Rollie Anderson
JMA Special Collaborator · Jazz Reviewer
Registered more than 2 years ago · Last visit more than 2 years ago

Favorite Jazz Artists

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266 reviews/ratings
SANTANA - Caravanserai Latin Rock/Soul | review permalink
STEELY DAN - Aja RnB | review permalink
BILLY COBHAM - Spectrum Fusion | review permalink
WEATHER REPORT - Heavy Weather Fusion | review permalink
WEATHER REPORT - Mysterious Traveller Fusion | review permalink
STANLEY CLARKE - School Days Fusion | review permalink
JEFF BECK - Blow by Blow Fusion | review permalink
STEELY DAN - Countdown to Ecstasy RnB | review permalink
STEELY DAN - The Royal Scam RnB | review permalink
LES MCCANN - Les McCann & Eddie Harris : Swiss Movement Soul Jazz | review permalink
MILES DAVIS - Birth of the Cool Cool Jazz | review permalink
SONS OF CHAMPLIN - Welcome to the Dance Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
JIMI HENDRIX - Are You Experienced (Jimi Hendrix Experience) Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
STING - The Soul Cages Pop/Art Song/Folk | review permalink
MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA - Birds of Fire Fusion | review permalink
STEVIE WONDER - Innervisions RnB | review permalink
STEVE WINWOOD - Roll With It Pop/Art Song/Folk | review permalink
STEVIE WONDER - Songs in the Key of Life RnB | review permalink
JOHN COLTRANE - A Love Supreme Post Bop | review permalink
ART TATUM - Piano Starts Here Swing | review permalink

See all reviews/ratings

Jazz Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Jazz Related Rock 72 3.37
2 Pop/Art Song/Folk 53 2.94
3 RnB 51 3.53
4 Fusion 35 3.56
5 World Fusion 7 3.43
6 Latin Rock/Soul 6 3.92
7 Funk Jazz 5 3.60
8 Vocal Jazz 5 4.10
9 Hard Bop 4 4.38
10 Cool Jazz 4 4.88
11 Funk 4 2.38
12 Blues 3 3.67
13 Soul Jazz 3 3.83
14 Post Bop 3 4.17
15 Post-Fusion Contemporary 2 4.00
16 Jazz Related Soundtracks 2 3.75
17 Third Stream 2 2.75
18 Bossa Nova 2 2.50
19 Bop 1 4.00
20 Swing 1 5.00
21 Jump Blues 1 4.50

Latest Albums Reviews

FRANK ZAPPA Sheik Yerbouti

Live album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock
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In 1977 Frank Zappa’s contract with Warner Brothers ended and he finally got the unfettered freedom that he’d been yearning to have for years. “Sheik Yerbouti” was the first release on Zappa Records and I get the feeling that Frank wanted to celebrate the occasion by having some fun. While many might consider this double LP too frivolous I beg to differ. The man’s humorous side was never hidden from public view so to expect him to conceal it as if it were something he was ashamed of is to dismiss a huge part of his personality for no good reason. For those inclined to limit themselves to his more “serious” endeavors there’s plenty of albums available that more readily accentuate Zappa’s adventurous jazz/rock fusion explorations but I think to do so hampers one’s ability to completely understand his genius. This wasn’t just some wise guy with distinctive facial hair who surrounded himself with eclectic collections of musical virtuosos, this was FRANK ZAPPA! He was openly rebellious and to expect him to play by the rules was pure folly. This is no masterpiece of prog rock or modern jazz but I doubt that he was trying to make one this time around. I think he just wanted to reiterate to the industry that in his realm there were no sacred cows to be revered and, by combining live tracks with studio add-ons and effects, demonstrate that he refused to be restricted or corralled by traditional methodology. “Sheik Yerbouti” displays splendidly the mixture of wit and immense talent that made Frank the stellar, one-of-a-kind 20th century savant who influenced millions of musicians worldwide during his too-short 52 years on Terra Firma.

