Tuesday, May 30, 2006

posted by O.W.

King Pleasure: Moody's Mood For Love
From Golden Days (HiFiJazz, 1960).

Betty Hutton: Blow a Fuse
From ? (?, 1948). Also on Somebody Loves Me (as "It's Oh So Quiet").

Etta James: A Sunday Kind of Love
From At Last (MCA/Chess, 1961)

I'm not to proud to admit that I learn about certain songs by watching television commercials. Of course, this was back before Tivo, before I could 30 second jump my way through everything and thus, miss out on the *cough cough* magic that is modern advertising (oh, all those hee-lay-rious beer commercials I'm probably missing out on). But seriously, ad agencies, on rare occasions, actually hire people who have good taste in music (though I do have to say that weird cover of "Express Yourself" I recently saw on some women's product ad threw me off a bit).

One of the earliest, vivid memories I have of this was watching a Christmas time ad for the Gap that used what I later discovered to be King Pleasure's cover of "Moody's Mood For the Love" (the original "vocalese" recording of the song belongs to Eddie Jefferson and the "Moody" in question here is jazz artist James Moody). I was so taken with it, I actually took a bus (this is before I had a car in the Bay Area) to get to a record store that said they had it on 45. It was well worth the trip. People argue over who has the best version and I'm not trying to make a definitive statement about that here. All I do know is that it is a great song (by King Pleasure or otherwise). I know if you do a google search, Jefferson's version is credited for the Gap ad but far as I know, I'm pretty it's this King Pleasure version, from Golden Days. By the way, there is a considerable mystery as to who the woman singing on this version is - she's not credited on the album itself and so far, Betty Carter and Blossom Dearie have been ruled out.

I've always known "Blow a Fuse" as Björk's "It's Oh So Quiet" and it wasn't until I saw promo ads for the final season of Sex and the City that I realized: oh, Björk remade someone else's song...duh! It turned out to be Betty Hutton's "Blow a Fuse," what I presume is a showtune from 1948 though, for the life of me (and Google), I can't figure out what original album this appears on (might be Dream Girl) but I'm not sure. To make it more confusing, a 2005 compilation of her music lists the song as "It's Oh So Quiet," presumably in deference to Björk's cover. No disrespect to Hutton but much as I like her original (and it is quite good) but Björk does a fine cover and hey, Hutton didn't have Spike Jonze directing a video for her.

As for the Etta James...ok, so...I learned about that from a Dockers commercial. I'm not sure why I'd be more embarrassed to admit that over, say, Gap or Sex and the City but it's hard to make Dockers seem that sexy. That said, their San Francisco-based commercials have gotten quite a fan base (even if they make SF look whiter than Salt Lake City). Their "street car" series used Madeleine Peyroux's "Don't Wait Too Long" to good effect. The latest (which isn't quite as visually enticing) uses the James song and admittedly, I had never heard it before (yeah, I know, I should really pick up the At Last album) and I was happy to make its acquaintance. It's not quite at the level of "At Last" (but then again, what is?) but seriously? It's as good as anything else I've heard of late. The arrangement and James' vocals are absolutely stellar. By the way, if you want the beejeezus scared out of you, watch a very young Xtina belt this out.

Your favorite songs you learned about from a commercial? (Automatic disqualification for Nick Drake's "Pink Moon"/VW ad. Too obvious. Bonus points if you can name which ad used Eddie Bo's "Hook and Sling").

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

posted by O.W.

Los Exagerados: Panama Esta Bueno Y...Ma
Los Fabulosos Festivals: El Mensaje
Both from Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75 (Soundway, 2006)

This is going to sound odd coming from someone who put out a compilation but I usually don't like comps because I don't like knowing what I don't have. Yeah, record avarice is an ugly beast and I'm no less susceptible to it than the next vinyl dork. (Despite what people seem to think, I don't actually own every album and 45 ever made).

