Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

Johnny Costa: Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Jazz impressions of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

By the time that Pittsburgh pianist Johnny Costa met Fred Rogers, he was an accomplished jazz musician who’d led albums released by Coral, Savoy and Dot, was featured on Manny Albam’s A Gallery of Gershwin (a theme Costa revisited on 1994’s A Portrait of George Gershwin) and served as music director for television’s Mike Douglas. Costa returned to Pittsburgh in the mid-60s where he met and partnered with Fred Rogers in creating the music for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Costa’s college background in both music and education matched that of Rogers, and his fluid musical style (one that Art Tatum likened to his own) and imaginative arrangements were a perfect match for the emotional insights that Rogers illuminated with his song concepts and lyrics. Costa was a charter resident of the neighborhood, joining in 1968, playing live, adding improvisational continuity, appearing on camera on occasion, and serving as Rogers’ musical director until the pianist’s passing in 1996.

This 1984 release features Costa’s piano in a trio setting with Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on drums. As an instrumental jazz outing on the short-lived Mister Rogers Neighborhood label, but not featuring Mister Rogers himself, it likely didn’t sell well to either the television show’s preschool viewership or jazz hounds, and so the original vinyl release has become quite rare. Omnivore’s reissue includes the album’s original thirteen tracks, all written by Fred Rogers. Fans of the television show will immediately recognize the warm welcome of the opening “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” but as you would expect from a talented jazz musician, Costa uses the theme as a launching point for spirited improvisation. The same is true for the closing “Tomorrow,” which is given a heavier dose of optimistic melancholy than in its television incarnations.

Costa’s playing is florid, dramatic, inquisitive, frenetic, humorous and contemplative, mirroring the themes and emotional lessons of Rogers’ lyrical compositions. The yearning for reassurance that Rogers wrote into the lyrics of “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny” is equally well expressed in Costa’s introspective soloing. “Everybody’s Fancy” includes fancy runs, “I Like to Take My Time” proceeds at a jaunty stroll, and “Something to Do While We’re Waiting” is filled with irrepressible childhood energy. Costa is fleet-fingered and lyrical as he expresses through his piano the emotional core of each song. This collection of  instrumental treatments provides a terrific complement to Fred Rogers’ originals, twenty-three of which are collected in Omnivore’s companion volume, It’s Such A Good Feeling: The Best Of Mister Rogers. Taken together, the two releases highlight the musical and emotional resonances between Rogers, Costa and their audience. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Fred Rogers: It’s Such a Good Feeling – The Best of Mister Rogers

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

The timeless understanding and caring of Mister Rogers

Children’s entertainment is often filled with empty merchandising calories, and devoid of the thoughtful content that promotes intellectual and emotional growth. But that is not the case with the music of Fred Rogers, creator and host of the eponymous Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Educated in musical composition, divinity and child development, Rogers turned the meditations of his solitary childhood into a helping hand for preschoolers. While Sesame Street focused on helping young children get ready for the cognitive growth of schooling, Rogers prepared them for the parallel emotional development they would experience in new social situations. Rogers spoke and sang to children with insight and patience that acknowledged feelings and fears that adults had long since forgotten. He offered a helping hand through songs whose fundamental truths connected deeply with his audience.

His television show included many memorable characters and activities, but his music reached deeper. For those who grew up watching the show (or parenting children who did), the songs remain a sense memory that can instantly transport you back to an age of uncertainty and seemingly endless questions. His lyrics encompasses thoughts and lessons in friendship, optimism, attentiveness, confidence, vulnerability, perseverance, empathy, imagination, self-worth, humor, individuality and a myriad of questions, emotions and anxieties that children first encounter in their formative years. Rogers’ songs put a name to these feelings, and let children know that such feelings are both natural and shared.

Rogers recorded with a trio of musical director and pianist Johnny Costa, bassist Carl McVicker, and percussionist Bobby Rawsthorne. Their light, jazzy instrumentals typically stayed in the background, underlying the emotional lessons of the lyrics. Rogers released dozens of singles, EPs and albums, but few remain in print. Omnivore’s 21-track collection cherrypicks from four previous albums (You’re Growing, Coming and Going, Bedtime, and You Are Special), and adds five previously unreleased recordings, including the closing rendition of Rogers’ trademark show closer “Tomorrow.” The eight-page booklet includes an introductory note by film biographer Morgan Neville, and liners by Pittsburgh TV critic Robert Bianco. Rogers’ gentle manner may seem out of place in today’s belligerent times, which makes his lessons in civility all the more relevant. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Mitch Woods: A Tip of the Hat to Fats

