An outing to a place not often on the LJC jazz itinerary,” free jazz/ high energy genre”, and nominations for The Ten Best Covers of a Jazz Record. (UPDATE: see reader nominations at end of post)
Selection: Sorry ’bout that (Shepp)
The title track, occupying as it does 18 minutes – one side, I selected instead a half length track, which basically covers the same musical terrain: catharsis.
Martin Banks (trumpet, flugelhorn) Mike Zwerin (bass trombone, trombone) Archie Shepp (tenor saxophone) Reggie Workman (bass) Norman Connors, Beaver Harris (drums) Frank Charles (talking drum) Dennis Charles (percussion) Ed Blackwell (rhythm logs) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, April 26, 1967
Synchronise watches, it is 1967 precisely. Freejazz, the mutant child of Post-bop, has abandoned the cool aesthetic of angular melodies and shimmering space, and replaced it with chaos and anger, in a raging fiery act of spiritual exorcism.
An emerging tune of a funky ambience is ambushed almost immediately by a howling banshee that plunges deep into the bell of Shepp’s tenor and won’t come out, growling shrieking, spewing out notes with seemingly endless energy and fury, a horn possessed. The structure, a hypnotic afro- rhythmic canvas over which the outpouring is sustained, grinding chainsaw distortion, as Shepp’s demons dance to their own maniacal tune, without resolution until after eighteen minutes of non-stop tireless screaming, they are finally spent, and creep away, allowing the tune to stagger, exhausted, to its close.
The selected title “Sorry ‘Bout That” borrows from ’60s GI slang in Vietnam, where it gained currency as a “faux-apology” to the casualties of lethal military force, innocent or guilty. What Shepp meant by it remains for speculation, but it is a phrase of its time.
The Magic of Ju-Ju is Shepp’s most uncompromising album, free jazz, love it or hate it. With one foot already in the avant-garde, from here on Shepp veered between black music back to Africa, the blues, and the contemporary R&B sounds, stopping off to the black heritage of gospel with Horace Parlan, mixing styles with gospel singers, big bands, quintets, sextets, and chamber orchestras, always provocative, original, compelling, from an uncompromising personal vision, one of the great men of jazz still standing.
Vinyl: Impulse AS-9154
1st black label/ red rim Impulse! label – Stereo – LW etching -( Longwear Plating Company) – but no RVG, despite being recorded at Englewood Cliffs .As best I recall there is no RVG on a number of Shepp records around this time. Rudy engineered but did not master – seems an odd decision, perhaps he didn’t want his mark on it for some reason.
Aside from the arresting flower-power skull image, the cover owes a lot of it’s power to the warped text in contrasting colours, and the laminated pure black thick card cover. It is a thing of physical beauty, 12×12″, no facsimile modern plastic cover or jewel case insert could ever match its tactile presence.
A while back, I picked up a semi-autobiographical book The Parisian Jazz Chronicles,written in Jack Kerouac beat mode, by Paris-resident expatriate American Mike Zwerin. For over twenty years Zwerin wrote a regular jazz column for the International Herald Tribune.
The same Mike Zwerin who coincidentally played trombone on Archie Shepp’s Magic of Ju-Ju.
However this was but the first of a number of coincidences.
Sitting on my first Ryanair flight, bound for South East Poland, I pulled the Zwerin book from my hand-luggage and whiled away the flight, the book being more interesting than the view from the window of German windfarms below. I turned the pages, enjoying his encounters with jazz musicians, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, and their drugs, rock and roll lifestyle, including Mike’s drug-injesting roommate, Squirms:
“…Squirms finished throwing up in the toilet and emerged groaning, “I’m sick and tired of waking up tired and sick.” Now here was a hero, my roomie, Squirms. His definition of a square was someone who didn’t like throwing up. A funky road rat with bleary eyes and a green complexion testifying to a dedicated pursuit of happiness, Squirms was laying low from the day. Daytime was not his friend..”
