RUFUS & CHAKA KHAN: Ask Rufus (1977 ABC)
At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)/Close the Door/Slow Screw Against the Wall/Ab Fry/Earth Song/Everlasting Love Hollywood/Magic In Your Eyes/Better Days/Egyptian Song
After starting out as a blues-rock affair with an all-white rhythm section fronted by the powerful vocals of Chaka Khan, Rufus changed the line-up after their first two albums (which only really contained one outstanding track in 'Tell Me Something Good' - penned by Stevie Wonder). Rufusized - the third album, retained only keyboardist Kevin Murphy, drummer Andre Fischer and Khan whilst adding Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson for a marked improvement with the truly great tracks 'Pack'd My Bags' and the Bobby Womack penned 'Stop On By'. The same line-up - enlisting some assistance from Gavin Christopher - again made some classics on the eponymous fourth album including 'Fool's Paradise' and the evergreen 'Sweet Thing'. By then, Chaka Khan had grown into one of black music's most powerful female vocalists and Rufus had grown into one of the most respected mixed-race outfits since Sly & the Family Stone. Everything was geared up for one of soul music's greatest albums once writer/keyboardist David 'Hawk' Wolinski came onboard in 1977. Ask Rufus starts with the funky stomper At Midnight featuring Chaka at her wailing best but the album quickly mellows out with the haunting Close the Door. Its an understated gem with Chaka keeping the tension with a low, sensual vocal until finally letting rip at the finale. The whole track features fine strings arranged by Clare Fischer. A classical interlude written by newcomer Wolinski takes us off into new territory with cello, piano and synthesizers building into a rising string ensemble for a beautiful ending. Its back into the funk for another short interlude before the album hits the heights yet again with the ode to mother nature Earth Song. By now its evident that this album is more sophisticated and jazz influenced than previous Rufus efforts and this continues with Side One's closer 'Everlasting Love' on which Chaka displays an incredibly low range. As if it couldn't get any better Side Two starts with another Wolinski- penned beauty 'Hollywood'. Magic In Your Eyes is maybe the album's highlight - a soft latin backing of shakers, congas and percussion with haunting Rhodes and strings with Chaka's spiritual lyrics leaving us all setup for the final two tracks where Chaka is finally let loose vocally. As a combination of sophisticated song-writing with jazz, classical, soul and funk influences this album is up there with the very best.
RUFUS & CHAKA KHAN: Street Player (1978 ABC)
Street Player / Stay / Turn / Best of Your Heart / Finale Blue Love / Stranger To Love / Take Time / Destiny / Change Your Ways
Rufus & Chaka's follow-up album a year later is less moody, less introspective in general but is still a triumph for the same team of musicians with the addition of Seawind Horns. The opening title track was of course a huge hit for Chicago and indeed this original is not quite as good. But we're quickly back to Ask Rufus standards with the funky 'Stay'. Again Chaka ranges from growling lows to piercing highs and the arrangement is another genre-defying mixture of jazz, soul, funk and rock. After a rather standard funk workout Rufus hit the heights once more with the poignant 'Best of Your Heart' - all mellow rhodes, phased hi-hats and subtly complex orchestration. This segues into a frantic latin jazz ending featuring a great lead synth solo. Side Two starts with two superb tracks - the soulful Blue Love and Stranger To Love - again straddling the pop, soul and funk genres as only Rufus can. After the funk-fusion filler 'Take Time' comes the bossa flavored gem 'Destiny' before the album ends in funky territory with Change Your Ways. This was arguably Rufus' last great album - Chaka's solo career seemed to mark the end of the great partnership. Despite this, Quincy Jones managed to produce a solid album Masterjam in 1979 - with the disco classic 'Do You Love What You Feel' and great tracks like 'Heaven Bound' all with that unmistakable Quincy sound.
