Friday, December 18, 2015

The Descendants Of Mike And Phoebe - 1974 - A Spirit Speaks

The Descendants Of Mike And Phoebe
A Spirit Speaks


01.Two Songs For A Boy Named Mark
   a) Little Bitty Baby
   b) Soliloquy To A Man-Child
02. Coltrane
03. Chick Chick
04. Well Done, Weldon
05. A Spirit Speaks
06. Attica
07. Take My Hand, Precious Lord
08. Boll Weevil
09. Don't Be A Stranger
10. Too Little, Too Late

Bill Lee (bass)
Clif Lee (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Billy Higgins (percussion)
Consuela Lee Moorehead (piano)
A. Grace Lee Mims (vocals)
Sonny Brown (percussion)

One of the most unique albums on the Strata East label – and that's saying a heck of a lot, given the creative energies flowing through that legendary jazz outlet! Descendents Of Mike & Phoebe is a righteous little project put together by Spike Lee's father, Bill Lee, and his brothers and sisters (Cliff Lee, Grace Lee Mims, and Consuela Lee Moorhead) – working here in a group named after their slave ancestors, who are paid tribute in a beautifully flowing batch of tunes! Lee's round, warm bass tones are firmly at the head of the group on most numbers – recorded at a similar level to his excellent work with Clifford Jordan on Strata East during the same time – and other instrumentation includes piano from Consuela, flugelhorn from Cliff, and percussion from Sonny Brown and Billy Higgins – all used in a wonderfully evocative style that's even better than some of Lee's later soundtrack work. A few numbers feature vocals from Grace – singing wordlessly and with a really heavenly sort of quality – and together, the whole group have a undeniable sense of power and majesty, yet also one that's touched by a really personal sense of poetry too. Titles include a great version of Lee's "Coltrane", which was more famously recorded with Clifford Jordan
Once again a huge thank you to our Cuban connection in Miami for making this one available, and for his continued asked and unasked input when it comes on what to post in this blog. Gracias Pechoepuerco!

Khaliq Al-Rouf & Salaam - 1979 - The Elephant Trot Dance

Khaliq Al-Rouf & Salaam
The Elephant Trot Dance

01. Elephant Trot Dance
02. Sweet Eve
03. Sunset in Venus
04. Malcolm, the Call
05. Libra

1,5: Recorded at Minot Studio, White Plains, N.Y., June 18, 1975.
2,3,4: Recorded at the Platinum Factory in Brooklyn, N.Y., March 8, 1979.
"Thanks to Sunny Murray for his support in Salaam"

Flute, Soprano Saxophone – Khaliq Abdul Al Rouf
Electric Guitar – Mashujaa Aliye Salamu
Drums – Ron Anderson
Bass – Leroy Seals (1,5)
African Drums – Hakim Ali (1,5)
Percussion – Alvin Queen (1,5)
Piano – Bevin Turnbull (1,5 )
Piano – Manor Ramsey (2,3,4)
Trombone – Curtis Fowlkes (1,2,3,4)
Vocals – Beatrice Parker (1,5 )
Acoustic Bass – Mattathias Pearson (2,3,4)

This album is would appear to be the second release by The Ensemble Al-Salaam, as most of the players are present here, and the album is mainly led by Khaliq Abdul Al Rouf. The title track feels very similar too, in that deep righteous vocal jazz kind of way, but with a lot more funk thrown into the mix. The rest of the album is really quite mellow, or straight, late '70s jazz, and the tunes that are really quite mainstream, kind of seem unrelated to titles like "Malcolm, the Call". Mind you, I guess you could say that for any instrumental track. Like in Spinal Tap, where he plays the beautiful mellow guitar piece, then says it's called "Lick My Love Pump", or something along those lines. Nice overall effort, and the title track really does shine.

The Ensemble Al-Salaam - 1974 - The Sojourner

The Ensemble Al-Salaam 
The Sojourner


01. Music Is Nothing but a Prayer 7:58
02. Ecstacy 3:08
03. The Sojourner 5:15
04. Circles 2:18
05. Traces of Trane 3:26
06. Vibration Love Call 4:49
07. Malika 6:55
08. Optimystical 3:28
09. Peace 8:08

Khaliq Abdul Al Rouf (flute, piccolo flute, saxophone)
Mashujaa Aliye Salamu (guitar)
Fred Kwaku Crawley (agogô, bells, claves, maracas, percussion, tambourine, vocals, wind chimes)
Beatrice Parker (vocals)
Leroy Seals (bass, vocals)
Andrei Strobert (drums)
Bevin Turnbull (electric piano, piano, vocals)

This record is a lot like Leon Thomas's work from around the same part - equal parts spiritual and funky, with their most striking aspect being the soaring vocals flying atop the band. Unfortunately, Beatrice Parker is not as talented or unique a vocalist as Thomas - but then, who is?

Since I've already started negative, I'll list off my only other gripe with this record before getting to the good stuff: Parker and the band seem to have contrasting talents, and seem ill-suited for each other, honestly. The slower numbers Parker sings over are more well-suited to the warmth and honey of her voice, but the band is at its best when guitar, keys, bass and drums are all locked in a very funky groove like on "Circles," allowing leader Khaliq Abdul Al-Rouf to improvise in the spaces between their heavy funk. Unfortunately, Parker's not really charismatic enough to pull off faster vocal numbers with the same aplomb as her instrumental backing.

Okay, glad we got all of that out of the way, because there is plenty to like about this album. This sort of spiritual, soulful, and free sound was pretty unique to the Strata-East Records label, and when it's executed as well as it is on tracks like "Malika" it's easy to see why collectors go ga-ga for this stuff: it feels as heady and transcendent as the furthest out psychedelia, but it keeps your foot-tapping by remaining rooted in funk. Al-rouf is a very interesting musician - he sounds best to me on the flute, prone to fits of technically furious flight; however, his tone on the saxophone has a muted, tinny quality that gives this record a really unique sound, and this album really soars when it brings him to the forefront. Likewise, Mashujaa Aliye Salamu is a thrilling guitarist, capable of playing funky rhythm or going on extended lead runs - it's a shame he didn't record more.

