We love this record for the music as well as the fact that it was a foundation for a new branch of jazz - you can think of this as early progressive jazz, or even the rockier jazz which Weather Report made a name for. In terms of timing, this was the late 60s – rock was dominating the market place and Miles was looking for a new direction that carried forward his core values in a creative and relevant way. The record was greeted by mixed reactions from critics at the time, but is today regarded as one of Mile’s most important works. If we look at the line-up of musicians on this record it is nothing short of a who’s who of electronic jazz. You’ve got Wayne Shorter (later Weather Report) on saxophone, John McLaughlin on guitar, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock on keys in addition to Joe Zawinul (later Weather Report and previously with Cannonball Adderley). These guys were seminal to the direction which jazz later took. The sound of this album has been described by reviews as a perfect marriage between music and technology. Personally, we hear something new in the album every time we listen to it and that’s what we believe makes it so special.
While so many music icons are discovered at a relatively young age, Bill's career only took off at age 32. By that point he had grown as a person, had experiences both good and bad and lived a life - and that’s precisely what he brought to his music. Every song he sings about love, heartache, friendship and camaraderie is covered in an extra layer of maple syrup. Bill, much like other folk musicians, was a storyteller, but he brought the kind of energy that belonged to a Janis Joplin. Every song has the potency to tear your heart out, while the next one will lovingly rebuild it. The record kicks off with the thick baseline of Lonely Town, Lonely Street, but our two highlights are Use Me, a tune with one of the funkiest grooves ever, and Lean on Me - what would become the undisputed anthem of friendship. The best aspect of Bill’s music to us is the fact that it’s relatable and accessible to so many people. Just about any experience one may have been through, Bill is likely to have sung about. We hope you all find something in this one that will make it as special to you as it is to us.
Released just one year after Miles Davis’s groundbreaking Sketches of Spain album, Olé Coltrane was John’s last studio album with Atlantic Records before moving over to Impulse!, who offered greater musical freedom for the saxophone maverick. Playing on both Spanish and Eastern-influenced scales and themes, Olé puts on display Coltrane’s continuous advancement and movement into much more complex compositions and new directions. Supported by the fantastic group of Elvin Jones (drums), Eric Dolphy (flute and alto sax), McCoy Tyner (piano) and a very young Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Olé can at times be an intimidating listen for those who’s ears aren’t Coltrane-attuned. With a play time of 45 minutes and a mere 4 tracks, each tune is given the opportunity to really develop and evolve right in front of the listener, reaching the kind of “high” which only Coltrane can provide.
The Roach-Brown quintet started its short run at the beginning of 1954. The tenor sax role would change hands at the end of 1955, when Harold Land returned to Los Angeles, which set the stage for the young Sonny Rollins to step in. The group consisted of Roach, Brown, Rollins, pianist Richie Powell (Bud Powell's brother) and George Morrow - a line up of heavyweights who were equal parts talented, ferocious and meticulous. They formed an incredible balance between playing fast, runaway tunes and delicate, sweet soft ballads. Unfortunately, this fantastic group was destined to end in tragedy, for in the early morning hours of June 26, 1956, Clifford Brown died in a car accident (at the age of 25) along with Richie Powell and his wife. Given the short space of time between Rollins joining the group and Brown's tragic accident, the group were only recorded on 3 sessions, appearing on only two albums, this being one of them (recorded in 1956), originally released as Sonny Rollins Plus Four. A true treasure and one which we believe should be part of any jazz collection!
With their first album for the Westbound label, the Ohio Players (who remain one of our absolute favourite funk groups) brought a whole new sound to the early 70s. Though neither soul, nor jazz, nor blues nor rock, Pain posesses elements of each of those genres throughout. The band's versatility is the first thing that listeners will notice ... well, that and the kinky S&M cover, which in the 70s was a big no-no (in fact, Pain would be the fist in the series of the band's erotic covers). And the delivery? Oh baby, these dudes performed with attitude - hooting, scatting, screaming high notes, pleading woo, woo, woo throughout - as a listener it's impossible not to feel the groove! It's hard to pick a favourite track, but the funk of Players Ballin and Climax is hard to ignore, while The Reds brings us a low-down and dirty delta blues tracked that's packed with emotion!
Jackie McLean was born in New York and was exposed to the jazz scene and it's protagonists at an early age. In high school, he played in a band with Kenny Drew and Sonny Rollins. Later on, he would get tutoring from the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. This album came at a time when McLean was producing a huge body of work and was the predecessor to the 1962 album Let Freedom Ring which would go on to be one of McLean's most famous. Though a hard-bop proponent, Jackie began to move more into modal jazz and even some abstract, which can certainly be heard on the title track here. Fickle means "liable to sudden, unpredicted change", while Sonance is a retired word for sound. Though an accurate description, what the tile doesn't tell you is that this is an absolutely steamin' record, with fantastic, sharp solos by McLean and a tight band consisting of Tommy Turrentine (trumpet), Sonny Clark (piano), Butch Warren (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums).
We live in interesting times. We are fortunate that we have a large arsenal of predecessors and music which we can draw from, and then combine those with today’s trends to create something fresh. That being said, we hoped to bring you something a little different this month. We think what pianist Robert Glasper was aiming for with this album was to narrow the rift that exists in people’s styles and musical tastes. He’s taking old school influences and making them appealing to a modern crowd. And the result, as peculiar as it might be, is quite honest and uncompromising. The most notable songs on the album are Afro Blue, featuring the soulful Erykah Badu, and the final track – Smells like Teen Spirit. We’ve heard a number of covers of that song but nothing like this – it’s interesting, just as unusual as the original, and is the perfect exhibit of what can be done with a song under someone else’s vision.
Formed in New York City in 1970, The Fatback Band was the brainchild of drummer Bill Curtis. Although they would reach the peak of commercial success in the 80s when they pivoted more into disco, the group was a cult and underground funk phenomenon. We dig the raw sound that is present throughout this whole record, dominated by the funky bass-lines of Johnny Flippin and the groovy drumming of Curtis. Their thick funky sound reminds us a little bit of an early Sly and Family Stone or maybe even a stripped-down version of Slave. From the very opening, Mister Bass Man sets the tone of what's to come in this record. It's a groove that's hard not to dance and shake to. Wicky Wacky features some awesome scat singing and gives us that New York street funk vibe, calling out to where all the party people are. Stick this one on at a house party to get the party popping and watch your guests start grooving!
This heavyweight classic is one of the greatest jazz records to come out of the 60s. All of that credit goes to Nelson's writing and arranging which made this the masterpiece that it is. Nelson arrived to New York in 1959, the same year that Kind of Blue was recorded. By this point, Nelson learned arranging from various influences and most importantly understood how to make a small band sound much bigger. Take the opening tune Stolen Moments - not only is it an incredibly beautiful composition that would go on to be a modern jazz standard, but the band's sound is so full it's hard to believe it's achieved by a mere 7 musicians. The collaborators on this one are the absolute giants of modern jazz. Freddie Hubbard shines through with some of his best soloing work, while Eric Dolphy backs him up seamlessly. The rhythm section is arguably one of the most potent in all of jazz of Paul Chambers, Roy Haynes and Evans on piano. Evans and Chambers both being Kind of Blue alumni, it's no wonder the album has a little bit of that feel to it as well, with an infusion of the blues to it as well!