Monthly Archives: August 2006

Girl trips

This week, three female harmony-soul records from the early ’70s. Their production styles are wildly different, but they’re all suffused with the lightly trippy aesthetic of the era.

1. The Three Degrees, Collage (Roulette)
An enduring Philadelphia female vocal trio, the Three Degrees found national fame in the mid-1970s on Gamble and Huff’s massively influential early disco label, Philadelphia International Records.

Named, I’d guess, for its pastiche of gloomy and strikingly imagistic lyrics, “Collage” was, aesthetically, light years from the Soul Train dance lines and gold lamé. This was 1970, when pulling out all the stops in the studio meant a technicolor cascade of minor-key harmonies, chimes, vibraphone, and wah-wah guitar.

2. Sweet and Innocent, Express Your Love (Active)
Cooing with a charming lack of affectation, Sweet and Innocent strive here to fill those holes in their hearts.”Express Your Love” is sweet, innocent, and – like a love letter sung into a portable tape recorder in a teenager’s bedroom – almost too intimate.

They recorded this echo-drenched sleeper in Memphis in the early 1970s.

3. Patti Drew, Keep On Movin’ (Capitol)
Chicago-based Patti Drew has a voice that’s a powerful, wondrous thing, and she really unleashes the full dramatic force of it on “Keep On Movin’.”

The pop charts were once friendlier to anthems of survival, empowerment, and “personal voyaging.”  Listen to the gravitas with which Ms. Drew intones lyrics like, “But somewhere, somehow / I’m going to keep on trying / until in the end / I finally win.” It was a different era, 1970.

** Many, MANY thanks this week to Oliver, who gave Office Naps a sweet shout-out from his mighty Soul Sides site. Oliver’s discipline – and his peerless writing and tastes – were a real inspiration to me (and should be for any music blogger). Back when he was reviewing LP’s on a monthly basis and posting drool-y album scans, back before “blog” meant anything to you or me, HIS was one of the first homegrown music sites that I regularly checked (and it still is one of the few). Check Soul Sides everyday. **

Posted in Soul | 15 Comments

The Sitar

In that weird gray zone where American popular taste comingled with “ethnic” music, anything – even sitars – could happen. It may have been the Beatles who introduced it to the popular consciousness, but it took the muscle of the American record industry to so effectively turn the sitar into a cliché.

The sitar signified India, which, to a teenaged demographic, signified, of course, drugs.  But the sitar was a democratic cliché, if nothing else – for a brief year or two, it could be spotted droning away in the background of albums of everyone from Sammy Davis, Jr. to easy-listening maestro Jackie Gleason.  Thus briefly assuring these same teenagers’ parents that they, too, were still relevant.

1. Beautiful, Walters’ Dream (Cyclops)
Notorious Los Angeles-based producer and impresario Kim Fowley came to London in 1967 and managed to insert himself behind the controls for the first recordings of future jazz-rock eggheads the Soft Machine, then darlings of the nascent London psychedelic music scene. Sneaking the tapes back to Los Angeles, Fowley released two of these songs – under the fabricated name Beautiful – on the one-off Cyclops label.

Upshot being that no matter the duplicity involved, no matter how rudimentary the playing, the American public was going to get its sitars.

2. The Love Sitars, Paint It Black (Soul Galore)
Straight from the end sequence of The Party to you, this version of “Paint It Black” proved that uniting two cultural vectors of ’60s Pop America – rock ‘n’ roll and sitars – was no harder than coming up with the right font for your label.

No conclusive information on the Love Sitars. Their name pretty much tells you everything you need to know, though: it seems to have been the work of studio musicians from Los Angeles. No other city in the ’60s could knock out a few ersatz notes with such complete conviction.

3. The Punjabs, Raga-Riff (Prince)
This scrappy twenty-five watts of sitar power is a personal favorite of this lost sub-genre.  Whose heart wouldn’t race when they see “Sitar with Orchestra” printed on a record label?

It’s pretty easy to speculate on the story of “Raga-Riff.” Written and recorded in a day or two, casually handed out to some turned-on Los Angeles deejays. Played once and, like  fur vests, locked away in storage and forgotten about.

Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 17 Comments

West Coast Latin jazz

Three different Latin jazz combos this week. They sprang from the fascinating Latin jazz world of ’50s and ’60s California (the Bay Area and Los Angeles, in this case).

These were diffuse scenes. They drew their devotees from the Mexican-American and African-American communities, from the jazz musicians who’d already themselves established in California (the Cal Tjaders, Al McKibbons, Clare Fischers, et al.), and from a handful of Cubans and Puerto Ricans.

Due in part to its smaller scale, it was the versatile five- or six-piece jazz combos – rather than larger orquestas like New York City’s – which reigned on the West Coast. And it was the vibraphone, with its capacity to fill a room with shimmering, exotic sound, that was accorded such a predominant place in some of California’s more popular working jazz groups of the era, quintets like Bobby Montez’s and Cal Tjader’s, and, later, the Harold Johnson Sextet and the Afro Blues Quintet.