Because the sound here is so singular, it can take a while to get on the band's exact wavelength, and maybe that's why it feels like they really hit their stride with the last two tracks. "Optimystical" introduces bassist Leroy Seals as a vocalist, and while his voice isn't nearly as strong as Beatrice Parker's, he seems more cool and relaxed on the song's up-tempo beat, while Parker provides some positively angelic backing, wordless runs of her own. Then the rhythm shifts to something solo and Parker takes over - a short coda that lifts the song structurally above anything else on this album. Tempo shifts and time signature changes are also all over the final track, "Peace," which lets the band get in a few final punches but is by and large about establishing a low-key, funky mood via the interplay between Seals and drummer Andrei Strobert. It's a shame we didn't get more from this band; the group (minus Parker) cut an album under the name Khaliq Al-rouf & Salaam five years later, then disappeared into obscurity. There's a lot of promise on this album, it's just too bad it was never fulfilled on record.

If you like soaring vocals then The Sojourner will be right up your street. It's with these kind of deep spiritual vocal albums that I think the Strata-East label really excelled; A Spirit Speaks and Alkebu-Lan: Land of the Blacks - Live at the East being two other fine examples. I find albums like this so musically nourishing that they almost feel like they're doing you good, rather like eating greens. And by making these exceptional soaring vocal albums, bands like Sons and Daughters of Lite, The Descendants of Mike and Phoebe and these guys really manage to get their message across without sounding preachy and forcefully imposing with their opinions. Cost me a small fortune to get this puppy, but it was worth every single penny as I'll be returning to this stunning slice of life affirming stuff on a very regular basis. So recommended it's off the scale.

Isis - 1977 - Breaking Through

Breaking Through

01. God Give Me The Strength   
02. Love, Love, Love   
03. One Woman   
04. It's Only A Matter Of Time   
05. Loving You Through Music   
06. Give It Up   
07. Crazy Lady   
08. Get Crazy   
09. Looking For A Space   

Carol McDonald: Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Margo Lewis: Keyboards
Faith Fusillo: Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
Lynx: Saxes
Barbara Cobb: Bass
Vivian Stoll: Drums, Percussion

By 1977 the female rock band ISIS contained one original member , CAROL MACDONALD, the founder, lead singer & rhythm guitarist who conceived of the band in the early 70's. This third album is a good one. The first self-titled album was ground-breaking . The 2nd was heavier on the funk. This 3rd one is a gentler Isis, yet still stirs up some great tunes. The musicianship is excellent as usual, with a mix of pop, jazz, fusion and R&B. These women could play. It's wonderful to hear this music now, especially when hearing real instruments on an album is not a given thing anymore. The songs run the gamut from soothing to rocking. The differences from the other two albums are that this one is more relaxed, laid back, with moments of funky brilliance. The band sounds fresh with a gentler sound, but still with those horns, organ, congas that differeniated it from being just another rock band. Faith Fusillo was a new addition to the band, and she contributed lead vocals, guitar and songs here. Margo Lewis , the keyboard & Hammond organ player who was also in GOLDIE AND THE GINGERBREADS in the 60's with Carol , was still with the band too. Side One's GOD GIVE ME THE STRENGTH , ONE WOMAN, and LOVING YOU THROUGH MUSIC [ dedicated to Laura Nyro ] show the softer side to the band. LOVE LOVE LOVE and IT'S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME provide the uplifting rock . Side Two contains 3 longer songs that fit more into what they did on the first album. GET CRAZY is the highlight of the album , a track that is just fun to hear that the band lets loose on. LOOKING FOR A SPACE is a stunning closer. A great 70's jazz/rock fusion with room for experimentation and solos. GIVE IT UP is a dance song that doesn't get far though, and CRAZY LADY is just an interlude, not a full song. This album completed their trilogy of albums, with each album different. If only Isis had continued on. They made some great music, and certainly broke down old conventions . The 70's had a ton of great music, and Isis deserved more attention, airplay & hits. They were of the time, and ahead of their time.

Isis - 1975 - Ain't No Backin' Up Now

Ain't No Backin' Up Now


01. Ain't No Backin' Up Now
02. Icy Winds
03. Old Stories
04. Gold
05. Eat the Root
06. Bobbie & Maria
07. Lost Romeo
08. Come One, Come All
09. Sunshine Tree

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet, Backing Vocals – Edith Dankowitz
Bass, Vocals – Stella Bass
Congas – Liberty Mata
Drums, Percussion – Ginger Bianco
Lead Guitar – Renate Ferrer
Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar – Carol MacDonald
Organ, Piano, Clavinet, Synthesizer [Arp], Backing Vocals – Margo Lewis
Tenor Saxophone, Flute [Solos] – Jeanie Fineberg
Trombone, Vocals – Lolly Bienenfield
Trumpet – Ellen Seeling

Isis made three albums in a career that stretched to six or seven years, produced, respectively, by Shadow Morton, Alain Toussaint and Len Barry! That covers quite a lot of ground, and so did the band, whose sound managed to cram in spiky R&B, soul-jazz, blues, smooth soul, straight-out pop and Santana-esque rock, with an air that ranged from sweetly hippie to proudly feminist (as you might expect from an all-woman band in the early 1970s, when such things were in the air). This, their second album, is the Toussaint-produced one, and he's quite the presence: he also wrote about half the record, leaving the others to the band (in particular singer Carol Macdonald, who also acts as producer on her tracks). I prefer the debut, which is more exciting and eccentric (and has a different band line-up), but this one is probably more consistent and immediate. The title track and "Icy Winds" would make a fine addition to your mid-'70s mixtape, although the album's highlight is Macdonald's "Bobbie and Maria", a touching tale of same-sex longing. Macdonald's singing don't hurt a bit either.