I thought a line I must remember: a square was someone who didn’t like throwing up. Then turning a page on the ’80s music scene in France, I stumbled mid-paragraph, struck by a bolt of lightening.
…The premier French rock band of the day, Téléphone, had an English stage and tour crew . “English roadies work twice as hard as the French and cost half as much“, said tour manager David Wernham…”
The lightening bolt? David Wernham. My good friend Dave Wernham played bass and vocals to my lead guitar in a ropey R&B band, for seven years, the later half of the ’60s and early ’70s. We later went our separate ways, Dave on to a full-time career in music tour management, me in business management, and our paths never crossed again, in over four decades. Until a Ryanair flight and a book by a trombonist with Archie Shepp, whose LP I would buy some weeks later, unaware of the connection. Now, it all made a sort of sense, but for one small and potentially significant detail. Why Ryanair?
More from the excellent jazz writer Mike Zwerin (excerpt here) The Square on the Lawn, by Michael Zwerin. Recommended reading.
The Ten Best Jazz Record Covers. Your nominations, any number ten max, the floor is yours. We will see if there is any consensus. My 1st vote already in, The Magic of Ju Ju.
I’ll wait and see what else is nominated before casting my remaining nine. It’s called Leading From Behind. My American friends may recognise the management style.
TEN BEST JAZZ RECORD COVERS
Remember – whatever the arguments over bit-sampling rates and firing engineers, the guaranteed win is covers. Ask an I-tunes downloader for the cover, umm…there isn’t one. Vinyl wins every time. Art is on our side.
Here are some of the early nominations from readers (each tableaux can be viewed full screen at 1920 pixels wide)
- Here’s Dottorjazz selection (minus Billie – I can only get 9 in a tableaux). Interesting choices, eclectic taste, I didn’t know some of these. The Sonny Criss is great – so retro, as is the Teddy Charles. But McLean on Ad Lib , how beautiful.
2. DGmono‘s top picks (omitted 1 for symmetry) Also very interesting choices. The Wallington is another I have never seen, has a period charm, the Hancock is a strong contender, dark and brooding like the music. Reid Miles on points.
4. P.Cocke shows off his “top shelf” covers, some familiar favourites and a few surprises. Good choice, the Sun Ra.
5. Woody’s selection. Surgeon General’s warning, its enough to get you to take up smoking, superb choices (cough cough, will someone please open a window?) The Stitt is magnificent, I’ve never seen it in the flesh, would never forget it. The Dex too. That Jazz Eyes on Regent, another rare bird, great. Curved ball! – a 10″” Mobley… This is more fun than I at first thought…
6. Rudolph shows his hand, interesting choices, all moody musician portraits, the player is the thing, everyone looks so serious, and you have got to love that Miles.
7. Joel throws in his choices, very varied. Brilliant Brilliant Corners, iconic Money Jungle three and Cool being born .That Randy Weston is a wild card, but nice.Hopefully that’s the correct Stan Getz cover. Nice.
8.Blink and Bink Figgins is in with his chosen ones. The Basie in Paris is a real charmer. Mingus offers our first pipe-smoke cover and a double nomination for Fonkiest Hat on a Record Sleeve category, while Bitches Brew determinedly signaled the new decade of the ’70s. Great stuff.
9. Skunkride classic choices. I especially like the Sam Rivers fisheye, a gritty player in a gritty urban setting, no fuchsias in sight. The Hutcherson updates the fifties girlie cover, now swinging sixties, and that definitely looks fuschia.
10. Sweep up -assorted individual mentions – Attica Blues gets a noble mention, a great ripsnorting album from Shepp, and the second pipes-smoking entry, Four for Trane.
I’ll come out with my personal favourites – when I have figured out what they are. Clock ticking down to Christmas…
POLL NOW ADDED to next Post (23rd Dececember) , so you can vote for your favourites