Sunday, December 27, 2020

Dizzy Gillespie "Cornucopia"

This far too little-known album was not bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie’s first – or last – attempt at reaching out and crossing over to a generation of listeners not inclined toward jazz. But as pure product, it’s most assuredly among his best.

Cornucopia, released in March 1970, follows a previous set on Solid State called It’s My Way (1969), where the great trumpeter looks like someone’s grandfatherly college professor, rather than the hipster he was trying to be.

You could even go a little further back to The Melody Lingers On (1966) or the desperately-titled Dizzy Goes Hollywood (1965) for evidence that someone knew he was losing market share.

Even so, Gillespie was making albums the way he wanted. Indeed, there is the fine (yet also desperately titled) Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac (1967) on Impulse. That there was only one record on Impulse, however, suggests those sorts of records just weren’t selling.

When guitarist Gabor Szabo famously declared in 1967 that “jazz as we know it is dead,” Dizzy Gillespie, the ever-vigilant jazz ambassador, responded with a certain derision: “What’s that? Maybe it’s because he (meaning Szabo) isn’t playing jazz as we know it.”

Nevertheless, Dizzy wasn’t beyond joining ‘em when beating ‘em wasn’t an option.

The success of Cornucopia is due in no small part to arranger Don Sebesky. At the time, Sebesky was primarily known as “in-house” arranger at Creed Taylor’s CTI Records, where he helped craft the artistic and financial success of Wes Montgomery’s last few records.

By the late sixties, Sebesky – or the Sebesky sound, which mixed elegant takes on pop songs with splashes of jazz – became popular enough to score the arranger two of his own albums for Verve, The Distant Galaxy and Don Sebesky & The Jazz-Rock Syndrome (both 1968).

Recorded over two days in August 1969, Cornucopia delivers the Taylor-derived template of foxy chart toppers and catchy originals that boosted (or, as some believe, brought down) the Montgomery-Sebesky records waxed between 1965 and 1968. But that’s about the end of the CTI similarities.

(For the record, Creed Taylor and Dizzy Gillespie are known to have a very limited connection to one another. One of Taylor’s first productions at Verve was Gillespie’s Perceptions (1961), while the first of the briefly-revived CTI releases, Rhythmstick (1990), was named for Dizzy’s walking stick and featured the trumpeter on only two tracks [some reissues of the disc bill it as a Dizzy Gillespie set]. The most prominent producers of Gillespie’s work in the sixties were Norman Granz, Quincy Jones and Hal Mooney.)

I’m willing to bet that Richard Carpenter’s production credit here, as on It’s My Way, is, to be as kind as possible, largely honorific. It’s reasonable to believe that Sebesky himself is in charge, as the record maintains the sound and, likely, the core group that make up the Esmond Edwards-produced Sebesky records on Verve.

That core group includes Chuck Rainey instead of Ron Carter on bass and, most likely, Don MacDonald instead of Grady Tate on drums. (Tom Lord also lists Richard Davis on bass and Ed Shaughnessy and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums – all of whom are very likely to be here).

Likewise, guitarists, including Billy Butler, were much more likely to appear on Prestige dates than on any CTI date – distancing Cornucopia further from CTI. But there are signs (particularly “Oh Happy Day”) that Richard Tee is also on board. These musicians give Cornucopia a gruffer sound than one is likely to hear on CTI, but one that pairs much better with Gillespie himself.

Where Creed Taylor wanted players whose storytelling had adventure, drama and happy endings, Gillespie aspired to something a little rougher and much less mellifluous: suspense, artistry, and madcap flights of fancy that made total musical sense. That Sebesky can open a book for both says a little more than something of his gift for invention.

Opening with a swirl of strings and harps, “Windmills of Your Mind” (the album’s only single release) seems to confirm jazz critics’ greatest fear of Sebesky: something soft, sweet and not delicious. Then the song gallops into a jaunty proto-disco pace that recalls Sebesky’s “Big Mama Cass” – and at a clip that Creed Taylor would likely never abide.

