Author Archives: Little Danny

Nature Boy

I can think of at least a few reasons for the continued appeal of the song “Nature Boy.”

There’s its philosophical, pseudo-mystical message for one. It was heady, if not radical, stuff for 1948, at least as far as pop songs went, and furthermore its gentle sentiment and lyrics, unlike many “message” songs, have weathered with enviable resilience over the years.

It helps that melodically it’s also a difficult song to get wrong. There’s a robustness to its structure, one that has engendered a particularly attractively set of moody, exotic arrangements amongst its many adaptations.

"Nature Boy" sheet music

The original 1948 sheet music for "Nature Boy," with an image of Eden Ahbez. Image courtesy of Online Collections (The Strong) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

There’s also the not-insignificant appeal of Eden Ahbez, the Wanderer himself and the songwriter behind “Nature Boy.”  I covered Eden Ahbez here, this fascinating, quintessentially American character who also embodied, self-conciously, but still sort of admirably, “Nature Boy.”   “Nature Boy,” the song, is Eden Ahbez – a combination of autobiography and self-mythology.

I’m not alone in my fascination with the song. Since its million-selling treatment by Nat “King” Cole in 1948, it’s become a pop and jazz standard.  And it’s also inspired a decades-long, wildly varied body of readings across many styles.  This week’s three versions are but a few of my favorites.

Clete Grayson and the Thurston Trio, Nature Girl (Nature Boy) (Pacific PA-1007-A 45-111)1.  Clete Grayson and the Thurston Trio, Nature Girl (Nature Boy) (Pacific PA-1007-A 45-111)

Released in 1961 on what was almost certainly a Los Angeles-based label, there’s surprisingly little else to be learned of either Clete Grayson, the Thurston Trio or Pacific Records (which was unrelated to the more widely known Pacific Jazz / World Pacific Records).

Either way, Clete Grayson was certainly a capable vocalist, and he sings here with winning gusto. His lyrical gender transposition is a unique twist, and the professional production isn’t too shabby, either, with an emphatically rockin’ beat and an ondioline making a rare solo appearance during the instrumental break.

With any style of mainstream, mass-produced culture, no matter how commercial, there are bound to be a few nonconformists, oddballs that slip through the cracks in the guise, in this case, of conventional pop music.  One of thousands of teen pop and rock ‘n’ roll records being cranked out in the early ‘60s, “Nature Girl (Nature Boy)” might not have succeeded commercially – it’s just too strange – but it is unequivocally great.

(I owe my copy of this gem to Jack at the great Out of the Bubbling Dusk.   Thanks Jack.)

Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, Nature Boy (A&M 953)2.  Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, Nature Boy (A & M 953)

Richard Barbary is a puzzling case in the world of ‘60s R&B, a talented unknown who seems, after just one excellent, lavishly-produced album on a major label, to have just as quickly disappeared.

A singer with a smooth, world-weary baritone, Barbary had, at the time of this record, just one release under his belt – 1967’s “Get Right” b/w “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” the debut 45 for future soul powerhouse Spring Records.

But Barbary is better heard on his first LP, Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, which was rolled out with all the trimmings – sumptuous production, a cadre of cream-of-the-crop session players, deluxe gatefold album cover – by A&M Records in 1968.

Richard Barbary: Soul Machine

Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, the album.

Produced by Creed Taylor, arranged by studio veterans Artie Butler, Horace Ott and Jimmy Wisner and recorded by legendary jazz engineer Rudy Van Gelder, it’s an East Coast recording but, with its up-to-the-minute production qualities, a West Coast sounding record.  It seems to have been conceived somewhat in the style of a Lou Rawls, Willie Tee or Jerry Butler – smooth-voiced, sophisticated R&B singers with appeal to both pop and jazz markets.

“Nature Boy,” which is featured on Richard Barbary: Soul Machine, is one of the album’s highlights, both Barbary’s mellow reading and a subtle, Horace-Silver-influenced Afro-Latin jazz feel asserting the song’s inherent wistfulness.