That said, there are "hard to find" records and then there are near-impossible records and when people comp the latter, I'm actually quite appreciative because it brings into the light great recordings that would have otherwise flown under the radar because they're so obscure. This is precisely why I was very happy to see this compilation of Panamanian soul/Latin come out: most of these recordings are songs that I, barring a trip to Panama, would never, ever have heard/found on my own. For that reason, I'm glad that someone went through the trouble to make these available to a larger public (myself included within that) and share some great sounds with a fascinating back story.

What makes Panama special in terms of its musical history has much also to do with its economic and political history. The building of the Panama Canal not only brought in a mix of laborers from throughout South and Central American, the Caribbean and elsewhere, but just geographically, Panama is a nexus point between multiple musical cultures. Panama! reflects that vibrant set of styles with a 15 song collection of everything from frenetic descargas, to Calypso soul, to funky jazz, etc.

The two picks above don't do justice to that diversity but they're still, you know, great songs regardless. I wanted to make sure the Latin sabor of the comp got some shine so I went with the Los Exagerados' catchy descarga "Panama Esta Bueno Y...Ma." Not only is this a great example of this popular Latin dance rhythm but you gotta dig the name: "it's good in Panama...and then some." I tend to be more of a boogaloo kind of guy but its songs like this that make me appreciate how kick ass a good descarga can be.

As for the Los Fabulosos Festivals...if you know anything about me, there's no way I could pass up a Panamanian soul cover of "The Message" by Cymande. I have a Spanish language version of this song from a Mexican group but I have to say - this is killer too despite its lo-fi sound. I like how they switch up the lyrics especially - nice way for them to put their own stamp on this. If someone's got a copy of this 45 for sale or trade, holla!

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Monday, May 22, 2006

posted by O.W.

Julie Delpy: An Ocean Apart + A Waltz For a Night
From Julie Delpy (Import, 2003). Also on Before Sunrise/Sunset Soundtrack

Ok, I admit: 1) I didn't know Julie Delpy sang, 2) I didn't watch Before Sunset until the other week even though the film came out in 2004, 3) my wife and I actually quite liked the film since it's about what happens when you grow out of your idealistic, uber-romantic 20s and "real life s---" intrudes and leaves you a little scarred and traumatized by it all.

What's rather interesting...or perhaps strange is that the songs above came out on Delpy's album before ending up on the soundtrack of Before Sunset even though these two songs in particular seem to speak to the narrative of both Sunset and Before Sunrise. I wonder if Delpy's songwriting was influenced by the fact that she may have already begun writing on Before Sunset before her album dropped.

In any case, let's point out that Delpy doesn't have that dynamic a voice and her lyrics tend to favor straight-forward sentiment over nuance. But let's also point out that she has a surprising effective voice for the kind of folk-rock style she's working in, plus the vocal arrangements are surprisingly interesting and hell, it's not like unadorned awkwardness is much better or worse than gilded pretentiousness.

If I recall correctly, "An Ocean Apart" opens the film - and quite effectively - it's lush, sweet and achingly melancholy, setting the tone for the movie itself. "A Waltz For a Night" bookends the film by coming at the very end, where Delpy sings it, with just an acoustic guitar, in her Paris apartment. I actually preferred that version - the soundtrack/album recording is very nice and had I heard it first, I might have a different opinion about it but I found the purely acoustic take to be more nakedly vulnerable in a way I think the song aspires to.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

posted by O.W.

posted by O.W.

The Dells: I Can Sing a Rainbow/Love Is Blue
From Love Is Blue (Cadet, 1969). Also available on the Ultimate Collection.

V/A: I Can Rhyme In Colors Medley
    Features snippets from:

    Prince Paul: Open Your Mouth
    From Psychoanalysis (Tommy Boy, 1997)

    Edan: I See Colours
    From Beauty & The Beat (Lewis, 2005)

    Smut Peddlers: Red Light
    From "Talk Like Sex Pt. 2" 12" (Eastern Conference, 1999). Also available on Porn Again (Revisted).

    Ghostface: Shakey Dog
    From Fishscale (Def Jam, 2006)

    Blu: My World Is...
    From Below the Heavens (Sound In Color, 2006 forthcoming)
There's no rush quite like a song obsession, where you just need to keep hearing the same song over and over again, with no diminishing returns. Despite the volume of music I sift through, it's not often that I become that infatuated with a track. The last one was Smith's "Baby, It's You" and today, it's been all about the Dells' "I Can Sing A Rainbow/Love Is Blue."

