Friday, 21 February 2020

The Crusaders



The albums covered here are:-

1 (1972)
and Street Life (1979)

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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1 (1972)

1. That's How I Feel
2. So Far Away
3. Put It Where You Want It
4. Mystique Blues
5. Full Moon
6. Sweet Revival
7. Mud Hole
8. It's Just Gotta Be That Way
9. Georgia Cottonfield
10. A Shade Of Blues
11. Three Children
12. Mosadi                                               
                      
In 1971, The Jazz Crusaders diversified away from the jazz of their original name, and became simply The Crusaders, adding more than a little funk to the sound as they did so. Many jazz artists seemed to be getting the funk in the early seventies. It was the vibe, man. They were taking the sounds and atmosphere of a jazz club and mixing it with the gritty, urban funk music of the streets, which made for a mighty appealing mix on this lengthy 1972 double album release.

That's How I Feel is an excellent opening to the album, full of brooding funky wah-wah guitar, swirling jazzy saxophone, rumbling bass and shuffling funky fatback drums. Carole King's So Far Away is given a delicious, thirteen minute makeover. It is a veritable cornucopia of sumptuous virtuosity - tinkling, melodic piano (Joe Sample), subtle bass (Chuck Rainey), gently insistent drums (Stix Hooper), trumpet (Wayne Henderson) and wonderfully evocative saxophone (Wilton Felder) all feature heavily. The bass line reminds me of Steely Dan's Rikki Don't Lose That Number. Bassist Chuck Rainey went on to play on that band's Pretzel Logic album, along with Wilton Felder.

Put It Where You Want It (also covered by The Average White Band but with added lyrics) is a magnificent track, which, despite having no vocals, is marvellously catchy. You almost feel that it has vocals, but it doesn't. Radio stations caught on to that as well, and played it alongside other singles. Check out that infectious guitar line (Larry Carlton). Great stuff. The same can be said for the atmospheric slow burn of Mystique Blues. Once more, what a great track.

  

Full Moon is an intoxicating piece of early seventies gritty jazzy funk that wouldn't sound out of place on a Blaxploitation compilation. It has that urban street jazz sound that was so prevalent in 1971-1973. Man, just listen to that bass intro to Sweet Revival. Then the guitar and the drums kick in and the rhythm is utterly captivating. Mud Hole is a gritty, funky number with some excellent drum parts. It's Just Gotta Be That Way sees the group going late night jazz blues on a most relaxing number, while the jazzy funk is back in a. big way on Georgia Cottonfield, with is very "jazz" piano solo.

A Shade Of Blues is very Blaxploitation soundtrack-esque. Wah-wah and horns - you know the sound. Three Children ploughs the same furrow. The piano solo reminds me of Mike Garson's piano work on David Bowie's Aladdin Sane. The bass too. Mosadi is a slow burning jazzer to finish with, with a touch of Abdullah Ibrahim about it (with added wah-wah, of course).

A whole double album here is a lot of music but it serves well as really high quality background (but loud enough to hear and appreciate) music, while you're reading, for example.

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STREET LIFE (1979)

1. Street Life
2. My Lady
3. Rodeo Drive (High Steppin')
4. Carnival Of The Night
5. The Hustler
6. Night Faces                                                   
From disco's rhythms, in 1979, melodic, jazz funk grooves had become a more discerning music of choice for those who found disco's poppy vibes too lowest common denominator. Nothing summed this up more than The Crusaders's huge hit, Street Life, although I have often wondered what those who bought this album expecting more of the same felt when they heard five instrumentals along with that track.

The album is crammed full of superb saxophone, piano and jazzy rhythm, however. It is a lovely late night, chilled out piece of work. The sound quality is also outstanding, the sort of thing you used to hear played in hi-fi shops as a demonstration of the equipment’s quality.

Street Life, as I said, needs no introduction, of course. It is the album's only vocal track, featuring the talents of Randy Crawford. It is presented here in its full, eleven minute plus version, with its slow, soulful introduction before that instantly recognisable horn/funky guitar riff kicks in.

  

My Lady has an infectious, insistent drum beat and that typically jazz funk tinkling piano, the sort that Shakatak would come to specialise in. The saxophone soloing is superb and the track, indeed like all the album washes over you like a warm bath. Near the end it features some really good drum/sax rhythms.

Rodeo Drive (High Steppin’) and Carnival Of The Night are largely saxophone-driven. The former is quite jaunty and has a feel of a seventies movie soundtrack, you know, as the camera sweeps over brightly lit New York streets and skyscrapers of an evening as the opening credits roll in big yellow writing. The latter has some intoxicating percussion work and a pretty irresistible series of saxophone breaks. The two tracks sort of complement each other.

