Monthly Archives: January 2010

A ~~ Z – Idris Muhammad “Power of Soul” (1974)

When I was a budding young music collector, I would often endlessly wander around any record store I could find, exploring. Sometimes I had things in mind, and usually I would just check out specific artists and see if there were any recordings I didn’t have or hadn’t heard of before. When major chain record stores still existed (I can’t believe I can actually say that), oftentimes CDs would have accompanying stickers or tags that advertised their specific awards and/or accolades. Being a relatively knowledgable collecter even in my high school years, I often was already aware of the important or ‘famous’ records. But when I came across a copy of Idris Muhammad’s Power of Soul record, I was dubious to the fact that an album I had never heard of could be coined “One of the greatest jazz-soul recordings of all time.” I had actually never even heard of Idris Muhammad. But then came the obligatory ‘flip’ of the CD to see who else was in the band. Grover Washington Jr. and Randy Brecker were already obvious names to me, and I knew Bob James only because he was on one of my favorite Chet Baker recordings (my discovery of his production abilities was yet to come). This made me curious enough, and while I didn’t buy the album that day, it did soon enough end up on my computer (somehow).

“Loran’s Dance”, composed by Grover Washington, Jr.

The “sticker” did not lie. I myself would likely suggest this album to anyone looking for a quintessential soul-jazz recording. While there is no shortage of heavy production on this album, its beauty really lies in its simplicity. The first track, “Loran’s Dance”, is the standout. James’ rhodes intro is still haunting after hearing it 1000 times, and when the band comes in there is nothing but the heaviest, most in-the-pocket groove you have ever heard. This is what Muhammad is known for: turning the simplest, most basic groove into something moving and addictive. Muhammad’s idea to move the downbeat of each new phrase onto the previous measure’s 4 is a perfect example of his expertise in subtelty; it takes the song to a whole new level. Other than the basic arrangement, this song was blessed with an amazing take, and the trumpet and tenor solos are highlights of Brecker and Washington’s careers, respectively.

“Piece of Mind”, composed by Bob James

Still, this album really is all about Muhammad’s unstoppable groove. He is not known solely as a funk/soul player, he has been a member of Ahmad Jamal’s trio as well as in the groups of Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, Eric Alexander and Pat Martino, but this is where he really shines. Even at the most unsuspecting (but perfect) times, Muhammad will dig as deep into the groove as possible, bringing more and more out of each soloist and rhythm member. Check out soprano solo on James’ “Piece of Mind” (the track on the album most influenced by James’ production flair) and how Muhammad pushes the band to get as much as possible out of the form.

The other two tracks, Joe Beck’s ballad “The Saddest Thing” and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Power of Soul” keep the consistency up. Power of Soul is one of those albums that knows its good. Just like Headhunters and Mister Magic (two other legendary albums from the same decade), only 4 tracks were necessary to convey its message. Not too little, not too much, but just the right amount to make an almost perfect album.

Quick Listen ~~ John Ellis “One Foot In The Swamp”

I’ve owned this album for a while, but until now had never given it a full listen through. I was prompted to do so after reading the argument that is standing between Chris Kelsey, Graham Collier and David Adler concerning certain qualifications of music. One thing in particular that Kelsey is getting heat for is writing off John Ellis’ album Roots, Branches and Leaves as just another “neo-bop record”. I have always had an ambivalent opinion of Ellis, so I decided to give One Foot in the Swamp (Ellis’ next release after Roots, Branches and Leaves) a good listen through. My ambivalance still stands. While I respect Ellis for his desire to push this music forward compositionally, much of his music (and musical choices) remains extremely choppy and inconsistent. “Work In Progress” is a good example of this: each of the many different sections move to and from each other without much of an audible connection, and the transitions often sound extremely abrupt and unrehearsed. In addition, Ellis’ desire to combine as many different influences into one record becomes an information overload. The best tracks end up being the ones where he avoids all the superfluous electronics and effects and drastic mood changes. This goes for the compositions too: the most memorable remain the simplest, country-based themes (“Sippin’ Cider”, “Happy”, “One For the Kelpers”) where Ellis avoids becoming too self indulgent. When done listening to the recording one cannot deny that Ellis has a lot to offer, but the way he expresses himself makes you think he might even have too much. Knowing that each of his albums is an exercise on a different theme with a completely different band and instrumentation illustrates a musician who is lost in modernity. Perhaps once he settles down into a specific niche and works on developing it will we really see his potential realized .

It Never Entered My Mind…

In Honor of Ed Thigpen…

…who passed away on the 13th. In the liner notes to Oscar Peterson’s album Oscar Peterson Trio + 1, Peterson claims that this track, “Brotherhood of Man”, contains Thigpen’s greatest recorded drum break (1:44).