The Heath Brothers: Smilin’ Billy Suite Part 1 and Part 2
From Marchin’ On (Strata East, 1976)
Fear not: Soul Hut Day Three is still on its way. Just a bonus post to drop on ya’ll today.
The Strata East jazz label used to be one of those imprints that would inspire instant “ooohs” and “aaahs” because people just assumed that anything off it would be 1) rare and 2) good. As it turned out, there are quite a many Strata titles that were neither.
This Heath Bros. release is one notable exception and while there are certainly titles far rarer than this one on Strata, I’d safely wager that most younger collectors go after this first on account of the immense and sublime “Smilin’ Billy Suite” that takes up the entire B-side. I included Parts 1 and 2 since they are far and away the best two parts (four total) of the song. Part 1 has some fantastic bassline and flute interplay: moody but not morose, cool but not cold.
The second part of the Suite is where it’s at though: they melodic arrangement is very similar but instead of a flute, they break out a mbira thumb piano which has such a distinctive, glorious tone to it – like a vibraphone almost. It also makes the song sound that much more melancholy yet whatever sadness is implied is equally balanced by how beautiful the song’s melody is. This is another one of those definitive “soul jazz” songs because, in my opinion, it so perfectly captures the essence of both genres within it.