Sunday, February 25, 2007

Do toads spawn in the woods?

Enjoyed a pleasant walk with some friends in the Wye Valley last weekend. The woods were magical – lots of small tumbling streams, rocks covered in moss so lushly green it was almost luminous, lichen and fungi everywhere. One of our party is something of a bird spotter. I love the sound of bird song but have never mastered the art of identifying birds by their song. It was good to have somebody with us who could identify the songs, and so we came to learn which species were gracing our walk with their early spring warblings.

At one point on the walk we came across a scene that could have come straight out of a sc-fi B movie. Small ditches on either side of the path were full of what looked like some nasty alien goo that was seeping up through the earth’s fissures. If we hung around it would surely envelop us all in its deadly poisonous gloop. Of course it was nothing of the sort – just frog spawn. We had never seen so much of it in one place before, and I for one wasn’t expecting to see any so early in the year. From a quick bit of subsequent research it seems that frog spawn can appear anytime in February or March so evidently the particular mountain of it we came across isn’t another portend of global warming. It also struck me that I can’t recall hearing anybody ever refer to toad spawn. Do toads spawn? Was this toad spawn not frog spawn? Well, yes, toads do spawn, but no this wasn’t toad spawn as I have now learnt that that this long and stringy. Nevertheless I'm sure some toads were eyeing us along our walk.

And so, after taking you on a 10+ mile walk through the woods we have finally arrived at today’s circuitous and, it has to be said, flimsy link to the launching point of today’s musical offering “Toad’s Place”.

The Jeff Lorber Fusion were a favourite of mine back in the day when I caught the jazz-funk bug. I have all of their albums (they are on the floor in front of me now, clustered together like so much frog spawn –ha!ha!). When they started out they probably fell as much into the jazz-fusion category as jazz-funk. Whatever j-f label you care to choose the jazz (and funk, and rock) purists would, likely as not, throw their hands up in horror and declare it faux-junk. It’s true that with so many albums of those particular genres you could usually find one or two killer tracks on each album, but they would be surrounded by a number of distinctly run of the mill noodlings. However, I always thought Jeff Lorber’s early albums held up in the quality and listenability stakes pretty well throughout. The eponymous first album and “Soft Space” were released in 1977 and 1978 on the Inner City label. That label always struck me as having a simplistic design that was the epitome of cool. After that Jeff and the Fusion moved to Arista. “Water Sign” was released in 1979, followed by “Wizard Island” in 1980 and “Galaxian” in 1981. Over the span of these albums their sound gradually changed, becoming less sweet and mellow and straight jazz to more commercial upbeat and bright. Also by “Galaxian” Lorber’s synthesised keyboards increasingly dominated and there were even some vocal tracks, which was a bit of a shame as I really liked the horns, reeds and flute when they made appearances on the earlier albums. The Fusion, which had always been a somewhat fluid collection of musicians, disbanded after “Galaxian” and Jeff carried on under his own name and with the more synth dominated and smoother sound.

Jeff is still very much active, having released 20 albums in his name over the last 30 years. I not a fan of pigeon-holing music, and labels come and go. Currently you would put him in the smooth jazz bag. That label didn’t exist 30 years ago but is probably a fair catch all description of his sound.

I think “Toad’s Place” gets the nod as a “banger” and I was going to put up this alone. But then I gorged on all the albums and decided this post needed to be graced by a couple more tracks too. As a result this is a little bit late getting up because I have been struggling to decide which ones. This is what I settled on:

The Jeff Lorber Fusion – Toad’s Place 1979
from Water Sign

The Jeff Lorber Fusion – Curtains 1978
from Soft Space

The Jeff Lorber Fusion – Chinese Medicinal Herbs 1977
from The Jeff Lorber Fusion

Friday, February 16, 2007

Put it on your list

Well here we are – this is post #50. I’m not intending to stop, so it’s 50 not out – a score that most English cricketers nowadays can only dream about. After the pain of an Ashes drubbing that was going to be my cheap joke at their expense but then, what do you know, they polish their bats (and balls!), come up with a couple of half decent performances and win the wotsit cup from under the Aussies noses. Not exactly reason to dance around the sidescreens yet, but maybe there’s a glimmer of hope for the World Cup.

As this is 50 up I thought I better make the music a bit special. Back in October I featured a Betty Wright single. Re-reading that post I notice I made a cricket reference there too, in fact probably the only other cricket reference I’ve made in any of my posts – what’s this then? some weird cricket - Betty Wright subliminal connection going on?

