Monday, July 30, 2018

Tomasz Stanko has left the building...

Tomasz Stańko
(11 July 1942 – 29 July 2018)

“The mood of Polish melancholy is in my blood.”

Described by the New York Times as “one of the most acclaimed improvising musicians in Europe”, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko was born in 1942 and made his debut in Krakow in the late 1950s. In the 1960s he joined Krzysztof Komeda’s quintet, soon becoming its mainstay, and recorded a masterpiece of European jazz with it, the LP Astigmatic.

Though Miles Davis and Chet Baker were early influences, he was soon drawn to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. As he told jazz writer Andrew Gilbert, speaking of jazz under communism, “I was interested in artistic freedom, because in person I didn't really have a big problem living in a communist country in this time. Maybe earlier musicians had some problems, they don't have the chance to play so often, but in 1963 it was beginning to be quite all right. I was much more interested in the freedom in Ornette's music."

In the early 1970s, at the helm of the Tomasz Stanko Quintet, he came to the forefront of the free jazz scene and was featured at major European festivals. His subsequent projects reinforced this stature: Unit with Polish pianist Adam Makowicz, and a quartet co-led with Finnish drummer Edward Vesala that in 1975 attracted attention of ECM’s Manfred Eicher. Stanko’s ECM debut, Balladyna, has become a legend on both sides of the Atlantic. In the 1980s Stanko was enlisted by Cecil Taylor in several of his line-ups.

The 1990s saw a renewal of Stanko’s relationship with ECM. A new quartet, featuring pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Tony Oxley, was widely hailed as one of the best jazz groups of the decade, and the album Leosia earned a rare top rating in the Penguin Jazz Guide. Released in 1997, Litania, a tribute to the music of Krzysztof Komeda, became his first global bestseller. Subsequent ECM releases, Soul of Things and Suspended Night, featuring a young Polish quartet at the beginning of the new century brought him to the attention of US jazz fans. 2013 brought a new double album, Wisława, with a new group: Thomas Morgan (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) and David Virelles (piano). Jazz Journal’’s Michael Tucker hailed “essential music from one of Europe's most striking – and affecting – poets of his instrument”.

May his memory be a blessing.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Jerzy Milian Trio - 1969 - Bazaar

Jerzy Milian Trio 

01. Memory Of Bach 2:55
02. My Favourite Band 5:00
03. Rewelacyjny Luciano (Sensational Luciano) 4:00
04. Szkice Ludowe (Folk Sketches) 4:00
05. Tempus Jazz 67 4:15
06. Bazar W Aszchabadzie (Ashkabad Bazaar) 5:40
07. Serial Rag 1:56
08. Valse Ex Cathedra 5:09

Recorded in Warsaw, June 1969.

Double Bass – Jacek Bednarek
Drums – Grzegorz Gierlowski
Flute – Janusz Mych
Vibraphone, Marimba – Jerzy Milian
Vocals – Ewa Wanat

One of the most important albums in the history of Polish jazz. The trio under the leadership of eminent vibraphonist does cross stylistic, acoustic and formal boundaries. Bach-like cadences combine with hot swing, while orient-inspired improvisations with serialism. Classics!

Released in 1969 as part of the legendary Polish Jazz Series by the state owned Polskie Nagrania / Muza label. The album was recorded in a trio format, with Milian playing vibraphone and marimba, bassist Jacek Bednarek (who also plays the oriental gidjak on one tune) and drummer Grzegorz Gierlowski. Two members of the legendary Polish vocal quartet NOVI: Ewa Wanat (who adds vocals on five tracks) and Janusz Mych (who adds flute on one track) also participate in the recording. The original album presents eight original compositions, seven of which are composed by Milian and one is co-composed by him and Krzysztof Komeda. 

In retrospect this is definitely one of the most idiosyncratic albums in the Polish Jazz Series, presenting one of the first occurrences of the Polish / European Chamber Jazz, which was an amalgam of modern Classical and Cool Jazz elements with many different less audible influences, like early World Music, Free Jazz, Ambient (before it was even called that) and others. The vocal parts by Wanat are completely spine-chilling, typical of her brilliant and unique style, which was the crucial ingredients of the NOVI magnetism. It is definitely a must to all Polish Jazz enthusiasts, wherever they might be on this globe (and beyond).

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Janusz Muniak Quintet - 1978 - Question Mark

Janusz Muniak Quintet 
Question Mark

01. Przejażdżka Walcem (Drive On A Planning Roller) 12:10
02. Taniec Pawia (Peacock's Dance) 7:27
03. Obertas 9:50
04. Znak Zapytania (Question Mark) 10:12

Bass – Andrzej Dechnik
Drums, Percussion – Jerzy Bezucha
Guitar – Marek Bliziński
Piano, Electric Piano – Paweł Perliński
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Janusz Muniak

Recorded in Warsaw, June 1978

This is the debut album as a leader by the great Polish saxophonist / composer Janusz Muniak, one of the forefathers of modern Polish Jazz. His legacy includes the membership in such legendary Polish ensembles as those led by Andrzej Trzaskowski, Krzysztof Komeda and Tomasz Stanko as well as leading his own groups. He is accompanied here by his quintet, which includes pianist Pawel Perlinski, guitarist Marek Blizinski, bassist Andrzej Dechnik and drummer Jerzy Bezucha, all excellent players themselves. Muniak has a completely unique, natural style of improvisation, which is passionate and highly expressive, putting him somewhat aside in a class of his own besides the other distinguished Polish saxophonists, like Zbigniew Namyslowski for example. His compositions incorporate beautifully Polish folklore and the Jazz tradition, often unintentionally, but always brilliantly. This is on of the strongest albums in the legendary Polish Jazz series, which is a very high distinction by any standard. This is a must to lovers of Polish and Eastern-European Jazz and a timeless masterpiece.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski Quartet - 1978 - Flyin' Lady

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski Quartet
Flyin' Lady

01. Pastuszek Stomp 6:44
02. Grzmot Nad Ranem / Morning Thunder 8:02
03. Bossa Nostra 5:35
04. Pani Ptakowa / Flyin' Lady 8:15
05. Dlaczego Malpa... / Why The Monkey... 7:52
06. Klichec Chechciol Dana 3:53

Bass – Witold Szczurek
Drums – Andrzej Dabrowski
Guitar – Marek Blizinski
Tenor Saxophone – Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski

Recorded in Warsaw, August 1978

This is an excellent album by Polish veteran Jazz saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Jan "Ptaszyn" Wroblewski. One of the great pioneers of the Polish Jazz movement since the 1950s, Wroblewski remained very active on the local scene in many capacities, which included leading his own ensembles, directing the Polish Radio Jazz Studio Orchestra and teaching generations of Polish Jazz musicians. Wroblewski always firmly stood for the Jazz tradition, keeping the mainstream Jazz in Poland on a very high level. He was rarely associated with the Polish Jazz modernists and avoided Free Jazz excursions, even when these were fashionable. Nevertheless his unique and innovative approach to Jazz composition and virtuosic ability as a player make his very extensive legacy an infinite source of superb Jazz moments. This album presents six original compositions by Wroblewski, superbly performed by a quartet, which includes guitarist Marek Blizinski, bassist Witold Szczurek and drummer Andrzej Dabrowski. Blizinski should be noted as one of the greatest Polish guitarists and perhaps the Jazziest one, who avoided getting into Fusion at all costs, keeping his sound in the Wes Montgomery / Barney Kessel tradition. Altogether this is a great example of the versatility of the Polish Jazz scene and its excellence, regardless of the specific sub-genre in question. Highly recommended!