Let me rewind a moment. In my interview with the LA Weekly, I make a point to note: "I appreciate how [hip-hop era] sampling opens a door into the past, but often what you find is that the original material is far and away better than however the song gets sampled." This Dells song is as perfect an example as I can think of. I was listening to the Blu song and the first thought was, "oh, this is the same loop at Ghostface's "Shakey Dog." I went and tracked down the original source (i.e. the Dells) and played it for a friend who then remarked: "yeah, Edan used this too." I was surprised since I know Edan's catalog pretty well and I definitely didn't remember him having a song that sounded like the Ghostface or Blu...but then I realized: he sampled a totally different part of the song. Ok, that's three. But Edan, at the beginning of the song says, "Prince Paul already looped this" - it's in the actual song that he acknowledges this - so I went back and indeed, Paul did use the same loop that Edan uses for the short "Open Your Mouth." Finally, just to make sure my bases were covered, I checked the-breaks.com to see if I had everything covered and realized I had forgotten about the Smut Peddlers who used the Ghost/Blu portion back in 1999.

So here's the thing: five songs, a few by artists I really genuinely like and respect, using the same sample source...and none of them come close, in their own songs, to touching how goddamn amazing this Dells is. I'm not disrespecting the rappers; I'm merely noting that the original song is just on some insanely sublime level and that there's no fuggin' way you can sample it and hope to do justice to the source.

What's so great about this song? Three things. 1) The shift from the mellow, almost folksy "I Can Sing a Rainbow" and then the out-of-nowhere dip into the funky soul blast of "Love Is Blue". 2) The call and response between the lead vocalist and the rhythm/brass sections, i.e. "Blue!" BLARE! Blue! BLARE! BLARE!" There's that moment where you know the hammer is about to drop between voice and instruments and you just know it's going to be incredible. 3) Check out the string arrangement that's subtly slipped underneath following that call-and-response. It adds this extra musical layer which turns a really good song into a wholly awesome one.

Of the various hip-hop songs that have flipped the track, "Shakey Dog" makes the best use of it, especially in bringing in Marvin Jr.'s loooooooong note from the end of the song and pitching it up to a scream. On the other hand, the Smut Peddlers were wise to use "my world is blue!" line (as does Blu, albeit seven years later).

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posted by O.W.

Entertainment Weekly has us at the #13 best music website in their new issue.

Jyeah! In your face, Radio David Byrne (#17)! Stereogum (#7) has the entire list in one, easy to read, uh, list. And of course, the snarky bastards at ILM (breathing down my neck - and not in that good way - at #14) are already bitchin'.

Friday, May 19, 2006

posted by O.W.

Jean Knight: Mr. Big Stuff
From Mr. Big Stuff (Stax, 1971)

Jimmy Hicks: I'm Mr. Big Stuff
From 7" (Big Deal, 1972). From Funky Funky New Orleans

Vicki Anderson: I'm Too Tough For Mr. Big Stuff
From 7" (Brownstone, 1971). Also on Mother Popcorn

Jean Knight might have been known as a "one-hit wonder" (fair or not) but her hit - Mr. Big Stuff - almost didn't happen. Just goes to show that not every hit is obvious when first recorded and I'm tickled that the great, late King Floyd and his "Groove Me" (recorded the same day as "Mr. Big Stuff" at Malaco Studios) was able to convince Stax that, "hey, maybe this Malaco sound is something people like!"

The song was such a big hit that it sparked off a few "answer" records. My favorite is Jimmy Hicks' "I'm Mr. Big Stuff" which obviously borrows HEAVILY from Knight's original arrangement, even down to the back-up singers. It's still a fun cover, especially when you play this back-to-back with Knight's.

James Brown's "funky diva" Vicki Anderson also recorded an answer record, "I'm Too Tough For Mr. Big Stuff" which finds Anderson backed by the JBs doing their own take. They change things up more than Hicks does but you can still find a few musical references back to the original and Anderson brings a similar vocal quality to the song as Knight did.

