Warmth was a loosely knit group of jazz musicians led by pianist/vibraphonist Don McCaslin, the middle hairy guy in the photo above. Beginning in 1972, the group regularly performed at a sidewalk cafe outside the Cooper House in Santa Cruz. They continued until the 1989 quake destroyed the building.
The group recorded at least 5 albums. This song is from their second one. McCaslin adapted the song from a poem by Joseph Stroud, another Santa Cruz guy; it's sung by Harry Woodward. I don't normally flip for jazz guitar solos but Larry Scala kills this.
Michel Sardaby's a Martinique-born pianist who has been based in Paris since the 1950s. This is from his Gail LP, which was (I think) his second. The album was booted in the early 90s and "Welcome New Warmth" has been comped a few times.
While ripping these it occurred to me that either might fit comfortably alongside Fusion Batches, an excellent mellow jazz mix that my homie Morse Code put together a few years ago. I ran into him on a plane recently and he told me had a sequel wrapped up and ready to go plus plans to reissue the first one. I'm waiting....
The New World was a group of Curtis Mayfield protégés who released one single. The promo version of the single, which is the one I have, has stereo & mono mixes of "Help the Man" on both sides. The commercial version features a Curtis Mayfield composition called "We're Gonna Make It" and is much rarer (to the tune of like a G).
The selections on his mix are pretty awesome-- Mao draws on a lot of alternate or live versions of Mayfield classics, obscurities Mayfield wrote or produced for artists, etc. One that I'd completely forgotten about was this, which was from the first Impressions record cut after Mayfield went solo and Leroy Hutson took over his slot:
As I was pulling the Jerry Washington LP to rip yesterday, I also grabbed a couple nearby Grover Washington, Jr. records that I hadn't listened to in a while.
When I started off buying jazz and funk I turned up my nose at Grover Washington records. I associated him with "Just the Two of Us", a song I can kind of ride for now but which I detested as a kid. It took some schooling from Beni B to make me bother to listen to funk stuff like "Mr. Magic", "Knucklehead", etc., but I was glad I did.
Still, some of Washington's music takes mellow over a precipice, followed by a queasy-making drop into smooth jazz territory. This is about as close to the edge as I care to follow him:
The seagull noises sound an alarm right away-- "THIS SHIT IS SMOOTH JAZZ!" If you're tempted to run for cover, wait it out to about the 45 second mark when the the drums and clavinet drop-- it's like an "all clear" as they balance out the new age-y ambience of the rest of the track. (BTW, the song was used well on Siah & Yeshua's "Visualz", a record that was vinyl-only and for a long time hard to track down; it's now in print on CD and mp3.)
This is another one I almost feel uncomfortable about liking-- soprano saxophone is probably the ultimate signifier of smooth jazz:
Not that there's anything so wrong with "smooth" per se. Peep game:
The "Smooth" radio format is some revolutionary (if throwed-back) shit, though. Outside of mixtapes, in how many other contexts do you hear music that's programmed not by its genre and not by the demographics of its listenership but by its abstract aesthetic?
My dad is deep in the Smooth lifestyle (dude was country when country wasn't cool, so to speak: He's been down with the Smoove unit since the mid-eighties when his avuncular cocoa co-worker Greg--he of the late-model zinfandel-colored something with the "LOAFIN" vanity plate--turned him out with some Najee), so whenever we go to visit him, it's wall-to-wall "Wave FM" or whatever--in the crib, in the convertible, while ordering assorted chicken-based wraps named after towns in Arizona, etc.--and I can honestly say that said station will seemingly play anything, by any artist, in any genre, from any time period, as long as it feels smooth. In one weekend, on one station, I heard Bobby Caldwell, late-period Miracles, Beck, Al Green, MacNeal and Niles, Paul Hardcastle, Etta James, The Deele, Dave Brubeck, Steely Dan, Maroon 5, Lee Morgan, Johnny Hammond, Jefferson Starship, Jobim, Talking Heads, and on and on and on.