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Paying tribute to Fats Domino at the Jazz & Heritage Festival

It’s hard to imagine a more fitting stage for pianist Mitch Woods and his hand-picked New Orleans Rocket 88’s band than the Jazz & Heritage Festival’s blues tent. Though he was born in Brooklyn, and came of musical age on the West Coast, his New Orleans influences flow through him as he consecrates the stage with jump blues, boogie-woogie and swing. Woods and his musical colleagues are deep in their element, and their element is deep in them, swinging tightly through both original material and covers of Wynonie Harris, Clarence Garlow, Hank Williams, Jackie Brenston & Ike Turner, and as the album’s title signifies, Fats Domino.

Woods opens the set with his own “Solid Gold Cadillac,” with drummer Terence Higgins quickly setting everyone’s toes tapping and the three-piece horn section flexing its muscle. Woods exhorts the audience to acknowledge the band as he rolls out the boogie-woogie piano and sings with infectious joy. The saxes offer both punctuation and hot solos, including a stellar outing by the legendary Roger Lewis on a rousing cover of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya.” Guitarist John Fohl adds sizzling licks and the rhythm section alternately lays back in second-line grooves and spurs the band forward.

Woods is both studied and artful as he pays tribute to Professor Longhair with the original “Mojo Mambo,” and tips his hat to Fats Domino with the Imperial classics, “Blue Monday” and “Walking to New Orleans.” The audience responds with enthusiastic appreciation throughout the set, and Woods’ song intros add context to the deep dish helping of entertainment. There’s clearly nowhere else that Woods, his band and the audience would rather be than sharing this music with each other; and after listening, you may find yourself booking a ticket to the next gig. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Mitch Woods’ Home Page

Uncle Walt’s Band: Uncle Walt’s Band

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Legendary acoustic harmony band’s 1974 debut, with 11 bonus tracks

The fusion of country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and swing this trio developed in the late ‘70s isn’t without near-term antecedents (e.g., Dan Licks and His Hot Licks) or parallels (e.g., David Grisman), but the joy with which these three talented musicians – Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball – meshed their influences and voices is in many ways without equal. Although there was fine solo work to follow – and commercial success for Ball in Nashville – there was something greater than the parts in their collaboration. With three star-quality singers blending their voices in harmony, their talents as instrumentalists might have receded into the background, had their gifts not been so substantial. Their acoustic playing is gentle, but substantial, and provides perfect backing and decoration to their singing.

Omnivore began the digital restoration of the group’s catalog with the 2018 anthology Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing, and now digs deeper with this reissue of the group’s debut. Recorded in North Carolina (in a single day, in mono, and with no overdubs!) and originally released in 1974 as Blame it on the Bossa Nova, the album was reordered and reissued eponymously in 1978, as the group was settling into Austin. Their run would last five more years and turn out another studio album (An American in Texas), a live set (Recorded Live) and a cassette collection of studio material (6-26-79). Reissues have come and gone, including the numerous versions of this debut that are documented in the liner notes, but the band’s impression on its fans has never faded.

The trio’s harmonies take in the sounds of country music’s early family acts, close harmony pop of the ‘40s, and the jazz vocal groups of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their repertoire includes superb original material that mingles easily with lovingly arranged covers of the Delta Rhythm Boys’ jivey “Give Me Some Skin,” Robert Johnson’s “From Four Until Late,” Professor Longhair’s “In the Night,” the late ‘30s blues “Undecided,” the folk staple “Little Sadie,” and a wonderfully crooned take on the film theme “Ruby.” The trio’s harmonizing on “High Hill” is unbelievably lush, Ball’s falsetto is striking throughout the album (as are Hood’s acoustic guitar leads), and Hyatt’s “Aloha,” which opened the original LP, now closes out the album’s eleven track lineup.