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski - 1976 - Skleroptak

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski 

01. Skleroptak 10:30
02. Strzez Sie Szczezui 7:30
03. Punktowiec 7:35
04. Szpunk 8:30

Double Bass – Nick Kletchkowsky
Guitar – Freddy Sunder
Keyboards – Bob Porter
Percussion – Van de Walle, Bruno Castelucci
Piano – Tony Bauwens
Saxophone – Eddy De Vos, Guy Dossche, Jose Paessens, Vic Ingleveld
Saxophone [Tenor] – Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski
Trombone – Eddy Verdonck, Frans Van Dijck, Paul Bourdiandhy
Trumpet – Edmond Harnie, Janot Morales, Nick Fisette
Vibraphone, Bongos – Sadi

Recorded 10 & 11 March 1976 at BRT Studio, Brussels, Belgium.

The material presented on this album was recorded in Belgium but presents the great veteran Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski, who contributed his beautiful compositions and arrangements and plays as the principal soloist. He is accompanied by the Belgian (Radio & TV) BRT Jazz Orchestra, directed by Etienne Verschuerena, which includes many wonderful players, including internationally known keyboardist Bob Porter and drummer Bruno Castelucci.

Wroblewski, who was also the director of the Polish Radio Jazz Studio Orchestra during the years 1968-1978, recorded these compositions earlier with that orchestra, but these new renditions sound quite different from the earlier versions, being more "polished" and "rounded". The Polish orchestra was in fact a collection of top soloist whereas the Belgian orchestra is a full-fledged professional Big Band, which is much more about the overall band sound than individual solo spots. As a result the music captured here is a beautiful example of European Big Band sound, which is quite different from the American counterparts.

Overall this is a splendid Big Band album playing excellent music, interesting arrangements and featuring some great solo spots. Although pretty mainstream, this is elegant music, full of European aesthetics, which is completely ageless and sounds now every bit as great when it did at the time of its release. Big Band enthusiasts should have a field day with this excellent piece of music, which is again back in circulation.

Side Note: The Poljazz label, which originally released this album, was active for 20 years (between 1972 and 1991) and was owned by the Polish Jazz Society. Considering the fact that the music industry in the Socialist State was centralized and totally controlled, with just one State owned music company producing all the albums, the possibilities to record and release Jazz albums were extremely limited. Poljazz was conceived and founded in order to allow for many more Jazz (and other) albums to be released independently from the State owned Polskie Nagrania / Muza and as such revolutionized the music industry at the time, being the only such enterprise in Eastern Europe. The Polish label Anex reissued many of the original Poljazz albums on CD, bringing this fabulous music back to life.

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski & Wojciech Karolak - 1973 - Mainstream

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski & Wojciech Karolak

01. I Hear Music 7:23
02. My Favourite Things 5:53
03. Dookola Wojtek 5:47
04. Walkin' 6:10
05. I Got It Bad 6:05
06. It Could Happen To You 8:51

Drums – Czeslaw Bartkowski
Guitar – Marek Blizinski
Organ – Wojciech Karolak
Tenor Saxophone – Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski

Recorded 31 May, 24 October 1973 in Polish Radio, Warsaw

This album presents a meeting between two Polish Jazz veterans: saxophonist / composer Jan "Ptaszyn" Wroblewski and keyboardist Wojciech Karolak. The two cooperated in various Jazz ensembles since the late 1950s and until mid 1960s and this album marks their reunion in the studio after several years of not playing together due to Karolak's residence in Sweden in the late 1960s / early 1970s. The two are joined by another veteran, drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski, and excellent guitarist Marek Blizinski and together they play six tunes, five of which are standards and one id a Wroblewski original. Karolak plays the Hammond Organ, a sound that would be associated with him for his entire future career, and his passion fro that instrument is clearly evident here. Wroblewski and Blizinski play fire solos and Bartkowski drives the quartet forward at all times. Although typically mainstream, this is still great Jazz, performed with passion and considerable talent, which should be enjoyable to all Jazz connoisseurs. Recommended!

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski - 1973 - Sprzedawcy Glonow

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski 
Sprzedawcy Glonow

01. Sprzedaz Glonów (Seaweed Sale) 6:18
02. Bez Wyciszenia (No Fade Out) 6:04
03. Cytat Z Samego Siebie (Quotation From Myself) 9:09
04. Wyznacznik Pierwszy (Determinant One) 9:50
05. Jan Szpargatol Mahawisnia 6:26
06. Magma 5:18

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Wlodzimierz Nahorny (tracks: A1 to B3)
Alto Saxophone, Flute – Zbigniew Namyslowski (tracks: A1 to B3)
Alto Saxophone, Violin – Zbigniew Seifert (tracks: A2, A3, B3)
Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet – Waldemar Kurpinski (tracks: A1, A3 to B3)
Bass – Bronislaw Suchanek (tracks: A3, B2, B3)
Bass – Pawel Jarzebski (tracks: A1, A2, B1, B2)
Drums – Czeslaw Bartkowski (tracks: A1, B1)
Drums – Janusz Stefanski (tracks: A2, A3, B2, B3)
Electric Piano [Fender] – Adam Makowicz (tracks: B1)
French Horn – Dariusz Filiochowski (tracks: A1, A3, B2, B3)
French Horn – Dariusz Szewczyk (tracks: B1)
Guitar – Marek Blizinski (tracks: A1, B1, B2)
Organ [Hammond] – Wojciech Karolak (tracks: A1, B2)
Percussion – Czeslaw Bartkowski (tracks: B2)
Percussion – Kazimierz Jonkisz (tracks: A1, A3 to B3)
Piano – Andrzej Trzaskowski (tracks: B3)
Soprano Saxophone, Violin – Michal Urbaniak (tracks: A1, A2)
Tenor Saxophone – Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski (tracks: A1, A2, B1, B3)
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Clarinet, Bass Clarinet – Tomasz Szukalski (tracks: A1, A3 to B3)
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Janusz Muniak (tracks: A2, A3, B2, B3)
Trombone – Andrzej Brzeski (tracks: A1 to B1, B3)
Trombone – Andrzej Piela (tracks: A2, A3, B2, B3)
Trombone – Jan Jarczyk (tracks: A1, B1, B2)
Trombone – Stanislaw Cieslak (tracks: A1 to B3)
Trumpet – Bogdan Dembek (tracks: A1, A3 to B3)
Trumpet – Boguslaw Skawina (tracks: A2)
Trumpet – Józef Grabarski (tracks: A1)
Trumpet – Laco Deczi (tracks: B2)
Trumpet – Stanislaw Mizeracki (tracks: A1 to B1, B3)
Trumpet – Tomasz Stanko (tracks: A2 to B1, B3)
Tuba – Zdzislaw Piernik (tracks: A2, A3, B2, B3)

Recorded at Polish Radio.
Tracks recorded on:
A1 - 30th May 1973
A2 - 3rd February 1971
A3 - 10th February 1973
B1 - 12th April 1973
B2 - 21st October 1973
B3 - 8th February 1973

This relatively little known brilliant album presents Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski mainly in the capacity as the director of the Polish Radio Jazz Orchestra, a superb collection of top musicians, which functioned as a catalyst and incubator to generations of Polish Jazz musicians as well as a first rate workshop and recording platform. Wroblewski, one of Polish Jazz veterans and Godfathers, led the orchestra for many years with great success and these recordings prove how great it really was. He also composed three of the six extended compositions included here with the other three composed by Tomasz Stanko, Zbigniew Namyslowski and Andrzej Trzaskowski each contributing one composition. The arrangements are absolutely brilliant as are the performances, with the orchestra fronted as such first rate soloists like Stanko, Namyslowski, Michal Urbaniak (playing sax on one track and violin on another), Tomasz Szukalski, Adam Makowicz, Marek Blizinski, Wojciech Karolak, Zbigniew Seifert and of course Wroblewski himself, in short the crème de la crème of the Polish Jazz scene at the time. The music is very modern and even borders on Free at times, presenting very rare examples of Jazz orchestra accompanying a freely improvising soloist. This album is an absolute must to all Polish Jazz lovers and in retrospect is of the best Polish Jazz albums ever recorded. Grab it!

