DAVID AXELROD: Song Of Innocence (Capitol ST2982 - 197? issue)
Urizen/Holy Thursday/The Smile/A Dream
Song of Innocence/Merlin's Prophecy/The Mental Traveler
Inspired by the works of poet William Blake this sample-laden album from the Electric Prunes producer has been used on many a hip-hop track. Available in two issues - the original has the better 'psychedelic' cover art - both copies are highly sought after. The album is sparse and moody - heavily reverberated strings mysteriously come and go - and the funky, fatback drumming gives it impetus. Axelrod is one of those great artists who creates music that manages to defy any fixed genre - it straddles rock, classical, jazz and funk. Also check out the excellent albums Song of Experience, Seriously Deep, Heavy Axe and The Auction and his excellent productions for Cannonball Adderley. There is also a compilation of Axelrod's productions on Capitol/EMI now available.
ROY AYERS UBIQUITY: He's Coming (Polydor PD5022 - 1972)
He's A Superstar/He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother/Ain't Got Time/I Don't
Know How To Love Him
He's Coming/We Live In Brooklyn Baby/Sweet Butterfly Of Love/Sweet Tears/Fire Weaver
Formerly a member of Herbie Mann's late-60's line-up, vibist Roy Ayers came to prominence on a couple of Jack Wilson sessions before recording his own solo albums for United Artists (the highly sought after West Coast Vibes) and Atlantic. But it wasn't until his Polydor albums that he reached his peak. He's Coming - his second for the label is a seriously funky, jazz tinged album from the early Ubiquity band. Famous principally for the dark and moody We Live In Brooklyn Baby (arranged by the legendary Harry Whitaker) the album also features the much-covered Sweet Tears (most recently by Nuyorican Soul). Prices of �0 plus aren't uncommon for an original - luckily it was re-issued in Japan a few years back (unfortunately without the original gatefold sleeve).
ROY AYERS UBIQUITY: Virgo Red (Polydor PD 6016 - 1973)
Brother Louie/It's So Sweet/The Morning After/Love From the Sun
Virgo Red/I Am Your Mind/Giving Love/Des Nude Soul
Just about the pick of all Roy Ayers' albums - featuring Denise (Dee Dee) Bridgewater on the beautiful Love From the Sun. Ranging from the funk of the title track to the latin of Des Nude Soul this is probably the most consistant of his early 70's albums - but also check Ubiquity, Coffee, Red Black & Green, A Tear To A Smile, Mystic Voyage, Vibrations, Everybody Loves the Sunshine and Lifeline (whew!) for more classic Roy Ayers.
GARY BARTZ: ...The Shadow Do (Prestige P-10092 - 1975)
Winding Roads/Mother Nature/Love Tones/Gentle Smiles
Make Me Feel Better/Sea Gypsy/For My Baby
After numerous excellent albums for Milestone - often blending afro-percussion, civil rights poems, and modal jazz (check out Libra, Another Earth and Uhuru) - this cult alto-sax figure teamed up with the hottest producers of the mid-70's - the Mizell Bros. From Motown songwriters to jazz-fusion pioneers Larry and Fonce Mizell had a distinctive sound which they gave to whoever they were producing. Characterised by funky 'whiplash' rhythms - wah wah guitar licks and slides, both acoustic and electric piano -which together gave a depth to the whole production - combined with clavinet and ARP string ensemble, it all culminated in big sound. But the standout characteristic were the vocal harmonies - usually featuring the Mizells themselves. Gary Bartz was better known for his playing than his singing and had a curious voice which worked perfectly under the Mizells. Nearly every track is a killer - and check out The Tribe Called Quest sample from Gentle Smiles.
DON BLACKMAN: Don Blackman (Arista/GRP GRP5509 - 1982)
Yabba Dabba Doo/Heart's Desire/Holding You, Loving You/Deaf Hook-Up Connection
You Ain't Hip/Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide/Since You've Been Away So Long/Never Miss A Thing
One of the great funk albums of the eighties - and one of those curious modern albums that for some reason is incredibly rare. Heavily bootlegged and then finally re-issued on Japanese CD this was Blackman's only solo album. The album has some pure P-Funk in the shape of You Ain't Hip, classic soul ballads with Since You've Been Away and two outstanding mid-tempo classics - Heart's Desire and Holding You, Loving You.