A&M Records invested no small amount of stock in Barbary, perhaps cultivating him as their Lou Rawls.  But his debut would, sadly, and for reasons unknown, turn out to be his only album. Furthermore, it seems to have been his last recording, period.  I would love to know more of the story.

Etta Jones, Nature Boy (Prestige 45-237A)3.  Etta Jones, Nature Boy (Prestige 45-237 A)

Like other stylists who never quite got their due – Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln springing to mind – the great Etta Jones never crossed over much into the more visible worlds of R&B and pop music,  perhaps ultimately to the detriment of her career, though she was widely respected as one of the purest of all jazz vocalists.

Born in 1928 in South Carolina, Etta Jones came up in Harlem.  After winning the attention of bandleader Buddy Johnson at an Apollo talent contest in 1943, she joined his popular orchestra, her exposure thenceforth leading to more work, including gigs with drummer J.C. Heard and pianist Earl Hines, and a set of fascinating mid-‘40s releases recorded with Leonard Feather.

Jones seems to have sung jazz from the very outset of her professional career.  Her early recordings evince mature sensibilities – the Billie Holiday influence is at its most pronounced, and era-standard jump blues are suffused with deep feeling.  But, despite the early promise, Jones was not swept up in a bebop revolution that might have logically included her.  Her fortunes as an artist foundered as the 1950s progressed, but changed with 1960’s Don’t Go to Strangers, her debut full-length album recorded for the Prestige jazz label.  Don’t Go to Strangers was a commercial success, and many critics have since cited the album as a water mark (it was also earned her the first of three Grammy nominations in her lifetime).

Don’t Go to Strangers would in reality be but one of a large number of highly consistent sessions for Prestige Records during Jones’s reemergence in the first half of the ‘60s.  Her unusual reading of “Nature Boy” deserves a special place of honor here. Recorded and released in late 1962, her all-star support included Jerome Richardson (tenor saxophone), Sam Bruno (bass), Bobby Donaldson (drums) and either Kenny Burrell or Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar.  Though it didn’t ultimately find much commercial traction, Prestige sensed enough potential in its chugging, Latin beat to release it as a single to the relatively lucrative jukebox/R&B market.

Her Prestige Records run ended in the mid-‘60s, and though Jones was never again quite as prolific in the studio, her performing career resumed with renewed energy for the next decades, a long-time partnership with soul jazz saxophone stalwart Houston Person proving especially fruitful.

Etta Jones passed away in 2001 from complications of cancer.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Rock 'n' roll | 6 Comments

Halloween radio special 9-11pm CST tonight

This evening on Lost Frequencies:

Two hours of lost ’50s and ’60s bop, mambo, R&B, exotica, soundtracks and oddball surf instrumentals and country. No silly monster novelties, just deep haunted house moods and b-movie atmospherics.

KRTS 93.5FM or stream at http://marfapublicradio.org/ 9-11pm CST.

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Posted in Miscellaneous Flotsam | 4 Comments

Black night

This is one of those weeks where three records get posted alongside each other not because they share some very specific theme or belong, musically- or culturally-speaking, in the same sub-sub-genre.  (Jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll, pop, R&B and country all get represented in one form or another here, and in different proportions.)

Rather, they’re grouped together because they fit that way in my mind.  There is some logic at work here, though, some shared sensibility that was in play in the post-War decades. Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” and Peggy Lee’s “Why Don’t You Do Right” belong somewhere along this axis of atmosphere.  So do Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love” and Etta James’s “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road).” So do countless female versions of “Summertime,” “Black Coffee” and “Fever.”

Nervous and bittersweet, too fast to be torch songs, too relaxed to be barnstormers, this week’s selections are, in the end, all nocturnal anthems of a sort, collectively oozing mood and sensuality.