Sebesky tilts at this particular “Windmill” not by accommodating composer Michel Legrand (who is often too sentimental for some tastes) but by hinting at Lalo Schifrin, who got his start in Gillespie’s band, composing the trumpeter’s “Gillespiana” and The New Continent, later crafting Gillespie’s fusion classic Free Ride - and, horror of horrors, writing film soundtracks.

Nina Rota’s “Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet” is this set’s other film theme. Henry Mancini’s cover of the song knocked The Beatles’ “Get Back” (also covered here) from the number one spot on the charts several weeks before this version of the ballad was recorded. Here, Sebesky underscores the romance of the piece with a Spanish guitar, as he would on so many of his later more classically-oriented efforts.

Sebesky himself provides the album’s genuine highlight. “Yesterday’s Dream” is one of Sebesky’s finest compositions and Gillespie gives it all the love and graciousness it deserves. It’s a beautiful tune – vibing with the moody, exciting and melancholy that inform such New York soundtracks of the time as Rosemary’s Baby and Midnight Cowboy.

The song later reappeared as “Yesterday’s Dreams” in a different, but no less stirring arrangement on Freddie Hubbard’s Sebesky-arranged and Grammy-winning CTI album First Light, while the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band conguero Francisco Aguabella later recorded the tune for his 2002 disc Cubacan.

Gillespie reprises his own “Lorraine,” first heard on the 1959 The Ebullient Mr. Gillespie, and the rather silly “Tango-rine,” first heard on 1957’s Birks’ Works. “Lorraine” has never rocked this hard, with Rainey and Purdie’s funky forces aligned with a roiling Blaxploitation guitar. Here, as elsewhere, Sebesky’s horns are a bit more Vegas show-y than usual, something another producer might have reigned in. But “Lorraine” also offers Gillespie’s own finest moment on the record.

Of all the pop covers here, this writer’s favorite is probably Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” made famous in late 1968 by Judy Collins. The unfailingly lovely tune gets a spunky arrangement by Sebesky, while Gillespie has no issue with giving it his all.

“Get Back” comes in a close second here, but Joni Mitchell created something that both Gillespie and Sebesky could really work with here. (Curiously, Sebesky arranged both “Both Sides Now” and “Windmills of Your Mind” – very similarly – for Terry Baxter and His Orchestra for his album The Best of ‘69, but that “Windmills” might be a bit better.)

“Ann,” or “Ann, Wonderful One” as it’s known here, is an Earl Hines tune dating back to 1944 (in an arrangement by Jimmy Mundy, who arranged Gillespie’s prior Solid State album, It’s My Way). The song is rarely covered (Chet Baker did it in 1964 and Stanley Turrentine in 1978), but Sebesky gives it a decidedly contemporary spin that’s light years from its stride origins. Gillespie is just superb.

(Don Sebesky arranged several albums for little-known singer Lon Ritchie during 1969-70 featuring several tunes noted here, such as “Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet,” from The Lon Ritchie Album, and “Yesterday’s Dreams,” [note the extra “s”] from Language of the Heart, which also features songs Sebesky would arrange for later CTI albums, such as “Here’s That Rainy Day,” from Freddie Hubbard’s aforementioned First Light and “She Was Too Good to Me,” by Chet Baker).

Recognizing its crossover potential, Billboard said of Cornucopia, “The impeccable trumpet of Gillespie darts and flurries through familiar chart items…arranged tastefully for a wider market than the out-and-out jazz fan by conductor Don Sebesky,” concluding that it is “an album that illuminates the horn of plenty.”

This tremendously unappreciated record was issued by Solid State, with a cover design courtesy of Frank Gauna, who was working primarily at Blue Note at the time. Gauna, who had done journeyman work for Candid, United Artists, Cadence and Solid State to this point, designed a cheesy and gimmicky “horn of plenty of Dizzys” cover for the American release of Cornucopia.

