soul sides - march 2001

soul sides - March 2001

Bartz, Gary: Music Is My Sanctuary (Capitol 1977)

I'm only now beginning the realize how many albums Gary Bartz put out since I keep finding new ones to add to the library. This later '70s effort is definitely more soul-driven compared to this Ntu Troop jazz albums but Bartz' airy touch reverberates distinctly on here too. The problem with this album is that much of it is overproduced, and Bartz' sax playing has that cheezy, Kenny G-esque tone to it on several songs. You're best of sticking with the first two: the title track, which is a beautiful soul cut feat. Syreeta Jones on vocals, giving Roy Ayers style a run for its money, and the Caribbean influenced "Carnaval De L'Esprit" which is the only cut on here that's fairly funky from beginning to end ("Swing Thing" starts well and goes downhill fat from there).

Black Heat: S/T (Atlantic 1972)

The first album by this funked-up soul outfit. While I wasn't big on "Keep On Runnin", I thought "No Time To Burn" had some dope moments and this first album hardly disappoints either. "Chicken Heads" is a taut, funky instrument gem; "Chip's Funk" is another groover that slides across with harmonica-powered heat and a strong brass back-up; "Wanaoh" opens up the B-side with a big open sound too. The soul cuts fall short of the funkier fare with arrangements that are a little pale.

Byrd, Donald: Fancy Free (Blue Note 1969)

While this doesn't come close to Byrd's funky jazz masterpiece, "Ethopian Knights", it does have some warm Rhodes playing by Duke Pearson plus a classic soul jazz piece, "The Weasil" which bumps Joe Chambers subtle breakbeats and more of Pearson's excellent keyboard strokes.

Checkmates Ltd.: The Chessboard Corporation F/S/O (Rustic 1974)

Gotta give credit to Justin Torres for hepping me to this great sweet soul (with a touch o' funk) LP out of Los Angeles. Led by Sonny Charles (vocalist and keyboardist), the Checkmates Ltd. brought together a 10+ person band that recorded six slick tracks. I can't quite place who their sound is familiar to certainly traces of Sly Stone come to mind, but vocally, Charles' dry voice and the interplay of the other singers sets them apart a little. They don't go gargantuan funky on you but they show good enough chops on songs like "Run N*gger Run" (very blaxploitated in a post-Mayfield way), "Sexy Ways" (a slinky, lovely little number), "Ain't A Goddamned Thang Going On" (Stax-like production) and "Street of Dreams" (jazzy number). This is not to shortchange the fantastic soul production "I Must Be Dreaming" and "Pretty Ball" remind me of the more bluesy Hi Records and Twinight sides I've heard from Al Green and Syl Johnson respectively and "Got To See "U" Soon" grooves thanks to a well-placed cow bell (Latin flavor on this one!).

Davis, Betty: S/T (Just Sunshine 1973)

How bad ass, hardcore is Betty Davis? Every album I've ever heard from her (ok, there's only three but they're all amazing) has blown my mind, not the least of which is her screeching, jagged vocals that make Macy Gray sound like a sweet soul sister. The arrangements are ultra-funky too this album isn't quite as consistent as "They Say I'm Different" but no way you can front on "If I'm Luck I Might Get Picked Up", "Walkin Up the Road", "Your Man My Man" and "Ooh Yea." But if you want one pick to click, it's gotta be "Anti Love Song" one of her best songs ever. Not only is the elastic bass infectious but Davis' missive on this about avoiding love for its obsessive effects is just one of the best written songs I've heard out of the era. As she boasts: "Game is My Middle Name". No diggety cop this (just been re-released on CD)

Duke, Doris: Woman (Contempo/Scepter 1975)

Between Doris Duke's handful of albums, this was probably not her most popular but there's two strong cuts to mention (amidst a lot of rather snoozy soul songs). The first is the absolutely smokin' cover of Marlena Shaw's "Woman of the Ghetto". The second is likable though understated cut called "Hey Lady" solid soul but nothing more. Except for "Woman of the Ghetto" though, nothing on here is quite up to par with Duke's dope Mainstream 45 called "Business Deal."