The first five cuts are a non-stop medley of tunes that appear to be a lampoon of the trends that surfaced and thrived (at least for a while) during the 70s, starting with a hilarious send up of R&B Doo-Wop sensibilities entitled “I Have Been in You.” I find the crude lyrics and the high-pitched backup vocals to be an absolute hoot because Motown was never this brutally honest about sex although they sang about it all the time. From there he cruises into “Flakes,” a great skewering of Californians in general coupled with proggy interludes and rhythm guitarist Adrian Belew’s faux Bob Dylanisms that only the mind of Mr. Zappa could make work. “Broken Hearts are for Assholes” is next, a rocking stab at the New Wave movement that also gives a wink to the pretentious performance artists of that era via free-form word association. “I’m So Cute” then barges in. It reminds me of some of the silly British glam acts that tried so hard to be outrageous but were only successful at becoming ridiculously dated. The southern-fried boogie craze gets its turn on the grill with “Jones Crusher,” a driving number faithfully rendered complete with inane words and an overblown concert finale. “Whatever Happened to All the Fun in the World?” is the first of several brief forays into an abstract dimension that’ll give you cause to grin. It’s not all vaudeville, though. On “Rat Tomago” Frank cuts loose on the fret board and proceeds to dazzle and stun your ears with his inimitable axe-wielding ferocity. It’s pretty much a droning on-stage jam but who cares when the guitar playing is this fierce? “Wait a Minute” is another short spasm of incidental hijinks. Those of the politically correct persuasion had best skip “Bobby Brown Goes Down,” a bold slice of satire that’s bound to offend the sensitive. My opinion is that if you can’t enjoy a chuckle over this song then you’re taking yourself way too seriously (Something Zappa avoided like the plague.) Lighten up, for heaven’s sake.

“Rubber Shirt” is an experimental detour into jazz land where Terry Bozzio’s drums and Patrick O’Hearn’s bass guitar roam free. Frank, ever the mad scientist, combined two totally unrelated tracks to construct something intriguing. It goes to show that he was never afraid to “put it all out there.” He wasn’t as concerned about the common man’s acceptance of his fearless craft as he was of staying true to it. “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango” is a strange journey into Latino territory where Zappa colors far outside the well-defined lines. It’s definitely not for the musically conservative ear. On the odd little ditty, “Baby Snakes,” it’s back to unapologetic funny business for a few minutes. “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” is a sly poke at rock & roll theatrical productions. (Makes me wonder what FZ would’ve thought of extravaganzas like the recent insipid “Rock of Ages” stage show and movie.) “City of Tiny Lites” is a prime example of why there’ll never be another Frank. It’s a tightly-compacted conglomerate of rock, prog, funk, jazz and humor that’s a testament to his unmitigated gall. “Dancin’ Fool” follows, an incredibly spot-on swipe at the vapid disco phenomenon. (The tune actually crossed over into dance clubs for a spell in ’79 to Zappa’s astonishment.) “Jewish Princess” is Spike Jones on LSD. Sometimes making music can be made for no other purpose than to elicit a giggle or two and I’m okay with that. Let it be exactly what it is and don’t overanalyze. “Wild Love” is a highly complex, intricate arrangement of musical passages and assorted absurdities that defies description. Think jazz/rock fusion tossed in a blender. The album ends with 12:36 of “Yo Mama,” an epic that showcases Frank’s progressive leanings eloquently. Here structure and spontaneity get swirled together brilliantly. I realize that a lot of folks won’t “get it” but I’m glad that I do. It’s greatness.

“Sheik Yerbouti” went on to become Zappa’s biggest seller. It rose to #21 on the LP charts and, to date, has sold over 2 million copies. Not bad for an anti-establishment non-conformist. While I can dig that this stuff ain’t for everybody I think it’s still better than most of the self-righteous garbage I hear on radio and TV today. No one dares to be sarcastic anymore for fear of reprisals from the right or left and that’s a shame because we need to be reminded from time to time that we’re all crazy, neurotic messes that don’t seem to know when to take a chill pill and have a good laugh at ourselves. Frank Zappa took on that dirty job with pleasure and, in hindsight, it’s obvious that he didn’t scar anybody for life with his playful jabs. “Sheik Yerbouti” is a harmless yet entertaining escape from the hum drum.