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski - 1972 - Sweet Beat

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski 
Sweet Beat

01. Sweet Beat
02. Tata Lata
03. Bitwa O Grzede
04. Tylko Spokoj
05. Jesien
06. 300 Kilometrow Przed Nami
07. Stopniowanie
08. Dziewczyna Tanczaca
09. Coz Ci To Ja Uczynilem
10. Nie Pozaluje Pan
11. W Kawiarence "Sultan"

Bass – Bronislaw Suchanek
Drums – Janusz Stefanski
Organ, Accordion – Benon Hardy
Percussion – Józef Gawrych
Piano, Organ, Harpsichord – Wlodzimierz Nahorny
Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute – Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski
Trumpet – Janusz Hojan

Recorded February 1972, Polskie Nagrania studio, Warszawa

This record was born in the winter. For two nights, on the 7th and 8th of February, 1972, the glass partition in the Polskie Nagrania studio stood between two groups of musicians. On one side the rhythm section: Wlodzimierz Nahorny, Bronislaw Suchanek, drummers Janusz Stefanski and Jozef Gawrych, and ... "Ptaszyn" Wroblewski; on the other, thirty strings from the National Philharmonic. This time, Ptaszyn turned the leadership over to Zygmnunt Mahlik, director of the Poznanska 
Pietnastka Radiowa (Poznan Radio's Fifteen Orchestra) with which he had collaborated for fifteen years.
This record is, above all, a showcase for Wroblewski's arranging skill. As he, himself, admits, this kind of work suits him  best. "I can't imagine life without strings and French horns", he says. An awareness of the fact that these instruments are a distinctive feature of "sweet music", makes us realize just how much this music means to Wroblewski - the jazzman.
He had wanted to make this record for a long time. However, the final conception was born during the production of another album of "sweet music": his friend Wlodzimierz Nahorny's "Her Portrait", on which Ptaszyn led the band, and to which he contributed some of his arrangements.

A couple of years after they collaborated on the first Polish Easy Jazz album ("Jej Portret"), saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski and saxophonist / keyboardist / composer Wlodzimierz Nahorny meet again on this, another Easy Jazz recording, this time of the Jazz & Strings variety. This time however, Wroblewski is the primary soloist, fronting a wonderful quintet which includes Nahorny on keyboards, bassist Bronislaw Suchanek, drummer Janusz Stefanski and percussionist Jozef Gawrych. The quintet is accompanied by an expanded string section, conducted by Zygmunt Mahlik.

The album includes eleven original compositions, eight by Wroblewski and three by Jerzy Wasowski (a wonderful composer of cabaret songs). Wroblewski also wrote all the elaborate arrangements. Although, as intended, the orchestral arrangements are indeed Easy Jazz, the wonderful saxophone solos are anything, but easy, often being quite complex and even slightly Free Form, sometimes in complete contrast to the melodic background. However the overall atmosphere of this album is relaxed and focuses on delivering a musical experience, which can be enjoyed by a variety of listeners, including those who don't listen to Jazz on a regular basis.

Regardless of the concept behind this music, it is very apparent that neither Wroblewski nor any of his colleagues take this project lightly and the level of execution is simply perfect, as are the compositions. Wonderfully melodic, yet far from being banal, these melodies stand the test of time marvelously and sound completely relevant also today. The overall project might sound a bit dated, but that is also its charm, rising waves of nostalgia for times long gone.

This superb reissue presents exceptional remastered sound quality and fourteen bonus tracks, previously unreleased, which demonstrate other collaborations between Wroblewski and the Polish Radio string ensemble between 1967 and 1971. Wroblewski composed all of these tracks, with the exception of one standard. These recordings are a wonderful window into the "behind the scenes" of the Polish Jazz scene at the time, where experimentation and individualism might have bees suppressed by State censorship, but never stopped the protagonist from trying.

Sadly neglected and almost forgotten over the years, this album truly deserves a second life and GAD Records, as usual, made the right decision to reissue it, making a splendid job as always. I love this stuff!

Czeslaw Bartkowski - 1976 - Drums Dream

Czeslaw Bartkowski
Drums Dream

01. Drums Dream [2:02]
02. Przejsciowka / Bridge-Passage [3:28]
03. FAO [8:09]
04. Rozmowa Z Dzwonem / Conversation With A Bell [1:51]
05. Druga Swobodna Etiuda / The Second Free Etude [2:58]
06. Rozmowa Ze Sliwka Bez Pestek / Conversation With A Pipless Plum [2:07]
07. Good Times, Bad Times [8:04]
08. Seven For Five [7:18]
09. Kolysanka Dla Malutkich Chinczykow / Lullaby For Tiny Chinamen [4:07]

Polish Jazz vol. 50
Recorded at 1974-1975

Czeslaw Bartkowski - drums, percussion
Tomasz Stanko - trumpet
Tomasz Szukalski - soprano saxophone
Adam Makowicz - electric piano
Wojciech Karolak - keyboards

Studio Jazzowe PR Orchestra conducted by Jan 'Ptaszyn' Wroblewski

A drum-heavy set from Polish percussionist Czeslaw Bartkowski – mostly solo on most tracks, but with occasional accompaniment on trumpet, electric piano, and soprano sax on a few of the fuller numbers – plus some great funky big band arrangements at the end! The sound is often spare and moody, but also melodic – similar to some of Max Roach's solo percussion efforts – in that Bartkowski isn't too concerned with going too far out, or getting too free – just working drums and percussion within new modes in jazz! The last few tracks on the album flesh out the sound with fuller orchestrations from Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski – in a way that's almost funky at times 

Great album! Worth the rediscovery.

Big Band Katowice - 1977 - Music For My Friends

Big Band Katowice 
Music For My Friends

01. Happening [2:50]
02. Li'l Darlin' [4:48]
03. Sorcery [4:38]
04. Ballada dla Alicji / The Ballade For Alice [4:30]
05. Madrox [3:41]
06. Hey, Man [7:34]
07. Music For My Friends [7:20]
08. Experience [6:47]

Polish Jazz vol. 52
Recorded in Polskie Radio, Katowice 1977

Zbigniew Kalemba - conductor, leader
Tadeusz Janiak - trumpet
B. Aleksa - trumpet
G. Hartwig - trumpet
Eugeniusz Modliszewski - trumpet
Z. Bankowski - trumpet
M. Kowalski - trumpet
Lucyna Dziwoki - trombone
J. Smolarczyk - trombone
Roman Syrek - trombone
Lukasz Kurek - trombone
S. Rusek - trombone
Jerzy Jarosik - tenor saxophone
Jerzy Glowczewski - alto saxophone
P. Pikielny - alto saxophone
E. Mika - baritone saxophone
S. Nakielski - tenor saxophone
Eugeniusz Okoniewski - tenor saxophone
Andrzej Olejniczak - tenor saxophone
P. Pronko - alto saxophone
Mieczyslaw Wolny - flute
Wojciech Gogolewski - piano
Wladyslaw Sendecki - piano
Jaroslaw Smietana - guitar
Andrzej Trefon - guitar
Jan Cichy - bass
Zbigniew Wegehaupt - bass
C. Szymanski - drums
B. Dziedzic - percussion
Marek Stach - percussion

Katowice, the Capital of Upper Silesia - Poland´s industrial region, was very important to the development of the Polish Jazz scene due to the fact that the local Music Academy was the first and for many years the only higher educational facility teaching a Jazz programme which awarded a degree in Music. The highly dedicated faculty and stuff directed generation after generation of young Polish musicians towards a career in Jazz music and in time the majority of the local Jazz scene was indeed a collection of the Katowice Music Academy alumni, the names of which are simply too numerous to mention. This phenomenon emphasizes the crucial importance of music education and its contribution to Culture. This album presents a Jazz Big Band led by trumpeter / composer Zbigniew Kalemba and comprising of the students of the Katowice Music Academy and guest soloists, some of which were ex-students, such as guitarist Jaroslaw Smietana, bassist Zbigniew Wegehaupt, pianist Wladyslaw Sendecki and many others. They perform eight compositions, five of which are originals and three standards, all beautifully arranged and passionately performed. The majority of the music has a distinct Jazz-Rock Fusion feel, which is not surprising as the genre ruled the local scene in the late 1970s. Since the Polish Jazz series includes only a handful of Big Band recordings, this is a most valuable addition to the overall presentation of the Polish Jazz scene. Warmly recommended!