JAMES BROWN: BLACK CAESAR (1973 POLYDOR)
Down and Out In New York City / Blind Man Can See It / Sportin' Life / Dirty Harri / The Boss / Make It Good To Yourself
Mama Feelgood / Mama's Dead / White Lightning (I Mean Moonshine) / Chase / Like It Is, Like It Was
It made perfect sense to get the Godfather of Soul to score a blaxploitation movie. The dynamic, punchy sound of the J.B.'s coupled with Brown's socially conscious lyrics were an ideal match up to the cruel, violent gang-dominated world of America's inner-city ghettoes in the early seventies. Matched only in quality by Curtis Mayfield's Superfly and Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man, Black Caesar includes the storming tracks Make It Good To Yourself and best of all Mama Feelgood featuring a high energy performance from vocalist Lyn Collins. The serious tone of the score gives an edge to tracks such as The Boss and Down and Out In New York City, whilst Brown's under-estimated skills as a ballad writer and singer are superbly displayed on Mama's Dead. The material is co-written by Fred Wesley and some nice jazz elements appear - particularly on Sportin' Life.
DONALD BYRD: Places and Spaces (Blue Note BN-LA549-G - 1975)
Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle)/Wind Parade/Dominoes
Places and Spaces/You and Music/Night Whistler/Just My Imagination
From the same year as the above Bartz session - and the Mizells were on a roll. One of the landmark fusion albums which includes the club anthem Dominoes - a live version of which was re-released in the early 80's due to its popularity. With the Mizells on vocals again, Harvey Mason on drums and the legendary songwriter Skip Scarborough on Fender Rhodes almost every track is massive, especially Wind Parade and the title track. Heavily in demand throughout the 80's the album has been recently re-released on vinyl and CD. Also excellent are Byrd's Mizell produced albums Black Byrd, Street Lady (both 1973), and Steppin' Into Tomorrow (1975) - all for Blue Note records.
TERRY CALLIER: What Color Is Love (Cadet CA50019 - 1972)
Dancing Girl/What Color Is Love/You Goin' Miss Your Candyman
Just As Long As We're In Love/Ho Tsing Mee/I'd Rather Be With You/You Don't Care
After two decades in the musical wilderness Terry Callier is finally receiving the recognition his talent deserves due mainly to some emotional live performances in the UK. Before then the sheer unavailability of his early works contributed to his lack of r ecognition. This album is a case in point - still unavailable in its entirety until July of '98 when at last Callier's Cadet albums were re-issued on CD - this is simply one of the greatest albums ever made. Crossing the boundaries of soul, blues, jazz and folk - the album is produced by another heavyweight in the history of black music in the States: Charles Stepney. Meaningful lyrics from the political to the mystical (Dancing Girl), and Callier's beautiful acoustic guitar playing backed by many of Stepney's team which went on to join Earth, Wind and Fire combine with the distinctive Charles Stepney/Richard Evans string sound which so recently inspired 4 Hero.
DOUG CARN: Adams Apple (Black Jazz BJQD21 - 1974)
Chant/Higher Ground/Sweet Season/Sanctuary
Mighty Mighty/The Messenger/Adam's Apple/To A Wild Rose/Western Sunrise
Doug Carn made four excellent albums for Black Jazz - the first three featuring his then wife Jean Carn before she added an 'e' to her surname and became queen of Philly soul and Doug turned more towards Mecca, including a change of name. This last album in the series continues the pattern of Carn setting his own lyrics to classic jazz tracks (Wayne Shorter's Sanctuary) covering other songs (Earth Wind and Fire's Mighty Mighty) and some of his own compositions. All four albums are pretty essential - but this may be the most consistent, (and check out the crazy Moog track The Messenger). Again the original albums are difficult to come by - especially the first three Infant Eyes, Spirit of the New Land and Revelation but luckily there was a Best of... compilation released on Universal Sound a couple of years ago.
