Updates! Michael Cuscuna liner notes and credits for Inner Voice compilation (1973) added; Harry M photos added (1968-9 vintage). A shoot-out with a difference: original vinyl US pressing, Japanese reissue; and throwing down the digital gauntlet, a German CD. Now it’s global format war. But more important, to celebrate Chick Corea’s debut as leader, 1966, in the company of a top team. Wot no fusion?
Piggy-back 1: Warner/Pioneer ( Japan, 1976) :Atlantic reissue series, Japan 1976. The US and Japanese jackets look almost identical, but the First Pressing Fundamentalists will tell you, 1st is 1st. A reissue will always be a copy, perhaps one of many, but the original (pressing) is…the original. It feels different, holding a piece of history in your hands, as though you had reached through time to pluck it out of the air of 1968.
Piggy-back 2: CD, it’s the pits.
Remixed and I guess remastered for CD by Bob Porter and released in 1988, the fateful year in which the sale of CDs overtook the sale of vinyl. Karma was inevitable. Karma is not a new Nissan hybrid, it’s payback time for The Evil Silver Disc. CD sales peaked in 2000, and thereafter sank as the internet favoured those who preferred their music free, the file-sharers.
For comparison purposes, hear how the early digital compact disc fares against original vinyl and reissue.
No idea how these three are going to compare within the limitations of internet streaming mp3 files at 320kbps – you decide. My judgement is based on full hifi. The original vinyl offers a benchmark against the sound quality of copies, for better or worse, you know what the original sounds like. You may be one of the few who do. It is remarkable how often records from the golden age ’50s-’60s sound brighter, more fresh, even if they have a few surface noises. Every now and then, you get a surprise.
- Litha (Vortex, 1968 original vinyl)
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2. Litha (Warner/Pioneer, Japan, vinyl reissue 1976)
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3. Litha – Chick Corea “Inner Space” CD, made in Germany, 1988, one year before the fall of The Wall.)
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Litha is apparently a Pagan term for Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which falls between June 20 -23. This coming weekend, the last Sunday in March, we put the clocks forward an hour. That makes the day one hour shorter. Pagans win again.
Woody Shaw Jr., trumpet; Joe Farrell, tenor sax, flute; Chick Corea, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; Joe Chambers, drums; recorded Atlantic Recording Studios, New York, N.Y. November 30 & December 1, 1966, recording engineer Phil Iehle (unpronouncable), released a year and a half later in April 1968, Billboard rating four stars.
No original Blue Note title of his own, but Chick was no stranger to Englewood Cliffs, serving as a sideman on three Blue Mitchell Blue Note albums (1964-66). But it was the Hubert Laws and Herbie Mann connection (1964-5 sessions) that gained him an opening to Atlantic, whose roster of jazz artists at the time featured Keith Jarrett, Dave Pike, Robin Kenyatta, and Sonny Sharrock. Corea picked up the post-bop baton with players rooted in the earlier ’60’s tradition – Woody Shaw, Joe Chambers, Steve Swallow and Joe Farrell, whose presence marks this title out as more than a just a “Chick Corea album”. Woody and Joe Farrell give particularly strong performances.
A jazz-fusion pioneer, always experimenting but always accessibile, Chick Corea’s long and varied career took him in and out of just about every style of music within the jazz oeuvre: electric and acoustic, solo and ensemble, latin-fusion, flamenco-fusion, blue-grass fusion, Scientology-fusion, nothing Chick couldn’t fuse with, until in February this year 2021, his final fusion, just short of his 80th birthday. His life’s guiding principle: “I have always just concentrated on having the most fun I can with the adventure of music“.
Tones For Joan’s Bones features four long tracks and showcases a relatively unknown 25 year old pianist Chick Corea in his debut as leader, several years before Return To Forever, before Electric Miles, before the synths and space-noodling.
Unlike the fusion years that followed, early Chick Corea has hardly dated. Boxes in my loft of Return To Forever and GRP titles are still waiting for a fusion revival, recordings which don’t check the audiophile box. He Sings, He Sobs (pass the hanky) was recorded the same year as Joan’s Bones, for the Liberty sub-label Solid State, a recording among the first chosen for the new Tone Poets (2019). Joan’s Bones however remains the hidden pearl in Corea’s discography.
All-Music on Joan’s Bones:
A blazing, advanced hard bop set from late 1966, with writing that reveals an affinity with McCoy Tyner’s seminal hard bop structures from this period. Joe Farrell and Woody Shaw deliver virtuoso performances that are both visceral and cerebral. Steve Swallow … is pure thunder here, Joe Chambers is relentless, propulsive energy, but subtle too. Corea is a torrent of harmonic and melodic imagination, couched in unerring rhythm. Anybody with an interest in this vital and exciting period will find this session indispensable.
John Fordham, the British jazz writer – much in demand nowadays for obituaries, as the number of remaining jazz greats dwindles – lists his ten greatest Chick Corea recordings, counting among them Tones For Joan’s Bones:
“On Corea’s debut album as a leader, recorded in late 1966… the 25-year-old reflected the soulfully punchy hard bop jazz style that the rock-dominated 60s were already displacing. Corea is unveiling his signature fusion of direct, songlike lyricism and driving swing with a side order of formal classical elegance, a memorable entrance”
Fordham provides an insightful selection of Corea’s works, including several in my loft. Hymn To The Seventh Galaxy seemed all very other-wordly and exciting at the time, what was I thinking? I mean, how many galaxies do we actually need? We are not managing very well in just the one.
