ABC Studios; Los Angeles, California: March and April 1977
Oscar Brashear, Denny Christianson (tp); George Bohannon (tb); Ernie Watts (ts); Bobby Lyle (el-p); Dean Gant (synth programming); Gabor Szabo (g); Marlon McClain (el-g); Nathaniel Phillips (el-b); Bruce Carter (d); Vance Tenort, Paul C. Shure, Bonnie Douglas, Assa Drori, Irving Geller, Irma Neumann, Haim Shtrum, Carroll Stephens, Robert Sushel (vln); James Dunham, Janet Lakatos (viola); Nathan Gershman, David H. Speltz (cello); Sylvia St. James, Deborah Shotlow, Suandra Alexander, Cheryl Alexander (vcl); William Jeffrey (string arr); Wayne Henderson (horn arr).
same or similar.
same or similar, add I. "Rini" Kramer (cabassa,Vibra slap); William Jeffery (horn arr). Vocals out.
same or similar.
same or similar, William Jeffery (horn arr).
same or similar, add I. "Rini" Kramer (guiro); Sylvia St. James, Deborah Shotlow, Suandra Alexander, Cheryl Alexander (vcl).
Gabor Szabo, James O. (Jimmy) Stewart (g).
Although using new ingredients, the recipe for FACES is nearly identical to the much more disappointing NIGHTFLIGHT. Yet this new record collects a stronger group of songs and elicits some of the guitarist's more athletic (and audible) playing. Still, however, the musicians present are nearly as negligible as the Philadelphia studio players asleep at the wheel of Bunny Sigler's production. Szabo, who's output since at least 1969 had been almost exclusively in this vein, produces one of his more cohesive pop-jazz confections here; somewhat resembling George Benson's successful and trend-setting BREEZIN' formula. This is perhaps due to like- minded producer Wayne Henderson, a trombonist who left the [Jazz] Crusaders the previous year to concentrate on solo recordings and productions very similar to this one for people like saxophonist Ronnie Laws. Henderson's productions, more timely than timeless, were professional and well crafted and quite often interchangeable. But while Henderson established the foundation or mood, he certainly provided ample room for unique voices to transcend the proceedings. With Szabo, he succeeds.
The disco trash of "The Biz," "Desiring You" and "Misty Malarky Ying Yang" hardly ennobles master work. But neither are these pieces as easy to write off as so much of the manufactured music the genre enforced on so many jazz players at the time. All three invite the guitarist into a setting to which he was amenable and provide ample space for some fiery playing. Szabo skates effortlessly over the slick production and crafts a welcome and jangled counterpoint to the pleasant grooves. But "Desiring You," seemingly borne of the Bob James songbook, and "The Biz" (where the vocalists implore "a little more Gabor" after unfortunately confessing that "it's a whiz doin' the biz") pale to the jam-like quality of "Misty Malarky Ying Yang" -- where Szabo and Bobby Lyle play off one another the way the guitarist would in the past with Bob James (Lyle's solo has an effective Bob James meets Herbie Hancock quality to it) and with Mark Levine on 1971's "Fingers."
Where FACES succeeds most is in the prevalence of strong, melodic material. The gossamer ballads and slower pieces offer respite from the disco pretense and present Szabo and his compositions in favorable, if occasionally over-arranged, circumstances. "Magic Mystic Faces," "Gloomy Day," "Alicia," "The Last Song" and "Estaté" relent to allow the guitarist an opportunity to dig in and explore more emotional terrain. Even though the melodies are intentionally "radio friendly," Szabo still extols a sad, melancholy charm -- despite the vocalists' stifling oohs and ahhs. Szabo's "The Last Song" and "Alicia" are, perhaps, most memorable of all for the guitarist's audibly sincere performances. "Alicia," named for Szabo's wife at the time (they divorced in May 1978) and credited to both Szabo and Peter Totth, is simply a retitling of "Time" (from MACHO -- credited to Szabo alone). But the guitarist lends a mournful quality to "Alicia" missing from "Time." This leads naturally into the similar, but more haunting performance of "The Last Song," one of Szabo's strongest and most memorable ballad compositions.
Of the ballads, "Estaté" offers a familiarity askew with the rest of the recording. Although commanding a sad and dispiriting performance, the two guitars seem to cry out of a self-reliant loneliness -- especially in the context of all that precedes it on FACES. But the familiarity is due to the return of Jimmy Stewart; briefly billing himself as "James O. Stewart" at the advice of a therapist helping him establish more of his own identity. "Wayne [Henderson] and [engineer] Reggie Dozier wanted us to do it as a little bit of Brazilian funk," recalls Stewart. "I was using some snap-bass licks. But it just wasn't working. Finally, Wayne says 'let's drop this' and we decided to do it as a duet." Certainly a welcome return, the song was a celebration of the reunion between the two partners and San Francisco radio station KKGO, which considered it as such, often aired this tune instead of the 45 release of "The Biz." It became a sort of local hit in a town that knew these players well.
Although FACES is not an essential document of Gabor Szabo's talents, it offers attractive points of context for the artist in an unfortunately unflattering era. One must remember, too, that Szabo sought to record himself in such situations. Whether commercial resignation or genuine appeal drove him, this music represents the way Gabor Szabo chose to express himself on record -- despite the greater purity of emotional beauty and hypnotic friction he revealed to concert audiences. In a news release titled Gabor Szabo: A Biography, Mercury Records described the guitarist's "all encompassing musical image" as impossible to categorize and outlined his feelings about (or concessions to) music:
Whether this represents hyperbolic spin or genuine dedication, Szabo seemed exhausted with the music by 1977 and often succumbed to rather lazy playing, simple tunes and easily acceptable formats. The great guitarist still tried to perform to his audience's expectations. But no longer was he enacting bold ideas (JAZZ RAGA) or creating challenging environments (DREAMS). Ironically, many of the fans who bought his records in the past felt alienated and chilled by his instrumental pop and moved elsewhere. Szabo's Mercury records, his final musical documents available in America, sold poorly and were soon withdrawn from availability. The guitarist still participated in several more significant recordings and live performances. But at this point Gabor Szabo began an unfortunate and, as yet unresolved, dissent into obscurity.