ALICE COLTRANE: Journey In Satchidananda (Impulse! AS9203 - 1971)
Journey In Satchidananda/Shiva-Loka/Stopover Bombay
Something About John Coltrane/Isis and Osiris
Maybe just shading the previous album Ptah the El Daoud featuring Joe Henderson (essential for the title track) as the pick of Alice Coltrane's wonderfully spiritual albums for Impulse! following the death of her husband in 1967. Journey In Satchidananda heavily features the great Pharoah Sanders, Cecil McBee and Rashied Ali alongside classical Indian instrumentation, particularly the drone-based tamboura and the middle eastern oud. Alice's harp playing was the major feature of earlier albums Huntingdon Ashram Monastery and A Monastic Trio, but her piano playing is also magnificent. Though her treatment of some of her late husbands recordings came in for criticism (adding strings to previous compositions) her playing in his late recordings and on her own albums cannot be doubted. Excluding some of the later, heavy string-based albums almost all of Alice's Impulse! albums are worth checking - particularly World Galaxy for the extraordinary version of A Love Supreme and the truly frightening rendition of My Favourite Things!
JOHN COLTRANE: Giant Steps (Atlantic 1311 - 1959)
Giant Steps/Cousin Mary/Countdown/Spiral
Syeeda's Song Flute/Naima/Mr P.C.
The album that changed the course of jazz - simply because Coltrane took the chord change sequence style of be-bop to its limits and then beyond. The sheer speed and intensity of this studio session must have made many contemporary sax players consider giving up. The intensity is counter-balanced by the beauty of tracks such as Naima and the album ranks as the pinnacle of 50's jazz creativity. Other Coltrane Atlantic essentials include Ole, Coltrane Sound, My Favourite Things and Coltrane Jazz - all of which are available on CD.
JOHN COLTRANE: Coltrane (Impulse! A21 - 196?)
Out Of This World/Soul Eyes
The Inch Worm/Tunji/Miles Mode
Choosing the best of Coltrane's classic Impulse! albums is rather pointless, but this is sheer jazz heaven from beginning to end. This was Coltrane's modal phase - between the bop of the 50's and his later avant-garde sessions for Impulse! before his death in 1967. The line-up needs no introduction - Coltrane with his 'sheets of sound' on sax, the powerful Elvin Jones on drums, the expressive Jimmy Garrison on bass and the mighty McCoy Tyner on piano. Coltrane continues his tradition of re-interpreting standards from musicals with The Inch Worm that equals My Favourite Things from his previous Atlantic days. All the albums from the period are available on CD and essential for any jazz collection: Africa Brass/Live at Birdland/Crescent/A Love Supreme/Impressions.
NORMAN CONNORS: This Is Your Life (Arista AB4177 - 1977)
Stella/This Is Your Life/Wouldn't You Like To See/Listen/Say You Love Me
Captain Connors/You Make Me Feel Brand New/Butterfly/The Creator
Despite being the featured drummer on many heavy early fusion projects and starting off with three truly deep albums of his own for Cobblestone: Dark Of Light, Dance of Magic and Love From the Sun (the latter two essential), Connors' albums for Buddah grew steadily more commercial and Disco orientated - yet still retained the quality of the early albums to produce some absolute classics. Most of the albums feature both great Disco cuts and more fusion based material. Essential tracks include the seminal jazz dance tune Mother of the Future from Slewfoot (1974), the gorgeous ballad Skin Diver from Saturday Night Special (1975 -both tracks featuring Jean Carn on vocals), Just Imagine from You Are My Starship (1976), Once I've Been There from Romantic Journey (1977), Be There In the Morning from the Arista album Invitation (1979) and She's Gone from Mr. C (1981). All these as well as his productions for Pharoah Sanders, Aquarian Dream and Starship Orchestra make Connors one of the best producers of seventies black music. His main talent seems to be his ability to put together an awesome set of musicians with new vocal sensations. Each new album seemed to introduce some new vocalist such as Phyllis Hyman, Eleanor Mills, Miss Adaritha, etc. This Is Your Life is perhaps the most consistant of all these strong albums - the Disco cuts Stella and Say You Love Me are up there with the great ballads Listen and the title track. The icing on the cake is the vocal version of Herbie Hancock's Butterfly. The awesome line up includes Pharoah Sanders, Jean Carn, James Robinson, Eleanor Mills, Gary Bartz, Bobby Lyle, etc, etc.
