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Fifty Year Friday: Roy Ayers, Stoned Soul Picnic; Eric Burdon & The Animals, Every One of Us

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About the time that the Fifth Dimension released their single of Laura Nyro’s “Stoned Soul Picnic”, Roy Ayers recorded tracks for his second album on June 20, 1968  that included Nyro’s tune and would be named for that song. The session and the released album also included three originals, Jobim’s “Wave” and Ron Miller and Orlando Murdon’s “For Once in My Life” (previously recorded by Tony Bennett [#91 on the pop singles chart] and several Motown Artists including the Temptations, before Stevie Wonder’s hit version would be released later that year.) Sometimes these jazz covers of pop hits are just a waste of time to listen to, but not here.

Roy Ayer’s opens the album with his own composition, “A Rose for Cindy”, which starts off like free jazz before dissolving into a sensual chromatic passage that precedes the main section of a thoughtful and introspective ballad.  Notable here is the excellent soloing and interplay between the participants. Hubert Laws and Herbie Hancock are both particularly attuned to the character of the piece and provide an appropriate, impressionistic sensibility that make this the most memorable track on the album.

“Stoned Soul Picnic is vibrant and funky with Evan’s mallet work, Law’s flute, Ron Carter’s bass, Hancock’s keyboard work (he plays what sounds like a Hammond B-3) and Charles Tolliver’s trumpet essential to the sense of freedom and exuberance that permeates this version.  This is followed by a surprisingly engaging and inescapably immersive version of  “Wave” with Miroslav Vitouš replacing Ron Carter for the rest of the album, and strong solos from Gary Bartz and, as the case on every track here, Herbie Hancock.

“For Once in My Life” is treated tenderly. but not over-delicately, followed by Tolliver’s upbeat “Lil’s Pardise” highlighted by Ayer’s vibe solo and Hancock’s piano solo.  The album concludes with Edwin’ Birdsong’s evocative “What the People Say” with introspective yet enchanting solos by Ayers and Laws. Overall, an excellent post-bop album characterized by overall beauty and unaffected optimism.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. “A Rose for Cindy” (Roy Ayers) – 8:56
  2. Stoned Soul Picnic” (Laura Nyro) – 2:50
  3. Wave” (Antônio Carlos Jobim) – 7:59
  4. For Once in My Life” (Ron Miller, Orlando Murden) – 3:50
  5. “Lil’s Paradise” (Charles Tolliver) – 6:33
  6. “What the People Say” (Edwin Birdsong) – 8:09

Personnel

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This is not a particularly strong album by the Animals. Listening to this today, it seems there is more filler than essential components, though the political statement Burdon makes on side two is pretty remarkable given the inherent expectations by the record label for a high level of commercial appeal from a group as well known as this.  And there is commercial appeal in “White Houses”, which hints at Caribbean rhythmic and melodic influences, and in the group’s initially very dark, then bluesy and rocking rendition of “St. James’ Infirmary”, a follow-up of sorts to the groups’ very successful version of “The House of the Rising Sun.”

The main item of note, particularly for historical interest, is Burdon’s “Year of the Guru” somewhat modeled after Dylan’s  “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, but with more of a rock than folk character — sounding more like rap music than can reasonably be expected for 1968.  Certainly there are other cases for early “proto-rap”, but “Year of the Guru” sounds too much ahead of its time instrumentally and vocally to be categorically overlooked, particularly in light of the social commentary of the lyrics:

“My leader said son you’d better get yourself together
Never mind the fools who know what we’re getting into
But a forty mile walk would do us both a world of good
And he sat down and watched me take off down the road.”

…..

“Now here I sit in a state-run asylum
Limitless, friendless but much more together
I decided to do some good book readin’
About the art of people leadin’
Now I’m the leader and they’re being led
What’s the matter if they’re crazy till you hear what I’ve said
Being the leader is really where its at
But just how long can a good thing last
Oh, oh leader
Oh, oh leader
Now listen to this baby
This is the year of the guru
Now the thing to do is to ask yourself
What can a guru do for me?
Then you say to yourself
I gotta get a guru”

 

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All selections written by Eric Burdon except where indicated.