The Hustler has a bit of a blaxploitation funky vibe to it, while Night Faces is a deliciously bassy slice of dignified jazz funk to finish off the album in relaxed mood. The bass and piano interplay is excellent and that bass is just beautifully warm and melodic. Good stuff. It is a real pleasure form beginning to end.



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Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Sam Dees



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THE SHOW MUST GO ON (1975)

1. Child Of The Streets
2. The Show Must Go On
3. Come Back Strong
4. Just Out Of Reach
5. Claim Jumpin'
6. Troubled Child
7. What's It Gonna Be
8. Worn Out Broken Heart
9. Good Guys
10. So Tied Up                                            

This superb 1975 album from an artist that was better-known as a songwriter (for Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, George Benson, Millie Jackson and KC & The Sunshine Band among many others), is a virtually unknown gem of a rarity. Coming a bit late to the message of urban decay/societal decline/drug abuse trend of the late sixties/early seventies in soul music it still carried a fine, funky punch to it, both musically and lyrically. Another fine point about it is the fact that there is not only meaningful, conscious material on here but also some sweet soul too. Is has a nice balance to it. The album has lain dormant, out of print, for many years until it appeared on the Atlantic Soul Legends 20 album compilation, delighting soul fans. The sound on it is absolutely stunning too, lovely and bassy.

Child Of The Streets is a marvellously atmospheric, slow burning social message number, with obvious echoes of The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth and Marvin Gaye. "Your father is a pusherman" was the opening line and it set the trend for a hard-hitting, bassy groove that delivers like a preacher dishing out a wise warning. It is packed full of depressing and uncompromising images backed by echoey, haunting vocals. Written by Dees with bassist David Camon, it is very influenced by Norman Whitfield and Curtis Mayfield.

  

As I said earlier, the album is varied as well, though - it is not all trouble and strife as the sweet, lush, romantic soul of The Show Must Go On proves. It is very like something groups like Blue Magic or The Manhattans would do, or The Chi-Lites on Have You Seen HerCome Back Strong is positively Harold Melvin/Teddy Pendergrass-esque, not only in its gruffly soulful vocal, but also in its typically seventies-style Philly soul bass and percussion interplay. Just Out Of Reach continues in classic slow soul ballad fashion. Dees is a pretty competent singer, it has to be said, with a rich, warm but gritty tone, sort of Bobby Womack meets Teddy Pendergrass.

Claim Jumpin' returns to social problems, and is a cookin', thumpin' brassy funker that should have gained more than just cult success. The atmosphere is continued on the Curtis Mayfield-influenced Troubled Child. It is delivered at walking pace and carries a sombre message to it. The tempo and ambience rises up again on the jaunty Bobby Womack-style soul of What's It Gonna Be. Polished, slick soul is the order of the day for the very Chi-Lites-esque Worn Out Broken Heart. Good Guys has a positively Detroit Spinners vibe and vocal sound to it. The final track is a slow, late night smoocher of a song, in sort of Love TKO mode.

So, only three of the ten songs are message ones, but they certainly are notable, the rest are sumptuous, romantic soul. It makes for a nice combination. There is no doubt that this was a soul album of the highest order and deserves attention.

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Angélique Kidjo



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REMAIN IN LIGHT (2018)

1. Born Under Punches
2. Crosseyed And Painless
3. The Great Curve
4. Once In A Lifetime
5. Houses In Motion
6. Seen And Not Seen
7. Listening Wind
8. The Overload                                        

As someone who bought Talking Heads' Remain In Light upon release in 1980 and is virtually familiar with every note, this is certainly a most interesting release (I have reviewed the original album in detail on the Talking Heads page). Here, Benin artist Angélique Kidjo covers the entire album from an African perspective, which highlights the very West African, Afrobeat rhythms that inspired David Byrne and the band in the first place. The whole album is intoxicatingly rhythmic, with Hi-life, Afrobeat sounds pulsating throughout from beginning to end. Legendary Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen is one of many musicians to contribute to a huge, punchy, horn and percussion-powered non-stop groove and Kidjo's vocals are euphorically rousing. She never lets the huge backing get the better of her. It is a wonderful piece of Afro/rock fusion that takes a classic album and respectfully enhances it. Kidjo has said that she remembers listening to the original album and immediately recognising aspects of her native music within, at a time when not too much Western rock/new wave music contained such clear "world music" influences. What she and her team have done is recognise all those West African influences, kept them there and built on them, considerably. This is not like an orchestra re-working a rock album, unconvincingly, it is West African musicians taking a Western album that was considerably influenced by their own indigenous music and creating something very special, using that very music. It doesn't sound remotely forced, anything but. It is a joy. Be prepared, though, the sound is thumpingly loud and you need to lower the sound on your system to appreciate it at its best.