Regardless of how one feels about the individual artists, where the fuck else do you hear that kind of sensibility in wide public broadcast? Those of you that can't get past the specifics of the playlist ("Fuck a Kenny G, thun!"), think of it this way: Imagine if there was some station that would play anything, by any artist, in any genre, from any time period, as long as it felt hard (settle down, Beavis): MC5, Public Enemy, Metallica, Prince Far I, Funkadelic, Alber Ayler, M.O.P., and on and on and on. Well, that's what's going on with a lot of these "Smooth" stations. You ain't gotta like it, but please recognize this for the soft bomb that it is.
The preceding was posted a few years ago on Soulstrut by james a/k/a James Cavicchia, a guy who ought to be writing for a living. While in general my feeling is that what happens on message boards should stay on message boards, that's one of the best pieces of music writing I've ever read. (For more on James as well as his meditation on summer songs, visit O-Dub's seasonal blog.)
James's reference to M.O.P. reminded me of the following possibly apocryphal exchange between them and a U.K. interviewer (I think this may have been in a Hip-Hop Connection interview, but I've never seen the piece firsthand) that highlights their love for smooth:
BILLY DANZE: Kenny G? He's dope! LIL' FAME: Kenny G is just like "God damn!" John Coltrane's alright but... I would buy a Kenny G CD. Coltrane's not like my era. But Kenny G, he makes music for black people and that shit is so beautiful. It's like the classical soul and the R&B soul when people sing, Kenny G plays that shit and makes it sound like it's singing, nigga! BILLY DANZE: And Phil Collins, that's our homey, though! You don't like Phil Collins? You crazy! Phil Collins is dope, come on! LIL' FAME: I bet if I do a song with Kenny G that shit would be huge. I'll do some brand new shit with Kenny G, and that would fuck everybody up. I would do it and then you'll label it a crossover. For real, I wanna do a song with Kenny G...
But, uh... back to the lecture at hand; here are two really obscure version of Grover Washington's "Mr. Magic":
The way the drums are recorded is crazy-- kind of remind me of Weather Report's "Non-Stop Home". This is from an LP on a mysterious label that I think occupied the same shady tax-dodge territory as Guinness and Tiger Lily.
Johnny Heartsman was a major figure on the Oakland blues & R&B scene from the 50s to mid-60s but then largely disappeared, leading his own trio in the Central Valley and then a band for singer Joe Simon. Around 1990 the blues scene rediscovered him and he cut a couple records; he passed away in 1996.
Jerry Washington was a singer, writer and producer from South Carolina who released a very solid LP on Excello. He also owned the NY-based Top Pop label, which released 45s by James Lewis Fields and King Rubin. His monologue is very silly and very awesome ("she said 'Jerry, tell me what I can do for you to make your life more beautiful as you travel upon this land'"; I get told that kinda stuff a lot, too).
The arrangement on the Eddy Jacobs version is weird and awesome-- there's the wild intro with the guitar part and then the drum part that seem to be drawn from two totally different songs and then there's the monologue. The guy who's responsible, Harry Whitaker, was the arranger for Roberta Flack and Roy Ayers and recorded this awesome thing.
B.o.B. is an Atlanta rapper who caught a lot of buzz last year from an appearance on Wes Fif's "Haterz Everywhere" and subsequently signed with T.I.'s Grand Hustle label. He draws a lot of Andre 3000 comparisons, which aren't totally unwarranted-- he shares the high, pinched voice and limber rhyme schemes plus he frequently wanders into the goofball territory that 3000 owns. In short, he's really talented and usually interesting.
Unfortunately, Who the Fuck Is B.o.B. is burdened with almost every annoying convention of the artist mixtape, ones that seem designed to make listening as frustrating as possible. Loose thematic concept that gets more annoying with each and every skit? Check. Super-corny drops and voice-overs disrupting every song? Check. Superfluous rewinds that do the same? Check. Total absence of continuity between any two adjacent tracks? Check. On the plus side, a lot of the material is really good-- I'll wade through the drops to listen to these:
Playboy Tré is a member of the same crew but he's a lot less hyped and he's been around far longer (on Goodbye America he refers to having a song on 1998's So So Def Bass All-Stars Vol. 3!). The rapper he resembles most is probably Devin the Dude-- Tré seems to share the same humor and mellow fuck-up persona-- although his strained voice often reminds me of AZ, too.