Album · 1988 · RnB
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After putting out two excellent albums that made her and her top-notch band international stars in 1984-85 Sade took almost three years to write, arrange and record their third disc, “Stronger than Pride.” While not identical to the pair that preceded it, its similarities didn’t disappoint the millions of fans who’d anxiously awaited the next installment of their career. Though one can tell that their commitment to their music is first and foremost, their devotion to their loyal following is just as impressive. This group’s sound is so unique and so individualized that to this day no one has been able to competently imitate or even draw fair comparisons to their admirable way of doing things and that’s what legacies are made of.

The album opens with the title cut. A subtle drum pattern establishes the pulsating hue that gives an inviting personality to the track’s underpinnings yet it’s the melodic mien that makes the song transcend the norm. As only a handful of female vocalists can do, Ms. Adu controls and manipulates the dynamics of the tune via her amazing phrasing and undeniable presence. “Paradise” is next and strong rock and R&B elements regally distinguish the number. This band never tries to get overly clever or cute in their approach to their craft, they simply allow Sade to operate her voice in ways that defy convention. The result is musical art that is timeless. “Nothing Can Come Between Us” follows and here the funk flavoring is so understated that it seems clandestine in nature as it gently cradles Adu’s confident delivery effortlessly. “Haunt Me” offers a fine change of pace in that the emphasis shifts to Andrew Hale’s acoustic piano and Stewart Matthewman’s Spanish guitar work that so beautifully support Sade’s breathy singing. The piano solo is delicate and thoughtful, the light orchestration never smothers the song and Stewart’s saxophone ride is suitably dreamy. “Turn My Back on You” tosses in yet another change-up pitch to the plate with its rhythm scheme being based on a novel, stick-on-a-paper-bag snare effect that provides a true departure from their routine motif. This cut causes me to imagine how Sly Stone (in his peak, lucid years, that is) might’ve interpreted Adu’s charismatic technique and style.

“Keep Looking” possesses a funky bass line courtesy of Paul S. Denman that, along with the ever-steady but conservative drumming of Martin Ditcham, drives this tune relentlessly. Sade enchants with her cool voice, demonstrating how sexy is done right. The hypnotic atmosphere they concoct is their forte and no one does it better. “Clean Heart” is next, sporting a smooth, jazzy lilt. Adu, as usual, casts an unavoidable spell on the listener while subdued horns add a classy ambience to the proceedings. Perky, motivating congas set the pace for “Give it Up,” drenching the number in a powerful African aura that will have you dancing in your heart of hearts. “I Never Thought I’d See the Day” follows. Here Hale’s liquid Rhodes piano spreads out below Adu’s inimitable timbre and the song flows freely on its own accord. The track is quite ethereal, with no perceptible beat in evidence. That decision shows clearly their confidence and maturity because why add what’s not necessary? The closer is an entertaining but curious instrumental, “Siempre Hay Esperanza.” It’s an uncomplicated piece where the swaying groove reigns supreme and Matthewman’s saxophone flourishes are sensuous enough yet, taken as a whole, it smacks of filler material. Perhaps they just couldn’t get the vocal to work to their satisfaction (Ms. Adu is listed as one of the composers) or whatever, but it does give the record a strange “unfinished” feel as it comes to an end.

“Stronger Than Pride” topped out at a very respectable #7 on the US album charts, further solidifying Sade’s position as a major player in the confusing 80s music scene. Their refusal to bend to the current trends in the industry paid off once again and continued to set them apart from the madding crowd. If you want consistency and quality in your pop-tinted jazz you need look no further than any of the offerings of this exemplary ensemble of talented musicians.

THE NICE Autumn '67 Spring '68 (aka Autumn to Spring)

Boxset / Compilation · 1972 · Jazz Related Rock
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This is the first LP of The Nice I've ever owned and, despite its contents being well over four decades old, listening to it as a Nice virgin makes me feel like I'm 17 again, filled with adolescent wonder over the resourcefulness and ingenuity these guys injected into their art. Where did they come up with such a splendid blend of influences? How did they combine such a non chalant looseness with such impeccable skill? How did they include such a feisty sense of humor without the end result becoming vaudevillian? How did they consistently break every rule of making records without losing their validity? It's a mystery to me but the bottom line is this: If not for the British Invasion the 60s would've been a lot less fun, exciting and liberating for this land-locked naïve native of the north Texas plains. For a kid like me groups like The Beatles, Who, Stones, Yes and Jethro Tull invigorated and challenged me to think outside the Top 40 box constantly. And if The Nice had garnered even a smidgen of radio time in my area I know I would've owned every album they released. Alas, better late than never, eh wot?

