We have recently dug deep into the 10″” jazz of the middle ’50s. Now it is 1969, time for a gear shift up into the soul-jazz era of the late ’60s. Change you can hear.
Track Selection: Hot Dog (Donaldson)
Ed Williams (trumpet) Lou Donaldson (electric alto saxophone, vocals) Charles Earland (organ) Melvin Sparks (guitar) Leo Morris (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, April 25, 1969
Having convinced myself I’m not big on organ-based soul-jazz, I have to eat my words again. Donaldson’s Hot Dog is a rollicking soul-jazz romp that gives me an urge to don the DJ baseball cap, and turn it sideways. Charles Earland gets equal billing here as my favourite soul-jazz organ player – it’s a very short list. However it’s Lou Donaldson who makes the jazz – rhythm and blues bridge.
I’ll try my hand at music-speak.The musical hook on the title track is a great two-chord trick. The groove is established in the major chord, and stays in the same for many measures, no changes. The tension mounts, and just when you can’t take any more, the gear shifts up to some kind of diminished or augmented fifth key change (I made that up, someone with musical education can correct me!). It holds in there, descending notes repeated, more tension building, which is in turn finally resolved by a return to the original major chord. Then it kicks off again. Meanwhile, girls in shift-dresses, back-combed hair and kinky boots command the dance floor. Sidewinder is off the menu, it’s Hot Dog from now on. What a groove.
The soul-jazz format provides a most satisfying canvas for Donaldson’s distinctive soaring, blues-inflected runs. Eagle-eyed readers will note in the pictures Lou has an effects box strapped to his chest – so he can add reverb or whatever on the fly to his electronic alto. 1969. Electronic instruments were beginning to take hold.
Earland eschews JS fireworks for rhythmic propulsion, with only occasional assaults on the upper register. When he stretches out, long ascending and descending arpeggios which wouldn’t be out of place in any late ’60s prog-rock band, Jon Lord, Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman, music of its time. Melvyn Sparks neat linear guitar runs serve up a Grant Green tribute act, perfect in context. Together, the ensemble delivers a cracking ten minute floor filler, or, on specialist orthopaedic advice, sit out for a finger-poppin’ session on the sofa.
This was one album I was delighted to add to the shelf: it re-opened old doors. I recall owning Charles Earland’s album Perception on its original release in the ’70s. Let the music play…Seems a long time ago.
Vinyl: BST 84138 Division of Liberty (Transamerica years)
The bachelor apartment girly-covers of the ’50s take a more street-wise direction. However let me make clear, there is nothing at all suggestive in this cover.The young lady is merely about to enjoy eating a hot dog, a fast food popular with the folks. That’s my interpretation, I’m sticking with it. This blog is suitable for all ages.
The Hot Dog cover design is attributed to one Frank Gauna. By now Liberty /UA had drifted away from Reid Miles, to other (L.A. based?) graphic designers including Gauna, and one Ann Meisel (responsible for the oddly-psychedelic Lee Morgan Charisma cover). Gauna’s credits include a number of covers for the short-lived Candid label (including the enigmatic World of Cecil Taylor) and Alan Douglas’s unique artist combinations for his United Artists Jazz series. However Blue Note’s iconic typographic and artist-image house style of Reid Miles and Francis Wolff makes way for more explicitly commercial covers. Here’s Lou getting some fast food as seen by Miles Reid ten years previously:
You get the difference.
The record labels also tell their own story. The words say “Blue Note” but gone is the original Blue Note/early Liberty crisp blue and white house-style of Keystone Printed Specialties. Printing is now farmed out – the Blue is any old blue, dark navy in this case, the white is jersey-cow cream, no corporate standards with Transamerica. The mastering is VAN GELDER, count your blessings but in 1969, the classic Blue Note heritage is beginning to disintegrate before your eyes.
Van Gelder had some engineering issues with this one, both matrices indicate a second attempt, which is good, it’s called standards, if it’s not right , do it over. Fortunately it sounds great, but there are other titles in this livery that are lesser productions, not all Van Gelder. Watch for those unfaithful label colours of late Liberty.
Gatefold: Transamerica corporate logo at the left foot of the liner notes, L.A. address, Liberty/UA attribution, which pitches it towards the end of the ’60s.
Back cover: lovely photo of Lou, halo courtesy of ringwear. Spot the effects box strapped t his chest.
Standing in the record store holding Hot Dog, I got mixed “buy” messages: love Lou Donaldson, avoid tail-end Blue Note Transamerica years, query mark on organ-based soul-jazz, but VAN GELDER stamp in the vinyl run out. What’s a collector to do?
Learning point: all these cues may be misplaced,lead you to overlook a great find. Many of life’s discoveries and pleasures risk being missed in order to avoid “mistakes”. Mistakes can turn out to be rewarding, open otherwise closed doors. However they incur a “failure-rate”, which is the price of expanding your horizons.
Though it seems counter-intuitive, you can find out exactly what you think after the experience, after rather than out-guessing it before hand. However if it doesn’t work out for you, don’t imagine you will be spared recriminations from that irritating voice in your head, you should have known better!
This time, it worked out well. Next time, who knows?
I allocate a bottom shelf to the music choice errors, for periodic re-examination. Often they stay there. Occasionally, one is redeemed.