CHICK COREA: Light As A Feather (Polydor PD 5525 - 1972)
You're Everything/Light As A Feather/Captain Marvel
500 Miles High/Children's Song/Spain
Former Blue Note pianist Chick Corea formed his fusion band Return To Forever in 1971 for European label ECM. Their first album Return To Forever was a great success and this, the follow-up was arguably even better. Recorded in London in 1972 it features the distinctive vocal style of Brazilian Flora Purim, Stanley Clarke on bass, Joe Farrell on flute and Airto on drums. Chick Corea's own style is crystal-like electric piano solos played at breakneck speed. Return To Forever ventured more into jazz/rock and synthesisers on their later albums, but the paired down style of the first two albums remain individual classics.
MILES DAVIS: Kind Of Blue (Columbia CS8163 - 1959)
So What/Freddie Freeloader/Blue In Green
Flamenco Sketches/All Blues
Tired of the imitations of his 'cool jazz' style, Miles made his point - and then some - with his modal directions on this classic album. Often cited as the best jazz album of all time, the tracks are deceptively simple - with subtle modal shifts and Miles' sparse punctuation's contrasting beautifully with Coltrane's spiritual style. The imitators were firmly put in their place and Miles went on to super-stardom. Also essential from this period are Miles' subsequent Someday My Prince Will Come and the orchestral works with arranger Gil Evans: Sketches of Spain and Porgy & Bess - now available in a beautiful Columbia/Sony CD boxset.
MILES DAVIS: E.S.P. (Columbia CS9150 - 196?)
In the mid-60's Miles had a band to rival that of any other lead man in jazz. Miles had Blue Note leaders Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams as well as bassman Ron Carter. Perhaps the key to this line-up is that all are accomplished composers as well as players. Therefore Miles' mid-60's albums follow the development of Shorter and Hancock as composers as much as himself. This album in particular could be a Miles Davis album, a Herbie Hancock album or a Wayne Shorter album! All three along with Carter share the writing credits and the album is solid from start to finish. Also check Miles Smiles, Nefertiti, Water Babies and Sorcerer. This wonderful period has also been documented in an immaculate CD box-set with many alternate takes and a few unreleased tracks by Columbia/Sony.
MILES DAVIS: Filles De Kilimanjaro (Columbia CS9750 - 196?)
Frelon Brun/Tout De Suite/Petits Machins
Filles De Kilimanjaro/Mademoiselle Mabry
Miles started his foray into electronics with the subtle, 'ambient' albums of the late 60's - slowly introducing key players such as Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Dave Holland, George Benson, etc, alongside Herbie and co. on albums such as Miles In the Sky and In A Silent Way. Filles De Kilimanjaro stands at the beginning of this phase and mainly features the quintet from before. A beautiful, mystical album - Herbie's switch to electric piano and Tony Williams' innovative drumming are perhaps its key elements. An abject lesson in 'less is more' and that jazz can be incredibly dark and funky, this is a masterful album.
MILES DAVIS: In A Silent Way (Columbia CS9875 - 1969)
In A Silent Way/It's About That Time
The front cover features a serious portrait of Miles - his slightly anguished expression tells us of his constant struggle to innovate and experiment. Such was the groundbreaking nature of this music that Columbia felt obliged to put 'Directions In Music by Miles Davis' on the cover - as if to warn us this is no ordinary album. Miles used all his knowledge of cool jazz, classical and renaissance music together with contemporary rock and funk rhythms to create an extraordinary fusion. The sessions were so obviously experimental it seems the tracks had no fixed arrangements and sections were spliced together to stretch over two sides of vinyl. The edits are rather abrupt and it will be interesting to see if a forthcoming Columbia/Sony CD box-set will release the original unedited takes. Miles uses no less than three keyboard players - and what a trio! Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul - all on Wurlitzer or Fender Rhodes. Tony Williams was by now out on his own in the field of jazz drumming - increasingly using a rock/funk style that propelled the music along. Miles continues his use of electric guitar by including the British musician John McLaughlin, and bassist Dave Holland completes the line-up.