Isis - 1974 - Isis


01. Waiting for the Sonrise
02. Everybody Needs a Forever
03. Servant Saviour
04. Rubber Boy
05. April Fool
06. Bitter Sweet
07. Do the Football
08. She Loves Me
09. Cocaine Elaine

Stella Bass - Bass
Ginger Bianco - Drums
Lollie Bienenfeld - Trombone
Lauren Draper - Horn, French Horn
Jeanie Fineberg - Arranger, Wind
Suzi Ghezzi - Guitar
Liberty Nydia Mata - Percussion
Caroline McDonald - Guitar, Vocals

Isis is the Egyptian goddess of fertility, represented as wearing a cow's horns and solar disk on her head, according to the World Book Dictionary, and the name was perhaps most appropriate for this '70s band, though a Latin group, a rapper, and a metal band all have released records under the same name. Those artists have nothing to do with this interesting and highly experimental project. With production by Shadow Morton the same year he produced the New York Dolls' second LP, In Too Much Too Soon, two former members of  Goldie & the Gingerbreads debut on Buddah with a self-titled eclectic jazz/rock amalgam. As Gingerbreads' lead singer Goldie Zelkowitz re-emerged as Genya Ravan, both Carol MacDonald and drummer Ginger Bianco redefined their musical vision, developing this somewhat original concept with horns, congas, bongos, and heavy emphasis on the all-girl band which Goldie & the Gingerbreads pioneered. Sporting an album cover rife with Egyptian imagery much like Yoko Ono's album from the year before, the 1973 epic Feeling the Space, Isis take it a step further, the cover photo sporting the eight women encased in silver via Jon Stevens' "metal images" which are "precise reproductions of the human form." Reproductions or no,  the band is still totally naked on the front cover under palm trees, a pyramid, and a purple sky. It was striking for the time and hinted at glam rock. Although there is barely any of that element here, perhaps some of the guitar psychedelia on "Servant Saviour" would suffice as that, resplendent in mellow versions of Black Sabbath riffs, but the style vocally and musically is very much like a less-focused Ten Wheel Drive. MacDonald emulates Genya Ravan singing, and much of the music parallels the Ten Wheel Drive sound. There are 16 naked photos of the chrome silver gals on the back cover flanked by color photos of the Sphynx. No wonder the rumor mill had David Bowie singing their praises, just as the Rolling Stones were enamored of Goldie & the Gingerbreads. "She Loves Me"  can't be any more specific; it's a bluesy ballad and one of the album's best moments. As blatant as the title is, the song comes across more subtle. Seven of the nine tunes were written by the former Gingerbreads Carol MacDonald and Ginger Bianco, and they shift gears perhaps too much for the album's own good. How prophetic. The bisexual female character on Star Trek Voyager two-and-a-half decades later would be called "7 of 9" — and as Bowie had much success with the gay theme, it should have been more of a  factor. "Cocaine Elaine" has a bluesy New Orleans feel with wonderful backing vocals, but the musical genres jump so much it  feels like a movie soundtrack. 1975's follow-up album was produced by Allen Toussaint and featured June Millington from another significant pioneering all-girl group, Fanny, but sadly, this Isis only put out two albums. — Joe Viglione

Kick-ass album of brass-rock with jazz, prog, psychedelic and funk influences. Actually, there may be more than that, this album is all over the map. That’s probably why it didn’t rate it higher, it straddles the line between eclectic and uneven too much. It’s also a bit “of its time.” Still, there’s an awful lot of talent here, these gals could really play and sing! Of note are main singer/rhythm guitarist Carole MacDonald (R.I.P.), who could really belt it out in pure Janis Joplin mode and lead guitarist Suzi Ghezzi, who may well have been the female Hendrix. The way she burns up the fretboard on some of these guitar solos is just mindblowing! The hyperactive “Waiting for the Sonrise” and the psychedelic freakout of “Servant Savior” (complete with creepy, quasi-male spoken vocals at points) are the highlights.

Formed from the ashes of the 60's girl group Goldie and the Gingerbreads, Isis was a major step forward for female rock in the early 70s. Perhaps a bit late in the game for horn rock, Isis' 1974 debut fell on the soul side of the brass rock equation. Carole MacDonald's vocals are raspy and tough in the Joplin tradition, whereas Suzi Ghezzi brings the Terry Kath-like psychedelic guitar to the proceedings. Flute, sax, trumpet, and trombone fulfill the lineup nicely. 'Waiting for the Sonrise', 'Servant Saviour', and 'April Fool' are the highlights, though many of the songs are fairly pedestrian - unfortunately just like their male counterparts in the same field of music had been prior. A good album, one that deserves respect for what they no doubt had to endure in the business

Dexter Wansel - 1976 - Life On Mars

Dexter Wansel 
Life On Mars

01. A Prophet Named K.G.   
02. Life On Mars   
03. Together Once Again   
04. Stargazer   
05. One Million Miles From The Ground   
06. You Can Be What You Wanna Be   
07. Theme From The Planets   
08. Rings Of Saturn   

Terri Wells: Vocals
Carla Benson: Vocals (Background)
Evette Benton: Vocals (Background)
Darryl Brown: Drums, Percussion
Charlie Collins: Percussion
Raymond Earl: Bass (Electric)
Derrick Graves: Bass (Electric)
Calvin Harris: Guitar (Electric)
Barbara Ingram: Vocals (Background)
Joe Johnson: Percussion
Bob Malach: Flute, Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor)
Kim Miller: Guitar (Electric)
Scott Miller: Drums
Dexter Wansel: Arranger, Composer, Keyboards, Primary Artist, Producer, Synthesizer, Vocals

1975-76 were transitional years for Philly International. The great musicians and arrangers who once populated MFSB -Ron Baker, Earl Young, Norman Harris, Vince Montana, amongst others- were leaving in droves due to royalty disputes, One of their best songwriters- Bunny Sigler left to pursue a solo career, and the turmoil within Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes dampened some of the label's hit making momentum. To maintain PIR's status as soul music's premier record label, Gamble and Huff had to readjust by signing a slew of new artists, writers, and arrangers. Dexter Wansel was hired as a in house producer, arranger, and semi songwriter (he collaborated frequently with Cynthia Biggs so he wasn't writing songs as exclusively as he was with arranging in producing). While established acts like The O' Jays and newer acts like Lou Rawls, and Teddy Pendergrass made the most popular PIR recordings during their post 1976 period, Dexter Wansel dropped four musically adventurous, but underappreciated albums during this time as well. This two for one package covers the first two of Dexter's musical excursions- "Life on Mars" and "What's the World Coming To".