Bednarek Zgraja Duo - 1981 - Walking Colour

Bednarek Zgraja Duo
Walking Colour

01. Walking Colour
02. La Concha
03. Afrosfera
04. Folk-Music
05. Luz Blues
06. Flute Reflections
07. Piesn Starego Dzeka

Double Bass – Jacek Bednarek
Flute – Krzysztof P. Zgraja

Recorded in PR Studio, Katowice - July & August 1981

This is one of my all time favorite Polish Jazz albums, recorded by the superb duo which comprised of bassist / composer Jacek Bednarek and flautist / composer Krzysztof Zgraja. The original album, released on the legendary Poljazz label in 1983, presented seven compositions, six of which were composed by Zgraja and one was composed by Bednarek. As usual with the splendid GAD Records reissues, the album was expanded by seven previously unreleased additional pieces, all of which were recorded at the Polish Radio studio in Katowice, same as the material included on the original album, but during two different recording sessions. The entire album was beautifully remastered from the original master tapes and the album includes an extensive and again, as usual, highly informative bi-lingual booklet with background information about the album's background.

The music is a wonderful collection of cross-genre compositions, which amalgamate Jazz with World Music influences, contemporary Classical Music and many other musical sources. Beautifully melodic and highly advanced harmonically, this music is completely timeless and sound today as fresh as it was at the time of its recording.

Both Bednarek and Zgraja play brilliantly and their virtuosity is stunning. The ideas and the sound were light-years ahead of their time, as was the concept of the duo, which was completely innovative on the Polish Jazz scene at the time. Sadly they recorded only one more album together (a live recording, which hopefully GAD Records will reissue ASAP), before parting, and never managed to work together again before Bednarek's untimely death in 1990.

This album is not only an extremely important document of the Polish Jazz history but also a milestone in the "Art of the Duo" idiom and a luminous example of flute performances, which are among the most significant in European Jazz history. Zgraja, who now resides in Germany, still plays, composes and teaches music and is one of the top flute specialists in the world.

Andrzej Kurylewicz Quintet - 1967 - 10+8

Andrzej Kurylewicz Quintet

01. Juz Ja Z Toba Nie Zostane / I Won't Stay With You [7:04]
02. Requiem Dla Z.C. / Requiem For Z.C. [3:06]
03. 10+8 [10:10]
04. Rondo (Z Filmu TV 'Cyrograf Dojrzalosci') [11:45]
05. Twarz Widza / Spectator's Face [8:45]

Polish Jazz vol. 14
Recorded in Warsaw, October 1967

Andrzej Kurylewicz - valve trombone, piano, rebela
Wlodzimierz Nahorny - alto sax
Jacek Ostaszewski - bass, tambourine
Janusz Kozlowski - bass
Sergiusz Perkowski - drums
Wanda Warska - vocal

In contrary to other "Founding Fathers of Polish Jazz" such as Andrzej Trzaskowski, Andrzej Kurylewicz (born in 1932), was initially more a man of swing then an avant-garde. He was also a a man of many talents: composer, pianist, trumpet-player, and trombonist. Born in Lwow, 1932, he began his musical education in the Music School (Szkola Muzyczna) in Lwow, and in the Institute of Music (Instytut Muzyczny) in Gliwice. He went on to study in college at the Academy of Music (Wyzsza Szkola Muzyczna) in Kraków - piano under Henryk Sztompka, and composition under Stanislaw Wiechowicz.

In 1954 he was kicked out from the Music Academy for... playing jazz. With political liberalization few years later, he made his debut as the founder of the Polish Radio Jazz Band (Zespol Jazzowy Polskiego Radia) in Kraków and later on worked as a leader of Polish Radio Organ Sextet (Sekstet Organowy Polskiego Radia). Every year, since 1958 until 1971, he presented own programs at the annual Jazz Jamboree festivals with his bands: Jazz Believers, Modernisci, trios, quartets, quintets and with Jazz Orchestra of the Polish Radio (later on known as Studio Jazzowe). He collaborated with variety of artists, including Czeslaw Niemen and Tomasz Stanko. In 1969 he founded the Formation of Contemporary Music (Formacja Muzyki Wspolczesnej - strings, brass and percussion), which he led till 1979. In 1967, in Warsaw's Old Town, with his wife Wanda Warska - a singer and painter - he opened 'Piwnica Artystyczna Kurylewiczow' - a studio for the performance of musical and literary forms, distinct and combined.

He was a passionate artist, who has changed several times the field of his interests and activities, since late 1960s he began drifting from Jazz field more toward contemporary classical music. As a composer, he belonged - as he himself has put it: 'to the post-avant-garde of the late 20th century'. He composed numerous pieces for symphonic orchestra, for chamber orchestra, as well as many song-cycles, psalms for Latin texts, and a wide range of solo works, for piano, harpsichord, organ, flute, tuba, double-bass, and others. As a pianist, Andrzej Kurylewicz valued highly the music of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, offering particularly outstanding interpretations of all twenty-two of that composer's Mazurkas. In his improvisations on the piano, he has been particularly innovative in combining classical and contemporary music with jazz. In 1959 he collaborated with 'Teatr Rapsodyczny' in Krakow, and wrote his first score for the movie ('Powrót'), starting life long successful collaboration with film and theatre. His biggest hit was a score to made for TV show 'Polskie Drogi', the songs from this movie were recorded and re-interpreted by many artists worldwide, including Pat Metheny.

Kurylewicz, who once admitted that he 'never escaped from Jazz' came back to regular playing with his own jazz trio in 1994. Kurylewicz departed on April 12, 2007.

A complete jazz publishing house. 
It starts with a very groovy And Will not Stay With You (I have an unpleasant feeling that the tambourine is too loud), but the cooperation of bass and drums is exemplary. After this broken neck, the song is silenced in Requiem for ZC (title requires). The work is a sleepy, slightly inserted funeral march. 
The title 10 + 8 is a musical improvised game: unfortunately, it's about 5 minutes long. This is the only complaint I have for this progduction: if I want to be avant-garde, they have made a tentative step: In the swaying of the rocking, in their traditional way, I Will not Stay With You , or the calm, but a little disturbing Requiem, almost free of readable improvisation structures, it has too undecided length: I would prefer it to last 30 minutes or 5-10 it has not been pinned or patched. 

Rondo with irreplaceable Wanda Warska on the microphone is a beautiful composition quickly transforming into free-jazz experimentation. In some 3/4 of the length in the form of a chorus, the melody is recalled from the beginning, then it is replaced by a solo of the percussion, to which for a moment they join the inflated one, and after a while let the beautiful closing phrase sound again. This song about the closed but loosely contained composition appeals to me in particular. 

The album ends with a reflection on the Faces of the Viewer , in which the avant-garde sounds of collective improvisation with changing saturation are again reflected.

A great chapter of Polish Jazz.

Adam Makowicz - 1975 - Live Embers

Adam Makowicz
Live Embers

01. Zarzace Sie Wegielki I (Live Embers) 1:35
02. Raz Tak, Raz Nie (Once Yes, Once No) 5:00
03. Passiflora 2:45
04. Pociecha (Solace) 4:15
05. Ballada Dla R (Ballade For R) 2:45
06. Liczenie Od Konca (Count Down) 2:55
07. Tanczaca Panda (The Dancing Panda) 4:15
08. Milowe Kroki (Giant Steps) 2:45
09. Opalizacja (Opalescence) 4:00
10. Artysta Kabaretowy (The Entertainer) 4:55
11. Zarzace Sie Wegielki II (Live Embers) 2:30

Recorded: Warsaw, February 1975.