PATRICE RUSHEN: Prelusion (Prestige P-10089 - 1974)
Shortie's Portion/ 7/73 Haw-Right Now/Traverse/Puttered Bopcorn
Barely out of her teens - keyboardist Patrice Rushen started a trio of great albums for Prestige: Prelusion, Before the Dawn and Shout It Out in 1974 with guest Joe Henderson on tenor sax. Whilst the majority of side two veers into hard Headhunters style jazz/funk its the whole of side one that captures the attention. Both tracks are written by Rushen who plays acoustic and electric pianos as well as clavinet and ARP synthesisers. Both arrangements are lengthy, almost movie soundtrack in feel with excellent horn arrangements. Rushen would later add singing to her increasingly commercial style in the late 70's/early 80's culminating in the wonderful hits Forget-Me-Nots and Remind Me. Her later albums for Elektra Patrice, Posh and Pizzazz all feature excellent boogie/soul tracks such as Number One, Music of the Earth and Wishful Thinking - recently covered by 4 Hero on Talkin' Loud.
EDDIE RUSS: See The Light (1976 MONUMENT)
See the Light / Zauis / Stop It Now /Salem Avenue / Tomorrow Is Another Day / Poko Nose
A six track album from Detroit organ player Eddie Russ recorded at United Sounds studios - home to George Clinton's experiments at the time and it seems Bernie Worrell left behind some of his keyboards because it's a heavily electronic album with plenty of squelching ARP basslines and those trademark Solina strings are all over every track. Every track is a winner - even the blazenly disco fillers such a Stop It Now and the Herbie-ish Poko Nose which were even issued on a very rare and now sought-after Monument 12 inch. The laid back Salem Avenue features wonderful sax work from Detroit's Larry Nozero and that other Detroit stalwart Marcus Belgrave is also present on trumpet. The album is best known for its two jazz dance-floor classics See the Light and Zauis. See the Light is a tight and funky cover of the Earth, Wind & Fire tune which starts out in fast, epic style before easing down a gear and rolling out into a superb slice of fusion. Zauis is still a floor-filler today - its latin-style rhythm under-pinning multiple layers of synth work, horns and two astonishing rhodes and synth solo's that build and build to a climax before alternating guitar and sax solos take us home. The uplifting Tomorrow Is Another Day completes a fusion classic.
SANTANA: Welcome (Columbia PC32445 - 1973)
Going Home/Love, Devotion and Surrender/Samba de Sausalito/When I Look Into Your Eyes/Yours Is the Light Mother Africa/Light of Life/Flame-Sky/Welcome
San Francisco's finest guitar player came to fame after an ecstatic set at Woodstock - the mixture of chaos, rain, electric guitar and furious latin percussion was captured on film and Santana were shot into the limelight. After a few personel changes came a great creative period which saw Santana including the finest latin and fusion musicians on the albums Caravanerai, Welcome, and Borboletta. Although not as commercially successful as albums such as Abraxas, these albums took Santana's soloing skills into the realms of Coltrane influenced soundscapes - the opening to Caravanserai is pure Pharoah Sanders/Lonnie Liston Smith territory for example. Welcome features the exotic vocals of Flora Purim on Yours Is the LIght and the unique yodelling of Leon Thomas on Light of Life. The album opens with a heavy mellotron/organ hymn and the heaviosity remains throughout the album with huge string sections, masses of percussion and Santana's wailing guitar. The later albums worth checking include the triple live affair Lotus and Oneness - specifically for Free As the Morning Sun.