The Stepfather of Soul has his "Mr. Big Stuff" post up now, with seven more songs for you to check out.


Friday, May 12, 2006

posted by O.W.

Soft Touch: Plenty of Action
From 7" (Sundance, 1976)

Project Soul: Ebony
From 7" (196/7?)

Both available on Bay Area Funk 2.

I meant to post about this weeks ago but lost it in the shuffle. Following up on the excellence of the first Bay Area Funk compilation, the folks at Ubiquity/Luv N' Haight went out and commissioned a second volume. This new one, in particular, was curated with help from my good friend Justin Torres so I knew the selections would be built on insanely rare - and insanely good - slices of local Yay soulfulness and funkitude.

The Soft Touch was something I had never heard before - love the vocal touch on it by this mid-70s Oakland group. Singles like this always always intrigue me - it's the only thing the group ever released - you wonder what other potential might have been lurking there.

As for the Project Soul...it's a crazy Holy Grail 45 in the Bay Area. I first learned about it back in the late '90s when a friend of mine had found it whilst digging and that set off a lot of interest in tracking down more copies since it's 1) unfathomably obscure and 2) the high school students (you read that right) playing on it eventually grew up to form ConFunkShun. As good as that back story is, I also enjoyed what Justin told Soulstrut in regards to how he managed to track down his copy:
    "Here's how I got this record: 1) Went to Vallejo to track down a copy. 2) Tracked group to their Elementary School. 3) Which lead me to the High School that the band attended. 4) Tracked down Felton Pilate's music teacher. 5) Got mothers phone number from said music teacher and called her. 6) Mother gave me Felton's cell phone number. 6) Felton doesn't have record…and the search starts over from the beginning. After a year of research and talking to most of the band members a copy surfaced and landed in my homeboy's hands. After two weeks of tough trading, the record arrived on my desk at work. Mint, played twice, and now has a home among my other local 45s."
By the way, for my folks in the Bay - there's a record release party for the comp tonight at the Elbo Room. Three of my fave DJs: Cool Chris, Vinnie Esparza and Kitty are spinning.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

posted by O.W.

[Note: I was interviewed the other month by one of my favorite writers, Ernest Hardy, about the Soul Sides Vol 1 comp. The interview ran this week in the LA Weekly and I thought it addressed some of the key questions that came up for different folks asking me about the making-of the anthology. - O.W.]

Soul Love
Ten questions with Soul Sides creator — and album curator — Oliver Wang

Written by Ernest Hardy

Oliver “O-Dub” Wang is a hip-hop fanatic, soul-music fiend, pop-culture junkie, ethnic-studies professor, DJ, obsessive blogger, music and cultural critic, husband, and dad. A familiar name to rap-music fans who’ve read his incisive reviews and essays for over a decade now (including his work in the Weekly), Wang will be teaching this fall currently lectures at Cal State Long Beach. (Full disclosure: He also edited the anthology Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide, to which I contributed.)

Recently, Wang, 33, added yet another title to his hyphenated list of accomplishments: His audioblog, Soul Sides, has made the leap from ether to earth, with a CD compilation of raw, beautiful, old-fashioned soul music. Some of it is familiar if undervalued work — Erma Franklin’s original version of “Piece of My Heart” — and some is the stuff that makes geek collectors puff their chests with crate-digging pride as exhaustive hunts bear fruit.

Then there are the subtextual revelations. Check Joe Bataan’s 1975 gem “Ordinary Guy,” in which he sweetly croons against a lovely, soft-focus salsa backdrop, “I don’t drive a beautiful car and I don’t own an elegant home . . . /I’m just an ordinary, ordinary guy/Afro Filipino, average sort of guy/That’s what I am/[an] ordinary man you left behind . . .” The track is a forerunner of the genre mashup and autobio shout-out to multiracial identity that are now the norm — and a gentle reminder that none of that shit is new.

Soul Sides is also notable, perhaps, as a sign of things to come in musical distribution: It is the second-ever CD comp to be born of an audioblog.