Cheryl Thompson, Black Night (Deville MKT-1004)1. Cheryl Thompson, Black Night (Deville MKT-1004)
Born in 1944 in Florida, Cheryle Thompson made her way to Las Vegas in 1962 to pursue a singing career.  Initially landing work as a showgirl at the Sahara Hotel and Casino, Thompson soon met singer and bassist Norman Kaye, who, along with his sister, anchored the popular Mary Kaye Trio, one of the early lounge combos supplying the swinging, round-the-clock soundtrack for post-War Las Vegas.

Thompson’s first major exposure came in 1963 and 1964, when she was selected as Miss Las Vegas and Miss Nevada.  At a time in post-War popular culture when pageants represented a more viable launching pad for acting and music careers, Thompson was able to parlay her talents and new-found visibility, along with her connections through now-husband Kaye, into several recording deals.  Among them was the excellent “Don’t Walk Away” (b/w “It’s the End”), a Kaye composition that was released in 1965 on Chicago’s Vee Jay Records and that featured Thompson’s aching, Patsy-Cline-influenced vocals and an effective soul-pop arrangement.

Three more singles followed a year later on Decca Records (and its subsidiary Coral Records).  Cut very much in big-production Nashville countrypolitan mode, these included the modest 1966 hit “The Third Person,” which Thompson co-authored.

“Black Night” is the most obscure of Thompson’s sides.  It seems to have been Thompson’s very first recording, and while it’s tough to pinpoint its exact recording date, it did see release in 1964 (including a U.K. issue).   Most importantly, it’s a terrific record, a wicked intersection of rock ‘n’ roll, atmospheric pop and Nashville-style production values.

The 1960s passed and family life called, and Thompson effectively retired from the music business, joining Kaye in managing their expanding real estate business.  Cheryle Thompson passed away in 2003 in Las Vegas.

Sources: Las Vegas Sun

Honey Sanders, Some Like It Cool (Brighton 777-A)2. Honey Sanders, Some Like It Cool (Brighton 777-A)
Honey Sanders was a singer, actress and entertainer first and a recording artist second.

Born in 1927, Sanders evinced musical talent from an early age, and came up in New York City show business.  And Sanders – some time in the ‘50s for child-rearing notwithstanding – would remain in that world, returning to the stage in the late ‘50s, with various theatre and Broadway appearances over the next decade or two.  (If period accounts are to be trusted, she was sometimes finding roles as the “jolly fat type.”)

Released in 1963 on the obscure New York City-based Brighton Records label, the seldom-heard “Some Like It Cool” and its flipside “(Johnny Guitar) My Restless Lover” were both penned by songwriter, composer and conductor Pembroke Davenport, another Broadway veteran.   “Some Like It Cool,” featuring Sanders’s sultry, coolly understated vocal, is not only one of the more effective recorded turns by a theatre-based vocalist, but – with its jazzy sensibility, tight guitar interplay and some atmospheric bongos pattering through its three minute course – it’s one of the hippest, too.

Sanders would go on in the ’80s to open the Sanders Agency, a theatrical talent agency, in New York and Los Angeles.  She continued in the theatre world as a producer as well, remaining active from the ‘90s onwards before her death in 2003.

“Some Like It Cool” would be Honey Sanders’s only solo recording.

Sources: Variety

Barbara Pittman with Gene Lowery Singers, Handsome Man (Phillips International 3553)3. Barbara Pittman with Gene Lowery Singers, Handsome Man (Phillips International 3553)
Singer Barbara Pittman is best remembered for her handful of excellent 45s recorded for Sam Phillips’s legendary Sun and Phillips International labels between 1956 and 1960.

Pittman was born in 1938 and grew up musically inclined, one of twelve children in a large, poor family from North Memphis.  Unlike many of the white kids who went on to record for the Memphis-based Sun Records, Pittman wasn’t necessarily a country- or gospel-raised singer first – she was drawn early on to big band sounds and blues.