Piano – Adam Makowicz

This is the 2nd album in the legendary Polish Jazz series by the brilliant Polish pianist / composer Adam Makowicz, his first solo piano recording (a format he loves very much as documented in future recordings) and the first solo piano album in the entire series. By the time this album was recorded, Makowicz was the top piano Player on the local scene and one of the best European Jazz pianists. In the late 1970s Makowicz left Poland and settled in USA, like several other Polish Jazz players, escaping the socialist regime. His wonderful musicality, deep lyricism and typical European way to combine the Jazz tradition with the European Classical tradition (mainly Romanticism) make him a unique voice, which is always worth listening to. On this album he performs mainly his own wonderful music, spiced by his interpretation of a couple of Scott Joplin and John Coltrane tunes. This is a brilliant album and a must for Jazz piano lovers. Highly recommended!

Adam Makowicz - 1973 - Unit

Adam Makowicz

01. The Song From The Valleys / Piesn Z Dolin 2:39
02. War Song / Piesn Wojenna 3:16
03. The Song From The Hills / Piesn Ze Wzgórz 4:05
04. Drinking Song / Piesn Pijacka 3:55
05. Sacred Song / Piesn Religijna 4:00
06. Seven For Five 2:50
07. Suggestion / Propozycja 4:30
08. Blues 4:00
09. It's Not Bad / Nie Jest Zle 2:53
10. Cherokee 4:58

Recorded in Warsaw, March 1973

Drums, Percussion – Czeslaw Bartkowski
Bass, Piano – Adam Makowicz

Adam Makowicz was born Adam Matyszkowicz on August 18, 1940 in Gnojník, though he is an ethnic Pole (The city is now in the Czech Republic).  After the war, he was raised in Poland and studied classical music at the Chopin Conservatory of Music in Krakow.  Government officials disapproved of the liberal improvisational style that is at the heart of jazz music. Despite the oppressive communist restrictions on Polish culture, he developed a passion for modern jazz changing his career path from  classical pianist to that of jazz.  It was years of struggle before he managed to get a regular gig at a small jazz club. It was in the cellar of a house in Krakow.  By the end of the 70s, Makowicz had established himself as one of the leading jazz pianists in Europe and was named "Best Jazz Pianist" by readers of a magazine called "Jazz Forum".  He was also awarded a gold medal for his contribution to music.   In 1977 he embarked on a 10-week concert tour throughout the US,  which was produced by John Hammond.  He also recorded a solo album for CBS called " Adam" and a year later settled in New York. Makowicz was banned from Poland during the 1980s after the communist regime declared martial law.  Makowicz joined many other artists and 
celebrities in participating in Ronald Reagan's initiative named, "Let Poland Be Poland".

Though he is a solo artist, he has collaborated with such greats as Michal Urbaniak, Tomasz Stanko and Leszek Mozdzer as well as performed with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington DC, at the Kennedy Centre, at the Carnegie Hall, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and other major orchestras at concert halls in Americas and in Europe.  His style has been compared to that of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, and Errol Garner among other contemporaries. He has specialized in classical piano as his education was focused on the classical piano.

He moved to Toronto Canada during the 2000s, and continued his career as a concert pianist and recording artist. Over his 40 year career,Makowicz performed with major symphony orchestras, such as the National Symphony Orchestra, at the Carnegie Hall, at the Kennedy Centre, and other major concert halls in Americas and in Europe. He has recorded over 30 albums of jazz, popular, and classical music, and made his own arrangements of compositions taken by Chopin, Gershwin, Berlin, Kern, Porter, Rogers, and other composers. Makowicz also wrote and recorded many of his own work.

Because his music so easily crossed cultural and musical barriers, and his performances reached such a varied audience,  he has been able to use music as a bridge between different cultures. He performed and recorded music by Chopin and Gershwin with the Warsaw Philharmonic, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, National Symphony in Washington, London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and other internationally recognized companies. The year 1999 marked the commemoration of 150th anniversary of Chopin's death. For the occasion, Adam Makowicz played his piano tribute to Chopin at the French Embassy in Washington. Makowicz demonstrated an extraordinary finesse, and originality in his interpretations of classical pieces by Chopin and Gershwin.

After years and years of collecting records, I’m still constantly surprised by how much music is out there in the world to be discovered. Trying to wrap my mind around all of the records that have come out in the U.S. is enough, but when I think about all the records released world-wide, just in the “in the pocket” funky years of 1967-1975, I fall into a deep existential depression that I’ll never be able to hear them all. Thankfully, running into records I’ve never heard of before, or only heard in passing, snaps me out of that “funk,” and reminds me that all we can do is appreciate what we do get in the short time we are here. Even the greatest record collectors, I mean the big time ones with so many records they lose count and lose space, only own a small fraction of the “great” records that have been released. Perhaps that’s why I persist through periods of inactivity to keep sharing music on this site, as there is so much music to discover.

Bartkowski has a ton of credits throughout the European jazz scene, though my limited experience with his playing comes down to this record and work down Michal Urbaniak (later in 1976 it seems he released an album under his own name called “Drums Dream” which I will be tracking down without a doubt before year’s end). What I’ve heard thus far, I’ve dug, and when you hear his snappy work on “Sacred Song,” or his own composition “Suggestion,” you’ll dig it too.

Today’s discovery is a little trip into the Polish Jazz scene courtesy of keyboardist Adam Makowicz. Makowicz’s “Unit” album is a part (Vol. 35 to be exact) of a long running series, just simply titled “Polish Jazz,” that is highly recommended for it’s overall quality and as a way of wading into what for me is largely uncharted territory. Like much of the sounds over in the States, by the time the series made it into the 1970s, things got a good deal funky. That’s certainly the case with this album, which only features Makowicz, almost exclusively on Fender rhodes, and drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski together as the titled “Unit.” And while Makowicz’s playing is top-notch, my love of this album is really all about the drums. Part of the joy of these kind of organ/drum duos is that you are absolutely guaranteed to have open drum breaks, and Czeslaw Bartkowski does not disappoint on that front.

Recorded in 1973 while Makowicz was a member of the Michal Urbaniak Constellation, this beautiful album is a daring vista to record in an intimate setting of keyboards and drums only. The other member of the duo is also a Constellation member, the veteran Polish drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski. All the music is original and Makowicz really shines on his Fender piano, similar to the parallel efforts by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. This memorable album gets better with time! 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Sweathog - 1972 - Hallelujah


01. Road To Mexico - 2:18
02. Ride, Louise, Ride - 3:16
03. Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo - 3:17
04. Questions And Conclusions - 4:08
05. Things Yet To Come - 2:48
06. Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice - 2:30
07. Hallelujah - 2:55
08. Darker Side - 4:07
09. Working My Way Back Home - 2:55
10.In The Wee Wee Hours Of The Night - 4:58
11.Rock And Roll Revival - 3:22

Lenny Lee - Organ, Vocals
Frosty - Drums, Percussion
B.J. - Guitar, Vocals
Dave Johnson - Bass, Vocals

With Michael Omartian - Piano
Jimmie Haskell - Horns Arrangement

Sweathog was a San Francisco-based quartet whose sound was fairly far removed from the music normally associated with that city. They were a powerful ensemble instrumentally, keyboardist/singer Lenny Lee (aka Lenny Lee Goldsmith), guitarist/singer Bob Jones, bassist/singer Dave Johnson, and drummer Frosty (aka Barry Smith, aka Bartholomew Smith) all top players in their field -- Frosty had played with Lee Michaels on his third and fourth albums, while Jones had played on Harvey Mandel's Cristo Redentor and Righteous in the late '60s, and Goldsmith was an ex-member of the Five Americans. 

They were not bad as singers, either, with Goldsmith handling the leads. Their music was a mix of Southern-style soul, early-'70s funk, and blues, all wrapped around a virtuoso rock sound. The group was signed to Columbia Records at the time of that label's fixation on West Coast acts, under Clive Davis's regime -- they were always looking for another Big Brother & the Holding Company, or something to take the place of that act on their roster. The group's self-titled debut album passed mostly without a musical trace, without an AM radio hit to drive sales, though its cover image of bare buttocks was censored in various countries. 