If you ever heard one of his albums, you'd immediately recognized his affinity to take on a variety of styles (namely Jazz, Soul, and Funk) which are punctuated by his trademark brand of spacey keyboard quirks. As a musician, Dexter style was considerably different from MFSB's. Where as MFSB sound was elegantly funky, Dexter's own compositions were more otherworldly and ethereal than the string laden instrumentation of MFSB.

Science fiction was big in the 1970s. So from a marketing standpoint, it made sense when, in 1976, Dexter Wansel went for a sci-fi theme on his debut album, Life on Mars. Not that the Philadelphia producer/keyboardist needed a gimmick to get over -- if you're good enough to work with heavyweights like the O'Jays, the Stylistics, and the Intruders, you don't need a gimmick. Even without the sci-fi theme, Life on Mars would have been a memorable debut for Wansel, who produced the album and wrote or co-wrote all of the material. This diverse LP is far from predictable; if you bought Life on Mars for its title song (a haunting piece of space funk that employs members of Instant Funk), you quickly learned that the record also includes mellow quiet storm offerings ("One Million Miles From the Ground," "Together Once Again") as well as Curtis Mayfield-influenced funk ("You Can Be What You Wanna Be") and pop-jazz/crossover instrumentals ("A Prophet Named K.G.," "Theme From the Planets"). In fact, one of the musicians Wansel employs is saxophonist Bob Malach, a jazzman who is heavily influenced by Michael Brecker but is more Grover Washington-influenced on this album. Ranging from decent to excellent, Life on Mars is arguably Wansel's strongest album.

This is one of his most sought after albums and for great reason. The title track alone is an infectious spaced out funk jam filtered with a strong keyboard solo buried underneath the groove and a dissonant chant as a hook- which sounds like a welcoming call for anyone traveling in space to come to Mars. The hook captures the mood of the song well. Also noteworthy is "Stargazer". It's a fast Jazz fusion workout in which the Philly strings create an atmosphere of a rocket jettin off into space for a destination travel at high velocity. That's especially noticeable at the beginning of the record- it can also pass off as a late night movie bumper. The slow jams are also noteworthy for the chill beauty it brings to the album especially "One Million Miles From the Ground" where you can truly get the feeling of being sheltered from the obstacles on Earth to share intimacy with your one and only ( Instead of literally going to another planet, you go to a state of mind with the record). Since this is a concept record, you're get those incidental tracks that serves the purpose of simply filling out the album intended concept - "Theme from the Planets" (The Planets are Dexter's backing Band) and "Rings of Saturn". Overall, the album sticks with the concept without sounding ambiguous ( a common problem with many concept records).

Dexter's second time around is more of the same. You can look at this as "Life on Mars" without the Sci Fi concept that held that album together. If you look deeply at how both albums are sequenced in this two for one, Life on Mars can be seen as something of a dream, where as this album can be the awakening in which you search for peace here on Earth to recapture that dreamy ride on Mars. Where as the last album dealt with "Life on Mars", this album can be looked upon as "Life on Earth". I'm not sure as to weather or not Dexter Wansel did this on purpose, but the two albums parallel each other in terms of emotional range but differ in its intentions- if there's any type of concept.

"First light of the Mourning" starts the album off smoothly as the awakening from the dream on Mars. It's the same feeling as waking up and remembering a good dream that stays with you all day. "Dance with me Tonight" and "Disco Lights" are pulsating slices of the good life (in the 70's) that's balanced out by more somber moments like "Holdin' On" and "What is the World coming To" which are by the numbers quiet tracks that deal with the complexities of romantic affairs and the world respectively. "Ode Infinitum" is a jazz fusion work out that has a broken beat type feel to it's horn heavy funk/ jazz. Of course with a Philly International record, you get the obligatory message song in "Dreams of Tomorrow"- which is sung beautifully by Jean Carne. The rhythm arrangement is excellent on capturing the essence of kids as tomorrow's bright leaders - it feels like a bright light is shining upon reflecting a glow of optimism in their abilities.

Overall these batch of songs make for a musically adventurous trip that listeners should take at least once. I have to admit, while this anthology is filled with a lot of excellent material, there's also a lot of other songs that could've been better. Perhaps if Dexter would've been given the ample amount of time to make these albums his main priority, they could've been sharper in terms of rhythm arrangements and building a overall cohesive sound. That minor issue aside, smooth jazz, disco, and soul enthusiasts should find plenty to enjoy here.

Leon Thomas - 1973 - Full Circle

Leon Thomas 
Full Circle

01. Sweet Little Angel   
02. Just In Time To See The Sun   
03. It's My Life I'm Fighting For   
04. Never Let Me Go   
05. I Wanna Be Where You Are   
06. Got To Be There   
07. Balance Of Life (Peace Of Mind)   
08. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life   
09. What Are We Gonna Do?   

Leon Thomas: vocals, maracas, writer
Glenn Osser: arranger, conductor
Neal Creque: piano, electric piano, writer
Richard Davis: bass
Joe Beck: electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Lloyd Davis: electric guitar
Pretty Purdie: drums
Herbie Lovelle: drums
Jimmy Owens: trumpet, flugelhorn
Pee Wee Ellis: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Joe Farrell: tenor saxophone, flute
Sonny Morgan: percussion, berimbau
Richard "Pablo" Landrum: percussion, bata
Leo Kahn: violin
Gene Orloff: violin
Joe Malignaggi: violin
Raoul Poliakin: violin
Emanuel Green: violin
David Nadien: violin
Richard Dickler: viola
Cal Fleisig: viola
Anthony Sophos: cello
Alan Shulman: cello
Tasha Thomas: backing vocals
Carl Hall: backing vocals

This is probably one of Leon Thomas' lesser-known albums, and I can see why.  Not that it's bad, it just completely bizarre by virtue of its utter normality.  Putting this album the first was a jarring experience for me, because I would never have envisioned the singer I know through Pharaoh Sanders band - the guy who innovated "jazz yodeling" as a technique all his own -- covering songs from B.B. King, Santana, The Jacksons, and Joe Scott (writer of "Never Let Me Go" and also responsible for the classic "Turn On Your Love Light.")  The title of the album, Full Circle, might indicate a return to R&B and soul-music roots for Thomas.  The album cover, which has him pimped out in bad-ass blaxploitation-soundtrack garb, does nothing to clarify this mysterious record. 