Which isn’t to suggest Pittman couldn’t sing country.  After initially being rebuffed by Sun, Pittman dug in, building her chops with two different Western groups, Clyde Leoppard’s Snearly Ranch Boys and Lash Larue.   With the former group Pittman recorded her first record in 1956, after finally convincing Sam Phillips.  “I Need a Man,” a rare female rock ‘n’ roll release for Sun Records, epitomized the label’s classic aesthetic – all lusty vocals, slapback bass and wild guitar and piano.

Over the next few years a small schedule of Sun 45s ensued, none of them particularly commercially successful.  There would be some missteps (the overwrought “The Eleventh Commandment”), along with some more great rock ‘n’ roll (the Jerry-Lee-Lewis-inspired “I’m Getting Better All the Time”) and several excellent ballads (“No Matter Who’s to Blame,” “Two Young Fools in Love,” “Cold Cold Heart.”)

“Handsome Man,” released in 1960, was Pittman’s fourth and final record for Sam Phillips.  I’m in the minority here but for me it ranks as the most attractive side in Pittman’s discography.  Penned and arranged by the Charlie Rich, still a young Memphis session whiz at this point, “Handsome Man” didn’t draw directly from Sun’s chart-proven country or rock ‘n’ roll style.  It rocked in its own way, but Pittman’s sultry, assertive lead vocal and Rich’s complementary support put its sensibilities somewhere closer to torch-lit clubland.

Pittman moved to California in 1962 and found work there as a session musician and club singer.  While she never enjoyed breakthrough success, she remained committed to a singing career, and, after marrying and moving to Houston, would reestablish herself in the early ‘80s with a set of younger fans of early rock ‘n’ roll.

Barbara Pittman passed away in 2005 at the age of 67.

Sources: Elvis Australia, Rockabilly Hall of Fame

Posted in Country, Jazz Obscura, Latin, R&B/Vocal Groups | 8 Comments

Feel a whole lot better

The Byrds’ “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” first released as a B-side in 1965, was several things.  It was, along with its A-side (“All I Really Want to Do”) the much-anticipated follow-up to the group’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Columbia Records debut 45 that enjoyed massive commercial response a few months earlier.   Penned by the group’s lead singer, Gene Clark, it was also a relatively rare – at least amongst the Byrds’ early chart-topping hits – original group composition to be promoted as a single.

“All I Really Want to Do,” however, was not a huge hit.  And, despite a label push, neither was “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”  But through some peculiarity in its composition – its robust, propulsive melody, its straightforward emotion and “put down” message, its energy, its relative technical simplicity – “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” tended, of all the Byrds’ songs, to get adapted by dozens of period garage bands.   It didn’t hurt that it also rocked like little else in the Byrds’ oeuvre.

I have yet to hear a bad ’60s version of “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”  This week we take a look at three of the best.

The Unknowns, I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better (Marlo 1550)1.  The Unknowns, I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better (Marlo 1550)
The Unknowns were an accomplished rock ‘n’ roll band from Belleville, Illinois (across the river from St. Louis).  The group made some excellent folk-rock 45s in the mid-‘60s, later, having renamed themselves Spur, releasing the album that remains their best-known recording amongst collectors, 1968’s Spur of the Moment.

The Unknowns first came together in 1964, with Jimmy Fey (guitar) Larry Wilson (drums) and Rick Willard (vocals and bass).  Their debut 45, which appeared on the St. Louis-based Marlo Records in 1965, was “You Want Me Too,” backed with a cover of the Beatles’ “Baby’s in Black.”

With the addition of Ed Kalotek on guitars and keyboard, and Jimmy Fey’s replacement by guitarist Stan Bratzke, the Unknowns would record their second 45 – this selection.  (Incidentally, Fey would return to the group in 1967 and this line-up, a sequence of drummers notwithstanding, would remain largely consistent throughout the rest of the band’s career.)

Released in 1966, their “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” bursts with the ringing guitar lines and raw exuberance that was so characteristic of period versions of the song.   (Flipside “The Modern Era,” though sombre, was also good.)