But, whoever took charge of the entirely different release of Dizzy’s second Solid State album in Japan, recognized its connection to the far more successful and profitable A&M/CTI albums Creed Taylor was putting out, deciding to mimic that label’s Sam Antupit design and Pete Turner photography. The Japanese release of Cornucopia, therefore, fits more into the CTI legacy, a fitting tribute to Don Sebesky’s role here and a link to Dizzy into the CTI stratosphere.

Later in the year, Gillespie would put out a terrifically fun and funky soul-jazz set, written and arranged by Ed Bland, called, Souled Out (and also known in various iterations as Sweet Soul, Soul Time and Soul & Salvation).

He then moved on to the innovative Perception label, where he waxed the superior The Real Thing (1970) and Portrait of Jenny (1971), the latter of which features Gillespie’s spellbinding “Olinga,” the title track to Milt Jackson’s 1974 album on CTI.

Remarkably, Cornucopia has never found its way onto CD. For the most part, Sonny Lester’s Solid State catalog wound up being owned by EMI, which was folded into Universal Music several years ago. It’s possible UMe doesn’t even know that this is their property. Here’s hoping someone is listening.

Here’s hoping, too, that somebody can rescue Dizzy Gillespie and Don Sebesky’s highly underrated and terribly forgotten masterpiece from fifty years ago, Cornucopia.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Magic of the Soulful Strings

I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas albums. Outside of a very select few that have earned and achieved unqualified timelessness – say, Johnny Mathis’s 1958 album Merry Christmas (gorgeously backed by the ever-underrated Percy Faith), Vince Guaraldi, The Carpenters (!) and George Winston – most seem like gimmicky novelty records designed for easy sales (and they do sell).

Most are downright silly or just plain boring.

Growing up, I was always partial to my mother’s album The Joy of Christmas, the 1963 classic by Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Their mesmerizing take on “Carol of the Bells” is the first Christmas tune that ever piqued my interest in holiday music. Otherwise, this scene just wasn’t my thing.

My Christmas discs are admittedly few, but the ones I have skew mostly toward jazz (I also lump the elegant Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn Nutcracker in here) or Bert Kaempfert and the lovely John Zorn album A Dreamer’s Christmas.

For obvious reasons, they rarely get a spin outside of the holidays. Honestly, who wants to hear Christmas music in July? Well, sure, lots of people. Bah humbug, not me.

There is one exception: The magisterial The Magic of Christmas, the 1968 album by The Soulful Strings, a holiday mainstay and one that, like all good music, transcends temporal boundaries with genuinely original – and joyous – musicianship.

The Magic of Christmas is the fourth of seven albums the studio group The Soulful Strings recorded between 1966 and 1970 for the Chicago-based Cadet label. The Soulful Strings was evidently the brainchild of Argo/Cadet producer Esmond Edwards, who, disliking the sound of violins, thought the combination of violas and cellos would make a good jazz noise.

Edwards knew that Argo/Cadet’s house arranger, Richard Evans (who, in a 2009 interview, credited the Soulful Strings concept to the Chess label co-founder Leonard Chess) could make it happen. Evans leavened the groove with flute and guitar and something unique was born.

Richard Evans (1932-2014) was the classic musician’s musician – and someone who never got the accolades he richly deserved. The Alabama-born Evans grew up in Chicago, where he got his start as a bassist in the Sun Ra band (he wrote the band’s “Lullaby for Realville”).

He went on to play in the bands of Dinah Washington, Maynard Ferguson, Paul Winter and Eddie Higgins, releasing his solo debut, Richard’s Almanac, in 1959 (with the woefully underappreciated pianist Jack Wilson). Evans later arranged successful albums for Ahmad Jamal, Gene Shaw and Ramsey Lewis, each revealing more of his gifts as an identifiable composer and a substantially unique arranger.