Fourth Way, (The): S/T (Capitol 197?) Fourth Way, (The): Werwolf (Harvest 1970)

No way I can complain about any album that starts off with a ride cymbal breakbeat and then slides into a chill jazz cut of strumming basslines and Rhodes keyboard ("Everyman's Your Brother"). Michael White's violin work is the gamble here it's an acquired flavor an not quite up to Michel Urbaniak's funky fusion but nor is it a complete distraction. Most of the compositions are open (but not necessarily "free"), working on a sound that's as fusion-based as the half-white/half-black ensemble. Cuts worth checking for funk nuts: "Everyman's Your Brother", "Buckhuggin" and just for the soul jazzers out there, peep "The Sybil." Recorded live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 1970, The Fourth Way's "Werwolf" album is fairly similar - very open soul jazz that borders on free at times but never gets too avant garde and benefits immensely from Mike Nock's Rhodes work, Eddie Marshall's drumbreaks and hell, might as give love to Ron McClure's basslines too. The title song has some snappiness to it, and "Spacefunk" is suitably spacey and funky. Nothing quite hits with the same force as other songs I've heard from them, but there's definitely some good material on here

Fritz the Cat OST (Fantasy 197?)

The cartoon movie's better known for its scandalous X-rating but man, what a soundtrack too. They collect a powerhouse of talent to record this, including Charles Rainey, Bernard Purdie, Melvin Sparks, Cal Tjader, Charles Earland and Idris Huhammad (though not all play on all the songs). The result is a crazy cool blend of soul, jazz, funk and blues kicking off with Charles Earland and "Black Talk", a groovin' organ-based cut and then mellows out on "Duke's Theme". More smooth can be found on the relaxed "Bertha's Theme" while cuts like "The Riot" and "Love Light of Mine" funk it up. Definitely a soundtrack worth checking out (and likely, the same goes for the film).

Green, Grant: Green is Beautiful (Blue Note 1970)

While this comes up short against "Carryin' On", it's still a great soul jazz album from guitarist Grant Green. Features his blazing, 10 minute version of "Ain't It Funky Now" plus similarly slick work on parts of "The Windjammer" and "A Day In the Life". One of those Blue Note sides that any soul jazz collector needs in his or her crates and you won't likely be disappointed.

Hendrix, Jimi: Second Time Around (Astan 196?)

Did this album ever have a legitimate release? Because every version of it I've ever heard about seems to have been on bootleg or other gray market means and this one I found comes to us from Germany. Either way, it's the funkiest material I've ever heard from Hendrix, taken from a live concert someplace in Europe I presume. Every cut smokes in its own way, either from the laid-back vibe of "Torture Me, Honey" to the urgent, spacey funk of "Mercy Lady Day"to the hard, hard drum breaks all over the B-side cuts "Hard Night" and especially at the end of "Second Time Around"where the drummer goes solo something wicked for a good minute or two. This then comes back at you "Got To Have It" with some more garage-sounding drumming and bassline combo. Bad ass album all around.

Humphrey , Bobbi: Dig This (Blue Note 1972)

While not as strong as her "Blacks and Blues" this Humphrey LP has its moments of funky, flute flavor including a psyched-out version of "Smiling Faces Sometimes" and a conga heavy "Virtue" (featuring Alphonze Mouzon on drums). Some material on here bends towards muzak-y fare, especially ballads like the "Love Theme From 'Fuzz'" but for the most part, the album has a smooth, soul jazz vibe underscored by strong percussion including parts of "El Mundo De Maravaillas" and especially the funky anthem, "Nubian Lady."

Jackson ,Willis: Soul Grabber (Prestige late '60s?)