By 1973 the Famous Charisma Label had seen more prosperous days. Due to the immense popularity of ELP, repackaging the endeavors of Keith Emerson's former band seemed like an effortless, profitable way to cash in on his fame. "Autumn to Spring" sounded better than "greatest hits" and I figure the execs thought that sneaky ploy might trick some into thinking this was a new recording so, voila, this collection that relied heavily on their first album's material (6 out of the 9 cuts) taped between Fall '67 and Spring '68 showed up in the platter bins. Gotta admit that the simplicity of the cover design with its raised leaves sitting on a white canvas is effective and quite fetching. Kudos to the art department.

"The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack" says everything I’ve ever clumsily attempted to put into words about clever English musicians. It starts like something you'd expect from Petula Clark, then takes an abrupt left turn into a shadowed alleyway. What at first sounds corny and patronizing becomes a very poignant statement of remorse uttered by an older person who, in reflection, "knew that I was right/then everything moved/I wandered out of sight." The juxtaposition of a mindless, dancing-down-Carnaby-Street pop atmosphere against those rueful lyrics is brilliant, especially at the end when they contrast the song's "groovy" theme with the singer's delusional and foolish exhortation of "I'm going back to be young again." It's a great tune I wish I would've heard when it was still fresh. "Flower King of Flies" is next and it opens with clattering wind chimes followed by a stark upright piano and compressed vocals from bassist Lee Jackson. It has a grand, pompous chorus and a chord progression far ahead of its time. On the down side there's a somewhat dated psychedelic guitar ride from Davy O'List and a lot of brittle organ tones to contend with.

"Bonnie K" is a bluesy rocker with a pair of big ones hanging low. More gritty and aggressive than anything Mick, Keith & Co. were putting out there, this was the kind of raucous rock that we puberty-stricken teens were ravenously hungry for and weren't getting from our homies. It ain't complicated and it didn't need be. It's a shame we didn't get proper exposure to this song because it embodies the full-throttle garage band abandon we so craved and we would've eaten this right up. The only track I ever heard on the FM dial from The Nice was their revolutionary take on Leonard Bernstein's "America" from West Side Story and the belated but significant airplay it finally received was yet another reason for this album's appearance. It is nothing short of groundbreaking and should be revered by all jazz/rock connoisseurs. It has a misleading (but gorgeous) cathedral organ beginning that leads to Keith's growling, percussive Hammond that dominates without mercy. The band displays intricate and precise playing throughout, especially the rhythm section of Jackson and underrated drummer Brian Davison. Davy's guitar lead is a bit off-kilter but it doesn't last long and Emerson gets to dazzle for the rest of the way. Their bold, spirited interpretation of this awesome piece of modern composition (with wisps of Dvorak's "New World Symphony" tossed in because they could) is one of the earliest and greatest examples of pure, unadulterated symphonic-tinted rock there is. They unlocked and opened wide a huge door with this one.

"Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon" with its extremely exploratory in nature use of sampled noise to set up the initial beat brings to mind embryonic Pink Floyd but that observation begs to query "just who was influencing who, exactly?" The renegade trumpet is cool and the tune goes tumbling out the same strange way it tumbled in. "Dawn" is next and I must confess I don't like it much because evidently I have a phobia about whispering I didn't know about until I heard this number. It's creepy and this track has too much of it going on for my comfort. It's a queer duck, too. Keith lays down a blanket of classical scales for a while, then it changes over to a spell of some weird kitchen utensil percussion being banged around, it returns to a marching feel, then they collectively fall into a vat of trippy improvisation before Emerson emerges from the melee straddling a harpsichord and knifing out a mess of distorted Hammond organisms. Unable to stand for long, he falls back into a sea of psychedelia and they end it with more spooky whispering. Stop it, man, you're freaking me out. Seriously.