DAZZLE: Dazzle (De-Lite DSR-9514 - 1979)
Walk Before You Run/It's Not the Same/All
You Dazzle Me/Reaching/Slipped Disco
One of the best and most consistant Disco albums ever made - a rarity perhaps because Disco was more a 12inch single culture and only the more serious producers put their talents to album projects. Most Disco albums tend to have a shortened version of a hit single and then 4 or 5 sub-standard fillers. Dazzle from the later days of Disco has only 1 filler and nearly ALL the tracks are hits! Produced by Stan Lucas and the legendary Leroy Burgess Dazzle contains the uplifting and uptempo classic You Dazzle Me with Lucas on lead vocals and edits by Jellybean as well as the slightly slower boogie tempo classics Walk Before You Run featuring Jocelyn Brown and Reaching featuring the unmistakeable Burgess himself. The uplifting nature is all down to the joyous, carefree vocalists and the string and horn arrangements by Disco legend Patrick Adams.
DELEGATION: Delegation (Mercury SRM 1-3821 - 1980)
Heartache No.9/Sho' Nuff Sold On You/One More Step To Take/Blue Girl
Darlin' (I Think About You)/You and I/Stand Up/Welcome To My World/Put A Little Love On Me
Not a well known album, despite being on a major label that released and supported a lot of black music in the early eighties Delegation is a superb all-round album with some killer tracks that were quite popular at the time of release. Heartache No.9 is one of those classic lost club tracks that was probably quite big in clubs with its Chic-style rhythm guitar-driven intro and its incredibly catchy chorus that always seems to get a crowd singing at the end. Strangely the album was mixed and produced in London but the vocalists sound American. The tracks may not be totally original (One More Step To Take is surely based upon McFadden & Whitehead's Ain't Know Stoppin' Us Now bass riff), but it still manages to be probably the best boogie album to come out of England!
GEORGE DUKE: The Inner Source (MPS 5D-154D - 1972)
Au-Right/Love Reborn/Peace/My Soul
Feels So Good/Manya/Sweet Bite/The Followers The Inner Source/Life/Some Time Ago/So There You Go Solus/Nigerian Numberuma/Twenty-Five/Always Constant
George Duke - formerly of the Mothers of Invention - took leave from keyboard duties in Cannonball Adderley's band to record two albums for the German MPS label, which were eventually released as this double album. George Duke's sound throughout the 70's would blend the synthesiser experiments developed under Zappa with the latin rhythms of his West Coast home. These first sessions are no different but are startling for their minimal production and electronic elements. Some tracks feature early use of delay units such as the Maestro Echoplex, and electric piano put through wah-wahs and ring modulation (Nigerian Numberuma). Duke's next album Faces In Reflection is sought after for the electronic workout North Beach - much played by Derrick May and others - and the subsequent albums Feel, The Aura Will Prevail and I Love the Blues She Heard My Cry are all worth tracking down, particularly for their early use of synths and analogue effects. Of Duke's later more 'fusion' - based albums, check out Reach For It (1977) Follow the Rainbow (1978), and the beautiful blend of Brazilian fusion on Brazilian Love Affair (1980).
EARTH, WIND & FIRE: That's the Way Of the World (Columbia PC33280 - 1975)
Shining Star/That's the Way of the World/Happy Feelin'/All About Love
Yearnin' Learnin'/Reasons/Africano/See the Light
From their eponymous debut in 1970 to 1981's Raise, EW&F never made a bad album. A raw early funk sound developed into the most crisply produced large sounding outfits of all time - their stage shows of the late 70's were notoriously over the top. Chart success came with ballads from their later albums -, Fantasy from All 'n' All and After the Love Has Gone from I Am - and disco hits Boogie Wonderland and Let's Groove. Founder Maurice White was a former drummer with Ramsey Lewis and therefore connected to the Chicago Chess/Cadet scene of Charles Stepney. This album - chosen amongst the others for its sheer consistency (Last Days In Time (1972)/Head To the Sky(1973)/Open Our Eyes (1974)/Gratitude(1976)/Spirit(1976)/All 'n' All(1977)/I Am(1979) are all essential!) was produced and arranged by Charles Stepney and engineered by studio legend George Massenburg. It was intended as a soundtrack for an ecologically aware motion picture documentary. Philip Bailey's amazing falsetto is at its best on this album (check Reasons) and Stepney himself joins synth wizard Larry Dunn on Moog duty.
