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!
This is the album that preceded the iconic Kind of Blue - in fact, we would even say that this is the younger brother of that legendary album. One of the few occasions in which Miles Davis acted a side-man… but that may have been acceptable given that the lead was Cannonball Adderley. Let’s be realistic here – if you put legends such as Cannonball, Miles and Art Blakey (drums) in one place, how could the result not be a phenomenal album? Unlike his usual high-powered and twisting playing style, no doubt influenced by Charlie Parker, Cannonball brings us a very patient, thoughtful and meticulous set which creates one hell of a mood. There’s not a single note which is out of place, unnecessary or excessive. Without raving on too much about it, we really feel if you were to study this album, you would probably be able to crack the formula to jazz. Let’s face it – we're trying to introduce you to some of the very greatest – and you deserve to own this.
Just the line-up on this album is enough to get you excited - Herbie on piano, Hubbard on trumpet and Gordon on tenor… are you kidding? On top of that, bear in mind that this was Herbie’s debut album at the young age of just 22. This album was a preview of things to come, considering the following year Herbie would join Miles Davis and would start a relationship resulting in a number of phenomenal albums. The opening groove, Watermelon Man, is one of our favourites and it sounds just as good and fresh today as we're sure it did back in 1962. It’s also great to hear Dexter Gordon on this album after a troubling decade of his life in which he struggled with substance abuse and jail time. His solo on The Maze is one that really sticks with us – he brings some sort of a power to it that is reminiscent of Coltrane a little bit. Overall, this album is more than a debut – it’ a statement. Jazz wouldn’t be the same after this album ladies and gentlemen – Herbie has just come to town and he means business.
Mayfield is one of our favourite soul artists to come out of Chicago. He started his career with The Impressions throughout the 60s, and upon leaving the group released this as his debut solo album. It's a departure from his earlier style which may have been seen as more commercial, whereas in this he really spread his wings and was much more vocal in his social critique. Soul music played a huge part in the civil rights movement and provided a platform of expression for many artists - most notably Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. The album starts off strong with If There's a Hell Below, in which Curtis demonstrates his ability to shock you with his lyrics, while grooving to the most infectious rhythm and guitar. The loaded start is then balanced out by the breezy and optimistic Move on Up, a song which would go on to be one of his most iconic tunes.
Monk is one of those pianists who you can recognize within 5 seconds of a record playing. His off-beat and syncopated style is truly one of a kind. The first time you hear a Monk record you might think “is my record scratched, did it just skip a beat?”. Calm down, there’s nothing wrong – it’s just Monk. He’s like the Picasso of the jazz world – he takes every element of a piece, twists and bends it around to create a masterpiece of his own. This particular album is Monk’s first for Columbia Records and is accompanied by a fantastic set of musicians – Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, John Ore on bass and Frankie Dunlop on drums. They’re absolutely fantastic and every layer upon layer of musical complexity fits in just perfectly to give us this incredible recording. Not only that, but you’ve also got some solo pieces by Monk such as Just a Gigolo, which you probably won’t hear played like this by anyone else.
10 of the 11 songs on Otis Blue were recorded within 24 hours. Who is in this super efficient band you ask? Stax Record’s very own best of the best – Isaac Hayes, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn. That being said, don’t think for a second that anything here has been rushed. The album is complex and covers so much ground in terms of style. From the very up-beat cover of the Rolling Stone’s Satisfaction, to the raw, groaning soul that Otis displays on I’ve Been Loving You Too Long. Otis’s untimely death in 1967 was a tragedy and the only thing we can think of when I hear this album is – what else could there have been? We should count our blessings and simply be grateful that part of what we were left with was such a perfectly packed album as Otis Blue.
The level of hype around this concert is difficult to put into words considering the line-up – Charlie Parker, Dizz, Mingus, Max Roach and Bud Powell. Frankly, this was the best of the best of bebop. Bebop started as a style for cult musicians who were by no means the big names they are today. It was an underground genre which accidentally set the foundation for the rest of modern jazz. The rapport the musicians have on this record is incredible, notwithstanding the challenges present. Parker, afflicted by a heroin addiction, by this point had a strenuous relationship with Dizz who rumour has it kept popping off stage to watch the Marciano-Walcott championship fight happening at the same time. Max Roach was quoted in 1985 saying “The atmosphere was pretty difficult, but when you look at the people in that dressing room and the issues and problems they all had, it would need a whole conference of psychologists to work it all out. People should just be grateful that the music was made and recorded at all”.