"Tantalizin' Maggie" is so raw and brash that Johnny Rotten must've been weaned on it. This is punk before The Ramones were potty trained! The in-your-face, rebellious, up-your- mother's-nose-with-a-rubber-hose vocal delivery plastered rudely over Keith's electrified, classically-structured progression is a hoot to hear. On the technical end Emerson stretches the limits of what was possible in the studios of that day with numerous overdubs of different instrumentation and the luxurious piano flurries that arise in the finale are outstanding by any measure. "The Cry of Eugene" follows and it's as close to a ballad as they probably cared to venture, keeping their edge intact by allowing O'List's eerie guitar feedback to lurk about in the surrounding scenery. Overall the song is rather dreadful but if you lend an ear to the incredibly brave things they manage to work into the track you'll be impressed by their tenacity, at the least. They finish up this set with a previously unreleased version of "Daddy Where Did I Come From," a riff-driven steamroller of a tune served up with a large spoonful of quirky British humor, complete with shrill, silly voices. The marvelous thing is that the boys in this band (and many of the others hailing from the island regions) had absolutely no self-consciousness or qualms about being goofy blokes on tape. To us in the no-nonsense USA this wasn't music from the mother country, this was hatched on an alien planet in a distant universe! Not one American combo could've gotten away with such irresponsible shenanigans even if they'd thought to try. We were way too uptight to laugh at ourselves.

I'll honestly admit that what I thought this quartet was and what they actually were are two different animals entirely. But it was a "nice" surprise to find that out. I like them in much the same way I have great affection for The Move, that eclectic group of musical asylum inmates that I fell in love with circa 1970. Madmen Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne had the same slightly slanted frame of reference and disrespectful attitude that I find in this collection of tunes and I'm drawn to that mindset like a lab moth to a flaming Bunsen burner. At the same time it's easy to see why Keith Emerson would feel limited by this environment and eventually break free to scale the heights of rock stardom alongside Greg and Carl but it's obvious that he cut his sharp teeth on the tough chew toy that was The Nice in the late 60s and I sadly regret not discovering their charms in a more timely manner. I would've been a rabid fan, no doubt. There may be other Nice recordings that have a lot more jazz influence but this collection is intriguing, nonetheless.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER The Return Of The Manticore

Boxset / Compilation · 1993 · Jazz Related Rock
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The other night I happened to catch a broadcast of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 40th anniversary reunion concert filmed in 2011 and was so delighted to hear how good this trio still is I decided to finally review their retrospective behemoth, “The Return of the Manticore.” I’d been putting it off for years because such an endeavor is daunting to a lazy-boned mammal like me but, being inspired by the vitality they displayed in that show, I decided it was high time to get to it. Most likely due to the 90s being the final decade of the 20th century, almost every band and/or artist that had made even a small ripple in rock music history emptied their vaults and put out elaborately-packaged, steeply-priced box sets of their careers. If you had a fanatic in your family and extra lettuce on hand, birthday and Christmas presents could be covered by gifting them with one or more of these collections and the demand for them seemed to be endless. In fall of ‘93, just in time for the holidays, ELP released this comprehensive overview of their collaborations and it’s one of the better ones you’ll come across. To keep this essay from becoming a weighty tome that would be a chore to peruse I propose this. If a given song is described in a posted review of mine (all of the initial six LPs) I’ll offer only a one-sentence summary. That way if you’re interested in a more wordy dissection of the tune you’ll have that option and I will thus avoid the bane of all writers, redundancy. Keep in mind that there are four full CDs here. I didn’t say it wouldn’t be lengthy but this ploy should keep it reasonable and, hopefully, entertaining.

For the dedicated follower of Keith, Greg and Carl Disc 1 has more “new stuff” than the other three. Ironically, they open with a fresh rendition of “Touch and Go,” a song penned by Emerson and Lake but hails from the largely-ignored “Emerson, Lake and Powell” album in ‘86. I, along with billions of others, didn’t buy that record but it’s a well-written, melodic rocker with Palmer improving it via a stronger rhythm track so I’m glad it got a second chance to be heard. Its spirit harkens back to their early days and sports a concise, to-the-point arrangement. To market extravaganzas like these those involved would try to toss their devotees a bone or two. ELP’s clever idea was to resurrect cuts from each of the 60s outfits they’d been with prior to forming their supergroup and give them an update. Therefore you get a cover of a Tim Hardin tune, “Hang on to a Dream.” Once recorded by The Nice, it’s a beautiful number with a great depth of field surrounding it. Greg’s voice has matured and deepened but it still packs a wallop of emotion. That song fares well but the following two don’t. Lake was a huge part of King Crimson’s fabulous debut but “21st Century Schizoid Man” was never meant to be a three-minute ditty. What you’ll find here is a Karaoke-worthy recap of a prog icon that’s been over-sanitized and cruelly gutted of the indomitable power the original owned, helping that band shake the planet in ’69. To a lesser extent, their cover of “Fire” (Carl played with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown) is also anemic. The tune isn’t held in the same esteem as the one that preceded it but that doesn’t excuse them for removing all the heat from it. I can’t help but be embarrassed for Lake as he tries to make his voice sound evil and maniacal here. He no longer has it in him.

