeck’s Take Five, along with a handfull of jazz-funk classics like Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. While these records served as a decent introduction, the real appeal of jazz still mystified me and free jazz made me cringe in terror. Ornette Coleman would have quickly send me running back to the sanctuary of my Kinks records.

I decided to make an effort to broaden my knowledge and appreciation for jazz. I temporarily set aside my cherished rock records, emptied my iPod of all that I knew and loved, and I proceeded to feed myself a steady diet of things jazz: from big band and bop, to free-jazz and fusion. I knew that I’d walk away from the experiment with some new insight and possibly even rekindle my romance with rock & roll after our trial separation. My real hope was that I might unlock some of the mysteries of jazz and discover some new favorite artists and albums and I did! My feelings towards jazz slowly changed from curiosity to an insatiable appetite for all forms of the genre. I quickly learned that jazz, like rock, is a broad term with many definitions. Several of the artists (Ornette Coleman included) that initially caused me to scramble for my mute button have since become favorites. As this new language became more familiar I began to hear beauty where once I had heard noise.

For the purpose of this guide, I’ll concentrate on some of my very early favorites: All of these suggestions are experimental while remaining accessible. All of them are heavily influenced by other genres including Rock, World Music and R&B, making them early examples of fusion before that term came to mean its own genre. Collectively these records created a bridge to a world that I’m still exploring today and all of them reserve a special place in my increasingly eclectic music collection:

1. Yusef Lateef The Blue Yusef Lateef (1969). If there was ever an album to sum … Read more›

Rahsaan Roland Kirk “Prepare Thyself to Deal With a Miracle” (1973)

If Rahsaan Roland Kirk truly was a god (you’ll have to grant me this assumption), Prepare Thyself is his book of Isaiah, a document that ties together the history of his people, their current challenges and predicaments, all the while pointing to a glorious future. Classical, blues, Romantic, free, modal, bop: Kirk masters it all, tamps and shapes it into a heroic, tender Black Music.

“Saxophone Concerto” is the fireworks show on the record; Kirk blows for 20 minutes continually amid a din of dancing styles. In places it sounds like circus music, but really, Kirk’s running you down with the whole troupe (bop, chant, free), pointing out the mastery in the chaos with his fiery sax leads. It’s a story of awakening, of talent leading to craftsmanship leading to personal and cosmic freedom. The end is an ocean of drone and liberty. I’m straining here- listen to the record. There’s more. “Salvation and Reminiscing” is a ghost’s workout, his vocalists hauntingly echo his minor-key phrases, before a roiling string section (complete with chimes and timpani) chases Kirk through the woods. He goes through a tonal workout before echoing the strings’ theme, which then gets resolved in a most cinematic manner. There’s still more. “Seasons” puts every post-rock band to shame with its main section. After a folksy duet ‘tween nose flute and what sounds like finger cymbals, Rahsaan coos softly above a plucked bass, lurching between the same two or three evocative notes. Soon, Kirk is pushing the limits of his flute, aspirating loudly, groaning and muttering like a floor-bound Pentacostal. But it’s all joy. I hear snips of what could be him saying “aw yeah”; regardless, he sounds happy as hell, completely peaceful and in control of a fucking cloud machine. For ten minutes, he captivates with an expression of pure awe and a simplistic background that puts today’s guitar-bound clods to shame. I can’t recommend this record enough. —Silent MikeRead more›

Miles Davis “Dark Magus” (1977)

Imagine this – on one shoulder sits Curtis Mayfield, with white wings, white robe, pointing Miles in the direction of Heaven, on the other sits Charlie Parker caked in darkness, promising Miles the sun, moon, anything he wants if he will give in to temptation only once more. Then it begins. Underground Davis, at this grey grisly juncture, cuts a reclusive figure, like someone who shuts the door as soon as the music stops, dealing with his own externally silent internally pounding vices and saviours. His band, long departed from days of inch wide ties and handmade leather shoes sound like they were dragged from ‘Live and Let Die’, those intoxicating rhythmic thrusts evocative of severed goat heads and glistening snakes, Michael Henderson hypnotising himself on his own heavy fingered, staccato bass lines, Davis appearing from behind a headstone to insert his conniving fills and then return to his organ to mediate to his darkness and light sponsors. Just think, anyone one of these guys could grab you just like that and you might never be the same again if you are lucky to return, Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey’s guitar lines soundtrack to rainy November night terrors, Azar Lawrence’s tenor sax so stifling in tone you could pass out. Joking aside if it got any more nauseatingly bleak it would make ‘Bitches Brew’ sound like an episode of ‘The Brady Bunch’. —KildareJohnRead more›

Herbie Mann “Stone Flute” (1970)

One of the pleasures of working in a record store are those quiet weekday afternoons when you can randomly throw on forgotten records in hopes of unearthing a buried gem. Stone Flute is one of those gems. It’s also a far cry from the middle-of-the-road soul-jazz I generally associate with the furry Mr. Mann. (For all it’s guilty, funky pleasure, this is no Push Push. It’s one of the few records Mann recorded for his own Embryo labe, best known for its moody, trippy jazz and jazz-rock, and Stone Flute is no exception.

