Thursday / February 05 / 2009

Strictly Vinyl Reviews #001


Vinyl Review

An Evening with Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden, Al Foster.
Recorded live at the Genova Jazz Festival
Red Records, 1987

I have yet to dislike any album that starts out with a ballad. This record is no different. The opening selection; Monk’s “Ask Me Now” sets the explorative tone for the rest of the album with Joe wildly trilling the melody after a tasteful cadenza.  I’ll admit, despite the impressive line up (Haden on bass, Foster on drums) I was worried (expecting even) that this would fall short like so many of Henderson’s records I have from the 80s. However Joe is on point and you can tell he’s just having a good time on the stand, really opening up on his ideas. Haden lags a little at points, and his solos leave a little to be desired in context with the other playing happening but is otherwise solid. Their rendition of the melody on Sam River’s “Beatrice” falls a little short, playing it in a sort of faux-Latin style (I’m also extremely fond of the original). That’s not to say the rest of the song follows suit.  Foster’s explosive playing compliments Henderson’s soulful outbursts to a “t” and adds the perfect complex rhythmic background.  Don’t get me wrong about Haden, he’s solid as hell, but with the creativity pouring from the tenor and drums, I wouldn’t have minded hearing a little more risk being taken in the bass.

On the technical side, for a live recording this album’s above par.  The tenor sounds rich and full, the bass is clearly off a pickup (which sounds good) and the drums are just “ok” … I feel that some of the subtly in Foster’s playing must be lost in the distant-sounding micing of the drums.  The point is that it doesn’t sound like a jazz album from the 80s (or late 70s for that matter), and for that we should all be thankful. I could only find limited information on this album on the internet, and the bits I could find were mostly in review form with quotes that may or may not be true … such as “Joe Henderson told bassist Charlie Haden that this is his favorite recording of himself” and “This was a one-off concert, was done with no rehearsal …” and according to Wikipedia …

It was only after the release of An Evening with Joe Henderson, a live trio set (featuring Charlie Haden and Al Foster) for the Italian independent label Red Records that Henderson underwent a major career change: Verve took notice of him and in the early 1990s signed him.




Al Campbell – Freedom Street
Top Rank, 1984

Also released on the Londisc label, Al Campbell’s “Freedom Street” is my kind of 80s reggae.  Opening up with a rendition of Carlton Manning’s “Love Me Forever” (originally a Studio One riddim) the synths come blazing out with no apologies as the kick and snare slap you in the face (courtesy of either Sly or Style Scott!).  Campbell’s singing just does it for me, and I don’t really have a concrete reason why.  On this album he’s on all his own backups and the arrangements are slamming.  The rest of the personnel can easily hang with Willie Lindo on guitar, Lloyd Parks on bass, Robby Lyn on keys, Dwight Pickney (listed as Dwight Pinkney) on guitar, Dean Frasier on alto and Junior Chico Chin on trumpet.

One of the nicest aspects of this record is all songs immediately go into full length dubs without the awkward tape splice or obvious jump in beat (though let’s be honest; you’d have to be spinning to just-the-right right crowd to get away with playing 8 minutes of the same lovers rock tune).  The next song is a Campbell original, “Give My Love A Try” (which I assumed, incorrectly, to be a stolen version of Barry Brown’s “Give Love A Try”).  A nice attempt, but the tune falls short, leaving the dub to the stronger choice between the two.  Closing out the A-Side is an updated of Alton Ellis’s classic “Blackman’s Word”. Pretty good. The bass playing get’s a little disco for my tastes, plus the original is so prolific it’s hard to compare a synthed out version to the original Treasure Isle cut. Dub is decent.

After the flip we are treated to the title track, another Campbell original (not the Ken Boothe tune). I like this tune; it has a big swinging feel reminiscent of Freddie McGregor’s style on “Big Ship”. A silly little synth line accompanies almost the entire tune, but doesn’t get too distracting. The next track is the standout of the whole album, “Undying Love”. I’m not a fan of Frasier’s bubblegum alto, but it fits this tune in an oddly appropriate way. Campbell’s vocal backup arrangement is what really sets this tune apart from the rest.  Again, the dub is good.  Rounding out the album is “Time So Hard” sung over the ever-popular “Skylarking” riddim. I like the original/vocal better then the dub for this one as I think the lyrics are exceptionally good.  Campbell stays away from the stock style that has been used over and over again on “Skylarking” and really does well in creating his own, true version of the tune. Definitely worth picking up for the reggae collector, if new to the game, there’s probably some other records worth getting first.




Chico Hamilton – Peregrinations
Blue Note, 1975

I’ve come to really like most of Blue Note’s catalog from the 70s.  As opposed to Discovery or even Verve, they didn’t try to maintain a “status quo” of jazz, instead allowing their artists to experiment not only with new styles but new technology.  And that means funky funky synths … and phase!  This record vacillates between “frantic” and “groove with ease”, and while both styles are great, I think the groove sections definitely stand out as more unique and distinctive. The first track is a fairly forgettable “opening-of-a-record-song” titled “V-O”. Arthur Blythe blows over most it and can hold it down, but the song itself is lack luster.  The second track, “The Morning Side of Love” (great name) is where we get into interesting territory with both guitars soloing along with a phased-out choir section.  “Abdullah and Abraham” follows and is by far my most favorite track on the album.  Very much in the style of Milles’ 70s electric stuff, once the beat drops it feels real good.  The initial groove reminds me of a sort of Fela meets Yesterdays New Quintet playin a tune written by Andrew Hill.

The B-Side starts out screaming “Bloody Disco”. Opening with a frantic Copacabana-esque number, complete with screaming tenor sax, it’s a little more then I can handle but sets the mood for the remainder of the tracks. The end song “It’s About That Time” is the only tune i like on the flip (mostly due to the humor).

There are also several tracks on the album that dissolve into each other, leaving the listener unaware that a new track has even started.  Along with this mashing of songs, each melody feels to incorporate elements of its predecessors on the album, making for a “suite” feel at points.  This effect doesn’t save the album, which I felt had some moments but overall was too (dare I say) pop. If you’re the type to buy an album for one or two cuts definitely snatch it up.

Also on a side note, what’s up with that album cover? Blue Note is known for their iconic and, frankly, beautifully minimalist album covers, but this … this …. this is no good.  Looks like some soccer mom art.