A brand new studio recording of “Pictures at an Exhibition” ensues and it’s a treat. They pared the Mussorgsky epic down to under 16 minutes while Keith utilized the vast improvements in keyboard technology to pump fresh blood into the piece. I have no doubt that many purists will swear by the ’71 version but I find this presentation makes up for a lot of the excesses that characterized the original live taping while retaining all of the best parts, especially the final movement, “The Great Gates of Kiev.” In stark contrast, they next offer up a new rendition of Greg’s only solo hit from ‘74, “I Believe in Father Christmas.” It’s a nicely-textured update that includes a chorale but it doesn’t add much to his charming ode to crass commercialism. “Introductory Fanfare/Peter Gunn” from the ‘79 “ELP in Concert” album showcases their raw energy and undeniable spunk. Emerson in particular takes the number to places that composer Henry Mancini never dreamed it would go. I’d never heard “Tiger in a Spotlight” from “Works Vol. II” (I’d disowned them after wasting hard-earned money on “Works Vol. I”) and I still wish I’d never heard it. It’s the turd in the punchbowl and it reminds me of how they completely lost their mojo after “Brain Salad Surgery.” Speaking of that landmark LP, “Toccata” follows. It’s a very good arrangement of Ginastera’s abstract Piano Concerto but Palmer’s drum solo and Emerson’s noisy synth-noodling mar it ever so slightly. The brilliant “Trilogy” from the album of the same name is next and all I can say is that when ELP delivered masterpieces like this one no one could top them. “Tank,” from their stunning debut, was the least remarkable number on that disc due to Carl’s unnecessary solo but Keith’s clavinet and Moog work intrigue to this day. They wisely conclude with “Lucky Man.” This simple tune is significant in prog history because it brought the misunderstood synthesizer center stage and gave the trio instant credibility.

Disc 2 begins with the greatness that is “Tarkus,” one of the most concise and complex progressive rock suites ever produced. Next is “From the Beginning,” one of the more unusual Top 40 singles but also one that wouldn’t be denied due to Lake’s irresistible voice. A live performance of “Take a Pebble,” culled from the “Welcome Back My Friends…” set provides a flashback to when these guys were unstoppable. Emerson in particular astounds on the piano but the injection of a stripped-down run-through of “Lucky Man” must’ve been a disappointment to many in the crowd who craved to hear that “weird thing” at the end but methinks they had nowhere else to stick their obligatory hit. The main number’s heavy jazz element probably bored many in attendance but it surely astounded those who were listening. “Knife Edge” from the first record utterly satisfied the rock monster living in my soul at the time and the meltdown ending is still orgasmic. “Paper Blood,” a cut on 92’s “Black Moon,” is an edgy rocker in which Emerson’s Hammond and Lake’s harp make a good pair and it’s reassuring to hear that they still harbor a raucous attitude when called for. Their impeccable rendition of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” that appeared on “Trilogy” follows and it goes without saying that Keith’s proficient work on the mighty B3 does the great composer’s spirited piece full justice. I’d looked forward to having a copy of their unreleased interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s “Rondo” but it fails to thrill. Their wild opening leads to a “normalized” time signature foundation rocking under the central theme that drains it of its magic. It turns out to be an organ-led melee/noise fest that bores me to tears. ‘Tis a pity.