Side 1 

  1. White Houses” (4:43)
  2. “Uppers and Downers” (0:24)
  3. “Serenade to a Sweet Lady” (John Weider) (6:17)
  4. “The Immigrant Lad” (6:15)
  5. “Year of the Guru” (5:25)

Side 2 

  1. St. James Infirmary” (Traditional, arranged by Eric Burdon) (4:15)
  2. “New York 1963-America 1968” (Eric Burdon, Zoot Money) (19:00)

Personnel 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fifty Year Friday: Miles Davis Quintet “Nefertiti”

 

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Recorded in June and July of 1967 and released, as best as I can determine, around February 1968, give or  take a month, Nefertiti is the ever-exploring, adventurous Miles Davis’s last all-acoustic instrument album. I also consider this one of the first albums to take significant steps into both Fusion and New Age territory.

Miles Davis time at Julliard is partially evident here (just as Tony Scott’s time at Julliard is partially evident in what some consider the very first New Age record, the 1964 album, Music for Zen Meditation.)  Miles seems to infuse Bartok and Satie, whose music he admired, into some of this work,  as well as possibly (this is maybe a reach on my part, based only on the nature of some of the rhythmic and melodic patterns) Olivier Messiaen.  Miles also drives his fellow musicians to further reaches of creativity producing a work like no other work recorded in 1967 or released in 1968.  Some call this free-bop, and there are elements of free jazz present, but overall this is generally an accessible album, very much a predecessor to the fusion jazz and progressive-jazz psychedelic/rock-impressionism that will soon follow in so many albums of the 1970s.

The title track, “Nefertiti”, recorded on June 7, 1967 as a single take, is named after the Egyptian queen, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti who, with her Pharoah husband, brought about a religious revolution in Egypt by narrowing religious worship from many gods to only one. And with this first track, “Nefertiti”, there is a singularity of focus.  Missing are solos from the trumpet and saxophone.  Instead, the two instruments blend into an ambient, cleverly crafted circular sonic stream (well done, Wayne Shorter!), much as when drifting into alternative realms of consciousness prior to sleep.  The piano, bass and drums provides the greater variety and commentary here, the entire work thoroughly and unapologetically breaking from the traditional be-bop approach to ensemble sections and solos.  We have a strong case for this being jazz minimalism despite the richness of material provided by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, based on the foundational, hardly perceptible variations provided by Miles and Wayne Shorter.

“Fall”, “Pinocchio” (two takes) and “Riot” were recorded on July 19, 1967, two days after John Coltrane’s death.  This tragic and monumental event shapes the nature of the performances of these works, particularly Miles’ solos.  The other tracks on the Nefertiti album,”Hand Jive” and “Madness”, are more extroverted and were recorded on June 22 and June 23, respectively.  Though this album may not have been conceived as a whole work (the amazing “Water Babies”, the sharp-edged”Capricorn” and the reflective, surreal “Sweet Pea” [this last a perfect fit for the Nefertiti album] were also recorded during these sessions and released years later, in 1976),  it comes together nicely and provides a general mood of near-mystical introspection.  The performances by all members of the quartet border on mythical, with Miles inspiring and encouraging his fellow musicians in reaching further levels of excellence.

This a particularly subtle, perhaps initially elusive, album — one that many will not fall in love with on the first listening.  Not as accessible as the previous album, the 1967 Sorcerer, it is often considered to be more substantial: pushing jazz into an unexplored territory that soon becomes part of the language of not only jazz, but rock, fusion, progressive rock, new age, and late twentieth century classical music.   Darken the room and give Nefertiti your undivided attention when listening, if not already a devoted fan.

Side One:
 “Nefertiti”  — Wayne Shorter  (7:52)
“Fall” —  Wayne Shorter (6:39) 
“Hand Jive” — Tony Williams (8:54)
Side Two:
“Madness” —  Herbie Hancock  (7:31)
“Riot” —  Herbie Hancock (3:04)
“Pinocchio” — Wayne Shorter (5:08)

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