GIL SCOTT-HERON: Pieces of a Man (1971 FLYING DUTCHMAN)
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised / Save the Children / Lady Day & John Coltrane / Home Is Where the Hatred Is / When You Are Who You Are / I Think I'll Call It Morning Pieces of a Man / A Sign of the Ages / Or Down You Fall / The Needle's Eye / The Prisoner
An album full of mini-masterpieces. Starting with the fire and energy of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - a biting political satire with points relevant even today. Then Gil surprises those who only knew his previous album of poetry for Flying Dutchman by showing he possesses one of black music's most distinctive singing voices. Most of the album focuses on social issues facing black Americans at the time - drugs, poverty, unemployment, etc. However, these heavier tracks are tempered with uplifting gems like Lady Day and John Coltrane, When You Are Who You Are, and I Think I'll Call It Morning. Gil is backed by Bernard Purdie's band and it's a small, tight-knit 'club-date' production style conducted by Johnny Pate. His future long-term band partner Brian Jackson is superb on electric piano as is guest flautist Hubert Laws. Ron Carter and guitarist Burt Jones make up the band - the combination of Purdie and Carter on the opening track is particularly awesome. Scott-Heron somehow proved to be a master of both angry socio-political comment and the sunny feel good song - perfectly exemplified by The Needle's Eye and I Think I'll Call It Morning respectively. The whole album is strong from start to finish ending with the epic blues of The risoner. Scott-Heron recorded one further album for Flying Dutchman (Free Will, 1972) - which included the classic 'Did You Hear What They Said'? before switching to Strata East and ultimately Arista.
GIL SCOTT-HERON & BRIAN JACKSON: Winter in America (1974 STRATA EAST)
Peace Go With You Brother / Rivers of My Fathers / A Very Precious Time / Back Home / The Bottle / Song for Bobby Smith / Your Daddy Loves You / H2 Ogate Blues / Peace Go With You Brother
His only album for Strata East and with pianist and co-composer Brian Jackson now sharing the leader credit. Winter In America sees Gil Scott-Heron n a more intimate session with a small quartet of musicians. This gives Jackson more room to play as he switches from acoustic to electric piano throughout the albums length. The songs are more of the mixture of the impassioned and the laid back. The bluesy 'Rivers of My Father' is a perfect example of this. More gentle and personal are the beautiful and delicate trio of tracks A Very Precious Time, Song For Bobby Smith and Your Daddy Loves You. Jackson's soft Fender Rhodes playing is perfect for these floating ballads. The album is predominantly known for the timeless dance classic The Bottle. A four to the floor stomper about alcoholism - with a rousing, dancing flute line throughout. The album finishes with another biting satire on Nixon-era political life - H2 Ogate Blues. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson went on to sign for Arista after this album and enlarged the band and continued the political criticism producing many great tracks such as Offering, Winter In America (First Minute of a New Day, 1975), A Toast to the People, A Lovely Day (From South Africa to South Carolina) after which Malcom Cecil came on board with TONTO for tracks such as Racetrack In France, We Almost Lost Detroit, 95 South (Bridges, 1977), and Better Days Ahead (Secrets, 1978).
MARLENA SHAW: The Spice of Life (1969 CADET)
Woman of the Ghetto / Call It Stormy Monday / Where Can I Go? / I'm Satisfied / I Wish I Knew Liberation Conversation / California Soul / Go Away, Little Boy / Looking Thru the Eyes of Love / Anyone Can Move A Mountain
A huge sounding album - and a triumph for the Stepney/Evans production partnership. The album begins with the bumping funk of Woman of the Ghetto. An uplifting ghetto spiritual recorded with all the hallmarks of the Cadet gospel sound - tambourine, handclaps, call and response choir and uniquely on this track an uncredited (Maurice White?) kalimba. Apart from a few standards the album is Charles Stepney at his best. Marlena Shaw is less of a 'cabaret' act on this outing compared to later efforts and the whole of Side Two is pure Chicago soul. Which is ironic as the most well- known tune on the album is the classic 'California Soul' - Shaw delivering the definitive version of Ashford & Simpson's composition. The heavily reverbed drums make for a huge sound together with a gospel piano, handclaps, choir and those classic Evans arranged strings. Other standouts include the jazz-scat classic Liberation Conversation, the Shaw trademark ballad 'Go Away, Little Boy' and the wonderfully over-the-top arrangement of Looking Thru the Eyes of Love with an unmistakable Minnie Riperton in the backing. Marlena switched to Blue Note and later Columbia in the seventies with highlights being her version of Save the Children (Marlena, 1972), You and Me (Just A Matter of Time, 1976), and Look At Me, Look At You (Sweet Beginnings, 1977).