Disc 3 starts off with “The Barbarian,” the 1st cut on the first LP that not only served as an eye-opening intro to ELP but, thanks to the tune’s fine piano interlude, announced to us all that we were in the presence of keyboard deity. “Still... You Turn Me On” was the predictable follow-up to their previous radio hit that’s dated mostly by Greg’s wah-wah guitar work but has managed to keep its peculiar charm intact over the decades. What can I say about “The Endless Enigma” from the outstanding “Trilogy” album? Simply put, it’s a marvelous piece of symphonic prog that will never grow old. They then bring the listener back to earth with “C’est La Vie,” Lake’s overproduced dollop of commercial pop from “Works Vol. I,” and then Palmer’s “The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits” from the same record that only proves Carl could play a marching cadence. The previously unreleased, group-written “Bo Diddley” is next and it’s a welcome surprise in that it has a lot of proggy meat on its bones. They give it a tight, imaginative arrangement and Greg’s aggressive guitar playing is a plus. “Bitches Crystal” from “Tarkus” is an excellent inclusion because it’s a jazzy, piano-heavy stunner containing a passionate, almost furious vocal. “A Time and a Place,” also from that album, is a typical ELP tour-de-force that takes no prisoners. “Living Sin,” found on the “Trilogy” release is an ordinary rocker and the only so-so track on that exemplary record. The famous “Karn Evil 9” from “BSS” is their most adventurous epic with Impressions 1 & 2 being the most spectacular, leaving the third one to frantically run to keep up. The closer is “Honky Tonk Train Blues” from “Works Vol. II,” a boogie-woogie ditty that has a pulse and some punchy synth horns but still seems uninspired and dull.

Disc 4 begins with the majestic “Jerusalem” from “BSS,” an awesome rendering of that revered hymn that sounds like something they might’ve penned themselves. Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” one of the few bright spots on “Works Vol. I,” rocks hard. The title cut of “Black Moon” projects a familiar beat that gives a respectful nod to Queen’s universal anthem. However, it’s the Genesis-like grandeur enveloping the song that’s most appealing even though it’s not terribly original. By the early 90s ELP had become followers, not leaders, but that was an affliction that infected many of the former giants of prog rock so don’t judge harshly. “Watching Over You” is lifted from “Works Vol. 2” and, while unremarkable, ain’t half bad. It’s a sweet, acoustic guitar-based lullaby that doesn’t offend. The 3rd movement, “Toccata Con Fucco,” of Emerson’s “Piano Concerto #1” on “Works Vol. I” is next. His ambitious but flawed classical foray was the high water mark of that album but realistically it would only earn him a C+ in a Composition 101 course. “For You” is only one of two entries from their dubious “Love Beach” fiasco and they could’ve left it out as far as I’m concerned. It’s an under-produced, iron-deficient power ballad that lacks guts. The previously unreleased “Prelude and Fugue” by Gulda is a gem, though. Keith dazzles on this short but complicated solo piano piece, displaying an incredible range of ability. The second contribution from “Love Beach” is their long-winded, four-part “Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman.” Section A starts out gallantly atop a stately structure but suffers greatly from its unpolished feel. The piano-heavy Section B is quite flowery and even interesting at times but when Carl’s drums intrude all panache evacuates the building. Section C is an involved instrumental that’s almost intriguing but Greg’s singing comes off forced and unnatural. Section D offers no climax, just more of the number’s inherently weak musical premise. The pompous “Pirates” from “Works Vol. 1” is, hopefully, an unintended self-parody and a laughable mess that confirmed to me they’d flown south. Thank heavens they end on a positive note. Lake’s “Affairs of the Heart” from “Black Moon” shows that he’s still capable of writing and singing decent folk-influenced songs because this is no disgrace. Emerson fills out the spaces with classy symphonic flourishes that satisfy.

So there you have it. “Return of the Manticore” has enough of the ELP splendor to make it worth having in your collection. I’m more in favor of anyone new to their music getting copies of their first five albums than relying on an uneven box set to educate one’s mind about their progressive jazz/rock prowess but if you’re an ELP aficionado and you should come across this compilation in a used CD bin somewhere it will be a wise investment that you won’t regret shelling out a few bucks for. As far as the jazz content goes, any time Mr. Emerson puts his fingers on the piano ivories you're liable to hear some stupendous jazz erupt from the instrument like skyrockets. Keith was (and is) no slouch and could (and can) certainly hold his own in our esteemed genre.

