|The Grace Cathedral
The beautiful Grace Cathedral sits majestically atop San Francisco's famed, and exclusive, Nob Hill. It was the Reverend Charles Gompertz who in 1963 expressed a desire to achieve a "modern setting for the choral Eucharist" (i.e.: make the New Testament sound cool). Along with Barry Mineah, choral director at St. Paul's Church of San Rafael, Gompertz sought out San Francisco resident Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) to help achieve this goal. At the time, Guaraldi was enjoying the fruits of a recent hit in "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" and was soon to go on to immortal fame as the man behind the music in The Peanuts TV specials. The pianist/composer was an ideal choice. He was brilliant at concocting catchy, memorable themes that sounded deceptively simple; often employing elements of Latin music and unusual time signatures.
On May 21, 1965, Guaraldi's trio (with Tom Beeson on bass and Lee Charlton on drums) and a 68-member vocal choir performed this 14-selection, 40-minute program. Listening to Guaraldi's The Grace Cathedral Concert (released on LP as Fantasy 8367) more than 30 years later, it's easy to imagine the concert as something like 'The Peanuts Go To Church'. One can picture the characters "oohing" hallelujah as they hum along to the "Theme To Grace" (like "Hark The Herald Angels Sing") or solemnly reciting "The Lord's Prayer" and "Agnus Dei (O Lamb of God)." Most of the titles employ Guaraldi's knack for pretty, childlike themes -- a perfect tone for the material. Guaraldi's lovely piano is heard noodling in his inimitable style behind "Kyrie Eleison" and "Come Holy Ghost." Most of the proceedings, however, are dominated by the choir -- with very little jazz to be heard. Exceptions are the minor-key "Theme To Grace" and the disk's best track, the all-instrumental 11 minutes of "Holy Communion Blues." Other titles are brief (usually under three minutes) and Guaraldi approaches them with a seriousness solemn music usually demands. Audience members, as the liner notes point out, were heard to comment, though, that "Theme For Grace" was reminiscent of supper music. Father Gompertz apparently replied, "that's the idea. What does Communion represent but the last Supper -- the last time these men ate together?"
The success of the event encouraged Duke Ellington to set his first Sacred Concert at Grace Cathedral in December that year. The cathedral then became an ideal source for a variety of concert settings -- from jazz to folk and rock to chamber music. By 1976, Cal Tjader, another San Francisco resident, was recorded in performance at Grace Cathedral. Tjader (1925-1982) regularly performed in the Bay Area with his quartet, which at the time featured longtime Tjader-aid Lonnie Hewitt on electric piano, Rob Fisher on bass, Pete Riso on drums and Poncho Sanchez on congas. Tjader replaced the previously scheduled Vince Guaraldi, who had died several months before, on this May 22, 1976, performance for the benefit of the ""Concerts for the Hungry."
Tjader's The Grace Cathedral Concert (released on LP as Fantasy 9521) is much more of a jazz performance than Guaraldi's. It's a typical mid 70s program for the virbraphonist featuring such staples as "I Showed Them" (featuring clever quotes of the Byrds' "You Showed Me"), Milt Jackson's "Bluesology" (with "Bag's Groove" quotes), a Black Orpheus medley dedicated to former Tjader pianist Vince Guaraldi, the standard "Body and Soul" and Tjader's "Theme" (based on "Freddie Freeloader"). The quintet works well together. Hewitt's subtle use of the electric piano is a nice foil to Tjader's vibes and doesn't sound nearly as dated as one might expect. Tjader puts his heart and swing into the performance, sustaining tones almost on que. Each member of the quintet is also recorded much more effectively here in the large Cathedral setting (which, unfortunately, wasn't the case for Guaraldi's bassist and drummer). That's due to the engineering finesse of Phil Edwards, who went on to record for Concord Records. There are many good Tjader performances from the 50s, 60s and 70s currently available on CD. This is quite a good one.
