Selection: Most Unsoulfull Woman (Wilson)
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Roy Ayers, vibes; Jack Wilson, piano; Ray Brown, cello; Charles Williams Jr., bass; Varney Barlow, drums; Jack Tracy, producer. Annex Studios, Los Angeles, CA, night, August 10, 1966
Annex Studios recording, Los Angeles, recording and mastering studio formerly known as the Radio Recorders Annex, founded in 1965 by Radio Recorders staff engineer Thorne Nogar.
Jack Tracy, producer. Tracy epitomises the strong role of “jazz producer” with Mercury and other labels, someone who could empathise with the artists, credibility with senior management, exercise artistic control, handle the technical selection of engineers and studios, and manage the numbers for the accountants.
Roy Ayers, dubbed the God-father of Neo-Soul and all-purpose living legend, will be 80 next year., and shows no sign of hanging up his mallets. He performed Glastonbury this year, to delight the latest generation of Festival-goers. Apparently Ayers recently recorded with “hip hop artist Talib Kweli (produced by Kanye West)”, whose names mean nothing to me. Both Bobby Hutcherson and Roy Ayers manage to turn the vibraphone into a fully-fledged expressive jazz instrument that partnered well with the piano, and broke free of the MJQ straight-jacket of “chamber jazz”.
Charles Williams Jr: of course, bassist better known as “Buster” Williams.
“Most Unsoulfull Woman”: a riff on a previous unissued Atlantic recording track titled “Soulful Man” – Roy Ayers, vibes; Jack Wilson, piano; Al McKibbon, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums “Lindy Opera House”, Los Angeles, CA, August 9, 1964. Steamy swamp sound, piano cabinet resonance, plucked cello, this is one mother of a track.
Wilson first appeared on the jazz scene in the early ’60s as a sidemen, including in his credits the phenomenal Curtis Amy Bolton Dupree title Katanga! for Pacific Jazz (1963), followed by a number of titles for Atlantic with Roy Ayers, which opened the door to Blue Note.
“Something Personal” was the first of three Wilson titles for Liberty on their newly acquired Blue Note label, and another collaboration with vibist Roy Ayers, recorded after Wilson’s album “Ramblin'” for Atlantic’s Vault label.
The pairing of Wilson’s piano with Ayers vibes is absolutely on point. The instrument timbres are complementary, the melodic lines are equally fluid, serpentine and percussive, but flowing in each artist’s chosen directions, each enhancing the other. The rhythm section is tight, the melodies are attractive, it is a very pleasing result, which is totally under-rated.
When I looked at the sales history I was dismayed at how little the market valued this album, often less than $10, criminal. Wilson’s confident, cheerful smile on the cover may not be the right message for some today.
Blue Note’s Spotlite says of Wilson’s recordings:
“What really stands is Wilson’s wonderful piano style. …. His approach sounds like a mix between Bud Powell and Horace Silver, with Gene Harris‘s blues virtuosity thrown in for good measure. Not that he was imitating them; there’s a bounce in his touch that sets him apart from those musicians. … Jack Wilson is perhaps the most under-appreciated pianist in Blue Note’s wide-ranging discography”
“Something Personal, with Ayers joining Wilson again, has a chamber-like quality; some tracks might lead you to recall the work of the Modern Jazz Quartet. On two tracks, Ray Brown plays cello and Charles Williams Jr. walks the bass. The cello is not an instrument you’ll see too often in a traditional jazz setting. But here, played pizzicato on the Wilson composition “Most Unsoulful Woman” and “The Sphinx,”, it’s lovely and weird and altogether refreshing.”
Most important, I like Wilson’s choice of notes, voicings, and melodic flow. His timing swings confidently, effortlessly, sparkling and fresh.
Wilson’s third and final album for Blue Note, Song for My Daughter, has Wilson drowning in a cloying 12-piece string section, entirely unsuitable for my ears. A string section doesn’t improvise, it must be scored and arranged, and the result is predictable and overly sentimental. Just my opinion, feel free to disagree. Charlie Parker With Strings, works for some.
If Song For My Daughter proved a wrong turn for Wilson, the following year, 1970, proved worse. Six sets of Jack Wilson Trio recorded at “Memory Lane”, Los Angeles, CA, July 8-9, saw every track “rejected” by Liberty (according to Jazzdisco). Wilson had fallen from favour, and went instead to work as accompanist to Soul/R&B singer Esther Phillips, returning to the studios in the late 70s for the Discovery label, a brief late flowering before disappearing from the recording scene altogether, taking low key New York bar, club and restaurant engagements.