This is my first Willis Jackson after passing up what seems like dozens at other opportunities. I don't know much about him except that I tend to associate him with the bluesy jazz (but I think that's a result of the "Gator" nickname). This was a little more straight-ahead than I probably would have liked but I was partially won over by the covers of "Sunny" and "Ode to Billie Joe" on this album (the latter has strong drums but nothing too funky) as well as the title cut and hot dance groover "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" (bad name, good tune). I'll probably need to dig deeper into Jackson's catalog before making any firm conclusions but this album was a middling place to start.

Latimore: III (Glades 1975)

I really dig on the slow grooves that Latimore lays down on his albums. For one thing, his work on electric piano just suffuses most of his arrangements with this rich, soulful warmth and he's got a solid sense of rhythm on the bulk of his songs. Like his other albums, there's nothing on here which is a surefire funk blast but rather, it's mostly mellow stuff, easy to slip into and enjoy, especially on "Qualified Man" and "Just One Step". Like all his early albums on Glades, worth listening to if you're a soul cat.

Longines Presents: Disco Express (Longine Symphonette 197?)

Much better than you'd expect from outward appearance, this features an album of covers of different dance smashes from the '70s. Despite the "disco" tag, this sounds much more like a playful live recording (lo-fi sound quality) during an evening revue. Better covers include a swinging version of the AWB's "Pick Up the Pieces", a conga-laden version of the BT Express' "Do It (Til You're Satisfied)" and a visit to Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can", complete with breakbeat. The vocals are definitely forgettable (think amateur night at the Apollo), but the arrangements are fun to listen to including cuts on the second LP like Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie" and the Ohio Players' "Fire".

MacDermot, Galt: Cotton Comes to Harlem OST (United Artists 1970)

Not the hardest blaxploitation soundtrack ever recorded but it has its moments. MacDermot keeps the groove noticeably more straight-ahead than Issac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield (or hell, even Quincy Jones) would have (maybe it's the "Hair" thing) but he does a great job on the instrumental "Harlem Medly" which has some funky, funky bassline and guitar interplay (loved how Masta Ace used that piece on "Who U Jackin?"). "Stockyard" is another winner with its muted horns and whining synths super smoky.

Margie Joseph: S/T (Atlantic 1973)

The first of Joseph's Atlantic albums to be arrnaged by Arif Mardin. Contains a great cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" as well as the funky blues cut "I Been Down" and the slick "How Do You Spell Love" (spell it f-u-n-k-y). Joseph's voice reminds me a little of Aretha's, but at half-power her range isn't superb but she's can soar when she needs to.

McCrary, (The): Sunshine Day (Light 1972)

An interesting gospel record pointed out to me by Justin Torres. It starts off with "Sunshine Day" which whips a bassline that's very similar to Otis Redding's "Hot to Handle" (aka "The Symphony" beat) but alas, after four bars, it goes into a far more conventional (and far less interesting) gospel country song. The production on this album is bizarre a mix of pop, country, and a touch of Sylvers-esque soul but it occasionally clicks just right. "Jesus People" is a straight soul-funk groover wicked while "Let It Start With You" has a great bassline intro and some of the better vocals on the album. I wish this was just a little more consistent but it has some good surprises slipped in.

McGriff, Jimmy: Soul Sugar (Capitol 19??)

With any luck, this should be the last McGriff LP I need for the funk collection. Definitely up there with "Groove Grease". Has a racuous cover of James Brown's "Ain't It Funky Now" that's ranks up there with McGriff's cover of "The Bird" as one of his hottest groovers (though I'm not sure he or Grant Green rocked this song better). Bad ass as well is the Meters-esque "Dig On it" and equally bombastic "Fat Cakes" and "The Now Thing". Great bassline work all over this album, not to mention snappy drums (wish I knew who the personnel were they're not credited). And just to round it out, he closes with a smooth, ultra-soulful cover of Aretha Franklin's "Spirit In the Dark". One of the best soul jazz albums I've heard of late.