The old "side one" of the original album, the rhythmic trio of Born Under Punches, Crosseyed And Painless and The Great Curve are, unsurprisingly, the tracks which are the most convincing. They were the most obviously African and lend themselves perfectly for this sort of project. As on the original album, the rhythm and beat doesn't let up for a minute. The searing rock guitar of the original hasn't been neglected either. All the African elements are embellished, coming even more to the fore at the expense of the Brian Eno-inspired electronic, ambient textures that merged with the African rhythms on the original album. This work is full-on African, which, of course, the skeleton of the original album was.

  

One track that doesn't quite come off for me, however, is Once In A Lifetime. The album's most commercial track and my least favourite doesn't quite get there, sounding a bit too fussy and cluttered. Also, the thing that gave the song a lot of is appeal was David Byrne's vocal, paranoid quirkiness. Kidjo has none of that in her delivery. That is splitting hairs a little, however, as it is still eminently listenable, more for its music than its lyrics, whereas the original was the other way around.

The beguiling Houses In Motion is given a staccato, bassy and different makeover, featuring some ethnic language parts (Yoruba?). This one works well, with a completely infectious rhythm/beat. Listen to those authentic West Africa horns too. The lyrically mysterious, spoken Seen And Not Seen is given a vibrant, thumping new life by Kidjo. The David Byrne spoken bits, perplexing as they are, now sound hauntingly voodoo-esque in Kidjo's hands. The album's cover has echoes of that too. The end of the song breaks out into an uplifting glorious piece of choral majesty. The same can be said of Listening Wind. As on all of the tracks, all the vocal call-and-response is there, but emphasised even more. The vocals are truly amazing throughout, check out the bass and addictive percussion on here too. These three tracks are all really impressive.

The sombre, always incongruous post-punk gloom of The Overload is another that doesn't quite come off, though. It has no need for Kidjo's rousing vocals. Still, six out of eight corkers ain't half bad.

This had the potential to be a disaster, attempting to cover such an iconic, unique album like this, but it is the very opposite. It is a refreshing triumph. It is possible for both albums to co-exist, bouncing off each other but they can also flourish separately and that says it all.

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Saturday, 15 February 2020

Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers



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DOIN' WHAT I WANNA (1970)

1. Hey Jude
2. Sham Time
3. Theme From Electric Surfboard
4. Right On
5. Dream Bossa Nova
6. Doin’ What I Wanna
7. C.W.                                                                            

This was Atlantic’s first foray into jazz funk, with this virtually unheralded debut album. Coming out in 1970, along with Donny Hathaway’s Everything Is Everything, it stands as quite a ground-breaking release for the label, also exemplifying the contemporary changes in soul music at the turn of the decade.

Wheeler was the tenor saxophonist. He was joined by George Hughes on drums, Sonny Burke on organ, Sonny Covington on trumpet and, try as I might, I cannot find out who played the magnificent bass that embellishes the album. Never mind, I can still enjoy listening to it.

The album has a superb stereo sound to it, rich in bassiness and nowhere is this better heard than on the group’s impressive and innovative funky cover of Hey Jude. It is wonderfully rhythmic and full of strident organ breaks. Listen to that lovely, rubbery bass line too. Funk meets jazz and the result is ensured when the big brass parts kick in, followed by some delicious trumpet. It takes a well-known song and turns it into an instrumental tour de force. Great stuff indeed. How Atlantic soul has progressed.

  

It is now time for some kick-ass early seventies funk in the horn, bass and drum-driven instrumental glory of Sham Time. Theme From Electric Surfboard has an infectious bossa nova groove but also launches via its organ breaks into passages of Blaxplotation-esque brassy funk. It also has some very late fifties-style jazz saxophone from Wheeler. I have to reiterate that the sound is truly outstanding.

This was one of the first times that funk met jazz, something that would become very common in black music over the next few years. This was a precursor to the jazz funk of the Blaxploitation era. This vibe is continued on the intoxicating groove of Right On, which includes a few isolated female backing vocals, one of whom was Judy Clay, of William Bell duet fame. Dream Bossa Nova is a treat for saxophone and bass fans. It is sumptuously beautiful, lounge jazz of the highest order. A bit retrospective maybe but therein lies its appeal.

Doin’ What I Wanna has more virtuoso saxophone, set against a shuffling, funky beat with more excellent organ. C.W. signs off on a track that bears his initials with some more soaring sax. Check out that funky organ break too.

This was an unusual, trend-breaking Atlantic album that is well worth checking out.

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