ARCHIE SHEPP: Attica Blues (Impulse! AS 9222 - 1972)
Attica Blues/Steam Pt's 1&2/Invocation to Mr. Parker Blues For Brother George Jackson/Ballad For A Child/Good Bye Sweet Pops/Quiet Dawn
An album that at times simply roars out of the speakers with its fire and anger, and yet contains in Steam and Ballad For A Child utter calm and beauty. Previously known for his no-compromise free-jazz playing Archie Shepp enlisted a huge line-up for this political statement of an album (and a follow-up titled For Losers) - full of references to the civil rights struggles still going on at the time of release in 1972. Despite the heavy free-jazz presence, tracks such as Blues For Brother George and the title track have all the funk and drive of early Funkadelic and Sly & the Family Stone - the strings and choir-vocals of the title track are so intense! The vocals of Henry Hull (Ballad For A Child) and Joe Lee Wilson (Steam) are another highlight of a compelling album. This album was also a jolt to those critics who doubted the playing ability of the free-jazz exponents - Shepp's playing showing the influences of the early R&B bands from whence a lot of them came.
WAYNE SHORTER: Juju (Blue Note 4182 - 1964)
Juju/Deluge/House of Jade Mahjong/Yes Or No/Twelve More Bars To Go
Of the many great Blue Note leaders Wayne Shorter perhaps made the three most consistently stunning albums with Juju, Speak No Evil and Adam's Apple. Juju is marginally the best of this stunning trio - all recorded in the early-mid sixties. All six compositions are Shorter originals and its interesting to note that it is almost the same line up as some of Coltrane's classic Impulse! sessions - McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Reggie Workman and just substitute Shorter for Coltrane. Shorter was also previously a member of Art Blakey's classic Jazz Messenger's line-up but most importantly had just started working with Miles when these albums were made, and it seems that experience was invaluable. Shorter later returned the favour by writing many similarly haunting compositions for Miles' bands. Shorter's original approach to composition can be heard in the track Mahjong which he composed in 4-bar sections of alternating melodic line and rhythm - just like two Mahjong players taking their turns. After leaving Miles' band in the late sixties Shorter went on to become a founder member of fusion giants Weather Report. Also essential are the best of his other Blue Note albums Night Dreamer, The Soothsayer , The All-Seeing Eye, Ecetera and Schizophrenia.
HORACE SILVER QUINTET: Song For My Father (Blue Note 4185 - 1964)
Song For My Father/The Natives Are Restless Tonight/Calcutta Cutie Que Pasa/The Kicker/Lonely Woman
As leader of the early Jazz Messengers and of an ever-changing Quintet in the '60s Horace Silver has been a huge influence on bop/post-bop piano style. His sound is rooted in the blues and when he combined his 'down-home' style with the emerging soul-jazz scene of the early 60s he came up with a series of yet more classic Blue Note sessions. Song For My Father - along with the albums Tokyo Blues and Cape-Verdean Blues - has a swinging commerciality that still appeals today - the classic title track became a standard and Joe Henderson's composition The Kicker and The Natives Are RestlessTonight joined classic earlier Silver compositions like Filthy McNasty, Sister Sadie, Tokyo Blues and Senor Blues.
SILVER APPLES: Silver Apples (196? KAPP)
Oscillations / Seagreen Serenades / Lovefingers / Program / Velvet Cave Whirly Bird / Dust / Dancing Gods / Misty Mountains
Simeon and Dan Taylor, aka Silver Apples recorded two astonishing albums for Kapp in the mid-sixties featuring an elaborate array of stand-alone oscillators, drums and poetry. The oscillators it seems (9 in total) were pre-tuned and then played with various manual controls (86 according to the albums accompanying poster). The sound is heavy and raw. Oscillators seemingly without filters provide a thick layer of arpeggiated bass figures for Taylor to lay heavy drum breaks over the top. Lead oscillators come screeching and bleeping throughout tracks like Lovefingers. Most of the tracks have a lot of energy - thanks to the brashly recorded drums - and only Dancing Gods seems ponderous. The typically mid-sixties hippy lyrics date the album somewhat and the vocals can get rather monotonous over this and the follow-up album Contact (which features the superb 'You and I'), but these albums remain landmarks of electronic recording - pre-dating Can and Kraftwerk by many years.