The first time I played it, I thought it was a confused, incoherent mess of songs.  It probably still is that, but over time I've come to enjoy it quite a bit for what it is.  According to Discogs database, there were two versions released in quick succession with different track running order -- according to this, I have the second of those two.  They also seem to have been issued in the same year -- it seems like maybe Flying Dutchman also didn't know how to market this stylistic jumble of tunes and tried messing around with them.  I would be curious to hear from somebody who has the other version, as I have one major gripe with the mix on some tunes: the songs that have strings have the strings mixed WAY too loud, overpowering everything else.

The album leads off with "Sweet Little Angel", which oddly enough seems to have been the most played track on my copy if the surface noise is any evidence -- I am thinking "college radio DJ at a southern university where they like their black men playing unthreatening, beaten-to-death blues standards...".  It's not terribly, but its not terribly convincing.  Thomas makes an okay blues singer.  The next tune, a cover of Santana's "Just In Time to See The Sun" is actually quite good, with no attempt to "rock" but instead given a full soul-jazz latin-tinged treatment with Pee Wee Ellis on sax.  So far, things are getting better.  The next song is the first original tune and one of the highlights of the album for people who have followed and admired the rest of Leon's career.  "It's My Life I'm Fighting For", written by keyboardist Neil Creque, is driven by his Rhodes electric piano, its ten minutes of a soulful jam with `free` elements and, FINALLY some jazz yodeling!  I never thought Thomas' jazz yodel would sound so welcome to my ears.  Herbie Lovell on the drums on this track really keeps things going, with great riffing from Joe Farrell on flute, solos by Creque and Jimmy Owens that keep this solidly chugging along.  The song is then inexplicably followed by old-school R&B ballad "Never Let Me Go".... the word "buzzkill" comes to mind.  Leon redeems himself with "I Want To Be Where You Are," a Jackson 5 tune that seems to have been in vogue with soul-jazzers in the early 70s: Gary Bartz also released an instrumental version around this time where he went all modal on its ass.  Here, this is easily the most successful of the cover tunes on the albums, slowed down a notch, augmented with some choice Muscle Shoals slide guitar courtesy of Joe Beck, punchy trumpet from Farrell, and Leon just can't help himself -- he lets rip a few JAZZ YODELS here and there on the chorus.  But they only last for a couple of seconds, as if he remembers suddenly that he is supposed to be a soul music balladeer on this song and must restrain his urges.  Flip the LP over, and another Jackson-related tune, "Got To Be There", is a huge disappointment, with Leon just taking it on as a straight interpretation with nothing particularly remarkable about it.  "Balance of Life (Peace of Mind)" is another original tune and brings us back to more familiar Leon Thomas territory.   Opening with the Brazilian instrument, the berimbau, accompanied by other urgent percussion that seemlessly gives way to a mellow jam led by Creque's electric pianoa and congas by Pabldo Landrum and Sonny Morgan, it keeps the groove going for 7 minutes with a full-on percussion jam in the middle.  Then, once more, the album shifts gears for a basically pointless reading of Stevie Wonders "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life".  It is almost a novelty song for its straightness, getting slightly trippy towards the end.  The album closes with the somber and soulful "What Are We Gonna Do?" which is just Thomas on vocal and Neil Creque on acoustic piano.  A meditation on ecology, peace, love, and violence, its a beautiful tune, reminding me of all the reasons to love Leon Thomas in the first place. 

Perhaps this album was meant to `prove` that Leon Thomas could have been a huge figure in straight soul and rhythm and blues, which he probably could have been if he felt inclined.  But the album is indeed a weird jumble.  The three original tunes are the best here, followed by "I Want To Be Where You Are" and "Just In Time To See The Sun."ed.

Leon Thomas - 1972 - Blues And The Soulful Truth

Leon Thomas 
Blues And The Soulful Truth

01. Let's Go Down To Lucy's   
02. L-o-v-e   
03. Gypsy Queen   
04. Love Each Other   
05. Shape Your Mind To Die   
06. Boom-Boom-Boom   
07. China Doll   
08. C.C. Rider

Leon Thomas: vocals, percussion, bottle, writer, arranger
Pee Wee Ellis:tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone, piano, organ, marimba, objects, arranger, conductor
Neal Creque: piano, electric piano, organ, writer
Cornell Dupree: guitar
Larry Coryell: guitar
Cecil Payne: baritone saxophone
John Blair: Vitar
John Eckert: trumpet
Dick Griffin: trombone
Gordon Edwards: bass
Stanley Clarke: bass
Donald Pate: bass
Bernard Purdie: drums
Airto Moreira: drums
Jesse Kilpatric: drums, writer
Gene Golden: congas
Baba Feme: congas, percussion
Tasha Thomas: backing vocals
Lani Groves: backing vocals
Carl Hall: backing vocals
Hilda Harris: backing vocals
Albertine Robinson: backing vocals

This is probably the best place to start for a Leon Thomas neophyte, and it's arguably his best all-around album (beating out "The Leon Thomas Album" by a hair in my book).  Besides featuring the absolute career highlight "Shape Your Mind to Die" - which features the funky interplay of Neal Creque on piano and Donald Pate's bass with John Blair's vitar backing up one of Thomas's most impassioned vocal performances - the album balances a couple of blues covers (the "Boom-Boom-Boom" take really letting Larry Coryell's guitar out of the bag) with some funky, soulful Thomas originals (the highlight of these being "Let's Go Down to Lucy," which really shows the influence of arranger Pee Wee Ellis's time in the J.B.'s).