1. Manny Duran and His Sextet, Johnny Comes Marching Home Mambo (Cavalier)
It’s lovely to hear Duran and company deconstructing a patriotic warhorse like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” with such wild inventiveness.

Manny Duran was pianist who played in the 1950s Bay Area with other simpatico Latin jazzbos like Cal Tjader and Armando Peraza. He’s heard here along with his brothers Carlos (bass) and Eddie (guitar), percussionist Benny Velarde (see next selection), and Cliff Anderson and Bevan Brahms on vibes and percussion.

This was likely recorded around 1959 or 1960. Cavalier was small California label with a odd discography of ’50s and early ’60s pop, country and teenage-type rock ‘n’ roll 45s.

2. Cool Benny (Velarde) and His Stone Swingers, Wobble Cha (Virgo)
Benny Velarde was one of the cadre of great West Coast Latin percussionists which included Francisco Aguabella, Moises Oblagacion, Armando Peraza, and, briefly, Mongo Santamaria – a cadre which dominated their Pacific corner of the jazz universe in the ’50s and ’60s (albeit mostly in a supporting role).

The wobble was one of about a million dance crazes in the early to mid-’60s. The wobble could tenuously claim some Latin forbears, too, with some ’60s New York City Latin groups – Joe Cuba’s and Joe Quijano’s come to mind – performing twist-cum-chas in a style known as “wobble.” No word on whether that’s actually Velarde heard here enthusiastically offering his encouragement with those exhortations, though.

3. Tony Martinez Quintet, Ican (RCA)
Tony Martinez was a bandleader and vibraphonist whose names pops up occasionally in the context of Los Angeles Latin music.

On this early Latin jazz recording (ca. ‘54), Martinez leads his razor-sharp quintet through a classic Eddie Cano composition, with the great Cano himself handling piano duties. “Ican” is the template for the dark, exotic strain of Latin jazz that found favor in post-War California nightclubs (see also Roscoe Weathers) – both Cano and Martinez whip through their parts with the kind of crazed, infernal energy that must have spooked the bourbon ‘n’ pineapple crew down at PJ’s.

“Ican” was later covered with characteristic elan by conguero Poncho Sanchez (who’s kept the spirit of West Coast Latin jazz alive in recent decades) on his Bien Sabroso album.

Posted in Latin | 15 Comments

The Shingaling

The Shingaling, like the term “boogaloo,” refers to two separate (but related) mid-’60s pop phenomena.

There’s the “shingaling” synonomous with Latin Soul – jazzed-up guajiras and mambos with an R&B kick, sung in English and Spanish by younger Nuyoricans. Possibly more familiar, though, is the “shingaling,” the peculiar evolution of ’60s soul dance music shortly before the polyrhythmic funk of “Cold Sweat”-era James Brown changed everything. It sustained a tradition of dancefloor lyrics, though it was arguably more sophisticated than the R&B styles that preceded it. It had big, jazzy horn riffs, it looked good in mod suits and it had a walloping beat. And, most of all, it was just crazy danceable.

1. Gene Waiters, Shake and Shingaling (part 1) (Fairmount)
All the requisite ingredients are here: the horns, the titantic drum fill, the lyrics about keeping “it” moving. Spiced with guitar and some churning organ, “Shake and Shingaling” is the essence of shingaling soul.

“Shake and Shingaling” absolutely brims with the confidence that comes from being part of the New Breed, that elite, vague club that once carried a great deal of currency, even if only in the lyrics of contemporary ’60s soul music.

2. Carl Holmes and the Commanders, Soul Dance No. 3 (Blackjack)
Carl Holmes – talented guitarist, screamer, and a kind of tightly wound version of Wilson Pickett – here conjures the transcendent 1966 blare of American dancefloor mojo.

Carl Holmes led various R&B and soul combos throughout the the 1960s and ’70s, and toured the Mid-Atlantic extensively, including my old stomping grounds south-central Pennsylvania. (See the fantastic Funky 16 Corners for more info on Carl Holmes.)

3. Bobby Sax, Sock It (DePlace)
1969′s “Sock It” is, even for the style, exceptional.  Monumental slabs of echo, horns and drums are its component parts.  Sound bleeds from its every channel.

The Washington DC-based saxophonist and vocalist Bobby “Sax” Hughes’s discography extends well into the ’70s, and includes a number of other hard-edged soul and R&B 45s, though none with quite the same heart-pounding tempo or needle-in-the-red volume levels as “Sock It.”

Posted in Soul | 8 Comments

New at the Lonely Beat:

A bit "Lotus Land," a bit "Key Largo," Dizzy Gillespie's "Rumbola" is rarely-heard side, recorded in 1954, and a lovely example of dark jazz noir in an exotic Latin setting.