JIMMY SMITH Midnight Special

Album · 1961 · Hard Bop
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Out of curiosity I looked up the definition of the word “cool” (as it pertains to art, that is) and soon realized that there is no description of that adjective that completely satisfies me in the modern dictionaries I consulted. So I’ll humbly offer my own and hope it enhances the general English-speaking vernacular. Cool = A coveted state of timeless existence that nothing disreputable or negative can find a way into and where perfection is possible to achieve. Okay, so it’s sorely lacking in scope and/or intellectual integrity but that’s how I feel about what Jimmy Smith and his talented cohorts did on his 1961 release, “Midnight Special.” It is irrefutably “cool.”

Of course, being a devotee of the charms associated with the magnificent Hammond B3 organ may play a big part in my assessment but that can’t be helped. In my book it’s one of the most expression-conducive of musical instruments ever invented and there’s just something about how, in the hands of a professional like Mr. Smith, it can penetrate the walls of my very soul like few others can. Jimmy was one of the very first to realize the Hammond’s vast potential and he successfully demonstrated to all that it belonged in the jazz realm just as much as the saxophone and the guitar. I’m sure the B3 had its haters because it tended to flood any given room with its massive aura, thus drowning out the more delicate tools of the trade in the process, but Smith wasn’t going to let the organ’s inherent obesity keep it out of the mainstream. What he did was to gather some of the genre’s best players in the studio and allow them to curl their artistry around the Hammond’s warm personality in a congenial environment. The result is a sizeable body of work that will endure for centuries to come. All of Jimmy’s albums have something in them to enjoy but I daresay you’ll find none more fulfilling than “Midnight Special.”

The title cut starts things off wonderfully. Don’t let the title fool you. It’s not a hokey instrumental version of the old rockabilly hit but a mature, flowing jazz piece written by Smith himself. Let me tell you, it doesn’t get any “cooler” than this. The vibe that he, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, guitarist Kenny Burrell and drummer Donald Bailey concoct is so relaxed and smooth that it transports you to another time and place entirely. This is a brand of jazz that really needs no explanation. Turrentine’s “A Subtle One” is next and its infectious melody rides atop a snazzy shuffle laid down by Donald’s kit and Jimmy’s understated bass pedal work. The song also features an intriguing chord progression and Smith utilizes a very muted tone to surround Stanley’s sensuous sax before dialing up some treble to add punch to his outstanding organ solo. The combo’s rendition of the classic “Jumpin’ the Blues” is next and they establish a peppy, playful groove for it to travel in. Turrentine flits atop Jimmy’s creative chording for a while then steps back to let the B3 take command. Smith hunkers down and lets the magic stream out of his fingertips and it becomes crystal clear why the man was such an enormous influence on all who ever sat down at a Hammond. It’s worth mentioning that Mr. Burrell turns in a performance on his guitar that is sleek and sure.

A 1929 chestnut entitled “Why Was I Born?” by Jerome Kern (from the musical “Sweet Adeline”) gets a serene treatment from the quartet that transcends the norm. This old-school ballad begins with just organ and sax before Bailey’s drums slide in almost without notice. Stanley’s tone is like the finest of silk and there’s no showboating or overplaying in the vicinity as Jimmy backs him up exquisitely, taking advantage of the host of subtle variations in timbre that the B3 can offer. Turrentine’s saxophone flourish at the end is to die for. The record ends with a great version of Count Basie’s famous “One O’clock Jump.” Smith shifts his Hammond from cruise mode to a deep growl repeatedly and his pedal-generated “walking” bass line is sublime. The fact is that no one, absolutely no one knew how to manipulate the idiosyncrasies of the B3 like Jimmy did. He was a master.

Smith was one prolific dude, no doubt. He did 40 sessions for the Blue Note label in an eight year period from the late 50s to the mid 60s and this was but one of them. I don’t claim to have heard even a decent fraction of his output during his impressive career but I have yet to hear anything that I’d consider pedestrian. “Midnight Special” may not be the ultimate Jimmy Smith album but if you’re wanting to hear what made him so revered by keyboard players the world over then this album will educate you thoroughly in a little over a half an hour. Personally, I could listen to this kind of “cool” jazz every day.

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