A year later the Unknowns released their third 45 (“All Over the World” b/w “You Could Help Me Ease the Pain”) on the local Cinema label.   Its folk-rock sound restated the group’s folk-rock leanings, its world-weariness presaging an aesthetic that eventually culminated in Spur of the Moment, their album of fully-realized “mature” folk-rock, country-rock and psychedelia.

The band’s story is better documented elsewhere (see excellent commentary at Record Fiend).   The Unknowns’ trajectory is, in retrospect, similar to other ambitious regional rock ‘n’ roll acts in the ‘60s.  They began during the British Invasion with several youthful, of-their-time 45s.  And they would arc out of the ‘60s (and into the early ‘70s) with a full-length album and turned-on sound.

But, aside from their obvious musical talent, what interests me about the Unknowns, this selection included, was their attraction, from the outset, to the minor-key sound of many of the early wave of folk-rock bands (the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead and the Youngbloods come to mind).  This proclivity is heard persisting in their handiwork as Spur, with all of their recordings mirroring these better-known groups’ development from folk-rock into psychedelia and country-rock.

The cream of recordings – studio, live and unreleased-in-their-time – by Spur (as well as the Unknowns) has been recently compiled and released by Drag City.  Well worth seeking out.

Sources: Record Fiend, Rick Willard

The 4 of Us, I Feel a Whole Lot Better (Hideout H-1012)2.  The 4 of Us, I Feel a Whole Lot Better (Hideout H-1012)
The Four of Us, from Detroit suburb Birmingham, began playing together in 1965.  Their core included Jeff Alborell and Gary Burrows on guitars and vocals, though accounts conflict on the rest of the group’s personnel, which seems to have been fairly flexible either way.  (I am obliged to note that future Eagle Glenn Frey briefly sang with the band, though he’s not heard on this selection.)

A popular draw locally, the Four of Us, despite lineup changes, managed to make the most of their brief existence.  First and foremost, the band were regulars at the Hideout Club, an all-ages spot that played an important part in the very active teen rock ‘n’ roll scene outside of inner city Detroit.  Operated by local entrepreneurs Dave Leone and Ed “Punch” Andres, the Hideout would flourish for a few years in the mid-‘60s, and featured many of the hipper area teen rock ‘n’ roll bands from suburban Detroit in its time; Bob Seger and Suzi Quatro, among many others, would play the Hideout early on.

The Four of Us released two 45s, both on Hideout Records, the label that served as a direct outlet for many of the club’s resident bands.   Three Four of Us songs – “I Can’t Live Without Your Love,” “Feel a Whole Lot Better” and an unreleased-on-45 version of “Baby Blue” – also appeared on the rare Best of the Hideouts album, a full-length compilation released by Hideout Records in 1966.

This side, released in 1966, would be the second of their two mid-‘60s 45s.  Their first, “You’re Gonna Be Mine” is perhaps better known to garage band collectors, but the band’s reading of “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” with its harmonies, jangling guitars and surging energy, stands out as the group’s finest moment.

The Four of Us dissolved by late 1966.

The Hitch Hikers, Feel a Whole Lot Better (Cuca J-6741)3.  The Hitch Hikers, Feel a Whole Lot Better (Cuca J-6741)
This version of “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” was released in a comparatively late 1967.

This is perhaps the least known of this week’s selections.   The most immediately recognizable aspect of this 45, in fact, is that it’s on Cuca Records.  Democratic if nothing else, Cuca Records was a crazily prolific label and recording studio founded by James Kirchstein, who ran his operations between the late ‘50s and early ‘70s out of Sauk City, Wisconsin.  An exemplary post-War indie label, Cuca and its several subsidiaries would serve as a sort of clearinghouse for many area artists.  In addition to the garage band and R&B and soul releases for which it’s best remembered, stretches a catalog of hundreds of 45s, with polka, pre-British-Invastion rock ‘n’ roll and surf, country, gospel, teen pop, easy-listening and blues and jazz all amply represented.