For those reading that first paragraph who want more of the Thomas featured on Pharoah Sanders' "Karma," well then I present you with "Gypsy Queen," a 10 minute stunner that ranks alongside any of the longer, crazier free jazz pieces Thomas had been featured on before this.  Thomas works his way through several of the stylings in his vocal repertoire before joining some of his cohorts in raining down firecrackers on Airto Moreira's drums, while Stanley Clarke's bass keeps the whole thing anchored beneath the fiery playing of Ellis and Creque.

Leon Thomas - 1971 - In Berlin

Leon Thomas 
In Berlin

01. Straight No Chaser   
02. Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)   
03. Echoes   
04. Umbo Weti   
05. The Creator Has A Master Plan (Peace)   
06. Oo-Wee! Hindewe   

Bass – Günter Lenz
Drums – Lex Humphries
Percussion – Sonny Morgan
Piano – Arthur Sterling
Saxophone – Oliver Nelson
Vocals – Leon Thomas

Leon Thomas' yodelling is always reason enough to buy one of his albums, but this live album is not quite as impressive as other efforts from around the same time, mostly because the band doesn't sound dense enough. This is particularly noticeable on "Straight No Chaser", which seems to fall apart and the otherwise impressive "Umbo Weti", which sounds a bit thin.

What makes this nevertheless worthwhile is Oliver Nelson, who plays what must be some of the most angular sax solos of his entire career, and a band who are not afraid to repeat melodic lines seemingly ad nauseum, providing some fine near-hypnotic effects. Still, this is probably the least essential of Thomas' albums.

Leon Thomas - 1971 - Gold Sunrise on Magic Mountain

Leon Thomas 
Gold Sunrise on Magic Mountain

01. The Honey Man / Chains Of Love   
02. Cousin Mary   
03. Na Na / Umbo Weti   

Leon Thomas: vocals, percussion
Neal Creque: piano
Cornell Dupree: guitar
Victor Gaskin: bass
Oliver Nelson: alto saxophone
Na-Na: percussion, berimbau
Sonny Morgan: congas
David Lee Jr.: drums

In his best moments, Leon Thomas is completely unreal, otherworldly. Unfortunately, in between he is a pretty average blues/soul singer. All of his solo albums are combinations of fantastic vocal artistry and pretty standard tunes. On Gold Sunrise on Magic Mountain, a live recording from Montreux 1971, they are at least neatly divided on the two sides of this LP: side one is the conventional blues, not bad, but not particularly special, even though the vocal version of John Coltrane's "Cousin Mary" is pretty adventurous and a good introduction to what awaits the listener on side two, which is a captivating 16-minute hypnotic groove over which Thomas practices his weird vocal stylings and his alien yodelling. Probably not essential for novices, but Leon Thomas fans definitely need this.

Leon Thomas - 1970 - Leon Thomas Album

Leon Thomas 
Leon Thomas Album

01. Come Along   
02. I Am   
03. Bag's Groove   
04. Um, Um, Um   
05. Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)   

Leon Thomas: vocals, flute, percussion
Ernie Royal: trumpet
Jerome Richardson: alto saxophone
Billy Harper: tenor saxophone
Howard Johnson: baritone saxophone
James Spaulding: flute
Donald Smith: flute
Arthur Sterling: piano
John B. Williams: bass guitar
Bob Cunningham: bass
Roy Haynes: drums
Billy Cobham: drums
Richard "Pablo" Landrum: percussion
Sonny Morgan: percussion

Leon Thomas is the man best known for his otherworldly yodelling on Pharoah Sanders' Karma. In the early 1970s, Thomas recorded a couple of albums that expanded on his vocal acrobatics for Sanders towards some kind of African-tinged soul that remains hard to classify. While his first albums contained something like "light" versions of Pharoah Sanders tracks (like a very concise version of "The Creator Has a Master Plan", by the time of The Leon Thomas Album, he had very much found an identity of his own.

This album alternates between tracks that are on the surface very straight and accessible ("Come Along", "Bag's Groove") and extended tracks that are showcases for the involved jazz musicians as well as Thomas' incredible vocal chords. Some of this may occasionally seem flat, but will almost instantly reveal unexpected depth; some will seem completely out there and will soon turn out to be surprisingly straightforward. Felt all throughout the album is Thomas' almost instinctive ability to excite, at times, such as during "Um, um, um", to a near ecstatic level.

The first three tracks showcase Thomas's talent as a straight-ahead vocalist.  All three are top-notch Oliver Nelson arrangements, with the excellent band (featuring Billy Cobham, Billy Harper, Sonny Morgan and Ernie Royal) in superb form on "Come Along" and Thomas giving an especially inspired reading of "Bags' Groove."

It would be unfair to call "Um, Um, Um" merely a teaser for side 2, what with it including an incredible percussion breakdown led by Roy Haynes and one of the most ecstatically powerful vocals of Thomas's career.  That being said, the side-long "Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)" is the real meat here, a psychedelic jazz odyssey that ranks among the most tripped-out free music ever.  Cobham and Haynes run the two drummer shuffle while Spaulding's flute follows Thomas's voice before busting out into a great solo.  The African oboe + bells breakdown is pure bliss and the horn section builds tension until dropping out so John Williams's electric bass can re-introduce the groove and the band can ride it out.  Just stunning.

Guest musicians include Roy Haynes, Billy Cobham, Howard Johnson, James Spaulding, Billy Harper and Ernie Royal. Grab this while you can.

Leon Thomas - 1969 - Spirits Known and Unknown

Leon Thomas 
Spirits Known and Unknown

01 The Creator Has A Master Plan (Peace)   
02 One   
03 Echoes   
04 Song For My Father   
05 Damn Nam (Ain't Goin' To Vietnam)   
06 Malcolm's Gone   
07 Let The Rain Fall On Me   

Leon Thomas: vocals, percussion, flute
James Spaulding: alto saxophone, flute
Lonnie L. Smith, Jr.: piano
Richard Davis: bass
Cecil McBee: bass
Roy Haynes: drums
Richard Landrum: bongos
Little Rock (Pharoah Sanders): tenor saxophone

Leon Thomas (Oct 4, 1937 – May 8, 1999) was an American jazz singer, who made his mark in 1969, singing "The Creator Has a Master Plan" with Pharoah Sanders and showing that even avant-garde jazz can become popular under some circumstances. A fairly conventional singer, the most unusual aspect to Thomas was that he often broke out into yodelling in the middle of a vocal, a device since utilized occasionally by James Moody.