Legends of Acid
Funny how long it takes Americans to appreciate the art of their own culture. London DJs Gilles Peterson and Chris Bangs created the entire "acid jazz" movement back in 1987 when they began playing old, obscure jazz as dance music for the club set. This music had elements of funk, r&b, rock, psychedelia and anything else that was "crossing over" in jazz between, say, 1965 and 1975. The DJs found a wealth of material in long-neglected Prestige and Blue Note albums. Shortly thereafter, the "acid jazz" craze took off and Europeans and Japanese fans gobbled up all the old records -- even coming to American stores and paying a mint for records most Americans couldn't have cared less about. Eventually, Fantasy licensed many of its records to the great UK label Beat Goes Public to issue on CD (individual tracks were also licensed to the Bay Area label Luv N' Haight). Then, "acid jazz" became a musical style young dance bands started to claim as their own. A decade later, American labels like Prestige and Blue Note have begun making this formerly sacrilegious music available again. Now Americans have started paying attention to acid jazz.
Fantasy, which owns the rich Prestige catalog, home of all the "acid jazz" greats, introduced the Legends of Acid Jazz series last year. Most of the discs contain at least two full albums and feature retro-hippie cover graphics (fortunately, the original cover art is reproduced inside -- often with original liner notes or updated information). Previous releases in the series have included Rusty Bryant, Johnny Hammond Smith, Boogaloo Joe Jones, Pucho, Don Patterson/Booker Ervin, Melvin Sparks, Houston Person, Sonny Stitt, Bernard Purdie and Idris Muhammad. The following new reissues are covered here:
Legends of Acid Jazz -- Jack McDuff features the organist's famed quartet with guitar prodigy George Benson, tenor man Red Holloway and Joe Dukes on drums. All 12 tracks on this 70-minute CD compilation were recorded in July 1964 (three tracks from Stockholm also feature Benny Golson's crack big band) and released over six Prestige albums between 1965 and 1969. Even though this is probably a bit early to qualify as "acid jazz" -- this disk cooks throughout. It's exactly the kind of "chitlin circuit" menu you'd expect at many of the jazz clubs in poor neighborhoods -- when such things existed back in the sixties. Everyone's in top form here, but Benson is stunning. Sounding more like Grant Green than ever, he is flawless, fast and furious and lets loose one good idea after another. McDuff, who still churns out prime fatback for Concord (check out his new one, That's The Way I Feel About It), is always strolling down different roads in search of good grooves. There's plenty here. Highlights, oddly enough, are the bop classics "Au Privave" and "Opus de Funk." Recommended -- especially to those who just like good, hot jazz.
Legends of Acid Jazz -- Leon Spencer is a welcome combination of the obscure organist's great debut, Sneak Preview (1970), and its more commercial follow-up, Louisiana Slim (1971). In the early 70s, Spencer memorably helmed the Hammond B-3 in the bands of Melvin Sparks (Sparks!), Lou Donaldson ("The Caterpillar"), Rusty Bryant (Fire Eater) and Sonny Stitt (the dope "Turn it On"). He knows how to set a commanding presence with the B-3's pedals, then buoys that with dazzling, often spare left-handed ideas. His tunes are about as simple as they come; all riff-based and catchy. But he uses these as launch pads to execute dynamic -- almost outside -- solos. Here, he's accompanied effectively by trumpeter Virgil Jones, future puffball Grover Washington, guitarist Melvin Sparks, drummer Idris Muhammad and conga man Buddy Caldwell. The best tunes are Spencer-penned rockers ("The Slide," "First Gravy," "Sneak Preview" and "Louisiana Slim"), the dancefloor classic, "Message From The Meters" and a kickass cover of "Someday My Prince Will Come." R&B cover tunes, like "Mercy Mercy Me," "Close To You," sweeten the program a bit too much. But Spencer and fast-fingered Melvin Sparks offer hard-edged groove solos that make even these redeemable. Spencer made two more records for Prestige, then disappeared into the obscurity of Houston, Texas, where he only occasionally plays today. None of his albums are classics. But each has moments of first-rate playing and solid groove. Legends of Acid Jazz -- Leon Spencer has several.