Chick showcases his mastery of chordal voicings and mercurial flow of ideas. Woody Shaw shines, tremulous vibrato, darting lines, beautiful; an acoustic Steve Swallow is a powerhouse, Chambers always adds interest, and Chick gives everyone lots of space, it is an ensemble work, and all the better for it.
Vinyl: Vortex SD 2004 (original issue 1968)
Atlantic/Vortex chose a catalogue number 2000 series, which now looks like a date, 2004, but isn’t, it is just a number.
That’s more like it, codes! Atlantic Matrix codes have been deconstructed by the rock collectorati on Hoffman (he has his uses),
ST= stereo, VX = Vortex (label), 67 = year of manufacture, 1163/ 1164 serial numbers of Side 1 and Side 2, A = Atlantic, PR suffix on the label = Presswell Records Manufacturing Company, Whitehorse Pike & Ehrke Rd., Ancora, NJ.
LW – Longwear Plating Company, maker of metal parts from lacquers, also found on Impulse 1960s titles.
Atlantic P-4558 (Japan).
Warner Pioneer Corporation, Japan, 1976 issue of Vortex SD 2004. “Jazz Forever 1500” Series, issued July 1976 (issues P-4549A To P-4558A)Unlike most later Japanese low-gain jazz reissues, this Warner/Pioneer edition is full bodied, good tonal and dynamic range, natural presentation and a seductive stereo sound stage. Sounds better on the turntable than as a rip.
Warner-Pioneer reissued about every jazz recording in the Atlantic catalogue in Japan in 1971, in its Jazz Age Series – Coltrane, Mingus, MJQ, Charles Lloyd, Art Farmer, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Mann – including P-6010A Joan’s Bones, and again between 1975 and 1977.
This may be the explanation for the very high quality of the transfer compared to Japanese issues of the later 70s and 80s. The Warner/Pioneer 1976 Series was likely pressed from the masters created for the 1971 first reissue series. That would make them almost Liberty era quality, early vintage Japanese, earlier than Toshiba’s LNJ series, possibly, before the replacement of tubes by the transistor? Just speculation, the reason doesn’t matter, the sound does.
US original Atlantic has never impressed me on the audiophile front, and the red and green label is mostly part of the long decline of audio quality over the decades, but this is one that breaks all the rules. Perhaps Warner-Pioneer Japan was a different animal to the usual suspects.
Tone Poet chose to release Chick’s 2nd album He Sings He Sobs, possibly because to original issue label, Solid State, was owned by Liberty and travelled with the aquisition hoard to United Artists and EMI, and ultimately Universal (TP connection). Personally, I would have gone for Joan’s Bones, but Atlantic catalogue is owned by rival Warner Music Group.
Joan’s Bones doesn’t seem to have any significant vinyl reissue history beyond 1976, just the original Vortex and two 70’s Warner-Pioneer reissues, and the reissue on the Inner Space compilation double LP – my UK Atlantic copy was issued 1974, allegedly a remixed in New Yok by Lew Hahn in 1972. There the train goes cold.
Atlantic has/had a treasure chest of jazz, but seem painfully absent from the current audiophile jazz revival. They suffered a catastrophic loss in 1978 when a fire in Long Branch, New Jersey destroyed most of its tape archive. Had these companies never heard of sprinklers? Do the original tapes still exist? My Inner Space CD compilation of these songs is dated 1988, so I guess these must do.
Art Director on duty. Vortex lightly laminated cover:
Cover illustration by Dick Luppi, a distinctive “flower-power” graphic artist briefly in favour at Atlantic, and a cut above the general mediocrity of most Atlantic cover art in the 70s (think Herbie Mann)
Reprise from LJC Worst Jazz Covers Ever post from back in 2015, gosh that was fun, wasn’t it?
Japan Insert 1976 Jazz Forever Series
Chick was one of the few greats LJC saw live, ten years ago, Chick Corea with the Freedom Band – Roy Haynes, drums, Christian McBride, bass, Kenny Garrett, saxophone, Nice Jazz Festival, France, July 22, 2010, bummer, photography permitted only with a press pass. Perhaps Harry M has photos.
Original US Vortex Tones for Joan’s Bones is pretty scarce, likely it didn’t sell many at the time, copies on offer today often graded Good-minus to Fair. My original is a little crackly, but sounds great, if you ingnore the crackles.
I imagined the Vortex original would be expensive but no, the top copy fetched only a little over £100 GBP, only sixty or so copies had come to auction in the last ten years, a conundrum, both rare and inexpensive. “Now He Sings Now He Sobs” original on Solid State Records likewise has little traction.
Other Chick Corea work with others from this early period of time includes Pete La Roca’s Turkish Women at the Bath (Douglas, 1967- reissued as Bliss by Muse 1973), Miles Davis Water Babies (Columbia, rec. 1967–68) and Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia, 1968), and Sweet Rain with Stan Getz (Verve, 1967 – includes a rendition of Litha)
Chick offers a small window of great music 1966-69, seemingly with little appeal to the vinyl collector, perhaps early Chick is over-shadowed by his giant fusion legacy.
When Chick passed away in February, I held back from joining the Obituary Industry. In all honesty, I can’t listen to his fusion output, at least not today, let alone write about it. But I can speak up for the fledgling Chick. Let this title be a belated obituary, RIP Chick, as he started out, a little bird in the jazz world.
Harry M has the photos –
Chick and Joe Chambers at Antibes, 1969, Steve Swallow Jazz Expo October 1968. Thing I love about Harry’s photos is that, just like Francis Wolff’s studio portraits, they provide a direct connection to the artists whose music I am listening to, taken in the time it was recorded. Who needs The Present, waiting for your second jab, let’s do The Time Warp, you will feel better for it. The Present is over-rated.
Photo Credits: Harry M