He also appeared as a sideman in many situations, including on a Louis Armstrong 1970 record and with Carlos Santana (who he worked with in 1973-1974). Thomas died of heart failure on May 8, 1999 .

I've got a real love for Leon Thomas' brand of soulful avant-jazz - it's bombastic , highly individualistic (..that yodelly scat-singing he constantly breaks into is hypnotic, makes me wonder if Demetrio Stratos ever gave this one a spin) and on songs like Master Plan, Song for My Father and Malcolm's Gone there's a palpable mood that's deepy involving. Irritatingly underrated.

This album is a less calculated attempt than its follow-up, "The Leon Thomas Album," to showcase Thomas's immense and versatile talents and as a result is a considerably more laid back affair.  The first side of the record is especially calm, with peaceful performances of "The Creator Has a Master Plan" and "Song For My Father" being the highlight.  Thomas does let loose a bit on "One," unleashing his trademark yodeling style and showing off some great scat singing unlike much else in his catalog.

The second side livens things up a bit with the rant "Damn Nam," an anti-war song that spices things up before "Malcolm's Gone," which is presumably the sort of thing people who were listening to this in 1969 would have expected:  an avant-garde collaboration with Pharoah Sanders that sees both men testing the limits of their respective instruments.  The result is breathtaking.  Thomas cools things down on the last number, "Let the Rain Fall on Me," which re-establishes the calm mood of the side's first half.  This is a nice album for a relaxed afternoon, not too challenging but not pure ambiance either.

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - 1980 - 1980

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson 

01. Shut 'Um Down   
02. Alien (Hold On To Your Dreams)   
03. Willing   
04. Corners   
05. 1980   
06. Push Comes To Shove   
07. Shah Mot (The Shah Is Dead / Checkmate)   
08. Late Last Night   

Gil Scott-Heron: producer, writer, vocals, piano
Brian Jackson: producer, piano, electric piano, keyboard bass, arrangements, synthesizer, kettle drums, drums, background vocals, writer
Malcolm Cecil: producer, engineering, mixing
Maxine Waters: background vocals
Julia Waters: background vocals
Marti McCall: background vocals
Bill Watrous: horns
Gordon Goodwin: horns
Denis Sirias: horns

It's hard to top the brilliance of Gil Scott-Heron's best work either on his own or with Brian Jackson.  This isn't his best work but it's still pretty great and well worth a listen.
Thought-provoking poetry set to some fine-ass funky grooves. Match-made in heaven. Super underrated but I'm glad the new generation of hipsters are picking up on this.

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - 1978 - Secrets

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson

01. Angel Dust   
02. Madison Avenue   
03. Cane   
04. Third World Revolution   
05. Better Days Ahead   
06. Three Miles Down   
07. Angola, Louisiana   
08. Show Bizness   
09. A Prayer For Everybody / To Be Free   

Gil Scott-Heron: lyrics, music, vocals, producer, piano
Brian Jackson: lyrics, music, drums, flute, piano, synthesiser, producer
Julia Waters: backing vocals
Marti McCall: backing vocals
Maxine Waters: backing vocals
Barnett Williams "The Doctor": bata, congas, percussion
Malcolm Cecil: producer, programming
Greg Phillinganes: electric piano, synthesiser
Alvin Taylor: drums
Harvey Mason: drums
Ralph Penland: drums
Leon Williams: tenor saxophone

In '78, Scott-Heron's uncompromising view on America was a completely new experience to many of the young record buyers, yet Secrets was a successful album because it fused ambition and commercialism. Scott-Heron hadn't ceased to deliver his critical and fitting lyrics, but this time, the music sounded Radio-compatible, in spite of Gil not being the greatest singer under the sun.
Tonto's Expanding Head Band's Malcolm Cecil took care of the synth programming, he's known to R&B fans from seminal productions by Stevie Wonder, Minnie Riperton, The Isley Brothers, and others.
Secrets is not Scott-Heron's best album, but it's got its moments; try Angel Dust.
I saw Gil Scott-Heron performing at a Reggae Sun Splash festival (don't know which year it was, mid to late eighties?) on a Public Access station. I was totally enraptured by this incredibly warped sound, almost as if someone was detuning their instruments every five seconds while the band played. I'm not sure who the flutist was but he was playing in this strangely beautiful insanity. The jam went on for a while and then it slowly but surely came to me, the music they we're playing reminded me of when I used to be high on Crazy Eddie/Reverend Ike. And then to really blow my mind the first lyric out of his mouth after ten plus minutes of jamming was "Angel Dust".
I found a greatest hits record and it had the studio version of that song and it sounded nice, but that Angel dust jam....WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - 1977 - Bridges

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson

01. Hello Sunday! Hello Road!   
02. Song Of The Wind   
03. Racetrack In France   
04. Vidgolia (Deaf, Dumb & Blind)   
05. Under The Hammer   
06. We Almost Lost Detroit   
07. Tuskeegee #626   
08. Delta Man (Where I'm Comin' From)   
09. 95 South (All Of The Places We've Been)   

Gil Scott-Heron: lyrics, producer, vocals, music, piano
Brian Jackson: music, lyrics, vocals, keyboards, producer
Bilal Sunni-Ali: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Delbert Taylor: trumpet
Tony Duncanson: timbales, percussion
Barnett Williams: congas, bongos, shekere, triangle, djembe
Josef Blocker: drums
Marlo Henderson: guitar
Danny Bowens: bass
Fred Payne: guitar