His mixtape is a little more enjoyable. There's still too much concept and too little continuity but at least his skits are funny enough to be bearable the first time you hear them. These are two of my favorites on the mix:
The Paper Route crew is based in Huntsville, Alabama, about halfway between Birmingham and Nashville. There are roughly a dozen separate acts in the crew but their music has a consistent and distinctive feel-- the production's slow, melodic and woozy, kind of like a less dark Three 6 Mafia. Lyrically they cover a lot of the same ground other rappers do (sex, drugs and shopping) but for some reason I find them a little more compelling than average.
When I heard Benzi & Diplo were doing a Paper Route mix I had mixed feelings. I was really glad that they were offering the crew some exposure but feared that they might convert the music into some rave-tronic hipster bullshit. This sampler, which they floated in March, mostly avoided that trap:
Diplo & Benzi Present the Paper Route Gangstaz Mixtape Sampler (Mad Decent, 2008)
The completed mix, which went on sale today, is bullshit-free and super well-executed-- the whole thing flows smoothly end to end. There are a bunch of solid remixes from Diplo and friends (Emynd, the Knocks) and cameos by Blaqstarr and Wale, but nothing disruptive. Overall, it's a great introduction to a really gifted crew.
If you can't get enough from Paper Route, my homie Rob Breezy from Southern Hospitality has a free mix that features quite a few Paper Route songs I haven't heard elsewhere. I have no idea where he tracked all this stuff down.
The Advancement was a group headed by Gabor Szabo's rhythm section, bassist Lou Kabok and drummer Hal Gordon. Kabok, like Szabo, was a refugee from Hungary and based this track on a Hungarian folk song. Their record is solid and really slept-on.
The Aquarians were a studio group led by Russo-Belgian pianist Vladimir Vassilieff and featuring established jazz players like Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Pass as well as Lynn Blessing, who coincidentally plays vibes on the Advancement record also. (Oh, and the Bill Plummer record, too! I guess he was kind of the Forrest Gump of the jazzy pseudo-psych world.) The Aqurians record is more or less a latin jazz LP with some flower-pop touches.
I love this song for the vocal and, in particular, the way the naive, dippy lyric ("we can do better/there won't be wars/that kill good people/there won't be walls/between the people/there won't be laws/for certain people/there won't be hate/among the people") gets echoed or maybe undercut by the mindless and strangely affectless responses that follow each line, "uh yeah yeah yeah" and "oh yeah".
The song was recently collected on Sounds of She, which was put together by the folks behind the cool Soft Sounds for Gentle People sunshine-pop comps. In the liner notes, they speculate that the vocalists on this one, credited simply as the Gemini Twins, were probably Alyce and Rhae Andrece, twins who cut weird, late-60s jazz-pop records for Verve and for Limelight with the group Sound of Feeling. I had been thinking that, too.
Oh, and-- here's a song from the second Sound of Feeling LP:
It combines wordless vocals and moog with stuff that ought to suck, like a 7/4 time signature and microtonal improvisation, but instead of being a leaden, pretentious mess, it's actually kind of strange and awesome.
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson: "Willing" (Arista, 1980)
The song is from 1980, the last album that Scott-Heron recorded with Jackson and possibly his best.
For those who can't appreciate anything unless it's 130 bpm and rave-y (yes I am looking at you, homeboy), there's also this version. I would expect to hate it but it's executed as tastefully as a totally gratuitous house remix can be.
Studs Terkel died Friday. He'd been on my mind lately because the current economic mess had me thinking about Hard Times, his oral history of the depression.
I've never read the book but years ago I impulse-bought a 2-LP set of interviews that fed it, basically a series of monologues from ordinary people in extraordinarily bad times. The immediacy and vividness of the stories was electrifying-- they were so specific and so personal that they really brought the era (and what I might otherwise think of as a pretty dull subject) alive. This one is pretty representative:
I guess the song is about a psychological crisis than an economic one, but still. Curtis Mayfield was often a really awkward lyricist ("of my body's house/I'm afraid to come outside") but the clumsiness works here.