In 1972, they seemed to hit paydirt with their single "Hallelujah," a driving piece of explosive Southern-fried rock & roll with a soul edge that was a killer showcase for all four players (especially Frosty). It got to number 33 on the national charts, but that relatively modest performance doesn't indicate how popular it was on the radio, where it got airplay closer to that of a Top 20 hit. 

The song got the album (also titled Hallelujah) into stores, at least, but it never sold in huge numbers, despite a respectable promotion effort and a lot of exposure for the band, touring behind Black Sabbath, among other top acts of the period. They broke up in 1973, and Goldsmith later played on Martha Reeves' first post-Motown solo album before joining Stoneground. 
by Bruce Eder

The Top 40 title track got Sweathog some chart action in 1971. Drummer Frosty found fame with the pop/blues minstrel Lee Michaels, and here forges a Southern rock sound with bassist Dave Johnson, guitarist B.J., and organist Lenny Lee -- none of them household names, and an album that is highly competent but as non-descript as the players. When your drummer and a guest pianist by the name of Michael Omartian have more recognition, it is clear it will be an uphill climb. 

There's an interesting version of "Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo," a song which wouldn't hit until 1974 for Rick Derringer, so the band showed they have some taste (and that they toured with or at least listened to Edgar Winter's White Trash). For the times, though, heartfelt songs like "In the Wee Hours of the Night" needed a strong personality fronting the group. L. Goldsmith performing Joe Cocker's "Ride Louise Ride" or Sanford Townsend Band material makes for a solid outing, but not the additional hit singles this group needed to amass a following. 

Great music, stirring performances, it's just that the world wasn't quite ready for Three Dog Night meets the Allman Brothers Band. The title track remains a forgotten classic which oldies stations would be smart to add to their play lists. 
by Joe Viglione

Sweathog - 1971 - Sweathog


01. Nonbeliever
02. All I Ever Do
03. Still On The Road
04. Burned
05. Things Yet To Come
06. Runneth Over
07. You Just Took The Ride
08. Lock Up My Body
09. Layed Back By The River

Lenny Lee Goldsmith - Lead Vocals, Keyboards
B.J. - Guitar, Vocals
Dave Johnson - Bass, Vocals
Frosty - Traps, Trans-Celeste, Bells

Sweathog was a San Francisco-based quartet whose sound was fairly far removed from the music normally associated with that city. They were a powerful ensemble instrumentally, keyboardist/singer Lenny Lee (aka Lenny Lee Goldsmith), guitarist/singer Bob Jones, bassist/singer Dave Johnson, and drummer Frosty (aka Barry Smith, aka Bartholomew Smith) all top players in their field -- Frosty had played with Lee Michaels on his third and fourth albums, while Jones had played on Harvey Mandel's Cristo Redentor and Righteous in the late '60s, and Goldsmith was an ex-member of the Five Americans. They were not bad as singers, either, with Goldsmith handling the leads. Their music was a mix of Southern-style soul, early-'70s funk, and blues, all wrapped around a virtuoso rock sound. The group was signed to Columbia Records at the time of that label's fixation on West Coast acts, under Clive Davis's regime -- they were always looking for another Big Brother & the Holding Company, or something to take the place of that act on their roster. The group's self-titled debut album passed mostly without a musical trace, without an AM radio hit to drive sales, though its cover image of bare buttocks was censored in various countries. In 1972, they seemed to hit paydirt with their single "Hallelujah," a driving piece of explosive Southern-fried rock & roll with a soul edge that was a killer showcase for all four players (especially Frosty). It got to number 33 on the national charts, but that relatively modest performance doesn't indicate how popular it was on the radio, where it got airplay closer to that of a Top 20 hit. The song got the album (also titled Hallelujah) into stores, at least, but it never sold in huge numbers, despite a respectable promotion effort and a lot of exposure for the band, touring behind Black Sabbath, among other top acts of the period. They broke up in 1973, and Goldsmith later played on Martha Reeves' first post-Motown solo album before joining Stoneground.

Fantastic short lived band that could have been superstars in my opinion. Both albums rock with Hallelujah being the better of the two, but not by much . They toured Black Sabbath, Grand Funk, J. Geils, Edgar Winter and others. Dave Johnson played with Dr. John & The Beach Boys, Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost also known as "Frosty" played with Lee Michaels (one of my favorites) they mostly hailed from No. Calif and played at all the Bay Area venues. Get these before they're gone Good Stuff !!!

Lee Michaels - 2015 - Heighty Hi

Lee Michaels 
Heighty Hi

01. Heighty Hi
02. Do Ya Know What I Mean
03. If I Lose You
04. The War
05. Goodbye, Goodbye
06. Hello
07. Carnival Of My Life
08. Uummmm My Lady
09. Keep The Circle Turning
10. Thumbs
11. Can I Get A Witness
12. Hold On To Freedom
13. Murder In My Heart (For The Judge)
14. Sounding The Sleeping
15. Stormy Monday
16. What Now America
17. Who Could Want More
18. No Part Of It
19. Own Special Way (As Long As)
20. Love

Nobody sounded quite like singer, songwriter, and keyboardist Lee Michaels during his seven-album run with A&M Records, circa 1968-1973, and while some have tried, nobody has quite nailed his unique, frequently minimalist creative vision since. A soulful vocalist often accompanied on album by only a lone percussionist, Michaels explored the use of piano, keyboards, and even harpsichord in rock music unlike any other artist at the time; even when he went the full band route by adding bass and guitar, it was Michaels’ keyboards that led the parade.

A reappraisal of Lee Michaels’ place in the rock ‘n’ roll history book as been long overdue, and perhaps the release of Heighty Hi: The Best of Lee Michaels will prompt a well-deserved rediscovery of one of the great lost rockers of the 1970s. Comprised of 20 tracks, including his lone Top Ten hit “Do You Know What I Mean,” Heighty Hi provides an insightful cross-section of Michaels’ music, pulling material from all six of his studio albums and offering a representative sample of his artistic ambitions. The compilation provides an introduction, of sorts, to new listeners and is being released alongside the seven-disc The Complete A&M Album Collection box set for those who desire to jump headfirst into Michaels’ milieu.

So what can the intrepid listener expect from Heighty Hi? Opening with the controversial title track, “Heighty Hi,” (hey, it was originally released in 1968), Michaels applies a jangly, Southern gospel vibe to what appears, on the surface, to be a pro-marijuana song but seems to me to be just as likely to also serve as an apt metaphor for peace and brotherhood. Led by Michaels’ wistful vocals and intricate piano playing, the song is certainly infectious in its charms. The comp cranks right into Michaels’ best-known tune, “Do You Know What I Mean,” a studio throwaway that, while based on a true story, the singer never really cared for…and ironically, it became his biggest hit. Featuring a repeating keyboard riff and minimal percussion, the song relies on Michaels’ tortured, tearful vocals that – whether he cared for the song or no – nevertheless channel true emotion.

If only for these first couple of songs, which stood proudly alongside the typical guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll fare of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Michaels deserves acclaim. As shown by Heighty Hi, though, there are lots of other fine examples of Michaels’ musical genius. “If I Should Lose You,” from Michaels’ 1968 sophomore album Recital, masterfully blends R&B roots with a bit of psychedelic pop for a quick shot of exhilaration: Michaels’ whimsical vocals and baroque piano are accented by former Paul Revere & the Raiders’ guitarist Drake Levin’s soaring notes and soulful blasts of horn on what should have been a radio-ready chart hit. Michaels’ original “The War,” also from Recital, is a somber but moving anti-war dirge lifted above the mundane by Michaels’ anguished, angry vox and his clever, effective juxtaposition of harpsichord and keyboards to create a discordant backdrop to the lyrics

Heighty Hi includes the non-LP track “Goodbye, Goodbye,” a high-octane rocker that was released as the B-side to single “The War.” A foreshadowing, perhaps, of the sort of (slightly) more commercial rock music that Michaels would explore on his album 5th, “Goodbye, Goodbye” is a busy, engaging tune with dynamic keyboards pitted against fluid piano licks, with steady percussion (including a resonant cowbell) and an upbeat, energetic feel that should have made it an AM radio hit. The title track from Michaels’ sophomore effort, “Carnival of Life” has a psych-pop edge that’s sharply honed by intricate keyboard runs and blustery percussion while “Keep The Circle Turning,” one of the many cover songs that Michaels visited on 5th, is provided a rich foundation built on Michaels’ gospel-tinged keyboards, the singer’s reverent vocals supported by the warmth of Merry Clayton’s backing vox.