L.A. WEEKLY: What was the inspiration for making the leap from audioblog to CD?

OLIVER WANG: Kevin Drost at Zealous Records was a fan of the site and offered to let me curate the comp while he’d handle the legal and clearance work. Even if I never made a dime off the comp, it was worth doing just for the opportunity to put out music that I felt strong about.

Given the fetish we as a culture have for new technology and gadgetry, an audioblogger putting out a CD seems almost quaint, like a step backward in the age of downloading and iPods. Is there some deeper statement being made in that choice?

Not at all. But the fact that it’s also being released on double vinyl is definitely a nod to the fact that all these songs originated on vinyl back in the day. The album is available for download from a few sites like Rhapsody and others. Given that its origins go directly back to an MP3 blog, we’re definitely not being Luddites about this. But for me, I still love the physical object of records. I’m glad this is on CD and vinyl just so people can have something they can actually touch and possess. That may not matter to a younger generation raised on digital music, but for me the tactile quality of records will never lose its appeal.

What is it about this music that resonates with you?

I’ve spent the better part of my career as a music critic trying to articulate that ineffable quality about music. I’m sure I’ll spend a lifetime trying to express it, always falling just a little bit short. I think the fact that so much soul comes out of both a blues and gospel tradition has partly to do with it. This was music designed to appeal to the spirit and I think my love for soul and soul-influenced music is responding to those qualities that artists were trying to evoke — the sublime, the transcendent. What Stevie Wonder would call trying to reach that “higher ground,” but in a way which is earthy and of the human heart. Mostly, it just sounds good to me.

Is there a thread, for you, linking this undervalued or overlooked soul music with hip-hop?

Hip-hop was the path through which I was led backwards into soul, funk, jazz — all this music of the past. I don’t know how many people would know about Linda Lyndell’s “What a Man” — which is one of my favorite songs out of the entire Stax catalog — if not for Salt-N-Pepa’s remake/sampling of it. The fact that Lyndell’s original blows the remake out of the water just fuels my interest in finding other songs like it. I appreciate how sampling opens a door into the past, but often what you find is that the original material is far and away better than however the song gets sampled. This said, hip-hop has been a great educator.

Were there any favorite songs for which you couldn’t get clearance?

The only one I was really disappointed to lose was this great Al Green B-side which only ever came out on a 45 single in the ’70s. It was just too expensive to license, but I hope we might still be able to use it for the next volume. Hopefully, the success of this first volume will help in talking to labels the next time around and finding a way to negotiate a reasonable licensing arrangement.

How do you, as a curator, contextualize this music in a way that underscores its power and beauty but sidesteps the hipster fetishism that can sort of flatten it out — as when Moby used field recordings on Play?

Honestly, I never really thought or worried about that. I’ve been a DJ for 13 years, a music critic for 12, a music scholar for 10 . . . My relationship to music, even when “professional,” has always been underscored by a personal passion. You have to be a little crazy to spend the kind of time I have on collecting records and writing about them. So I’ve always just gone where my instincts have led me, including with this comp. I will say one thing, I was never interested in picking songs strictly for the sake of obscurity. A number of the songs on here have been comped before, and that didn’t bother me. I felt like they could still use some shine — like the Lyndell or Erma Franklin tracks. Even a song that I don’t think many people have heard before, like “Keep My Baby Warm,” isn’t necessarily the rarest example of gospel soul out there but it’s a damn good song, and one of my personal favorites. I don’t know if it’s sexy enough for the hipster crowd to give a damn. But if you can’t feel the song, you just can’t feel.

Do you think the means through which we get our music affect our relationship to it? There’s been some theorizing that kids who can just download a song or assemble hundreds of options on an iPod don’t forge the same emotional connection to music that previous generations did — that it’s now much more disposable.