SLAVE: Showtime (Cotillion SD 5227 - 1981)
Snap Shot/Party Lites/Spice of Life/Smokin' Wait For Me/Steal Your Heart/For the Love of U/Funken Town
Out of the many excellent large funk outfits to come out of the mid-west in the seventies rise Slave. Already with the hit Just A Touch of Love behind them they weighed in with this mighty selection in 1981 - featuring four classic dance hits Party Lites, Smokin', Wait For Me and Steal Your Heart. By now the Slave formula was perfected - heavyweight funk backed by a tight horn section with trademark slide bass licks, rhythm guitars and Steve Arrington's unique and distinctive vocal style. They added a huge string section for this album to give it an even bigger sound and it signalled the peak of their talents. Also check out the earlier albums Just A Touch of Love and Stone Jam.
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: There's A Riot Goin' On (Epic 30986)
Luv n' Haight/Just Like A Baby/Poet/Family Affair/Africa Talks To You/There's A Riot Goin' On Brave and Strong/(You Caught Me) Smilin'/Time/Spaced Cowboy/Runnin' Away/Thank You For Talkin To Me Africa
One of those historic albums that changes the face of music. Sly Stone's genius is encapsulated in this troubled album which reflected American society at the end of the sixties. Sly was a black artist who attracted a radical mixed audience - that was groundbreaking in itself. His music influenced most of the rock bands of the time as well as Miles Davis and other jazz heavyweights. The studio techniques used give the album a curiously experimental feel - despite the familiarity of songs like Family Affair. The processed vocals on tracks like Just Like A Baby and use of early drum machines have an almost lo-fi appeal. Despite his many personal problems Sly continued to make some great individual tracks such as Crossword Puzzle and Loose Booty - tracks that featured on big hip-hop hits - making Sly one of the most influential artists of all time.
LONNIE LISTON SMITH: Visions of a New World (Flying Dutchman BDL1-1196 - 1975)
A Chance For Peace/Love Beams/Colors of the Rainbow/Devika Sunset/Visions of a New World (Phase I)/Visions of a New World (Phase II)/Summer Nights
Just about the pick of Lonnie's excellent Flying Dutchman albums - Astral Traveling, Cosmic Funk, Expansions, Visions of a New World, Reflections On A Golden Dream, and Renaissance are all absolutely essential. Mainly known for his 'ethereal' electric piano style - creating waves of sound using echoplexi and other effects Lonnie Liston Smith has been hugely influential on modern drum 'n' bass artists such as LTJ Bukem and Photek. He is best known for his jazz-funk classic Expansions, but Visions of a New World is an all-round beautiful album. Lonnie's brother Donald is featured on vocals throughout - he has a distinctive voice with an unusually wide range. The heavy use of percussion is also a distinctive feature - the bongos and congas giving an earthy feel that contrasts with the spiritual nature and intent of the music as a whole. Lonnie lated switched labels to Columbia in the late 70's and like a lot of jazz artists entered the realms of disco - and with some success. Unlike other artists he still managed to retain enough of his original sound to make great albums despite the pressures of change. Loveland and Exotic Mysteries (which featured the hit Space Princess) are the best examples of these later albums. Even later in the 80's he moved to Dr Jazz and went back towards his earlier sound on the albums Dreams of Tomorrow and Silhouettes.
SOUL SEARCHERS: Salt Of the Earth (Sussex SRA 8030 - 1974)
I Rolled It You Hold It/Blow Your Whistle/Close To You/Funk To The Folks Ain't It Heavy/Windsong/Ashley's Roachclip/We Share/If It Ain't Funky
There were so many good funk albums in the mid-seventies but whilst there are many superb individual tracks solid entire albums are perhaps harder to come by. Yet The Soul Searchers made two great albums for Sussex in '73/'74; We The People and Salt Of the Earth. With Chuck Brown on guitar and vocals every track bounces along with heavyweight, tight funk. Standouts are the rare groove party classics Blow Your Whistle and Funk To the Folks. It seems that the Sussex label are a main source of classic breakbeats (Dennis Coffee, etc) and one of the most famous breaks of all is on Ashley's Roachclip. Checkout the earlier We the People for the title track and a great version of Lyn Collins' Think.