The first Soulful Strings album, Paint it Black, served up a platter of rock and pop hits of the day, with Evans’s genuinely soulful approach taking the familiar tunes in totally new directions. The concept was as far from Mantovani as you could get: these strings swing. “The result is a surprise,” said Billboard. “Instead of harming the feel of the music, a new dimension is added.”

The album became something of a hit, generating further recordings and such hits as Evans’s “Burning Spear” (from the second Strings album, Groovin’ With The Soulful Strings, and covered by Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Smith, Joe Pass and S.O.U.L.) and the equally brilliant Evans collaboration with Donny Hathaway, “Zambezi” (from the sixth Strings album, String Fever, and covered by Eddy Senay and the Salsoul Orchestra).

(By the way, a month after waxing Paint it Black, Evans arranged Kenny Burrell’s intoxicating holiday classic, Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas, which is nearly as definitive a Christmas listening experience as any jazz lover could hope for.)

Recorded in Chicago during the balmy month of August 1968 and released just in time for Christmas in November of that year, The Magic of Christmas balances a dazzling program of traditional holiday favorites with well-considered plums, such as Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall.”

The album opens with an unusually and mercifully upbeat “Little Drummer Boy.” Evans’s distinctive strings carry the tune (and funky counterpoint), while Len Druss solos on flute. It’s also the first of harpist Dorothy Ashby’s turns in the album’s spotlight.

Even though Evans was working on Ashby’s worthy Cadet albums of the period, her appearance here is especially inspired. Ashby’s melodic phrasing and sensitive approach suggest nothing less than the combination of, umm, snowfall and twinkling lights. Appropriately, both Ashby and Druss feature again on Evans’s sublimely seasonal “Snowfall.”

For a hippy, trippy Christmas, Evans gives “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” a sort of soulful “Paint it Black” suit, abetted by Druss on oboe or bassoon (!), Ron Steele on sitar (!) and Bobby Christian on vibes. It works, too, even if it sounds all wrong on paper.

Evans decks “Deck the Halls” in the album’s most traditional of holiday apparel, yet it comes off as a moody musical montage from “A Christmas Carol,” traversing both the story’s light and darker moments. Not sure if the average listener would go for this, but I think it’s a magical bit of scoring.

Likewise, Mel Torme’s chestnut “The Christmas Song” gets a traditional jazz reading that works to its benefit. Christian mans the tune by himself in a way that suggests the Modern Jazz Quartet, but Evans’s touches make it seem more like Milt Jackson swinging warmly with Quincy Jones.

We’re back on the polar express with the terrifically funky “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Evans scores the melody as though it were a chant and Ramsey Lewis Trio bassist Cleveland Eaton serves up one of his deliciously distinctive scat solos in the key of Santa Claus is getting on down.

Evans funks “Jingle Bells” up, too, with an arrangement that turns the earworm into a butterfly, if such a thing is possible. The legendary Phil Upchurch rocks it up a notch, too. The miracle of Evans’s musical transformations is even evident on the strange “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” where Leon Jessel’s holiday march swings into a soulful shuffle straight out of the Motor city.

Surely, “Merry Christmas Baby” is the best, if not the hottest, cookie on the plate here, with Dorothy Ashby delivering a smoldering performance while Evans stokes the fire with a sexy string arrangement (that nods, to these ears, again to Quincy Jones). If those mixed metaphors don’t put you off, “Merry Christmas Baby” is a worthy addition to a playlist that gets attention all year long.

The Magic of Christmas, which was issued by Real Gone Music on CD in 2015 (and, thus far, the only official release of a Soulful Strings album on CD), is a delightfully diverse program that offers the covers and colors as well as the flavors and feelings of the season, while avoiding the contrivances and cliches – like sleighbells, triangles and icky children’s choirs – that lock it into an annual guilty-pleasure listening experience.

“Christmas strikes some warm chords,” said Billboard, “on the Soulful Strings’ seasonal tribute to the magic of holiday music.” But The Magic of Christmas is so much more – and better – than that. It finds the magic of the season in the soul of swing.

