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 Mike

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’. —KildareJohn

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

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! —Adam

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. —flabbergasted

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. —Adam

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 Stern

Bill Evans “Symbiosis” (1974)

This recording is really amazing. Claus Ogermann’s compositions and arranging are top notch, and the music touches on some of Evans’ past piano work with George Russell and Miles Davis. The 2nd movement’s track 4 is truly one of my favorite Bill Evans performances. The space he creates while playing with such stark emotion is simply breathtaking. The album as a whole sounds great, and all of the pieces are excellent. The 2nd movement is more what Evans was exploring at the time, very introspective, while the 1st movement reminds me of the George Russell albums that Evans played a prominent role on. Also, this trio of his is really shortchanged by a lot of people. Eddie Gomez and Marty Morrell are simply fantastic. I would put this in my top 3 Bill Evans albums of all time. —Tolkkii

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 “Stillness” (1971)

This is not one of your parent’s radio-friendly Brasil ’66 LP’s (although we love those too). Here the group seamlessly blend folk, Brazilian pop and psychedelic rock for some surprising results. The often sampled, funky version of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” is a definite highlight along with the quiet title track, the jazzy version of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning,” Caetano Veloso’s “Lost in Paradise” and the breath-taking arrangement of Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Sometimes in Winter.” This often overlooked LP is a Jive Time Records’ staff favorite and one that sees a lot of our turntable. It’s also relatively scarce for a Sergio Mendes title so grab it when you see it! -David

Glossy Grooves: Selected CTI Recordings

Creed Taylor Incorporated, or CTI Records, is a jazz label fashioned by producer Creed Taylor. Taylor was widely celebrated as the founder of the famed Impulse! label as well as producing classic records for Verve. Impulse! was regarded as being one of the most adventurous labels in jazz during the mid sixties, known for its high quality packaging and eclectic musical styles. When Taylor formed CTI records in 1967, he took these aspects with him. Along with his producing chops, Taylor recruited the great Blue Note legend Rudy Van Gelder, who provided studio time and sound engineering skills. This dream team, alongside some of the top musicians in jazz, created a body of work consisting of high quality, slick (occasionally too slick) recordings of the late sixties and early seventies. Most of the music was a fusion of jazz, funk and R&B, along with Latin themes sprinkled with floating, introspective, surreal interludes. Taylor would frequently provide a string section to the recordings as well. There were also some surprises, with freer more experimental styles integrated into the discography.

CTI remains an important aspect in the evolution of jazz and popular music, especially in hip-hop and neo-soul. Dozens of samples have been lifted from these records; the warm analog production on these records has influenced musicians from all over the spectrum. The presence of Taylor’s craftsmanship (and those tasty beats the DJs all love) can be heard from artists such as LL Cool J and Snoop Dog to Erykah Badu and Prince as well as various electronic free funk groups like Isotope 217. Although several of the records have not aged well (Taylor would often add string sections that tended to water down the music and now sound dated), an abundance of records from CTI still hold relevance today.

Basically, Creed Taylor’s CTI put the “smooth” in jazz before it became a dirty word to purists. In fact, two factors remain pure: the clean beats and the glossy grooves. Here are five records that should be of interest:

1. Freddie Hubbard Red Clay (1970)-A dark, austere album, modern, while at the same time nodding to the great West Coast Cool records of the late fifties. Not only is this essential for any CTI collection but in any jazz collection, period. Electric and acoustic, yet not quite fusion, funky but still swings, this record helped the trumpeter escape the inevitable shadow of Miles Davis.

2. Hubert Laws In the Beginning(1974)-A beautiful record by the flautist Hubert laws. Gentle melodies that standout with steady beats. Soft guitars and vibes along with exotic Latin percussion from Airto that make you want to dance in your dreams.

3. Joe Farrell Joe Farrell Quartet (1970)-An outing led by Joe Farrell on reeds and features the guitar of John McLaughin , Jack DeJohnette on drums, bass extraordinaire Dave Holland and Chick Corea on piano. These cats play a set that smolders but never burns out. There are also some more straight ahead tracks to accompany the avant-garde feel of the record. This is an unusual “outside/inside” record for CTI and a pleasant surprise for fusion, free jazz and straight ahead fans alike.

4: Airto Fingers (1973)-Brazilian percussionist/vocalist Airto was a staple on many recordings for CTI, providing a crucial element to the sound. This is his fist record as a leader for CTI. Here we have a hard hitting Brazilian jazz/rock/funk mixture with Flora Purim bringing some additional vocals to accompany Airto. David Amaro brings an array of guitar styles to the mix from bossa nova comping to fuzzed out rock solos. This is some multifaceted music that can’t be put in any box.

5. George Benson Beyond the Blue Horizon (1971) – A rare, stripped down CTI soul-jazz record from the great guitarist George Benson. Clarence Palmer’s greasy organ licks accentuate the subtle mastery of Jack DeJohnette on drums, bassist Ron Carter plucks the upright bass with much funk. Dig the opening: a hip and fresh rendition of Miles Davis’ ultra cool cut “So What”.

Plenty of other records could have easily been included here. For further exploration, there’s Freddy Hubbard’s Straight Life (1970), a raw jam session that has relentless, immediate grooves and features Herbie Hancock’s electric piano. Vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s Sunflower (1972) is considered a classic by many, a breezy floating record that never gets too light. Drummer Billy Cobham keeps it just rigid enough (even with the string section); I hear the luminous sounds of Sunflower on Zero 7 and Pink Martini records. Hubert Laws Crying Song (1969) Is an early recording from CTI, an introspective piece to the point of almost meditative; highlights include two Pink Floyd covers “Cymbaline” and “Crying Song”. Finally, guitarist Alan Holdsworth’s Velvet Darkness (1976) is an all out fusion affair that could easily be filed in the progressive rock section, another surprise from CTI. —ECM Tim

Are we forgetting your favorite CTI recording? We’d love to hear your comments:

Herbie Hancock “Mwandishi” (1971)

Like a lot of early 70’s fusion, this is highly indebted to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew-era work, combining elements of funk, jazz, and avant-garde with Herbie’s own love of electronic keyboards and primitive synthesizers, low on melodic content but high on atmosphere. His work would get progressively funkier as the years went on, but Mwandishi’s three lengthy tracks are concerned more with creating an otherworldy vibe aimed at your head more than your feet. “Ostinato” emerges out of a spacey haze and rides a funky bass riff for much of its duration, a vehicle for a lengthy electric piano solo and propelled by some exotic percussion. A mellow, sleepy backdrop with washes of echoed electric piano and trumpet flourishes carries “You Know When You’ll Get There,” maintaining a quiet mood, though the band occasionally comes together to play a brief melodic figure, while “Wandering Spirit Song” tempers a similar vibe with frequent bursts of free-form noise. Mwandishi comes recommended to anyone with a love of fusion in the days before it largely morphed into a funk/rock showcase for virtuoso soloing. –Ben

Hank Mobley “Soul Station” (1960)

Hank Mobley recorded this album fresh out of jail after being convicted for heroin posession. Maybe it was relief at finally being free, but the playing here is beautifully relaxed and poised, with a strong sense of flow. As a player, Mobley was sometimes ill-served by recording engineers, but he sounds superb here. And no complaints about the band! There’s nothing revolutionary here, which may lead you to underrate this record; I used to, but the more I get to know it, the better it sounds. —Brad