Anyway, in that post I mentioned her 1972 album “I Love The Way You Love”. People sometimes say that soul music is all about the 45s and that there haven’t been many classic soul albums. Well I would agree to a point in that many good soul albums feel like a collection of singles but don’t seem to quite work as an entity which would elevate them to greatness (of course we can all name some classic soul albums that do work as an entity - Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” & “Here, My Dear” and Stevie Wonder’s 70s triple play of “Music Of My Mind”, “Talking Book” and “Innervisions” come immediately to mind). Betty Wright’s “I Love The Way You Love” probably falls into the category of a collection of singles – seven of the eleven tracks were either A or B sides of 45s and six of those were released before the album – but I still rate it as a classic as every track is so strong. The likes of Little Beaver, Snoopy Dean, Clarence Reid, Benny Latimore, and The Memphis Horns are all present; Betty is one of the best soul singers around; and with strong and varied arrangements each track has its own clear identity. I must name check Mike Lewis too who did the string and horn arrangements, the strings are prominent throughout, and fantastic.

To quote, from the back cover, Willie ‘Moon Man’ Bacote from WEBB Radio Baltimore, Maryland: “It’s truly a great bit-o-wax- well recorded and beautifully put together”.

This album is not too difficult pick up on vinyl, and it’s also now available on CD so you too can easily own this soul classic.

How do I pick the tracks to feature? Difficult, because they’re all great. Easy, because they’re all great!

The album has not one but two tracks that feature the word ‘love’ twice in their title. Must be some sort of record. Here they are:

Betty Wright – I Love The Way You Love 1972
Betty Wright – If You Love Me Like You Say You Love Me 1972

Oh, go on then, here’s another one:

Betty Wright – All Your Kissin’ Sho’ Don’t Make True Lovin’ 1972

Now go and buy it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A dose of Dennis

I’ve been laid low for a few days – sniffles, aches and pains – yes - full blown man flu! I even took a sick day. The worst part of it is that when I have gone to work this week I’ve taken the path of least resistance and driven the car. I normally cycle and I’m really missing the fresh air, the sense of freedom, and my ipod shuffle. All together I somehow feel less alive.

I’m fed up with popping paracetamol, what I need is a dose of the late great Dennis Brown.

“Should I” is from his hit 1979 album “Words And Wisdom”. This track warms me inside and out. While I’m drinking the hot toddy that is Dennis’s voice the whole vibe is wrapping me up in a plump king size duvet.

As an extra bonus the lyric features the word “gay” in probably one of its final outings in it’s original colours.

It warms the cockles of your heart.

I’m feeling better already.

Dennis Brown – Should I (mp3) 1979

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Moss Bros

Moss Bros have been an established name on the British high street for more than a century, the name originally appearing over a shop in 1898, although the company was originally founded in 1851. If you want to hire a DJ you could contact Mr. Finewine. Alternatively, if the DJ you’re looking for is of the sartorial variety and you’re in the UK, the chances are you will pop in to your local Moss Bros as theirs is probably the first name you will think of if formal clothes hire is on the agenda (they also sell clothes through other brand outlets). I can’t say I have ever had occasion to use them, however that may change in the future. I now no longer wear a suit to work (no, I don’t go naked, just dress down!) but last summer found myself buying one as we were invited to the wedding of a family friend. Worn once it’s hung in the wardrobe ever since. Perhaps I should have gone to Moss Bros.

For the purposes of this blog mini series of random connections of the unconnected Moss Bros serve as a link to…. Bill Moss the founder of Capsoul Records…. and so to the ‘brothers’ Kool Blues, another one of the select Columbus/central Ohio groups to appear on that label during it’s relatively brief existence.

I picked up Kool Blues “I’m Gonna Keep On Loving You” blind from a soul list in 1976. Although not extensive, my record collection does contain a few obscurities. For some unknown reason though this particular record has always had a special mystique about it. I had always wanted to know more about the label and Kool Blues but at the time there was no practical way of finding out more about it. Of course now we have the Interweb, and, combined with the sterling work done by the Numero Group in 2004 to immortalise the Capsoul label (see link in my previous post) I now know a lot more about the label at least. Although it has to be said not much more about Kool Blues themselves (John Primm, Bill Gilbert, and(?) Norman Whiteside). But the story of Bill Moss and his Capsoul label seems to prove that the mystique this record held for me over all these years was justified – maybe I secretly knew there was a good story behind it.

Bill Moss was a DJ and sometime performer and producer in Columbus when he started the Capsoul label in May 1970, building his own studio. Twelve singles and a single album were released in the four and a half years of it’s existence. The Four Mints and Marion Black had national R&B chart success but with true indie style distribution most of the releases only enjoyed regional success. Late in 1974 the bank finally withdrew a line of credit and the Capsoul label was no more. Bill Moss managed to save his master tapes but they were subsequently lost when the house where they were being stored was flooded, and by then he had already trashed the remainder of his stock as the banks actions had been too much for him to bear. You can hear (the now sadly deceased) Bill Moss talk more about his experiences on the music scene here, and more about Columbus based music here.

A great record and now, some thirty years after it dropped through my letterbox, I’m finally starting to unearth the great story behind it. Not bad for the price of two pints of beer in 1976.

Kool Blues - (I'm Gonna) Keep On Loving You (mp3) 1972