Your holidays – and your collection – will be happier with this joyful release.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Deadly Trap

This gem may require a bit more patience than your average thriller, but its charms are plentiful and more often subtle than not. While subtlety is rarely an appetizing ingredient in a thriller dish, director René Clément (1913-96) delivers a smart, stylish and entrancing melodrama that earns its fair share of thrills and even a worthy giallo vibe.

Clément was known for such classics as Battle of the Rails (1946) and Forbidden Games (1952) and, later, the all-star flop Is Paris Burning? (1965). He also directed such better-than-average thrillers as Purple Noon (1960), with Alain Delon, Joyhouse (1964), with Delon and Jane Fonda (featuring one of Lalo Schifrin’s earliest scores), and Rider on the Rain (1970), with Charles Bronson.

The Deadly Trap (1971) features American actors Faye Dunaway, as Jill, and Frank Langella, as Philippe, together as a married couple unaccountably residing in Paris, with their two young children, Cathy and Patrick.

Philippe seems to be writing a book, escaping from a secret past as someone who apparently dabbles in “industrial espionage.” Jill is a flighty, come-what-may mother, who shares a special bond with her son – who has no past or inner life that we know of. The enigmatic Cathy seems to be more of a daddy’s girl, at least in her mind.

All is well until the children disappear. Well, not quite. Jill and Philippe are not at all happy with each other, acting likes strangers in a strange land of their own marriage. Philippe is obsessed with whatever work he does (like Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now) and is disturbed by Jill’s lapses of time and commitment.

Jill, who seems to overly estimate her “brilliant” husband, unaccountably doesn’t seem to want any part of a physical relationship with him (like almost no one else in a 1971 film – or anyone else attached to Frank Langella at this time). The kids get nothing but babysitters and strange vibrations from their parents. Little wonder why they are eventually – and nearly tediously – lured away from their parents.

The film is highlighted by the ever-beautiful Faye Dunaway, who gives a tremendous performance as a mother in peril. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a better presentation of such a classic (or cliched) trope: Dunaway mixes her caught-in-the-middle Evelyn of Chinatown (1974) with the plucky Kathy of Three Days of the Condor (1975) – but as a mom, she excels.

It’s unusual to see the actor portrayed as a loving mother (one exception being the great 1988 film Burning Secret), but her scenes with young Patrick are very believable (at the expense of so many other scenes – especially those with the enigmatic daughter Cathy). Even that little apartment the family occupies is very realistic too. They move around the place like they really live there.

Clément shows us a beautiful, but decidedly un-touristy side of Paris. The film, shot by Andréas Winding, who lensed Clément’s previous Rider on the Rain and Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967), looks beautiful: soft focuses throughout, with Dunaway looking lovely, fading into dark, hazy, almost hallucinogenic settings.

It’s unclear why this family is in Paris in the first place, but these outsiders inhabit their semi-giallo with all the baggage that comes with strangers in a strange place. This film never quite goes giallo – despite its Italian title – but it comes close. The elliptical script was written by the actor/writer Daniel Boulanger (a writer of two segments of the terrific 1967 Edgar Allan Poe omnibus film Spirits of the Dead), with the apparently uncredited Ring Lardner, Jr., who had previously scripted Robert Altman’s M.A.S.H. (1970) and was probably responsible for the convincing English dialog heard here (his credits in film noir are especially notable here).

It is a classic Hitchcockian situation, where a MacGuffin (in this case, a vague threat of “industrial espionage”) drives the action. That action, the kidnapping of the children – which the script threatens mercilessly before the film’s halfway point, when the kids finally disappear – comes, of course, from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

But it’s hard to see Faye Dunaway as a helpless Hitchcock blonde or any one of the Master’s female leads (only Marnie comes close). She comes from a generation of women Hitchcock could probably not have realistically directed or, really, even properly understood.