Miami: Party Freaks (Drive 1974)

Proto-disco funk by the six man crew of Miami (I'm guessing they're, you know, from Miami). The overall sound of the album is overproduced (hence the proto-disco aspect) but they get into a nice groove on the stripped down funk joint "Nobody But You Babe" plus the hot and horn-y "I Can See Through You". The real joint is "Chicken Yellow" which just sparks with a fat, chunky breakbeat that opens up for a four-bar monster early into the song.

Mitchell, Blue: Heads Up! (Blue Note 1968)

While this is more straight-ahead than some of Mitchell's next works (done with arranger Monk Higgins instead of Duke Pearson), it's worth checking for the classic "Good Humor Man" a gem among soul jazz cuts.

Natural Four: S/T (Curtom 1974)

This is my second album by this group and I did a little more background reading on them. While this was their first album on Curtom, Natural Four existed as an older group, formed by Chris James who purged the original members after a string of unsuccessful albums in the early '70s. This album in particular held no less than six of the group's first three Curtom sides, including their biggest hit "Can This Be Real" a song so successful they bit it to make "Love That Really Counts", using the same melody with new lyrics (hey, who said Puffy was the first). All really fascinating, but when it comes to this album, there's not much that's quite as interesting (especially compared to "Heaven Right Here On Earth", their next album). The sweet soul is a little too sweet and there's not much funk material to anchor it down.

Peebles, Melvin Van: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (Yeah/Stax 1971)

Took me years to finally find a copy I could afford but I'm one step closer to completing the Melvin Van Peebles collection by locating what is arguably the first blaxploitation soundtrack. While all of Van Peebles' albums and soundtracks are fairly strange, this one definitely qualifies as one of the weirder with its mix of dialogue and song that don't really fit together in any orderly fashion. For example, the album starts with "Sweetback Losing His Cherry", featuring dialogue from the movie and then shifting into a hard drumbreak and funk instrumental. Then there's "Come On Feet", origin of Quasimoto's strange song of the name, a psych-influenced jazz rock number. The bits and pieces of music on this album are the best I've heard on a Van Peebles LP, including a swinging soul cut, "Sweetback's Theme" played by (I presume) Earth, Wind and Fire. More drumbreaks await on "Hoppin John" on the B-side. The remainder of the LP is more random dialogue and musical snippets mixed together. One helluva trip of a listening experience take it for a ride.

Semper, Geroge: Makin' Waves (Imperial late '60s)

Smokin' organ-based funk by San Diego's George Semper. This was a busted-ass version of Semper's superfly LP but I'll take a half-clean copy rather than none at all (plus Semper's material was recently reissued). Cookin' funky soul on here, starting with "Collard Greens" and hitting a high point with Semper's cover of "Get Out Of My Life Woman" which features surprise, surprise one of those infamous "Get Out" breakbeats that then shifts into Semper's playful organ sound. Also worth peeping: "I Can't Get No Satisfaction", "Memphis", and "Shortnin' Bread". It still falls a few points shy of outstanding if you don't like the organ, parts of this LP will get on your nerves with a quickness, but a solid find for any digger.

Sidran, Ben: Puttin' In time On Planet Earth (Blue Thumb 1973) Don't Let Go (Blue Thumb 1974)

So long as Sidran isn't singing, his albums sound pretty good but this pianist/vocalist should stick to the keys and not the mic. These two albums feature all of the same key players Clyde Stubblefield (i.e. James Brown's funky drummer), Phil Upchurch (bass) along with Curley Cooke (guitar) and Bruce Botnick (producer). Stubblefield's presence should alert you to the fact that some of this will get kind of funky, though he doesn't launch into any JBs-styled open breaks or anything.

On "Puttin' In Time On Planet Earth", the standout song is the long (8.5 minute) "Now I Love" which rambles on and on but the instrumental and orchestration is great creating this room of sound with good rhythmic footing. The title track, which follows after, is also another strong instrumental mid-tempo, a touch funky and good listening regardless. On the A-side, "Full Compass" is pretty good once Sidran stops singing but the rest of that side is pretty bland a mix of conventional blues ("Think Twice") and other anemic songs ("Play the Piano").