Omnivore’s reissue doubles the track count with eleven previously unreleased bonuses that mix period demos and live recordings, including covers of Turner Layton’s early twentieth century “After You’ve Gone,” an a cappella version of “Rock Island Line,” and a wealth of original material. The group’s vocal arrangements and instrumental prowess shine brightly on the demos, a few of which were covered by others, including Lyle Lovett’s 1998 rendering of “Lonely in Love.” The live recordings show that the fraternity the trio achieved in the studio was just as potent on stage, and that their lighthearted stage banter and effortless musicality instantly drew the audience into their groove. The twenty-page booklet includes photos, remembrances by the band’s musical associates and famous fans, and new liner notes by Mark Michael and Heidi Wyatt. This is an all-time classic, reissued in great style. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Dennis Coffey: Live at Baker’s

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Legendary Motown guitarist gigging in 2006

Detroit guitarist Dennis Coffey had a brief run of solo fame with his 1971 instrumental hit “Scorpio,” and its 1972 Top-20 follow-up “Taurus.” But his guitar has been much more widely heard on a string of iconic Motown hits that includes the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine, “Ball of Confusion” and “Psychedelic Shack,” Edwin Star’s “War” and Diana Ross & The Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Those who’ve spent time in the Motor City may have been lucky enough to hear Coffey playing live, including a residency with organist Lyman Woodard’s heavy swinging trio at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge. Those who didn’t have the pleasure can check out some of the trio’s live dates on the previously released Hot Coffey in the D – Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge and One Night at Morey’s: 1968.

Coffey has continued to gig steadily, and Omnivore now offers up a more recent live date, recorded in 2006 with a quartet that features keyboardist Demetrius Nabors, bassist Damon Warmack and drummer Gaelynn McKinney. The quartet has a different sound than Lyman’s organ-based trio, but Coffey’s guitar is still as fiery and free as ever. The track list is comprised mainly of finely selected jazz covers, including titles by Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis and Jack McDuff, but also includes a hot, extended jam on “Scorpio,” and a lengthy take on the Temptations “Just My Imagination.” The latter is highlighted by Coffey’s soulful, phase shifted guitar (taking the vocal’s spotlight) and an electric piano solo from Nabors.

The signature saxophone and piano vamp of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” is given here to Warmack’s warm bass playing, with Coffey’s chorused guitar, string bends and rapid-fire bursts suggesting Coltrane’s sax more than Davis’ trumpet. The Crusaders’ “Way Back Home” is given a bounce by McKinney’s drumming and Nabors’ swinging solo, as Coffey’s improvisations really blast off. The album closes with an uptempo cover of Jack McDuff’s “Dink’s Blues,” featuring solos from Coffey, Nabors and Warmack. The set’s generous 74-minute running time, new liners from Bill Kopp and an interview with Coffey make this a welcome complement to the two earlier live discs. And if you’re in Detroit, catch Coffey on Tuesday Nights at the Northern Lights Lounge. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Dennis Coffey’s Home Page

NRBQ: All Hopped Up

Monday, December 10th, 2018

1977 debut of the classic NRBQ lineup, with bonus tracks

Originally released in 1977, NRBQ’s fifth album marked the first appearance of drummer Tom Ardolino, and the debut of the band’s Red Rooster label. Having spent time on Columbia and Kama Sutra, the responsibility of producing and recording for their own imprint seems to have brought both freedom and focus to their music. To be sure, all the NRBQ trademarks are here, including oddball originals like Terry Adams “Call Him Off, Rogers,” lovingly selected covers of “Cecillia,” “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket” and “Honey Hush,” a ragged, minor key send-up of the theme to Bonanza, and generous helpings of the Whole Wheat Horns.

As usual, the band mashed up a wide array of pop, rock, soul, blues and jazz influences, but the original material from Adams, Al Anderson and Joey Spampinato includes some especially fine pop songs. Anderson’s nostalgic lead-off, “Ridin’ in My Car” has a double-tracked vocal and sunshine backing harmonies, and Terry Adams’ “It Feels Good” mixes ‘50s romanticism with, in true NRBQ fashion, a Japanese koto solo. Adams also offers an echo of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys with “Things to You,” and Joey Spampinato’s “Still in School” and “That’s Alright” have harmonies that sound like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe channeling the Everlys.

This reissue adds four bonus tracks recorded during the album’s two years worth of sessions. A cover of Bill Justis’ “Chicken Hearted” offers a heavier dose of chicken-pickin’ than Roy Orbison’s original, while the originals include the jazz-country hybrid “She’s Got to Know,” rockabilly “Start It Over,” and low-key New Orleans funk “Do the Bump.” The latter was originally issued as a B-side, while the other three were woven into Rounder’s Ridin’ in My Car sort-of reissue of All Hopped Up. Omnivore’s tri-fold slipcase augments one of NRBQ’s best albums with new liners by John DeAngelis and vintage photos. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Vince Guaraldi: The Complete Warner Bros.–Seven Arts Recordings

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Guaraldi reconsiders Peanuts, wigs out, and returns to his piano

After a two year fight to break his heavy-handed contract with Fantasy Records, San Francisco pianist Vince Guaraldi was free to follow his muse, and be compensated fairly for doing so. His first outing, the self-released Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Choir, failed to gain any traction, and he subsequently signed a deal with Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Omnivore’s 2-CD set collects the albums that Guaraldi recorded for the label in 1968 and 1969, Oh, Good Grief!, The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville, and adds four previously unreleased bonus tracks to lead off disc two.