There are, however, a number of other film classics referenced here, notably Gaslight (both 1940 and 1944 versions) and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). These two references alone make Philippe extremely suspect. But there are also echoes of other Polanski films, from The Tenant (1976), where an aggrieved outsider must adjust to unusual customs, to Frantic (1988), where an American must navigate the unfamiliar Parisian backstreets to find a loved one.

The jolt, however, is in watching Clément’s film nearly five decades later and seeing Jill take the moral, public and legal blame for her children’s disappearance. It’s truly painful to watch. Philippe knows he’s to blame for his children’s abduction, but it is Jill who is blamed and shamed for her negligence.

The film seems to go to unusually great lengths to address the painful wrongs society does to women in general and mothers in particular. Once the kids are gone, Jill enters a Kafka nightmare that this film appropriately evokes in Wellesian images from the fantastic 1963 film adaptation of The Trial.

Philippe’s confusing involvement with “The Organization” also recalls Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley’s Game,” which is odd as that novel wasn’t written for another three years (Wim Wenders filmed the 1974 book as The American Friend in 1977 and Liliana Cavani filmed it, beautifully again, in 2002).

It’s notable that Highsmith’s first novel, Strangers on a Train, was filmed by Hitchcock in 1951 while the novelist’s celebrated “The Talented Mr. Ripley” was first filmed by Clément in 1960 as Plein Soleil (a.k.a. Purple Noon – also with Maurice Ronet, who gets one brief scene here). It’s not inconceivable that the talented Ms. Highsmith was inspired by this film to craft her terrific (and more logically worked out) “Ripley’s Game.”

The sheer number of beautiful staircases Clément shoots here also suggests the classic woman-in-peril noir The Spiral Staircase (1946): Jill’s loving mother is “muted” here by her pre-figured criminality and her gaslighted weak and imperfect motherhood make her an absolutely perfect potential victim. She can neither satisfy her husband (!) nor successfully protect her children. Well, it is early 70s French provincial, after all. One staircase in particular here prefigures another famous staircase seen two years later in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.

The lush orchestral score is by the renowned French singer Gilbert Bécaud (1927-2001), best known today as the writer of “What Now My Love” (covered by both Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra), “Let it Be Me” and co-writer of Neil Diamond’s “Love on the Rocks” and “September Morn.” Bécaud’s main theme is a melodic piece that traffics appropriately in both playful childlike wistfulness and melancholy adult malaise. The tension cue that plays over the children’s abduction is an eerie Morricone-esque minimalist piece that perfectly reflects a mind on the brink.

This French film appears as though it was scripted and spoken in English. But the English dub of the film features Faye Dunaway doing her own voice. On the other hand, all of the male voices, notably Langella’s Philippe, seem to be the work of none other than Gene Wilder, who made a name for himself as Willy Wonka the same year this film was released. I have no proof of that, of course, but I don’t know how to prove or disprove this in any way. All the guys sure sound Wilder.

Oddly, this movie is known under many titles, few of which make much sense. Only the source novel’s boring title seems reasonable, “The Children Are Gone.” Not exactly thrilling, though, is it? So, how about the American title, “The Deadly Trap?” What was the trap? Phillipe’s unexplained web of whatever?

The French title, “The House by the Trees,” sounds exciting – but it only makes sense toward the very end and only for a few brief moments. Then there’s the Italian title, “The only clue: a yellow scarf,” which is, umm, true but not as exciting as something like “The Amazon with the Scarf of Fire” or something baroquely giallo like that.

Still, the film is a worthy and intoxicating European thriller. It follows a classic dream/nightmare logic that makes it a earnest contender among such kidnap classics as High and Low (1963), Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) and goes some way to informing the giallo classic Who Saw Her Die (1972).