Little is known of Wilson’s final years, passing away in 2007.
Vinyl: BST 84251 Liberty UA Inc.
Liberty UA Inc black/turquoise labels, Van Gelder Stamp, Stereo. (more on the black/turquoise label under Collector’s Corner)
With the catalogue number assigned 84251, presumably one of the first new titles released by Liberty (Blue Note ownership changed at 84250)
Recorded in Los Angeles in August 1966, but still mastered by Van Gelder, indicated by his customary stamp and credits on the liner notes. Presumably the engineer/s from Annex Studios sent the tapes, or copy of the tapes, to Rudy at Englewood Cliffs, for Van Gelder mastering. Rudy is named as the mastering engineer, silent on the recording engineer. Rudy didn’t travel. So, if not Rudy, who?
Collector’s Corner: always read the label
Spotify/Deezer-people/disciples of the Evil Silver Disk might want to catch up on their housework, we are going on a short vinyl minutiae deep-dive.
After enjoying Wilson’s excellent Blue Note Easterly Winds, I was on the lookout for a copy of this particular Jack Wilson title, Something Personal. One turned up in a shop in front of me, but a few things didn’t add up. I knew from the catalogue number this recording was a first Liberty release, but it was not on Division of Liberty label as it should be. I wasn’t entirely clear where the black/turquoise label fitted in to the Blue Note history, so a word with the vinyl detective was required. But as it was Van Gelder, I bought it anyway.
This is a worked example which could apply to many Liberty titles around this time, not only this particular title. There are lessons to learn.
Following the acquisition of Blue Note Records Inc. in 1966, the company identity became “Blue Note Records, a Division of Liberty Records Inc”, retaining the classic white and blue label. It’s all about which name the word Inc. attaches to. Manufacturing started up on the West Coast at the Research Craft plant in addition to East Coast All-Disc plant. (This would later spread to more plants)
As a 1966 new release, you would expect to find mono and stereo issues with classic “Blue Note Records, a Division of Liberty Records Inc.” east coast labels (“Side” in upper and lower case). And indeed you do. The best historical evidence is a promo, though not necessarily easy to find. Pay attention to the capitalisation or otherwise of the text Side 1 or SIDE 1, which easily distinguishes east and west coast pressings.
Mono: Division of Liberty label, Van Gelder, East Coast labels (Keystone printed)
Stereo: Division of Liberty label, Van Gelder, East Coast labels (Keystone printed) – promo
As regards west coast manufacture, you would expect to find Division of Liberty copies with tell-tale Bert-Co labels (“SIDE” typeset in all capitals) And indeed you do. In this case to search for promo yielded only a stereo copy. This too is Van Gelder, as are (almost) all new titles pressed for Liberty on the west coast. (The west coast back catalogue reissues are often without Van Gelder, being re-mastered locally from copy tapes)
Stereo, Division of Liberty labels, Van Gelder, West Coast labels (Bert-Co printed) promo
Perhaps by this time promos were no longer provided only in mono. Changing times.
The Blue Note black/turquoise labels belongs to the later Liberty period, after the financial conglomerate Transamerica (also owners of United Artists Records) took on financially troubled Liberty Records around 1968. The Blue Note identity morphed into “Liberty UA Inc.”. From here United Artists became increasingly in control, and finally Blue Note Records Division was swallowed whole, somewhere around 1972-3, under United Artists Records Inc.
It looks like the black/turquoise label was a fledgling United Artists product, from the very late 60’s possibly even very early ’70s – a west coast issue (Liberty UA Inc. Los Angeles, California) but not produced by the former west coast Liberty/Research Craft/ Bert-Co “team”. The label print typesetting must have moved elsewhere, to the United Artists network, and also possibly the pressing, with legacy Van Gelder metal – a stealth UA reissue under Liberty name, using original legacy metal, a smart move.
Stereo, Liberty UA Los Angeles black/ turquoise label, Van Gelder.
It is starting to make a little more sense… which is always a dangerous moment. None of this is documented officially, just collector shoe-leather. Have you got all the jigsaw pieces? Are they all from the same puzzle? I think so, but if you know better, chip in. Blue Note reissues and new issues from around these years are still good value and offer mighty good listening. And Jack Wilson and Roy Ayers are a good find.