ROBERTA FLACK — First Take (review)

ROBERTA FLACK — First Take album cover Album · 1969 · Vocal Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Matt
This one comes with Les McCann's recommendation as Les championed Roberta at the begining of her career back in the late sixties. Les actually wrote the album notes and Les introduced Roberta Flack to Joel Dorn ( Producer) from Atlantic Records who with Les could see potential with a capital P as Roberta Flack has a distinct class that exudes with her vocal technique and style that only black American vocalists sing with Jazz, Gospel, R&B,Folk, Blues and Pop all being influences and repertoire. Roberta Flack recorded "First Take" being her debut back in 1969 with Jazz being the major component with a bit of Gospel and a touch of R&B included in the mix of songs chosen for the album but nobody bought it, that is until Clint Eastwood decided to include "The First Time Ever I saw You Face" in his current movie at the time in 1972 "Play Misty For Me" which made the album number 1 in 1972 with the single spending six weeks at number one and selling over a million copies gaining Gold Record status with the Grammy the following year in 1973. One thing that always impressed me with Roberta Flack is the clarity of her voice with usually every word of every lyric coming through as clear as a bell even when she goes high, low or when she is extending words used within her songs, one can always hear every nuance from every lyric clearly with her stunning interpretations contained within this album. Roberta has another ace up her sleeve as well because she can play quite a nice piano and she was sure lucky to have on her debut the great Ron Carter on bass who has done simply beautiful work within the album and given it one great solid backbone to stand on. Ron does not get to his Miles Davis speeds but that is where I find his playing so stunning as the timing is often quite slow and he really had to be on his toes for this but credit must as well go to the mixer as the bass is right up front but does not over power but just provides a beautiful texture to every tune used. John "Bucky" Pizzarelli is on guitar and boy what a history he has had, having played with Les Paul for one and he has left quite a dynasty after retirement with his two sons renowed musicians today. Ray Lucas is drumming another Jazz professional having played with the likes of King Curtis, George Benson, Jack McDuff to name a few with these three gentlemen including Roberta Flack making a quartet which is the basis of the sound used in the record. There are strings and horns added in various tracks with some well known players present but basically the albums foundation is the Quartet sound.

Eight superbly interrupted tracks but often when playing this record I start with the flip or side two and not because of the single although that is one added bonus but the album commences with one of my favourite songwriters, Leonard Cohen with a beautiful rendition from Roberta of "Hey,Thats No Way To Say Goodbye" with that stunning accapella intro with some great brush work from Ray Lucas on drums with just the right touch between the strings which are added to the number but it is the Quartet sound that is still prevalent throughout with Roberta Flack adding a nice little piano solo but that voice when she sings just sweeps all away with the enchantment. The second track on the album is the hit "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" written by Ewan MacColl and it is a folk song from the man who also penned "Dirty Old Town" and to think that he wrote this tune in one hurry and taught it to his wife Peggy Seeger over the phone. Roberta Flack has taken the song and made it hers bringing an etheral feel to the composition which today is up there in those top 100 songs polls now and again but listen to Ron Carter on bass with his slow throb that he keeps constant throughout with his immaculate timing. This album owes so much to his input and yes I am a fan but it is not often on an artists debut you get one of the best bass players on earth to assist. Righteousness comes to the fore here with "Tryin' Times" and this is just the Quartet with no strings giving the album a constant variety of songs and Roberta Flack plays a great solo on piano but her voice being so good just keeps detracting from this talent of hers as she hits those vocal heights superbly throughout the composition. The actual album closer is "Ballad of The Sad Young Men" which is a standard and taken to new heights with a very slow spaced approach and the strings are used here but as I mentioned above they are mixed so beautufully throughout the production by always keeping Roberta Flack's voice and the Quartet at the front and at times the strings are unnoticable and you really have to listen for them as they are just blended in superbly throughout.

Side one of the record starts with "Compared to What" which is one of the two tunes where we get horns added on the album with a bit more rightousness and a bit of a Blues feel but it is Jazz that is the end product with this combination of influence. "Angelito Negros" the tune made famous by Pedro Infante with the great Antonio Machin and Eartha Kitt also having versions but like that hit single from this album this is the one for me being simply stunning. "Our Ages of Our Hearts" which is the second Donny Hathaway song used on the album by Roberta brings only more quality listening for you to enjoy. The Gospel gets a go with "I Told Jesus" with Ron just putting those great bass strums over this slow etheral composition where like all the other songs on the album the intensity of Roberta Flack's vocals just slowly builds throughout.

What a debut and one that is Jazz in its purest and you may ask why I take this perspective but the fact is what happened here was we have what basically is a Jazz Vocal Quartet which has a slight from the time contempary influence added being R&B with Gospel and a pinch of Blues spice thrown in, getting away from the more standard Jazz vocal group sound. Original most definitely and one can see what Les McCann was excited about when he raced off to Atlantic to get Roberta Flack signed. One other note I should mention is, ten hours is all it took to get this beautifull record cut.
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