Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hammer - 1978 - Black Sheep

Black Sheep

01. Jetstream (4:09)
02. Heavy Love (6:05)
03. Black Sheep (5:14)
04. Light Of Dawn (3:24)
05. Hey Girl (3:15)
06. Waiting No More (4:56)
07. Between The Sheets Of Music (3:17)
08. Manic Depression (4:29)
09. Silent One (7:14)

Jan Hammer / synths, electric piano, drums, congas, lead (1,3) & backing vocals, producer
Bob Christianson / lead (1,3,4,7,9) & backing vocals
Colin Hodgkinson / lead (2,6,8) & backing vocals
Gregg Geya Carter / harmony vocals (1,7)
Fernando Saunders / bass (8)
Tony Smith / drums (8)

Just like a good wine, Jan Hammer seems to be getting better with age. Hammer’s collaborations with Jeff Beck brought several vintage albums several years back, and a recent work with Tony Williams gave us another gem in "The Joy of Flying" (reviewed last week).

Now Jan Hammer's new band has released "Black Sheep" (Asylum 6E-173), and it stands out for its raw simplicity and rocking urgency; .

The album credits insist (in bold black type) that ''there is no guitar on this album," but Hammer jams so fast and furiously with his synthesizer that it really sounds like there must be at least one. "Jet Stream" will rock you back to your roots. As a drummer, Hammer commands attention. He doubles here with Tony Smith, dividing percussion duties. He also sings backup and lead, and composes all of the album's music. Vocals are fittingly ominous and well arranged to complement musicianship and the overall Hammer feel. Bob Christianson and Colin Hodgkinson add their progressive touch even on the ballad "Light Of  Dawn" while maintaining a ferocious edge during an exceptional remake of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.” Fernando Saunders on bass keeps manic pace with the rest as Hodgkinson belts out the vocals. 

As usual, the album is produced with the cleanliness and strength of the seasoned veteran, Hammer, continues to be. He's been around a long time and with the creative energy displayed here, you can bet he'll be around for sometime to come. 
 San Francisco Examiner  April 13, 1979 

Wounded Bird reissued Jan Hammer's often beautiful Melodies, from 1977, during the tail-end of the '90s. Six years later, the label combined the two releases that followed it -- 1978's Black Sheep and 1979's Hammer -- into one double-disc package. These two albums belong together as much as any other pair, since they are the two credited to "Hammer" -- essentially a heavy jazz-rock group. On Black Sheep, keyboardist Hammer is assisted by Melodies holdovers Fernando Saunders (bass) and Tony Smith (drums), along with future Whitesnake associate Colin Hodgkinson (bass, vocals) and Bob Christianson (vocals). Here, there are traces of the soft rock and R&B of Melodies, offset with blitzing fusion and some scrunched-face blues moves better left to the Steve Miller Band. "Jet Stream" sets the tone, resembling a warp-speed version of Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" with a streak of fusion running through it. For Hammer, Saunders and Smith departed, while drummer Gregg Geya Carter and vocalist/guitarist Glen Burtnick moved in. It's more streamlined than Black Sheep, and less rooted in jazz, falling roughly near the Foreigner/Toto axis. The two albums, both of which are fair at best, indicate Hammer's continued embrace of rock and technology. He went on to collaborate with Neal Schon, and then to his work for Miami Vice.

Black Sheep is the first album released under the "Hammer" banner led by Jan Hammer, released in 1978. It was his first album since recording "Melodies" with the Jan Hammer Group in 1977. This album also features Hammer covering "Manic Depression" by Jimi Hendrix. Black Sheep remains one of the rare, sought after albums released by Hammer.

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