The Hitch Hikers themselves hailed from the small Wisconsin town of Platteville, part of the University of Wisconsin system.   (Nearest city was Dubuque, Iowa – Sauk City was seventy miles away.)  The group included Jim Hake (lead guitar), Rick Tryne (rhythm guitar), Bart Bell (keyboards), Mike Hendrickson (bass) and Larry Popp (drums).  They played local college parties along with area shows in southern Wisconsin as well as eastern Iowa and northern Illinois.

This 45’s flipside is a solid, uptempo treatment of the rarely-covered Bob Dylan song “One Too Many Mornings.”  This 45, released in April of 1967, would be the band’s only recorded output.

Sources: Gary Myers’s On That Wisconsin Beat, Dominic Welhouse

Posted in Garage Bands | 4 Comments

A slightly new look

It’s needed to happen for forever but I just got around to changing Office Naps’ look; i.e., getting away from some of the more obvious WordPress formatting.

Lots of obvious tweaks in form/function still need to be made over the weekend.  All and any feedback is appreciated, but if anyone (especially any web programmers/designers) notices any esoteric issues then please let me know in the comments or via email.    Thanks.

Posted in Updates | 2 Comments

Radio show news

Attention Lost Frequencies friends and listeners.

Starting tonight my radio show will be heard every Wednesday night, 9-11pm (CST) and, in addition to its normal broadcast on Marfa Public Radio (KRTS 93.5fm), it will now be carried in the Midland/Odessa area on West Texas Public Radio, in the Permian Basin (KXWT 91.3FM).

Very exciting news for Marfa Public Radio, and a thrill now to be FM broadcasting in the Midland/Odessa area.   Please tune in!   (As ever, you can also continue to pick up a live stream of the show at Marfa Public Radio’s website.)

Posted in Updates | 4 Comments

No post today

Traveling.  Office Naps returns in two weeks.

Traveling

Posted in Miscellaneous Flotsam | Leave a comment

Jazz Exotique

A broader, more inclusive idea of exotica – exotica less as genre and more as creative style – is basically the central motive behind the Exotica Project, and a case I’m constantly building around here as well.

What has in last decade or two coalesced as exotica refers to a too-limited cluster of albums released by major labels (and nationally distributed independent labels) in the ’50s and ’60s.  These are the Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Yma Sumac LPs that Middle American audiences bought by the millions in the ’50s and ’60s, along with a set of a few dozen albums by similar artists that catered to the same audiences and that followed, with a few exceptions, the same formula – beautiful, colorful album jackets, faux-Polynesian, -African, -Eastern cocktail jazz and easy-orchestral settings.

In reality, though, exotica drew from a larger pool.  A world of forgotten singers, soloists, bands and orchestras used the basics of exotica – reverberant instrumentation, certain sets of musical motifs, some fanciful idea of other cultures and places – as an imaginative exercise, a platform for expending wild, colorful musical energies.  A wide variety of musical backgrounds, pedigrees and technical ability is represented accordingly, the records themselves reflecting an array of motives and approaches to music.   A lot of this music is very obscure, and only appears on 45.

Much of the most fascinating exotica was made by jazz musicians.  There were many – Herbie Mann, Ahmed Abdul Malik, Art Blakey, Lloyd Miller, to name a few – that made a concerted effort to incorporate indigenous rhythms, instrumentation and modes into their music with some degree of authenticity.  But there were just as many jazz musicians – especially some of the obscure examples charted at the Exotica Project – for whom the Exotic Other was complete fantasy, the relationship to the cultural forms being evoked indirect at best (and disrespectful at worst – a charge generally applicable to much of America’s pop culture).

Exotica as creative force afforded great latitude for taking chances with the music without having to justify it as an experimental and, either way, some of these obscure exotica records can and should be enjoyed as sonorous tone poems, pure, stand-alone reveries and atmospheric, crazy, intensely creative examples of the ways that post-War musicians explored moods, sounds and modes.

This week we look at three jazz exotica favorites.