Standout tracks are the spacious, Eastern-inspired Donovan cover “In Tangier,” and the jaw-droppingly beautiful version of the Beatles’ “Flying,” which somehow manages to be even trippier than the original without sounding dated. If that wasn’t enough, the experimental “Miss Free Spirit” features jazz gods, Sonny Sharrock, Roy Ayers and and a pre-Weather Report Miroslav Vitous in top form. The album features lengthy, spacious arrangements that are difficult to digest properly with a quick listen, give it a thorough spin and you’ll discover a totally unique Herbie Mann record and one that any fan of late sixties/early seventies jazz will likely enjoy. –David… Read more›

Stomu Yamash’ta “Freedom Is Frightening” (1973)

Japanese percussionist/composer Stomu Yamash’ta settled in England in 1972, after studying music in his native country and later in the USA. He worked mainly as a composer for theatre music, but his signing as a recording artist for the Island label brought his work to the attention of a wider audience, which later led to him forming the group East Wind, which recorded this exceptional album. Combining forces with some of the best British musicians at the time, the band included Yamash’ta on drums and percussion, his wife Hisako on violin, guitarist Gary Boyle (Isotope), keyboardist Brian Gascoigne, and bassist Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine). The music is a wonderful fusion of Western and Far Eastern elements as well as many cross genre excursions, from atmospheric ambient to high spirited Jazz-Rock Fusion. Although Yamash’ta became mostly known for the “Go” recordings featuring Traffic’s Steve Winwood, a few years later, this is truly his most remarkable album recorded for Island and the one that withstands the test of time most adamantly. Wholeheartedly recommended! —AdamRead more›

Herbie Mann “Live at the Whisky A Go Go” (1969)

Oh my Lordie is this record a slab of righteous funky soul jazz. With Roy Ayers and Sonny Sharrock in the lineup, how can you go wrong? Although they had been with Herbie for a while by now in variations of this lineup, this record is quite a few shades funkier than earlier efforts like Windows Opened. It’s comprised of only two long tracks on each side, with crisp engineering and production by the Atlantic team of Bill Halverson and Sr. Ertegun. The first tune is a mid-tempo sizzler, electric bass from Miroslav Vitous locking in nicely with drummer Bruno Carr, and some understated percussion work from Herbie when he’s not riffing on flute. There’s plenty of room for all the soloists to stretch out on this one, although Sharrock restrains himself to chugging along in a loose but tasty two-chord rhythm part. He lets loose his free-jazz guitar on the next track, however — the upbeat ‘Philly Dog,’ a tune written by Rufus Thomas and famously recorded by the Mar-Kays a few years earlier. Their version tops out around 3 minutes; this one stretches out about ten minutes longer than that. While Sonny Sharrock’s own work over the next few decades is undoubtedly more challenging and avant-garde than anything he recorded with Herbie Mann, I have to say I really, really enjoy his bursts of madness over the organic and tuneful funk grooves of the records they made together, when he comes blasting in like a furnace. Roy Ayers is, well, Roy Ayers, and makes the addition of anyone on keys to this live setting completely unnecessary. I tend to feel that Herbie Mann has been underappreciated in general – written-off by jazz purists early in his career as a sell-out, and often passed over by crate diggers in search of more obscure beats. He was definitely on a roll in 1969, with the amazing Memphis Underground LP also coming out that year. —flabbergastedRead more›

Don Ellis “Autumn” (1968)

Brilliant American trumpeter, composer, arranger, and bandleader, Don Ellis led a superb Big Band, which was one of the most outstanding Jazz ensembles in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Eons ahead of its time, Ellis’ fascination with uneven meters and World music influences made his music truly revolutionary and fresh and the music lost nothing of its relevance over the years. He also had a rare talent to pick up the best musicians for his band, mostly forward-thinking individuals, ideally suited for his unusual approach to music and brilliant instrumentalists. Some of the musicians playing on this album are saxophonists Frank Strozier and John Klemmer, trumpeter Glen Ferris and many more outstanding musicians. The brilliant music was all composed by Ellis, except one Charlie Parker standard. At its full might the orchestra sounds like nothing else before or since, with every instrument perfectly fulfilling its role. Two of the six tracks were recorded live and show the orchestra as one of the most exciting live acts at the time. It’s fascinating to read the album’s liner notes written by Al Kooper, who was Columbia’s A&R manager at the time, describing the Don Ellis experience at the time. This is an absolute must to Jazz  fans, but all music connoisseurs should find this music fascinating. —AdamRead more›

Howard Roberts “Antelope Freeway” (1971)

From the earliest days of electronic gimmickry and 16-track, 2″ recording comes this fusion curiosity, replete with all sorts of quaint psychedelic touches that were probably intended to garner radio airplay in some better world than this. As I recall, the reviewer in Down Beat burned poor Howard Roberts at the stake. A pity, because this fun recording has all sorts of great blues-inflected jazz-guitar showcases, humorous tangents, and audiophile sound effects to recommend it—assuming your tastes run to concluding an acoustic guitar transition with a stereo-panned motorcycle zooming through your living room. While it’s something of a stretch, at many points Antelope Freeway suggests Edgard Varèse’s use of processed tape effects and found sounds to create a spiky aural collage. A closer antecedent is the Firesign Theatre, whose influence is self-evident in “Five Gallons of Astral Flash Could Keep You Up for Thirteen Weeks,” a hilarious sendup of late-night journeys down the radio dial. None of this would mean a damn if it weren’t for a dynamic Record Plant multitrack recording, a hard-grooving Bitches Brew-lite rhythm section, and Roberts’ devoutly funky phrasing on such virtuoso workouts as “Sixteen Track Firemen” and “Roadwork”—or, in a luminously lyrical mood, on the Echoplexed harmonic balladry of “Dark Ominous Clouds” and “Santa Clara River Bottom.” —Chip SternRead more›