Michaels’ cover of the Marvin Gaye classic “Can I Get A Witness,” also from 5th, was the singer’s only song to hit the Top 40, and a good ‘un it is, Michaels’ high-flying voice surfing atop a recurring keyboard riff similar in sound to “Do You Know What I Mean.” The urgency and romantic frustration found in Michaels’ vocal performance separates it from his better-known hit, and while it’d never be mistaken for Gaye’s incredible version of the Holland-Dozier-Holland gem, Michaels does the song proud. Michaels shared management with fellow San Francisco rockers Moby Grape, so his cover of their raucous “Murder In My Heart (For The Judge)” comes as no surprise. A rowdy take on the song that features Levin’s nimble fretwork and explosive percussion courtesy of drummer Frosty (a/k/a Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost), Michaels’ deft piano-pounding and gang vocals add a real sense of menace to the song.

Michaels’ original “What Now America,” from 1970’s Barrel, is the sort of gritty, socially-conscious protest song that he could sink his teeth into as a songwriter (Michaels has stated on more than one occasion that his ‘love songs’ were penned only to pacify hit-hungry label execs). With minimalist backing instrumentation and intelligent, probing lyrics, Michaels’ plaintive vocals slowly reach a crescendo before ebbing back into darkness. The shortest of the four songs from Michaels’ 1972 psych-rock experiment Space & First Takes, “Own Special Way (As Long As)” re-imagines the typical love song of the day with a clamorous, keyboard-dominated soundtrack that, along with drummer Keith Knudsen’s solid timekeeping and Levin’s subtle guitar, takes on an authentic funky undercurrent.

After his stint with A&M Records concluded with the release of the obligatory Lee Michaels Live album in 1972, the singer signed with Clive Davis and Columbia Records, recording a pair of albums for the label that went nowhere when Davis, the singer’s biggest advocate, was forced out of the company. Those Columbia label albums have become obscure footnotes to Michaels’ career, sought-after collectors’ items that command posh prices. After releasing one more album, Absolute Lee, on his own independent label in 1982, Michaels retired from music altogether to pursue a successful career as a restaurateur.

In spite of his unfair distinction as a “one hit wonder,” interest in Lee Michaels and his music remains extremely high to this day, better than three decades after he sung his last note. Four previous Michaels compilations have been released on CD over the past 25 or so years, with Heighty Hi offering more songs and a much more comprehensive look at the diversity and artistry of Michaels’ music. For the casually curious, Heighty Hi will satisfy your needs, providing the ‘hit’ and much more.

Lee Michaels - 1974 - Tailface

Lee Michaels 

01. Met A Toucan 5:20
02. Politician 3:52
03. Slow Dancin' Rotunda 4:26
04. Roochie Toochie Loochie 2:48
05. Drink The Water 4:26
06. Lovely Lisa 3:38
07. Garbage Gourmet 4:45

Bass – Frank Smith (Rank Frank)
Drums – Bartholemew Eugene Smith-Frost
Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals – Michael Olson

One of the most interesting second-division California psychedelic musicians, keyboardist Lee Michaels was one of the most soulful white vocalists of the late '60s and early '70s. Between 1968 and 1972, he released half a dozen accomplished albums on A&M that encompassed Baroque psychedelic pop and gritty white, sometimes gospel-ish R&B with equal facility. A capable songwriter, Michaels was blessed with an astonishing upper range, occasionally letting loose some thrilling funky wails. In 1971, he landed a surprise Top Ten single with "Do You Know What I Mean," one of the best and funkiest AM hits of the early '70s.

But Michaels was really much more of an album-oriented artist, from the time he began recording in the late '60s. Michaels started playing music in Southern California, where he was in a band with future members of Moby Grape, the Turtles, and Canned Heat. By the time he signed to A&M, however, he'd moved to San Francisco, joining the management stable of Matthew Katz (which also included, at various times, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and It's a Beautiful Day). Michaels was unusual for a San Francisco act in that he relied mostly on an organ-based sound, especially after the first pair of albums, when for a time he played, live and in the studio, with the mammoth drummer "Frosty" as his only accompanist.

In the 80's, Michaels moved to Hawaii for an extended retirement from the music business; aside from a self-released album in the early '80s, little's been heard from him since.

In context of being a strangely unique later album from an established young musician who most record labels of the time would willingly and even blindly invite into their studio that resulted in producing a future classic album and setsvnew highes in sales. This was a period when the labels knew they had little understanding of what "magic" ingredients makes any record outsell another. One ingredient consistently associated with many successful albums happened with expressing an intense emotional experience any "deep" artist would commonly become fully immersed and proudly suffer the process; especially during a "you ripped my heart out and I don't understand why" period. So, certain artists were allowed endless studio time with full control in hopes a groundbreaking album that sets a new high in sales.r was resresultedexperiment with produce anything they wanted in a top selling album could be repeated that would guarantee sales.guarateewere doing guidelines or rules that could be followed derstood some records became big sellers sold of 70's "whole thing" has a certain charm that 70's music fans and Lee Michaels fans will appreciate. Fans already know the details of Lee Michaels moving from A&M to Columbia and this brief switch from his trademark Hammond to these raunchy guitar riff sounds. The cover is perfectly hilarious, and for me, this cover photo also captures the special charm of this timepiece: Three music dudes livin' for their craft and stopping for a quick snap to visually document the magic of the moment. You then put this on your turntable to be treated to slightly catchy riffs, silly lyrics, and simple rock vocals. The lead guitar work is weak while the rhythm is very, very good. The back photo is Lee playing as he might have live though I don't think this album ever toured (I saw him late seventies and he was all Hammond again). A unique album that did not work. Many will find this album amusing and interesting, and some may even like it for several spins. If it is ever put out on CD I would probably buy it. But, I also like instant coffee....

Lee Michaels - 1973 - Live

Lee Michaels 

01. Hold On To Freedom 10:50
02. Call It Stormy Monday 6:28
03. Mad Dog 4:55
04. My Lady 3:26
05. Thumbs 5:35
06. Day Of Change 7:30
07. Drum Solo 6:20
08. War 4:16
09. Forty Reasons 4:40
10. Oak Fire 4:10
11. Heighty Hi 9:00
12. Rock Me Baby 4:00

Drums: Keith Knudsen
Organ, Guitar, Vocals: Lee Michaels

Recorded in concert accompanied by drummer Keith Knudsen, Lee Michaels goes through mostly extended versions of various songs from five of his first six albums, interspersed with numbers unique to his concerts, such as "My Lady." Oddly enough, Michaels doesn't perform his biggest hit, "Do You Know What I Mean," preferring numbers such as "Oak Fire" and "Rock Me Baby" from the same album. This is an honest presentation of a Lee Michaels concert, with a raw, un-retouched sound, and he is in excellent form, instrumentally and vocally, on numbers like "Hold on to Freedom," "Stormy Monday," and most of the rest of this album. It might not be the best way to start listening to him, however; Recital and the self-titled third album are better in that connection. Lee Michaels Live is a heavy dose of Michaels' brand of bluesy, R&B-based rock, and while he does coax a nice range of sound out of his two-instrument combo, ultimately it lacks some of the variety found on his early studio albums, which also had more of a psychedelic feel than is to be found here. Ironically, the six-minute Keith Knudson drum solo, more than anything in Michaels' own performance, is the one artifact that dates this album.