Guaraldi won a 1963 Grammy for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and was praised for his work with guitarist Bola Sete, but it was the 1965 soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas that catapulted his music from jazz clubs into American households. He returned to the Peanuts canon for his first album with Warner Bros., revisiting eight selections with a quartet that included electric guitar, bass and drums. Guaraldi opens the set with a new recording of his most famous composition, “Linus and Lucy,” and its hurried tempo and electric harpsichord flourishes are more big city bustle than the joyous dance of the original.

The harpsichord steps to the fore to open the waltz-time “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown” falling back to vamp as Guaraldi solos on piano. The piano and harpsichord trade the spotlight throughout the album, with only “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Rain, Rain Go Away” given fully to acoustic piano. The band swings, and the piano and guitar solos add soul, but the electric harpsichord doesn’t provide Guaraldi’s touch the musical colors of the piano, and now sounds more like an anachronistic infatuation than a solid artistic choice. That said, the harpsichord doesn’t dominate to the point of distraction.

By the autumn of 1968, Guaraldi had grown out his hair and started jamming with the likes of Jerry Garcia. The San Francisco rock scene’s influence is heard both overtly and implicitly on his next album, as Guaraldi stretches out in new musical directions. Self-produced, and recorded over several months with a variety of drummers, bassists and guitarists, Guaraldi even included a string section on a few tracks. The opener has a pensive Latin influence, but with arching string lines that suggest grand landscapes, while the longer jams “Lucifer’s Lady” and “Coffee and Doe-Nuts” feature driving, progressive solos.

Stretching even further, a vocal cover of Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy” brings to mind trumpeter Jack Sheldon, but Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” shows off Guaraldi’s limitations as a singer. The harpsichord on Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” sounds more like a primitive synthesizer than a keyboard, and the strings on the Beatles’ “Yesterday” sound like Muzak. Guaraldi plays thoughtfully on a cover of “It Was a Very Good Year,” and finds some life in his electric harpsichord on a swinging cover of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” The latter is offered here as a bonus track from the original sessions, alongside a alternate take of “The Beat Goes On” whose jamming improves upon than the album cut.

The renowned that Guaraldi had earned back with his first Warner Bros. album dissipated with the lack of response to the second, and the label brought Shorty Rogers on board to produce his third and final effort. Guaraldi also returned to acoustic piano and wrote the bulk of the album’s material, giving the album a coherency the previous effort lacked. Guaraldi warmed up with Rogers in the producers seat with an organ-based instrumental cover of Edwin Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day” and the speedy original “The Sharecropper’s Daughter.” Neither were used for the the album, and are offered here as bonus tracks.

Alma-ville returns Guaraldi’s piano to the fore, opening with the Latin-tinged theme for Snoopy’s arm-wrestling alter ego, “The Masked Marvel,” and offering thoughtful variations on “Eleanor Rigby.” Colin Bailey’s cymbal work adds just the right push to Guaraldi’s right hand and Herb Ellis’ guitar solo on the original “Detained in San Ysidro,” and the rhythm section swings hard on a then-new arrangement of the title tune. Duke Person’s “Cristo Redntor,” previously recorded in definitive versions by both Pearson and Donald Byrd, is an album highlight, opening in a meditative mood before transitioning to a more lively tempo.

Sadly, despite Alma-ville’s focussed song list and deep artistry, its predecessor had sacrificed the label’s goodwill, and the album went unpromoted, leaving Guaraldi’s tenure at Warner Bros. to live in the shadow of his earlier work for Fantasy. Of his three albums for Warners, only the commercially successful Oh, Good Grief! remained in steady circulation, making this complete set the first widely-available retelling of Guaraldi’s quirky, but fruitful last recording tenure. A must-have for Guaraldi’s fans, and a welcome second chapter for those who’ve worn out their copies of A Charlie Brown Christmas. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Vince Guaraldi’s Home Page

Keely Smith: Sings the John Lennon-Paul McCartney Songbook

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Imaginative early covers of Lennon & McCartney

Keely Smith is most often remembered for the 1950s Las Vegas lounge show and recordings that came from her partnership with then-husband Louis Prima. Her deadpan comedic chops gave way to a solo career in the 1960s, signing with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label and attracting the talents of arrangers Nelson Riddle, Ernie Freeman and Benny Carter. After two albums of standards, this 1964 release drew exclusively upon the early works of Lennon & McCartney, cannily resetting them to make the most of Smith’s jazz and pop stylings.