Mike Baltch Quartet: "Delilah" [Green Dent 1008]1.  Mike Baltch Quartet, Delilah (Green Dent 1008)
From the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area of upstate New York, the Mike Baltch Quartet were a working group, though there’s little evidence of the group in terms of live appearances, or whether any additional recordings were made.

This selection was released in 1961 or ’62, I’d guess.  Of the four musicians noted on the 45’s back sleeve, drummer Mike Baltch, as bandleader, is actually the most obscure of the bunch, with little to be found aside from his listed freelance support work.  Based on his picture at the drums on the sleeve, he appears to be in his late teens or early twenties at the time.

Mike Baltch Quartet: "Delilah" [Green Dent 1008]Better known are the quartet’s pianist John McLean and bassist Mike Flanagan.

McLean, a mainstay in upstate jazz circles, was long associated with saxophone legends J.R. Montrose and Nick Brignola, and, in addition to supporting touring jazz musicians for many years, he led his own groups for many years.  (McLean passed away in 2011.)

Flanagan led his own group as well – Mike Flanagan’s Hot Six – and played bass in the area into the ‘90s with other local jazz combos.  He later operated the Petit Paris restaurant in Albany.

Mike Baltch Quartet: "Delilah" [Green Dent 1008]Saxophonist Bob Cedar was early on fully immersed in the New York City bebop life but had established himself more or less for good in San Francisco by the mid-‘50s, where he continued to play informally, and where he emerged as something of a North Beach character with, alas, bouts of alcoholism and homelessness.  Cedar’s handiwork on “Delilah” likely took place between long-term residencies in San Francisco.  He is clearly heard in full command of his powers.

This record gathered together different types of musicians and personalities, but, of the many ’50s and ’60s jazz treatments of Victor Young’s “Delilah,” it is to my ears not only one of the deepest versions, but also a definitive version.   Released on R&B singer Joe Boatner’s tiny Green Dent label, Baltch and co. conjure, through stark arrangement and ample echo, dim-lit clubland interiors and ancient temptresses to mesmerizing effect.

Orpheus Four: "Caverns" [Orpheus OR-101-B]2.  Orpheus Four, Caverns (Orpheus OR-101-B)
How to describe this gem succinctly?

The Orpheus Four’s story plays out along the arcs of two intertwined Los Angeles-based ’60s Latin jazz groups: the Afro-Latin Soultet and the Afro Blues Quintet.

In addition to sharing a few members, these groups – along with fellow travelers like the Harold Johnson Sextet – shared a sensibility, taking the cool, exotic Latin jazz sound of earlier West Coast maestros like Cal Tjader, Tony Martinez and Bobby Montez and adapting it to slightly hipper soul jazz, Bossa Nova and pop sensibilities.

Another crucial player in the Orpheus Four story is Jack Millman, also known as Johnny Kitchen.  Originally a West Coast-based jazz trumpeter (there were a few bop-oriented albums to his name in the ‘50s), Millman returned, after a brief retirement in the early ’60s, to the business side of the West Coast music industry, pursuing work as a manager and publisher.  Among his charges would be both the Afro Blues Quintet and the Afro-Latin Soultet.

Millman not only helped manage and promote these groups, but he saw to the release of their recordings.  Some of this material found relatively legitimate outlet in its time.¹  And some of this material saw later, questionable budget label reuse, like the Afro Blues Quintet’s Guantanamera (Surrey) and Afro-Blues Today (Crestview) albums.

The most obscure of this latter bunch is the Afro-Soultet’s Afrodesia LP, privately pressed on Banyon Records at some point in the late ’60s or early ’70s.  In true budget label fashion, Afrodesia comes together as an album from a melange of musicians and sessions, and suffers a bit from some obviously overdubbed strings in parts.  Furthermore, one track, “Soul Rockin’,” was simply a retitled Afro-Latin Soultet track, and another, “Afro Revolt,” was lifted from an unrelated jazz group’s session tapes.²

Afrodesia is, not surprisingly, a varied stylistic exercise.  Modish Latin jazz and instrumental boogaloo, breezy ’60s easy-listening, straight ahead bop, Afro-percussion interludes and various “ethnic” accountrements all get space.  There is a mad vibe to it, but, because the styles represented are so much of their time and, on top of that, they just sounded so groovy together, it works.