By the time of the release of: "Lee Michaels Live" in 1973, this musician was indeed well known in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lee, migrated from the central valley of California to San Francisco in the mid-sixties, and very quickly became known as: "The B3 Beast" By the end of that decade, Lee was a headliner on two coasts {Lee, was the headlining act at the Fillmore East in 1971 when Humble Pie recorded their: "Rockin' The Fillmore" LP}.

By the early seventies the Lee Michaels Band consisted of Lee on Hammond Organ and a massive drumming army named Frosty. And at the time of this live recording Lee had five albums under his belt and was as popular as Steve Miller {Pre:"Joker"} His white soul was a force to witness in concert and with Frosty on his left side facing him these two men seemed to be having a duel on stage, and enjoying every second of it!

Well, for some reason, this 1973 record is without Frosty, and as Keith Knudsen, {a later member of the Doobie Brothers} is a fine drummer it was Frosty who was the 'Yang' to Lee's 'Ying', and without him: "Live" is the begining of the end.

This album is a fine document of Lee Michaels in concert, and with "Heighty Hi" "Stormy Monday" "Forty Reasons" and "Day Of Change" it is peppered with Lee's best known songs, performed with all the normal gusto in front of a very happy crowd. The sound is much like the double LP that I purchased in 1973, it isn't great, and this album does not seem to be tweaked or sweetened from those original tapes. For the spoiled sound children of the digital age, the sound may indeed be a problem but, records of the seventies DID sound like this so for old geezers it's quite nice. The real issue is this: Lee Michaels is all but forgotten today and few remember his greatness 45 Years on And that, is the real crime!

This was a record that meant a lot to me in the early seventies, and as it was always a pleasure to see Lee play live in San Francisco, he would all but disappear soon after this record was in the shops. This is a Great album, it is too bad that just a very few of us are left to remember the great Lee Michaels, and enjoy this fantastic music.

This album is a direct reminder of an era, that we will never be a part of again.
Thank You, Lee, Frosty & Keith.

Lee Michaels - 1973 - Nice Day For Something

Lee Michaels
Nice Day For Something

01. Your Breath Is Bleeding 3:35
02. Same Old Song 2:30
03. So Hard 3:50
04. High Wind 5:55
05. Olson Arrives At Two Fifty-Five 6:40
06. The Other Day (The Other Way) 3:00
07. Rock & Roll Community 3:36
08. Bell 4:25
09. Went Saw Mama 3:00
10. Nothing Matters (But It Doesn't Matter) 6:30

Drums – Keith Knudsen
Guitar, Organ, Vocals – Lee Michaels

I guess somewhere in the mid-1970s, Lee Micheals--"You Know What I Mean" was his big hit in 1971--left A&M and the 1960s behind. Nice Day is on Columbia.

And is a good album. Michaels keyboard-based sound does not change from his earlier albums--although he does try using a synth here, and has replaced booming organ with piano.

What is different is the writing. Michaels has given up 1960s heaviness for condensed, streamlined songs. Nothing wrong with this--given that this was the early 1970s, tightening your keyboard sound is miles above sailing smackface into ELP goop. And there is an easy going, bluesy feeling which Michaels polishes to his advantage, sometimes even getting suddenly funky.

I do miss the experimental, uncharted feel of Michaels A&M albums like Carnival of Life and Recital--just blasting echo keyboard and space cadet art soul all over the place. But that was a different time and place, one we can always visit. I fully recommend this.

But for good tight writing and a tasteful transition into more home spun rock, it is a nice day for this album

Lee Michaels - 1971 - Space And First Takes

Lee Michaels
Space And First Takes

01. Own Special Way (As Long As) 4:33
02. First Names 13:36
03. Hold On To Freedom 5:02
04. Space And First Takes 16:40

Bass – Joel Christie
Drums – Keith Knudsen
Guitar – Drake Levin
Organ, Piano, Guitar, Vocals – Lee Michaels

This album is a fascinating hybrid of psychedelia and mainstream hard rock, incorporating elements of both. Consisting of two short numbers (clocking in a under five minutes) and a pair of extended tracks running a quarter-hour each, it stands apart from most of the extended art rock jams of its era by virtue of its consistent, driving beat and the emphasis on crunchy guitar sounds (courtesy of ex-Paul Revere & the Raiders ax-man Drake Levin and Michaels himself). The title track and "Hold On to Freedom" seem like a lot of empty posturing, although the playing and production on "Space and First Takes" have enough of a psychedelic edge that its 16-minute length is mostly a virtue. "First Names" is slightly shorter, and intense enough across 14 minutes to pull the listener in even deeper and more successfully.

I'll bet it surprised Lee Michaels when 'Space and First Takes', released in 1972, never took off commercially. After being relegated to a spot as a second tier California rocker in the late 1960's, Michaels scored a rousing accidental hit with 'Do You Know What I Mean?' on 1971's 'Fifth'. This album followed, and Lee put together a hard rock delight. The album only consists of four songs, neatly divided into a short and an extended piece on each side of the vinyl. The late 1960's spawned the era of the opus, with many pioneering bands offering long-winded exposes, such as Iron Butterfly's 'In-a-Gadda-da-Vida' and the Chambers Brothers 'Time Has Come Today'. This phenomenon so gripped the times that many bands took Top 40 hits and expanded them into lengthy show topping excursions, such as The Byrds take on 'Eight Miles High', and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's epic 'Carry On'.

So in 1971 it's no surprise that an aspiring artist like Lee Michaels would take a cue from everything happening around him, and produce his own extended works. These songs do not come across as productions that would have been better in a truncated version. The instrumental variations on the basic themes are intriguing and deserving of the vinyl they displaced. In fact, for avid fans of lengthy guitar jams, the performances offered by Lee Michaels and former Paul Revere and the Raiders lead guitarist Drake Levin are nothing short of exquisite. They are hard rocking and varied, making the approximate quarter hour devoted to each tune a rewarding investment. The two shorter numbers are also strong guitar based compositions, the best being side two's 'Hold On To Freedom', which would appear as the opener on 1973's 'Live'. The live version is actually superior, as it is delivered on Michael's cherished and familiar B3 Hammond organ with great weight and energy. The studio version offered here is good, but the song is much better tendered on the B3 than guitar.

If there is any explanation for why this album essentially became Lee Michael's swan song, it would have to be the lyrics. While Lee could at times be a compelling lyricist, he could also come up with some of the most mundane or confusing of lyrics. He offers a pertinent example of each on this disc. 'First Names', the extended piece offered on side one, delivers trite thoughts such as "First names, running around my brain. First names, they all sound the same". Sometimes I think Lee actually wrote songs, including his hit, "Do You Know What I Mean?" as Ecclesiastical statements on the meaninglessness of it all. On the other side of the coin, and the other side of the vinyl, we have the title track, the last extended piece. I'm really not sure what Lee is talking about in 'Space and First Takes', though it does seem to have to do with the musician's studio experiences. As on most of Lee's albums, however, the lyrics are certainly secondary to the instrumental prowess and captivating guitar performances churning throughout.

The Lee Michaels catalog contains four discs that I consider essential to my musical collection, 'Live', 'Lee Michaels' (his third studio album), 'Fifth', and this release. Of the three, this one gets the most frequent spins in my CD changer. I've always been enamoured with extended guitar jams, and these make the half-hour listening time fly by swiftly, effortlessly, and with great aural gratification. Unfortunately, a used copy of this out-of-print disc will set you back forty dollars at present. The MP3 tracks offered by Amazon consist of only the two shorter songs from the album, certainly due to the extended length of the more desirable tracks. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for these relatively obscure productions to be released again, so if you find a reasonably priced copy anywhere, be sure to grab onto it. In lieu of that, contact a friend who can make a copy for you. Life is short. Don't be without it.