“If I Fell” opens the album with a dramatic string-and-vocal passage that gives way to a Latin beat, while the chart for “This Girl” tips its fedora to Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” The latter is no surprise, given that Smith and Sinatra’s tracks were both arranged by Ernie Freeman and produced by Jimmy Bowen. Smith’s voice is in superb throughout, whether skipping along breezily or holding onto dramatic notes. The walking bass and fingersnaps that open “A Hard Days Night” nod to “Fever,” but Smith’s blue-jazz vocal and the quiet horn accents give the recording its own mood.

The Beatles’ quick fame made the Lennon & McCartney catalog ripe for exploitation, and while a few of the arrangements lean to novelty, the productions are full, and Smith found real artistic resonance with many of the songs. There’s a swinging sax solo on a waltz-time version of “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” and Smith punches up “Can’t Buy Me Love” with her brassiness. The album may been a commercially-inspired lark, but the talent elevates it well above the Beatle-related cash-ins that flooded the market. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Technicolor Paradise – Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Top shelf Exotica rarities

“Exotica” is a musical genre born at the post-war intersection of jet travel and high fidelity. It’s name was coined for Martin Denny’s pioneering debut album, and it’s sound offered an intoxicating blend of world percussion, tribal rhythms, orchestral arrangements, wordless vocals, jazz changes and modern instrumentation. Exotica offered an invitation to an exotic Shangri-La through expansive, often culturally ersatz, sounds. Though born in tropical climes, exotica expanded, particularly in retrospect, to include Asian and Latin influences. The genre’s 1990’s revival, amid a broader look back at “space age bachelor pad” culture, spurred numerous reissues of thrift store rarities, artist anthologies and genre compilations, alongside new books, visual art, weekenders and analyses of the revival itself.

Canadian artist Gordon Monahan posited a holy trinity of exotica songs in “Taboo,” “Caravan” and “Quiet Village,” repeating them in triplet form in both performance and on record. “Taboo,” though written by Cuban singer and composer Margarita Lecuona, is closely associated with Hawaiian vibraphonist Arthur Lyman. “Caravan” began its life as a jazz standard written by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and though first performed by the latter in 1936, became an exotica staple in the 1950s. It’s offered here by percussionist Bobby Christian, with a twangy guitar lead and a siren’s ghostly vocal from Christian’s daughter. “Quiet Village,” written and originally recorded by Les Baxter, was turned into exotica’s national anthem by Martin Denny’s 1957 arrangement. It appears here in a vocal version by former Our Gang actress Darla Hood, as well as a vibraphone-led instrumental by Five Glow Tones.

Numero expands on Monahan’s trio of exotica pillars with 54 (48 for the LP release) expertly curated rarities. A few of the titles may be familiar, such as “The Moon of Manakoora” and “Nature Boy,” but they’re presented here in versions all but the most devout have not likely heard. And given that “exotica” is more a retrospective label applied by crate-digging collectors than a cohesive musical category, collections such as this define the borders for themselves. Disc 1, titled “Daiquiri Dirges,” focuses on guitar instrumentals, including a surprisingly mellow early recording from the Pacific Northwest’s Wailers entitled “Driftwood,” the Blazers’ surf-tinged “Sound of Mecca,” the Palaton’s languorous “Jungle Guitar,” the Voodoos’ Quiet Village-inspired “The Voodoo Walk,” and the Chayns’ earworm “Live With the Moon.”

Disc 2, titled “Rhum Rhapsodies,” expands the program to vocal tracks, giving a feel for some of the not-particularly-exotic acts that hitched a ride on the good ship exotica. In addition to a second track by Darla Hood (“Silent Island,” also rendered in a wonderfully moody orchestral arrangement by Modesto Duran), there’s a dramatic harmony chorus on film composer Andre Brummer’s “Tumba,” comic actress Martha Raye cover of the exotica chestnut “Lotus Land,” Jerry Warren’s Paul Anka-styled B-side “Enchantress,” the Potted Palm’s AIP-soundtrack-ready “My House of Grass,” and Akim’s frantic “Voodoo Drums.” Don Reed’s sax-heavy cover of “Nature Boy” gains a dollop of exotica cred from its haunting, Yma Sumac-styled vocal, and the Centuries’ “Polynesian Paradise” faintly suggests folk and surf origins, even as the wordless vocalist loses track of the islands’ tranquil feeling.