So I am into this really great baroque/chamber pop/folk phase right now, and it seems I just can't get enough of it.  So I look up information about Nico's album, "Chelsea Girl," which was at that point, and still is, the most beautiful album I have ever heard.  Apparently, her engineer and producer, Larry Fallon and Tom Wilson, completely took over, much to Nico's disdain, and they are mostly to thank for how beautiful the album turned out.
So, how excited was I when I found out that "Chelsea Girl" was only one of FOUR albums the team collaborated on?!  Strangely enough, all of them are completely unique from one another, and none of them sound like "Chelsea Girl" in the slightest.
Anywho..."Bridges" is one of those four, and though it isn't anything like "Chelsea Girl," it is outstanding.  Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson are apparently geniuses, and coupling them with those other two geniuses, Larry Fallon and Tom Wilson, was certainly not a bad choice.
Listening to "Bridges" for the first time gave me a sensation that I haven't had (that I can remember, anyway) since "Ziggy Stardust," in that I was totally blown away by it.  I couldn't really do anything else except pay complete and full attention to Gil's deep voice in songs like "We Almost Lost Detroit" and make myself a nice hot cup of chai tea.  I doubt that was the intention, but I'll be damned if intention ruins any moment with chai.
This was the fourth collaboration album from the 10 year partnership between Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, and it beautifully displays their genius and incredible soul. We've come to a point in time when many only remember Scott-Heron for "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", the popular protest poem. Scott-Heron is perhaps the most undervalued soul singer of all time; while he does get some recognition, few place him with contemporaries Marvin Gaye, Al Green, or Stevie Wonder. His distinctive voice carries a feel of deep wisdom, reminiscent of Isaac Hayes. Jackson plays keyboard and flute on the album. In much of Scott-Heron's work, including this album, the instrumentation doesn't really go anywhere. That's not to say that it's bad, it just provides a canvas for Scott-Heron to paint on. Despite the listing of Brian Jackson as a collaborator on the album, there's no doubt that Gill Scott-Heron owns it. All of the songs are incredible, but few soul songs will ever compare to the melancholy of "We Almost Lost Detroit". Written about the meltdown of the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station, it's an attack on the supporters of nuclear power who were blinded by money, failing to recognize the dangers of nuclear power, This is where Scott-Heron excelled of course, in his songs documenting and attacking inequality and injustice. His death in 2011 and his difficulties with drug addiction and depression beforehand are some of the greatest tragedies in the music world.

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - 1976 - It's Your World

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson 
It's Your World

Just Before Sundown
01. It's Your World   
02. Possum Slim   
03. New York City   
04. 17th Street   
05. Tomorrow's Trane   
06. Must Be Something   
Late Evening
07. Home Is Where The Hatred Is   
08. Bicentennial Blues   
Midnight and Morning
09. The Bottle   
10. Sharing   

Gil Scott-Heron: vocals, producer, electric piano
Brian Jackson: piano, electric piano, vocals, producer, synthesizer, flute
Victor Brown: vocals, lead vocals
Danny Bowens: bass guitar
Reggie Brisban: drums, percussion
Bilal Sunni-Ali: tenor saxophone, flute
Delbert Taylor: trumpet
Barnett Williams: congas, percussion
Tony Duncanson: congas, bongos, timbales

Not only do you get the full live version of "The Bottle" on this album (which is worth the asking price alone), but there is also a killer 12 minute workout of "Home Is Where The Hatred Is". Plus, "17th Street". One of those lost albums tracks that rarely gets any credit, but an absolute highlight from the GSH&BJ catalogue.
The first half of the album is great but the last half, including "Home is Where the Hatred is" and "The Bottle," is mindblowing.

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - 1975 - Midnight Band - The First Minute Of A New Day

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
Midnight Band - The First Minute Of A New Day

01. Offering   
02. The Liberation Song (Red, Black And Green)   
03. Must Be Something   
04. Ain't No Such Thing As Superman   
05. Pardon Our Analysis (We Beg Your Pardon)   
06. Guerilla   
07. Winter In America   
08. Western Sunrise   
09. Alluswe

Gil Scott-Heron: vocals, producer, electric piano
Brian Jackson: piano, electric piano, vocals, flute, bells, producer
Danny Bowens: bass guitar
Bob Adams: drums
Victor Brown: vocals
Bilal Sunni Ali: flute, saxophone, harmonica
Barnett Williams: congas, percussion, shaker, cowbell, horn, bongos
Eddie Knowles:bells, shaker, congas, cowbell
Charlie Saunders: maracas, congas, cowbell, shaker, bongos

This is the most solid and consistent Gil Scott Heron album I've heard. It's also the easiest on the ears. Lord knows he ain't the most tunefull singer alive, but by this album he had gotten his proverbial shit together. But it was never about his singing anyway, it's about the message. And he had the good sense to nestle that message in some of the funkiest, jazziest soul ever put on tape. Is it jazz? Is it soul? Is it funk? Who the hell knows. Is it essential for an understanding of 70's black music? Hell yes.

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - 1975 - From South Africa To South Carolina

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
From South Africa To South Carolina

01. Johannesburg   
02. A Toast To The People   
03. The Summer Of '42   
04. Beginnings (The First Minute Of A New Day)   
05. South Carolina (Barnwell)   
06. Essex   
07. Fell Together   
08. A Lovely Day   

Bass Guitar – Danny Bowens
Congas – Adenola
Congas, Drum [Chinese] – Charlie Saunders
Congas, Shaker, Djembe – Barnett Williams
Drums – Bob Adams
Harmonica, Flute, Saxophone – Bilal Sunni Ali
Keyboards, Vocals – Brian Jackson
Vocals – Gil Scott-Heron
Vocals, Bells, Tambourine – Victor Brown

Recorded summer 1975 at D&B Sound, Silver Springs, Maryland.
Remixed at Electric Lady Studios, New York City.

A truly magical album by Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson. Next to Bridges this album is the most approachable, and definitely the most soulful from their back catalogue. Not a weak moment anywhere on here, and it's been reissued, so you have no excuse.
A soulful, beautifully performed album that should serve as an inspiration to new artists to be politically active and engaged both in their private lives and in their music.
The digital version also has some live stuff and the tune from the Sun City album (which is not that great and doesn't fit in at all, being mid 80s rap, which I have no patience for).