EIGHTIES LADIES: Ladies of the 80's (Uno Melodic UM0001 - 1980)
Ladies of the 80's/Tell Him/He Is Mine Forever/Ladies of the 80's (Inst)
I Knew That Love/It's Easy To Move/Sing Me/Turned On To You
Not only did Roy Ayers produce some killer solo albums in the late 70's-early 80's, but he ran his own Uno Melodic label that saw him on production duties for various singers/musicians. The label was a small budget affair and many of the releases are extremely rare (Ethel Beatie's 12" single and Sylvia Striplin's LP being the most desirable). Luckily this album had club success with Turned On To You and was reasonably available at its time of release (you're now looking at �0!). The Eighties Ladies were pretty much session singers for Roy Ayers and their collective harmonies give the album a rich sound. Boogie is the order of the day rather than disco and there's barely a dull track on the whole album. This was a perfect way to start the decade of boogie!
BILL EVANS: Symbiosis (MPS MC22094 - 1974)
Bill Evans had a unique and hugely influential piano style that owed as much to a European classical approach as it did to swinging jazz. Evans became known as the master of the jazz ballad which his style was perfect for. After appearing on key albums for Miles Davis (Kind of Blue ) and George Russell (Jazz In the Space Age) amongst others, and his famed trio albums for Riverside, then Verve, Evans recorded this intriguing session for MPS in 1974. Symbiosis features Evans on acoustic and electric piano alongside a large orchestra conducted by Claus Ogerman. The recording is superb and the lengthy movements are quite experimental - yet Evans comments in the sleevenotes that he wasn't too worried about theory in his compositions but rather was more concerned with reaching out to his audience. He certainly achieves his objectives.
JOE FARRELL QUARTET: Joe Farrell Quartet (CTI 6003 - 1970)
Follow Your Heart/Collage For Polly/Circle In the Square
Molten Glass/Alter Ego/Song of the Wind/Motion
An under-rated album by an under-rated musician, Farrell's first album for CTI features an awesome line up: Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland and John McLaughlin just weeks after they played on Miles' Bitches Brew sessions. Farrell shows his talents on a range of instruments from tenor and soprano sax to oboe and flute and also provides four of the albums compositions. The rockier directions of Miles is clear on the opening McLaughlin composition Follow Your Heart in contrast to some of the freer compositions, yet the whole album retains an intense moodiness. Farrell's later albums for CTI feature more guitarists and Herbie Hancock. They have their moments - and quite a few famous breakbeats, but perhaps veer too much towards a commercial production sound.
ROBERTA FLACK: Feel Like Makin' Love (Atlantic SD18131 - 1975)
Feelin' That Glow/I Wanted It Too/I Can See the Sun In Late
December/Some Gospel According to Matthew
Feel Like Makin' Love/Mr.Magic/Early Ev'ry Midnite/Old Heartbreak Top Ten/She's Not Blind
The delicate vocals of Roberta Flack graced many albums in the 70's, but this remains her best solo effort. Highlights are the Eugene McDaniels penned title track and Ralph MacDonald's Mr Magic - previously recorded by Grover Washington Jr. Also featured is an amazing version of Stevie Wonders I Can See the Sun... arranged by that man Harry Whitaker again. Check out Roberta's work with the late Donny Hathaway for other gems as well as tracks Compared to What (from First Take), The Closer I Get To You (from Blue Lights In the Basement) and the latin-tinged Why Are You So Bad (from the Bustin' Loose soundtrack).
FUNK INC.: Chicken Lickin' (Prestige 10043 - 1972)
Chicken Lickin'/Running Away/They Trying to Get Me
The Better Half/Let's Make Peace and Stop the War/Jung Bungo
One of the albums to define the unfortunate term 'acid jazz' before the
pale imitations, this is one of the heaviest funk albums of many from
the Prestige label at the turn of the decade. Funk Inc. were a
five-piece outfit who used fat Hammond organ basslines and funky drums
to create an instantly danceable sound that they perfected on the albums
Funk Inc., Hangin' Out, Chicken Lickin' and Superfunk. Breakbeats and
wah-wah riffs feature heavily - especially on the epic The Better Half
and they also found room to voice their protest against the Vietnam war
on Let's Make Peace and Stop the War.