I think the sheer volume of music that exists today is overwhelming for someone like me — and I’m only 33. I definitely grew up on the cusp of the pre-Internet/post-Internet world. The studies I’ve seen suggest that people value music less because it’s so ubiquitous, but what encourages me is the fact that people still want music in their lives — and I definitely think specific songs resonate with people. That’s why I love Ne-Yo’s [current single] “So Sick.” The chorus is all about why love songs are so addictive as he bemoans, “Why can’t I turn off the radio?” He’s a young dude but he gets it. His listeners, I think, get it — especially since the song has topped the charts. We’re not in a world where music has become simply background noise yet. I doubt we ever will, even once the 100-terabyte brain-implant iPods come out.

Are there plans to make this a series or is this a one-off deal?

Kevin Drost just e-mailed me the other day and asked, “So, should we start thinking about Volume 2?” We haven’t mapped anything out yet, but for Volume 2 I’d either want to do jazz songs, both vocal and instrumental, or a personal love of mine: cover songs. I put out a mix CD of cover songs, on my own, a few years back and I obsessively collect soul, jazz, reggae, calypso, psych, etc., albums with interesting covers. A recent acquisition is a Polish-language rock album with a cover of Bill Withers’ “Kissin’ My Love.” Crazy.
[Note: at this point, we're actually thinking about a third concept entirely. But more on that in the months to come.]

What’s your favorite song on the compilation, and why?

Ha, that’s like asking me which of my kids I love the best, though, uh, I only have one. It’s a close tie. “Keep My Baby Warm” was the first song I knew I absolutely, positively wanted on this comp. It just had to be on there. I want as many people to hear it as possible. But my favorite from-the-gut song is probably “Piece of My Heart” by Erma Franklin. When I first heard it and then learned how Erma’s original was always overshadowed by Janis Joplin’s cover, it just made the heart-wrenching power of the song so much more poignant. It’s so beautiful yet absolutely devastating.

Ernest Hardy’s collection of criticism, Blood Beats Vol. 1: Demos, Remixes and Extended Versions, published by Red Bone Books, comes out this week.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

posted by O.W.

The Caprells: Walk On By
From 7" (Bano, 196?)

Jo Ann Garrett: Walk On By
From Just a Taste (Chess, 1969)

El Michaels Affair: Walk On By
From Rewind 5 (Ubiquity, 2006)

It's funny, I had been planning on doing a Burt Bacharach covers post sooner or later, decided to just focus on "Walk On By" (maybe I'll do a "Look of Love" post later) but then realized: damn, he wrote "Baby, It's You" too. Just goes to show you: Bacharach is one of the greatest living American songwriters, hands down.

"Walk On By" is arguably the biggest of his hits - it's been covered many different times and most of them (as you can hear here) are great, a testament to him and Hal Davis' exceptional talents. Dionne Warwick made the song a hit to begin with but what I like about the tune is how different groups are able to bring something new to the table when they mess with it.

For example, I love this Caprells cover - the sweet soul/falsetto approach works very well and the song opens almost drug-like with the echoing vocals and the brass section is just so chill. They definitely put their own spin on the song.

However, no one transformed the song more than Isaac Hayes when he recorded an epic version in 1969. You've all heard it, you know what it sounds like, you know that it is, flat out, one of the most amazing remakes of a song ever. That intro alone pretty much slays most artists' entire catalogs. It would become such a definitive cover that later artists would cover Hayes! Case in point: Jo Ann Garrett's version of "Walk On By" is clearly a riff on Hayes - the arrangements are almost identical. Her band can't attain the same kind of symphonic energy that Hayes achieved but I like hearing how female vocals sound over what amounts to a very similar track.

Lastly, this El Michaels Affair cover of "Walk On By" is another riff on the Hayes version. It appears on the just released compilation, Rewind 5, the latest in an excellent series put out by Ubiquity (if you don't have Rewind 4 yet, you are Rip Van Winkling it). This is an instrumental version and surprisingly, I thought I'd miss the vocals but didn't. A very nice, smooth and slick cover that clearly nods to the versions that have come prior but lets the band put their stamp on it. Like I said, Bacharach = genius.

Monday, May 01, 2006

posted by O.W.

