Ok, to make up for the fact I was gone for almost three weeks, I’ll hit everyone with three songs this time around.
Gary Bartz: Celestial Blues
From Harlem Bush Music – Uhuru (Milestone 1971)
This song is beautiful. BEAUTIFUL, you hear me? Andy Bey on vocals, Bartz on sax…a song that manages to personifies the idea of “soul jazz” to the fullest. Bey also has a super slinky cover of the song on his own solo album but you can’t beat this Bartz’ version for purely sublimity (is that even a word?).
Henry Mancini: Lujon.
From Mr. Lucky Goes Latin (RCA 1961)
“Lujon” has been on at least two soundtracks: Sexy Beast and The Big Lebowski (can you imagine two more different films?) and it’s easy to see why. There’s an intense, dreamy quality to this song, as if you’re floating on those gorgeous, ethereal strings. For some reason, I feel entirely nostalgic listening to this, yearning for an era that probably never existed. Still, I imagine a penthouse with perfect martinis, beautiful women, and a skyline view of the city that will just break your heart.
Brief Encounter: Don’t Let Them Tell You.
From 7″ (Seventy Seven 1972?)
Another soul slicer off of seven-inch for the kiddies. The lead singer doesn’t have a great voice but this Curtis-influenced ballad moves with a nice, understated funky flavor that’s been my prime aesthetic of late.
Bobby Timmons: This Here.
From This Here Is Bobby Timmons (Riverside 1960)
Bobby Timmons: Tom Thumb
From The Soul Man! (Prestige 1966)
Bobby Timmons is one of those jazz men whose legacy has been better remembered for his compositions rather than him as a player or band leader. Cannonball Adderley minted huge hits off of his compositions “Moanin'” and “This Here” and “Dat There” ended up in the hands of Oscar Brown Jr (and, as it were, Rikki Lee Jones some 20 years after his death). I am no Bobby Timmons expert but what I’ve heard from the man himself, I really, really like.
This Here Is Bobby Timmons is a solid intro to his compositional talents since it contains most of his best-known songs, including the ones mentioned above plus covers of Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” and Hart and Roger’s “My Funny Valentine.” My favorite song off this is “This Here.” It begins with a quiet charm with Timmons swinging on piano, accompanied by Sam Jones on the bass and Jimmy Cobb on sticks. When it hits the bridges though, all rhythm stops and Timmons comes dancing in with a beautiful melodic line that gets me giddy everytime I hear it.
The Soul Man! isn’t nearly as consistent but it does feature the delicious “Tom Thumb,” a Wayne Shorter tune with saxophonist wailing his heart out. This is a smooth, slick dance number – nothing you’d mash out to but super slinky and sexy (lot of “s” words come to mind for some reason). It’s a longer song – about six minutes – but I never get bored for an instant grooving through it. It’s like the best Saturday afternoon in the park you can remember.
Dutch Rhythm Steel and Show Band: Down By the River.
From Soul Steel and Show (Negram 197?)
Ok – this is a little self-serving since this song is featured on my Deep Covers Mix-CD, with the not so-subliminal message being: COP MY SH*T!. That said, this song is just too good to keep hidden. It’s a steel drum band cover of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” and it is amazing. Funky, soulful and with such depth and power that I never, ever get tired of listening to it. My friend Dave Tompkins put me up on this via a radio interview he had recorded feat. DJ Shadow on some European radio show, where they played this. Truly awesome.
Myryam’s Quintette: Solo Quintette
From Discotheque ’71 (Syllart, 2000)
I first heard this song at KALX FM when the station got the CD in. This is taken from a compilation of Guinean pop songs from the early ’70s (part of a larger series where a new comp was issued every year between 1970 to at least 1976). I appreciate how funky “Solo Quintette” is but not in a really obvious or force manner – that string melody doubles as a rhythm track too and the lo-fi drums give the song a sharp kick. Yet, the interplay with the other strings give this some melodic complexity and the song manages to appeal to both ear and ass. I’ve always wanted to spin this cut out. Also, it sounds like the sample for Motion Man’s “Mo Like Flows On,” but that’s neither here nor there.
Donny Hathaway: Jealous Guy.
From Live (Atlantic 1972)
I played this on my radio show last year and I just keep going back to it over and over. While I freely acknowledge the brilliance of John Lennon’s songwirting it’s all about Hathaway’s incredible, emotive voice. It always makes me sad to remember how short his life was (31 years) but my god, could he sing with the time he had.
Ramsey Lewis: Julia
From Mother Nature’s Son (Cadet, 1968)
Pianist Ramsey Lewis, along with Cadet’s Charles Stepney and Chess’ Marshall Chess, were so taken with the Beatles’ White Album, released just months earlier that they went in the studio and recorded ten cover songs from that album. The resulting LP, Mother Nature’s Son, produced a surprisingly striking collection of songs that both nod at the Beatles, even as they transform their sound. While a few of the cover songs fell flat, still others offered provocative interpretations. “Julia” is one such example – transforming the more plaintive, simple ballad by Lennon into a song of dramatic flourish and sweep. It retains its sublime character but Lewis and Stepney add a rich depth and bottom that goes beyond what Lennon imagined for it on The White Album. This song is just so damn gorgeous in whatever form.
Moses Dillard and the Tex-Town Display: I’ve Got To Find a Way Pt. 2
From the 7″ single (Curtom, 1970)
Dillard was a guitarist out of South Carolina who worked both studio time at Muscle Shoals as well as lead his own bands, beginning in the mid 1960s. This 1970 single – arguably his biggest hit as a lead artist – was recorded with a young Peabo Bryson as part of the “Tex-Town Display.” Apparently, it sold a whopping 250,000 copies though it seemed to have flown underneath the radar of a lot of soul fans I know (myself included). What’s so great about the arrangement on “Pt. 2” of the song is how it goes from this sweet soul intro and then drops into some Issac Hayes-esque funkyness – I swear to god, it sounds like Dillard is biting Hayes’ “Walk on By” but I mean that in a good way. How is it that no one has ever sampled this? Paging Rza!
Aretha Franklin: Skylark (Alt. version).
From The Queen in Waiting (The Columbia Years 1960-1965)
If you click on the link to my 2002 column on this Aretha anthology, you can read a lot more of the backstory to her years at Columbia. The short version is that before she became soul’s greatest vocalist, Aretha Franklin began her career as a jazz singer, trying to follow in the footsteps of folks like Dinah Washington. History has mostly forgotten that entire era and sure, there were some good reasons why her Columbia catalog was dismissed but c’mon – you can’t front on the whole damn thing and she sure as hell recorded some fantastic sides for them. This alternative mix of “Skylark” is probably my favorite song of her’s from those years. It was engineered to sound “live” which just means that the mood and tone is more intimate, more hushed. Simply beautiful.
The Future Sound: Sucka Set
From The Whole Shabang (East/West, 1992)
Original Flavor: Brainstorm.
From This Is How It Is (Atlantic, 1992)
Neither of these were extraordinary albums or artists but they represented a fascinating snapshot of hip-hop right at the fading edge of the New School. Positive, conscious, jazzy, both of these Dame Dash-managed groups came on the heels of the Native Tongues, Leaders of the New School, Brand Nubian, etc. but were two years too late to truly capitalize. That said, these two songs represent the better side of both artists. “Sucka Set” sounds like a KMD b-side while “Brainstorm” has more of a Kwame-throwback feel (but not in a bad way).