STARSHIP ORCHESTRA: Celestial Sky (Columbia NJC36456 - 1980)
You're A Star/New York, New York/The Waiting Game/All Those Things The Genie/Celestial Sky/Yesterday/Serious Business/Give Me Some Skin
Along with Aquarian Dream, this was an off-shoot production project of drummer Norman Connors. Blending his increasing use of disco with his jazz-funk roots and a touch of latin he came up with this solid album. Featuring keyboardists Bobby Lyle and Jerry Peters as well as Wah Wah Watson, Paul Jackson and some of the Earth, Wind and Fire horns this album continues where Connors' solo albums for Buddah left off. You're A Star was a big disco hit for both the Starship Orchestra and Aquarian Dream and The Genie became a Bobby Lyle standard. The standout track however is the brasilian tinged mid-tempo track All Those Things.
SUN RA: Lanquidity (Philly Jazz PJ666 - 1978)
Lanquidity/Where Pathways Meet/That's How I Feel Twin Stars of Thence/There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of)
Well if anybody needed proof of Sun Ra's genius this album is it! Totally ahead of its time - some of the tracks wouldn't seem out of place with todays more experimental Hip Hop instrumentals. Thankfully this is one of the better recorded of Sun Ra's albums - his sessions were often poorly recorded simply because he liked it that way. He also often preferred to release the takes that he thought to be the most spontaneous rather than the ones without mistakes! He sticks to this approach with this album - the band going completely out of time at least twice, but it was all part of Sun Ra's masterplan and if he preferred his music to sound like that who are we to argue? Curiously this session was recorded at the legendary Blank Tapes studios in NYC - home of many Bob Blank produced disco classics and features Sun Ra on a host of keyboards listed as ARP, RA MOOG MINIMOOG, CRUMAR ELECTRONIC KEYBOARD as well as Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 and Yamaha organs. Being on a small, obscure label this album is even rarer than a lot of the Saturn Sun Ra albums - it has been known to sell for �0-�0.
SYREETA: Syreeta (Mowest MW113L -1972)
I Love Every Liitle Thing About You/Black Maybe/Keep Him Like He Is/Happiness She's Leaving Home/What Love Has Joined Together/How Many Days/Baby Don't You Let Me Lose This/To Know You Is To Love You
Without doubt one of the best female vocalist albums ever made, yet still it remains largely overlooked as a Stevie Wonder side-project with his then wife Syreeta. Syreeta's incredibly delicate voice fits perfectly with Stevie's experimental use of synthesisers. Margouleff and Cecil are credited as synth programmers and TONTO is clearly at work in the very opening bars of the album with a wonderful electronic rhythmic effect. The Moog basslines growl throughout - the first two tracks in particular are awash with Stevie's synth playing - and the use of real strings on Keep Him Like He Is and What Love Has Joined Together give this album a powerful uplifting feel despite its daring experimentation. It seems Stevie felt he could push his ideas even further on this album - released on an obscure Motown off-shoot - than his own high-profile Motown projects.
CAL TJADER: Breeze From the East (Verve V8575 - 1963)
Sake and Greens/Cha/Leyte/Shoji/China Nights/Fuji Black Orchid/Theme from 'Burke's Law'/Stardust/Poinciana/East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)
After a series of storming latin-jazz albums for Fantasy vibist Cal Tjader made a series of unusual 'world-jazz music' albums with producer Creed Taylor for Verve in the early-60's. The best of these were the oriental-based albums Several Shades of Jade and Breeze From the East. The albums were lavishly presented - Breeze From the East features a famous print by Japanese artist Hokusai. Straddling both lounge-music and jazz the albums are immaculately recorded and Tjader always manages to create wonderful moods despite the laid-back nature of much of the compositions. Whilst Lalo Schifrin scored the earlier Several Shades of Jades, arranger Stan Applebaum added guitars, flute, celeste and Dick Hyman on organ for this session. The combination of Tjaders combo and the new instruments works wonderfully - highlights being Leyte and Fuji which retain elements of Tjaders' latin roots despite the eastern setting.