Legends of Acid Jazz -- Sonny Phillips rescues another forgotten organist from oblivion. Phillips, who took lessons from Ahmad Jamal, switched to organ in 1959 after hearing Jimmy Smith (whom he most resembles in sound and style). He played with Eddie Harris in 1966, and was brought to the Prestige label in 1969 by employer, Houston Person. Phillips remained in Person's band throughout the 70s, penning at least two of Person's best numbers ("Kittitian Carnival" in 1973 and "Preachin and Teachin" in 1978). Phillips still plays professionally, and often gets included in "acid jazz" revival concerts. Here, his debut solo album, Sure 'Nuff (1969), is combined with his third and final Prestige album, Black on Black (1970) (Phillips' second album, Black Magic!, was combined with Sure 'Nuff on CD by the UK label BGP some years back). Both records are guided by groovemeister Bernard Purdie, while the first features Virgil Jones on trumpet, Houston Person on tenor, Boogaloo "Joe" Jones on guitar and Bob Bushnell on electric bass. For Black on Black, Rusty Bryant replaces Person, Melvin Sparks fills in for Jones and Jimmy Lewis replaces Bushnell. Phillips sets up heavily blues-drenched grooves throughout. More often than not, he lets the horns do the talking. The originals are all basic blues grinders that allow the players to unwind (each of the players gets a writing credit on "Black on Black"). Phillips employs a bit of exciting flair in his covers of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," Grant Green's "Blues in Maude's Flat" and even CCR's "Proud Mary." Phillips probably never had enough muster to lead his own bands. But there's nothing wrong with these ten tracks. Each one offers satisfying music -- even the off-kilter sounding "Sure 'Nuff, Sure 'Nuff." There's much to appreciate here -- and most of it seems more timeless than one would initially suspect. Especially recommended to fans of Houston Person and Rusty Bryant.
Legends of Acid Jazz -- Richard "Groove" Holmes finds this heavyweight organist (1931-1991) basking in the glories of his 1966 hit version of "Misty." He recorded ten albums for Prestige between 1965 and 1968. The two combined on this disc were the last. The Groover (1968) features the organist with drummer Billy Jackson and incredible guitarist George Freeman alternating duties with Earl Maddox. That Healin' Feelin' (1968) features Rusty Bryant on tenor (alto on "Laura"), Billy Butler on guitar and Herbie Lovelle on drums. Holmes gives his sound distinction with fast footwork, a bell-like tone in the upper registers and a true affection for the bop language spiced with unabashed chitlin groove. Predictably, after "Misty," one finds many covers here. There's the high-energy "Speak Low," the lazy "Blue Moon, "I'll Remember April," "Laura" and the hotter-than-expected "On A Clear Day." As for the "acid jazz" quota, Freeman's "The Walrus," Les McCann's "That Healin' Feelin'" and Billy Butler's "Irene Court" are the hands-down winners. Billy Butler's unique sound is also heard to wonderful effect on "See See Rider." I've often found there's more to appreciate in Holmes' musicianship than his groove sensibilities. As in his Groove Merchant records from the 70s and the Muse dates during the 80s, it's true here too. This is just good playing. Not too much that's memorable. But enjoyable none the less.
Legends of Acid Jazz -- Gene Ammons saves the best for last. It's also the only one of this batch that doesn't feature an organist. Gene Ammons (1925-1974) was one of the great tenor players of all time. He recorded for many labels, but mostly for Prestige throughout his 30-year career; playing bop as easily as R&B, swinging as quick as he was to please with popular favorites. Moreover, he had one of the most distinctive, commanding tones on tenor -- a low, guttural surge of emotion that was unmistakably his own. The hard-to-find sessions found here include The Black Cat (1970), You Talk That Talk (1971 -- with Sonny Stitt) and two edited tracks from 1962 formerly featured on an old compilation record called The Soul Jazz Giants. The two full-length sessions from the early 70s were made during a frantic recording spell between the saxophonist's release from a long prison stay in 1969 and his death in 1974. You Talk That Talk features Ammons and Stitt in one of their innumerable tenor duels with Leon Spencer on organ, George Freeman on guitar and Idris Muhammad on drums. Both Ammons and Stitt are in good form -- but the session is more enjoyable than it is memorable and less invigorating as their next and last pairing, Together Again For The Last Time (1973 -- still unissued on CD). Ammons is on Veritone for "The People's Choice," "Out Of It" and "Katea's Dance." While not as inspired as Eddie Harris on the electric sax, Ammons still sounds good; offering a low trumpet-like wail that contrasts surprisingly nicely to Stitt's traditional tenor. The Black Cat is a scorcher, though. This session features Freeman and Muhammad with Harold Mabern on piano and Ron Carter on bass. The piano/guitar combination works especially well behind Ammons -- who's acoustic all the way here. There are some blistering blues ("Piece To Keep The Evil Spirits Away," "The Black Cat," "Hi Ruth!"), the scintillating dancefloor classic "Jug Eyes" and surprisingly good renditions of Linda Ronstadt's "Long Long Time" and The Beatles' "Something." The program is filled to the 75-minute brink with two 1962 foot-tapping quartet covers highlighting Mr. Ammons' ability to swing within familiar regions (Don Patterson's on organ for these with Paul Weeden on guitar and Billy James on drums). There's plenty of worthwhile Gene Ammons available on CD, but some of this music adds up to his very best playing after 1969. Worth checking out.