"Don't Let Go" has some nice instrumental moments but they often times get clunked by Sidran's vocals, especially on the pleasant "She's Funny" and especially on the almost-funky "Hey Hey Baby" which would have been a killer instrumental had it actually been one. The only good instrumental is probably the lumbering "The Funky Elephant" on Side B.

Steig, Jeremy: Monium (Columbia 1974)

Looks like I got a bunch of funky flute albums this time around. Steig's been treating me good of late and this latest find is right up that alley. Check out the eerie and sultry funk on "Djinn Djinn" or sliding groove on "Bluesdom". More funky stuff awaits on the B-side, notably on the title cut which has some strong drum work (Marty Moreel) interspersed with Eddie Gomez' stretching basslines. Not as good as that Europa Jazz LP him and Jan Hammer put together, and nothing on here kicks with the same power as "Waves" from "Wayfaring Stranger" but nonetheless, still a better-than-average album.

Thomas, Joe: Joy of Cookin' (Groove Merchant early 70s?)

It's all about the B-side on this album with Thomas' killing Sly Stone's "Thank You (Fell etin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)" with a tense and tight cover and then kicking the gear up a notch with the busy "Soul Sermon." The rest of the album has some heated soul jazz moments but nothing quite as nice as the two cuts just mentioned. Better than other stuff I've heard from Thomas.

Thomas, Rufus: Do the Funky Chicken (Stax

The earliest of Thomas' funky sides for Stax (including "Did You Heard Me" and "The Crown Price of Down", "Do the Funky Chicken" has some solid soul funk cookers on here. My personal favorite include "Sixty Minute Man" first, for its ill bassline, two, for its scandalous subject matter; the jangling, hot paced "Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown" plus "Turn your Damper Down." I think "Did You Heard Me" was probably the more consistent album but this had the best cover, by far.

Three Sounds, (The): Soul Symphony (Blute Note 1969)

Of the various collaborations between arranger/producer Monk Higgins and Gene Harris/The Three Sounds, this might be my favorite. It's not the ultra-funkiest but it sings with such a great energy and beautiful compositional work that it's hard not to like. Not only does it include "Repeat After Me" (Main Source's "Vamois A Rapair" but also meditative and thoughtful "Black Sugar". The gem is the 26 minute "Soul Symphony" which bends and twists with several different movements some bluesy, some soulful, some funky each new moment a surprise to be discovered.

Watson, Johnny Guitar: Listen (Fantasy 1973)

A good four years before Watson's more well-known albums ("Bad Mutha For Ya", "Ain't Life a Bitch", etc.), this one is a more solid soul effort definitely bluesy, but he's not getting all funked up here. I've always liked the grain of Watson's voice a tinge of nasal but very distinctive and he gets to work it out here. Plus, how can you front on lyrics like this, "if I had the power/to make a woman/here's what I'd do/she'd be so stacked/she could stop the traffic" ("If I Had the Power"). Almost all the production on here is fairly laid back don't expect much to get you moshing on the floor but I dig the smooth, easy style of the tracks, especially on "You Stole My Heart", "I Get a Feeling" and "You've Got a Hard Head" (mildly funky thanks to the horns).

White, Barry: Together Brothers OST (20th Century 1974)

One of the stronger blaxploitation soundtracks I've heard lately. Not only has it given us sample fodder for producers as wide as Buckwild, DJ Muggs, Premier and the Quad City DJs (gotta love how the latter flipped the theme song into "Ride the Train") but Barry White's arrangements are simply cookin'. Much of it is fairly "cop show" themed hard, driving, urgent tracks and some of it sounds redundant but no way you can front on the throbbing "Getaway" (used very recently by DJ Muggs for Xzibit and King Tee on the "Soul Assassins Vol 2" album). Personally, I'm surprised the album hasn't been sampled more than it has there's tons of little grooves and snippets waiting to get flipped in this one.

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