Jackie McLean: Soul
From 'Bout Soul (Blue Note, 1967)

Lee Morgan: Cornbread
From Cornbread (Blue Note, 1965)

Freddie Redd: Wigglin
From Music From The Connection (Blue Note, 1960)

Jackie McLean: Hootman
From Action (Blue Note, 1964)

(Editor's Note: This post originally came several weeks ago but due to technical problems - on my end - and the fact that I've been on the road so much, I wasn't able to get it up until now. This tribute to the late, great Jackie McLean, comes to us from David A. Jaffe. Much thanks for his patience. - O.W.)

On March 31, the great alto player Jackie McLean was lost. McLean, who was 74, is better know to jazz heads than hip-hop nerds, likely because he occupies the space in the jazz spectrum somewhere between the high bop of Charlie Parker and the out new thing of late period John Coltrane. This is not to say that McLean wasn't funky as other boppers like Gene Ammons (think "Black Cat" on Prestige), Les McCann (think "Swiss Movement" on Atlantic), or Bobby Timmons (think "Moanin'" on Riverside), rather it is just that McLean's soul was more in line with bassist/band leader/enigma Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach.

McLean recorded with Miles Davis ("Dig" on Prestige), Charles Mingus ("Pithecanthropus Erectus" on Atlantic) and Art Blakey (including the classic Columbia LP "Hard Bop") before moving on to the Prestige family of labels. At Prestige, McLean recorded on some sought after hard bop sides including Gene Ammons' "Funky" and his own "Makin' The Changes." However, McLean's first long-player as a leader is the obscenely rare outing with trumpeter Donald Byrd on Ad-Lib. Later, McLean's most important and arguably best sounds, came from his work for uber-label Blue Note in the '60's.

McLean fit in perfectly at Blue Note as part of the label's regular roster and house sound in the decidedly hard- and post-bop directions. While some readers may cringe at the thought of honking and squeaking instruments, and drum playing that seems to keep no time signature recognized on this planet, McLean's style incorporated a tone that owed a tip-of-the-hat to Parker, yet was as distinctive as more well know players in the pantheon. Take for example his recording of "Soul" with Grachan Moncur III on the 1967 Blue Note LP "'Bout Soul." The orchestration and pace owes more, from my point view, to Mingus and his style as a composer than to the squawks of other out sax players such as Joe McPhee (best known for his well sampled "Nation Time"). Readers of Soul-Sides may think of Sun Ra's "Space Is The Place" when hearing the spoken wordy chant of poet Barbara Simmons (whose work was published by author/poet/jazz freak Amiri Baraka, nee LeRoy Jones, in "Black Fire"). Among the amazing things about "Soul" isn't just how easily it slips from an almost soul-jazz spoken word piece to a free jazz composition in several movements, but the fact the song was composed on the spot - pure improvisation.

Diggers may be familiar with the McLean LP "Demon's Dance" for its Bob Vanosa cover (see Miles' "Bitches Brew"), although those in search of the more conventionally funky can check out "Cornbread" from Lee Morgan's 1965 Blue Note album, and "Wigglin'" from Jack Gelber's play about junkies waiting for a fix, "The Connection." The music from the play (later made into an experimental film) was actually played both on stage and on celluloid by the musicians, most or all of whom had been or were actively using heroin. McLean acted in both the stage and cinema versions. Music from "The Connection" is noteworthy for the bluesy bop playing of the two principles McLean (ala Bird) and Redd (ala Monk). Somewhere between the free of "Soul" and the blues of "Wigglin'" is the (sorry) free soul of "Hootman" from McLean's classic Blue Note title "Action" (1964). The cut has Bobby Hutcherson's smooth vibe playing and solos with progressions that are jagged and unpredictable for what outwardly appears to be a bluesy, straight ahead tune.

Jackie McLean had a long, distinguished career, which I've only hinted at here. Besides his exciting
recording career and his canonical albums for Blue Note, McLean was also the artistic director and program founder of the African American Music Program of the Hartt College of Music at the University of Hartford, a program that eventually bore his name. A quick look at the message boards is indicative of how much this man's music moved people, and McLean's music it is definitely worthy of being played out on the decks. In memory of the man, drop the needle in the groove and soak in the free soul of Jackie Mc, in loving memory, y'all.