Footprints was originally released as The Visit on Cobblestone Records in 1972 then reissued on Muse under its current title in 1975. This superb record was Pat Martino's sixth as a leader and his first away from the Prestige fold. This tremendous quartet session was recorded in March 1972 when the guitarist was still only 27 and featured the substantially driving input from bassist Richard Davis, second guitarist Bobby Rose and drummer Billy Higgins. The disc was conceived as a personal tribute to the memory of his friend, Wes Montgomery, and while it certainly has links to its inspiration, Footprints clearly outlines some of Martino's most beautiful traits -- crisp, logical, narrative lines; nothing hurried or studied but, rather, a most thoughtful statement of heartfelt intention.
The disc, recently reissued on CD by 32 Jazz, begins with Martino's rousing "The Visit," a 6/8 blues piece that suggests a much more adventuresome Wes-like appeal. Richard Davis assumes the role of dueling co-leader rather than timekeeper here and throughout. And it really makes a difference too. Montgomery's "Road Song" is explored to show the similarities -- and differences -- in the two guitarist's styles. Martino, a player of many ideas, traverses Wes's octaves and performs single-note patterns that would leave Montgomery green with envy. The blues balladry of Wayne Shorter's enchanting "Footprints" gets one of its most haunting, ethereal performances ever in Martino's free-for-all exploration. Martino glides over his fretboard effortlessly while Davis and Higgins work a simpatico gypsy groove (Davis has a provocative solo here too). Bobby Rose is heard, ever so rhythmically, challenging Martino to find new paths, making one wonder where the Gabor Szabo/Jimmy Stewart team would have taken a gem like this. The program is rounded out with the excellent performances of Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life," "Jobim's "How Insensitive" and the Dietz/Schwartz standard "Alone Together" -- a collection of crowd-pleasing tunes that would fit easily into many of Wes Montgomery's Verve dates.
During a 30-year recording career of many highs and a few lows, Footprints stands as one of Pat Martino's very best. The musicianship is superior, dynamic and attention grabbing. Best of all, this ideal quartet's interplay is outstanding and often astounding. Very highly recommended.
The Re-Entry, originally recorded and released on Muse Records in 1988, was Brother Jack McDuff's first recording after a four-year absence from the studios. This, the first of the two Muse dates McDuff recorded with producer/tenor man Houston Person, also features Ron Bridgewater on tenor, Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet, John Hart on guitar and Grady Tate on drums.
It's a fairly typical Muse program of blues and ballads with the expectedly clean production perfected by Person and engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Predictably, it's McDuff's blues themes that have the most flavor and excitement: witness "Walking The Dog" and "Cap'n Jack" (as he's chosen to be called recently). The R&B swing of McDuff favorite "Electric Surfboard" has its moments; but it's been heard to better effect before (Down Home Style). A cover of Quincy Jones' ultra-poppish "One Hundred Ways" (listed as "One Hundred Years" on the cover) is a throwaway and a fireside reading of David Raskin's "Laura" is a pretty feature for the horn players.
McDuff and company sound good here. But The Re-Entry doesn't get Brother Jack as fired up as he's been known to get elsewhere.