Which finally brings us to the Orpheus Four.  Both this track and its flipside (“The Shepherd”) were released on the one-off Orpheus label circa 1968, and, significantly, these two sides too would later turn up on the Afrodesia album, retitled as “Le Berber” (in edited form) and “Mozamba,” respectively.

Whether or not the “Alex Garcia” listed on the label, or whether any of the (likely inaccurate and/or pseudonymous) personnel listed on Afrodesia’s back cover – Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero, (vibes, and formerly of the Afro Blues Quintet), Frank Morris (guitar), Eddie Paris (drums), Johnny Kitchen (AKA Jack Millman, drums), Dean Elliot  (percussion), William Quinn (flute and sax) and Bill Collins (piano) – can be positively stated to have played on “Caverns” is anyone’s guess.

My own suspicion is that “Caverns” was a DeAguero-helmed recording and that its flipside “The Shepherd” was taken from an unreleased-at-the-time Afro-Latin Soultet session.

Either way, “Caverns” is a terrific 45, an otherworldly, wholly unique tone poem, one of those records where, from the first shimmering vibraphone notes onwards, it’s instantly clear that something special is happening.  It’s also a fascinating glimpse into machinations of the city’s local record industry in that time.

To read a more about the Johnny Kitchen saga (which I have greatly reduced here), please check the Ubiquity Records blog, who interviewed Kitchen/Millman for the occasion of the recent Afrodesia reissue.   And pick up the reissue while you’re at it – it’s a highly-recommended artifact.

¹ The Afro Blues Quintet had four LPs on local indie Mira Records.  The Afro-Latin Soultet had two albums on Capitol subsidiary Tower in ’66 and ’67, though their personnel changed entirely between these two LPs.

² The Afro-Soultet’s “Soul Rockin’” had been released earlier as “Afro Breed” on the Afro-Latin Soultet’s Wild! Album from 1966.  Even more curiously, Afrodesia‘s “Afro Revolt” was taken from an earlier session by a similar but entirely unrelated West Coast group, the Jazz Corps.  The track appears as “Chalan Pogo” on the Jazz Corps’s fine album (The Jazz Corps under the direction of Tommy Peltier featuring Roland Kirk), originally released in 1966 on the Pacific Jazz label.

Ross Anderson Chorus and Orch.: "Tam-bu Theme" [Channel 45-7002]3.  Ross Anderson Chorus and Orch., Tam-bu Theme (Channel 45-7002)
Unrelated to jazz  saxophonist and fellow Chicagoan Ross Anderson, the Ross Anderson behind “Tam-bu Theme” was the leader of a working dance orchestra that played in the greater Chicago area during the 1960s.

Every large city had at least one of these groups in its post-War decades.  Though these vestiges of the big band era would never really achieve much in the way of mass currency again, they kept apace with the times with hipper contemporary arrangements and repertoire, even the occasional bop solo.

In Ross Anderson’s case, his several releases demonstrate a polished, competent orchestra that reflected some of the jazzier, Latin-tinged moments of easy maestros like Warren Barker and Les Baxter.  Even by these measures, “Tam-bu Theme” is extraordinary, a dramatic fantasia with deep, sultry atmosphere and great production values, and easily a highlight of Anderson’s discography.

Released in 1961, “Tam-bu Theme” followed Anderson’s debut 45 (“Topaz” b/w “Blues Train”) by several months.  Both were released on Channel Records in 1961.  All of Anderson’s releases – including a 1966 45 (“That Certain Feeling” b/w “Tuff Cat”) and a full-length album (Misty) the following year – seem to have come through his own Channel Records label.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Latin, The Exotica Project | 5 Comments