The set’s third disc, titled “Mai Tai Mambos,” returns to instrumentals, sailing into port with Latin, guitar, jazz and orchestral arrangements from Cuban conga player Modesto Duran, Canadian rockabilly Arnie Derksen, Americans Nick Roberts, Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak and Jimmy McGriff, and others. The percussive arrangements and pulse-racing rhythms revive the set’s exotica vibe, with even soul singer Bobby Paris finding an Afro-Cuban groove for 1961’s “Dark Continent.” The instrumentalists take the exotica elements as new flavors – rhythms, instruments, melodic lines and song titles to be imbibed – rather than overt commercial opportunities to be chugged. Each of the three discs harbors unique charms, and listeners may find their favorite shifting with the sybaritic tide.

The CD set’s 129-page hard-cover book is perhaps even more impressive than the CDs. Ken Shipley’s liner notes provide a scene-setting introduction, and the song notes are spectacular in their encyclopedia detail. Michael Graves has conjured magic in his audio restoration of the mixed bag of tape and vinyl he was served, knitting together the disparate sources into a smoothly flowing program. The book is filled with period photos and record label reproductions, and while the overall design is beautiful, some of the backgrounds make the text hard to read. The selection of lesser known artists and songs makes this set a terrific complement to exotica’s best known recordings, and a set that both the novice and experienced fan can enjoy. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ: NRBQ

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The 1969 debut of a polyglot music legend

Originally released in 1969, this debut outlined the wide musical grasp and irreverent sensibility that would grow the band’s legend over the next 49 years. 49 years in which this initial explosion of creativity sat in the vault unreissued. 49 years in which either the group’s continuing activity diverted their attention from a reissue, or in which lawyers intermittently haggled over muddy contractual rights. Either way, Omnivore has finally liberated the album from its resting place and reissued the fourteen songs in a tri-fold slipcase with original front and back cover art, Donn Adams period liner notes, and contemporary notes by Jay Berman. Berman characterizes the band’s repertoire, even at this early point in their career, as including “nearly anything,” and the eclectic mix of covers and originals bears that out.

This first studio lineup included long-time members Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato (the latter then credited as Jody St. Nicholas), along with vocalist Frank Gadler, guitarist Steve Ferguson and drummer Tom Staley. The group stakes out the audacious corners of their musical omniverance with covers of Eddie Cochran’s rockabilly “C’mon Everybody,” Sun Ra’s avant garde jazz “Rocket Number 9,” Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s folk blues “C’mon If You’re Comin’” (which the group revisited on 1972’s Workshop), and a country soul arrangement of Bruce Channel’s 1962 chart topper, “Hey! Baby.” Few bands at the time would have even known this range of material, let alone find a way to make it fit together on an album.

The original material from Adams, Spaminato and Ferguson is equally ambitious. Adams mashes up trad jazz and rock ‘n’ roll for “Kentucky Slop,” boogies hard on “Mama Get Down Those Rock And Roll Shoes,” captures the melancholy of Carla Bley’s 1964 jazz instrumental “Ida Lupino” with original lyrics, and closes the album with the piano-led “Stay With Me.” Ferguson’s trio of originals include the pop and soul influences of “I Didn’t Know Myself,” the gospel rocker “Stomp” and the country, folk and gospel flavored “Fergie’s Prayer.” Spampinato offers the album’s most ebullient moment with “You Can’t Hide,” a title the band would revisit ten years later on Tiddlywinks.

The album’s collection of first takes (including the previously unreleased first take of “Stomp” substituting for the re-recorded version that appeared on the original vinyl) provides a snapshot of the band as they played live. The set list reflects the confluence of musical interests, knowledge and talent the band members brought to the group, and the performances have an all-in quality that made second takes superfluous. Whether or not the renditions were note-perfect (and they pretty much are), they were perfect expressions of the musical ethos that sustains the band to this day. It’s a shame that the originally released second take of “Stomp” wasn’t included as part of this reissue, but that’s a nit, given the historical and artistic riches that have been sprung from the vault. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page