TONTO'S EXPANDING HEAD BAND: Zero Time (1971 ATLANTIC)
Cybernaut / Jetsex / Timewhys Aurora / Riversong / Tama
A collaboration between British-born jazz bassist Malcolm Cecil and American producer Robert Margouleff - Zero Time was recorded just after the boom and bust of the 'Moog album' phenomenon. Featuring six compositions recorded exclusively on a large, expanded Moog IIIc Modular system, Zero Time is a million miles away from the albums of cheesy Moog covers of the late-sixties. The opening track is intergalactic baroque with space-age lead lines and phasing electronic percussion. The bass is astonishing - maybe the warmest, deepest, and heaviest committed to tape. Jetsex is a brooding effects-scape with simulated engine sweeps and more spooky percussion. Timewhys is a more upbeat sequenced affair with an almost pop feel. Side Two is more introspective (the sides are labeled 'Outside' and 'Inside' respectively in the sleevenotes) and begins with a more conventional electronic soundtrack type track titled 'Aurora'. The Moogs ability to mimic string instruments is amply demonstrated. Riversong is a slow-moving meditative composition with an eerie theremin type backing and soft bell-like echoes supporting an eastern sounding vocal completely processed by the Moog into a 'voice-bag' type sound. Star Trek meets Raga. The album ends with the beautiful 'Tama' - melancholic, with superbly programmed woodwind leads and multi-layered tri-wave harmonies that evoke the sound of Stevie Wonder's 4 albums engineered by Margouleff and Cecil in the years following this recording.
LEON WARE: Musical Massage (Gordy G6-976S1 - 1976)
Learning How to Love You/Instant Love/Body Heat/Share Your Love/Holiday Phantom Lover/Journey Into You/Musical Massage/French Waltz/Turn Out the Light
One of the great songwriters in soul music history Leon Ware made this album off the back of composing most of Marvin Gaye's classic album I Want You. Featuring a classic line up of James Gadson, Jerry Peters, Ray Parker Jr, David T. Walker, Eddie 'Bongo' Brown, Bobbye Hall, Chuck Rainey, Sonny Burke and guests Minnie Riperton on Instant Love, Bobby Womack and Marvin himself on Holiday - the album somehow manages to be moody and mellow at the same time. Most of the material is mid-tempo and Ware's voice is sometimes very similar to Marvin's. Infact it sounds as if both this album and I Want You were recorded at the same sessions. An underrated soul masterpiece from a superb singer-songwriter whose later albums Inside Is Love and Rockin' You Eternally are also worth checking out.
MARY LOU WILLIAMS: Black Christ of the Andes (Mary Records FJ 2843 - 1964)
Black Christ of the Andes/It Ain't Necessarily So/The Devil/Miss D.D/Anima Christi' A Grand Nite for Swinging/My Blue Heaven/Dirge Blues/A Fungus Amungus/Praise the Lord
One of the female jazz greats - Mary Lou Williams was a pioneer in jazz piano technique - playing in swing bands as early as the 1920's - and this is her finest album. Released on her own Mary label - a subsiduary of Folkways Records it is a raw spiritual masterpiece. Tracks range from unaccompanied gospel choirs to the minimal modal jazz of It Ain't Necessarily So and Miss D.D. (homage to Doris Duke). The harmonies are courtesy of the Howard Roberts Chorus and Melba Liston also features as conducter. Despite the gospel and swing influences the album still has a modern funk feel about it. Being on such a small independent has made the original of this album incredibly rare, but a re-issue was released - albeit still quite rare - on the German MPS label in the late sixties. Also worth checking is Mary Lou's album Zoning.
BILL WITHERS: Still Bill (1972 SUSSEX)
Lonely Town, Lonely Street / Let Me In Your Life / Who Is He (and What Is He To You)? / Use Me / Lean On Me / Kissing My Love / I Don't Know / Another Day To Run / I Don't Want You On My Mind / Take It All In and Check It All Out
Bill Withers' second album is a unique and diverse masterpiece drawing its influences from gospel, blues, folk, country and deep south spirituals. Add a touch of funk on the tracks Who Is He? and Kissing My Love (the latter begins with a classic break-beat) and you have Withers' best all-round album. Still Bill was the follow-up to the sparsely arranged debut album Just As I Am - but here the instrumentation is more varied, including sparing use of small string and horn sections. Let Me In Your Life is the kind of sparse acoustic folk-ballad that Withers excelled in throughout the seventies - similar to the beautiful Make A Smile For Me from the 1974 album +Judgements. The two heavy-weight southern tinged songs Use Me and Lean On Me have become much covered standards since their appearance on the album - the former featuring a funky clavinet riff to rival that on Stevie Wonder's Superstition.
STEVIE WONDER: Music Of My Mind (Tamla T314L - 1972)
Love Having You Around/Superwoman/I Love Every Little Thing About You/Sweet Little Girl Happier Than the Morning Sun/Girl Blue/Seems So Long/Keep On Running/Evil
Starting with his previous album Where I'm Coming From Stevie Wonder finally got total creative control over his releases on Motown. By time he came to record songs for Music of My Mind not only was Stevie's relationship with Motown changing, but his marriage to Syreeta was soon to break-up. But arguably the biggest influence on Stevie's musical direction was meeting studio engineers Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil. Impressed by their electronic production Zero Time by Tonto's Expanding Head Band, Stevie hired them to help program the latest modular synthesisers and engineer his new sonic soundscape with state-of-the-art electronics. The result was an incredibly original and powerful electronic warmth throughout Stevie's carefully crafted songs. Nearly all the parts are played by Stevie himself (including drums), utilizing the powerful bottom end of the Moog to create bubbling basslines and the vocal treatments are particularly advanced.
LARRY YOUNG: Unity (Blue Note 4221- 1965)
Zoltan/Monk's Dream/If The Moontrane/Softly As a Morning Sunrise/Beyond All Limits
Yet another one of those awesome, powerful Blue Note sessions from the mid-60's. The atmosphere at these sessions must have been electric because all of the musicians are on top form. Larry Young's organ playing on this album is quite incredible - perhaps only matched on his own Groove St album for Prestige. There were a small core of great organ players - many of them signed to Blue Note, but Larry Young was unique in that he approached the organ as Coltrane approached the sax. But Young is just one of four great innovators on this album. Woody Shaw not only shines with his playing, but contributes the best compositions with the marching band influenced Zoltan - a lydian mode stormer named for composer Zoltan Kodaly and The Moontrane - an homage to Coltrane which is perfect for the remaining quartet members at this session; Elvin Jones' and Joe Henderson. Maybe the best post-bop, organ-led session of all-time.
JOE ZAWINUL: Zawinul (Atlantic SR1579 - 1971)
Doctor Honoris Causa/In A Silent Way His Last Journey/Double Image/Arrival In New York
A beautiful album with wonderfully curt sleeve notes from Miles Davis.
Remarkably different from his earlier Atlantic album Money In the Pocket
- the influence of playing in Miles' band is again apparent. The music
is delicate and understated. Zawinul is joined by Herbie on Rhodes and
they keep the electronics wonderfully subtle - the version of his own
composition In A Silent Way is sublime. A host of other musicians
feature, including the great trumpeter Woody Shaw - who gets a special
mention from Miles - Miroslav Vitous, Walter Booker, Hubert Laws, Jack
DeJohnette, Wayne Shorter, Joe Chambers and others. Despite the large
line-up the music is minimal and uncluttered.. and as Miles states
'cliche-free... Zawinul is extending the thoughts that we've both had
for years. And probably the thoughts that most so-called now musicians
have not yet been able to express'.