There are great subtle touches here, notably Barbara Parkins’ lovely performance as the significantly named “Cyn,” the odd Michele Lourie playing the utterly inscrutable Cathy and the strange ending, where a child’s drawing is either malevolent or the happy ending that seems intended. And the feeling throughout is that no one is quite who you think they might be.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Stonebone - Finally

Check out my review of this long-awaited CTI classic at Mark Cathcart's excellent CTProduced.com resource.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frank Foster R.I.P.

The great composer, band leader, educator, humanitarian and reed player Frank Foster, died today of complications from kidney failure at his home in Chesapeake, Virginia. He was 82. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 23, 1928, Frank Benjamin Foster took up the clarinet at age 11, switching to alto saxophone two years later. He became so proficient on the alto sax that he was playing professionally at age 14 and leading his own 12-piece band while still a senior in high school.

After attending Wilberforce University, Foster moved to Detroit with trumpeter Snooky Young where he joined the local scene, playing with such musicians as Wardell Gray. After being drafted and serving in Korea, Foster returned to the music scene by joining the big band of Count Basie (1904-84), where he stayed through 1964.

During this time Foster was a featured soloist in the Basie band on tenor saxophone and contributed many compositions and arrangements to the Basie book, including the now standard “Shiny Stockings” as well as “Down for the Count,” “Blues Backstage,” “Back to the Apple” (featured in the 1986 Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters), “Discommotion,” and the terrific “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” (from the 1959 album Chairman of the Board and brilliantly used by Jerry Lewis in his 1961 film The Errand Boy), as well as arrangements for the entire 1961 album Easin’ It (featuring “Discommotion” and available on the now out-of-print CD box set The Complete Roulette Studio Recordings of Count Basie and his Orchestra).

While still with Count Basie, Frank Foster recorded several solo albums for the Blue Note, Savoy and Argo labels, but began his own solo career in the mid ‘60s with several albums of soul jazz on the Prestige label, including his first, Fearless Frank Foster (1966), featuring another near standard in “Raunchy Rita.” It was around this time that Foster also arranged Sarah Vaughan’s Viva Vaughan (Mercury, 1965), performed with his own 18-piece ensemble and toured and performed with Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton and Duke Pearson.

Foster recorded several albums for the Blue Note label (one of which was never released) and joined drummer Elvin Jones’s group in 1968. Foster recorded and toured with Jones through 1974, while holding several teaching positions and a featured spot in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band from 1972 to 1975.

In 1974, Foster formed his famed Loud Minority band (first heard on the 1974 Mainstream LP The Loud Minority) as well as Living Color, a quartet co-fronted with drummer Charli Persip. In 1983, Foster co-led a quintet with Frank Wess, recording Two For The Blues (Pablo, 1984) and Frankly Speaking (Concord, 1985).

In June 1986, Foster succeeded Thad Jones as leader of the Count Basie Orchestra. While leading the Basie Orchestra, Foster earned two Grammy Awards, one for his arrangement of the Diane Schuur composition "Deedles’ Blues" (1987) and the other for his arrangement of the renowned guitarist/vocalist George Benson’s composition "Basie’s Bag" (1988 – Foster had earlier played with Benson on the guitarist’s 1973 CTI album Body Talk).

Foster left the Count Basie Orchestra in 1995 to assume leadership of his own groups The Non-Electric Company (a jazz quartet/quintet), Swing Plus (a 12-piece band), and The Loud Minority Big Band (an 18-piece concert jazz orchestra).

In 2001, Frank Foster suffered a stroke that impaired his left side, preventing him from playing the saxophone. He turned the reins of his Loud Minority over to trumpeter and group member Cecil Bridgewater, and continued composing and arranging at his home in Chesapeake, Virginia. He had recently contributed to Jamie Cullum’s The Pursuit.

The zest of wondrous musicality in Frank Foster’s sax playing and the zing of spontaneous joy in his writing will be sorely missed in jazz. Very few sounds could match the utter joie de vivre of Frank Foster’s music.

Few players and even fewer composers can match or even copy the lovely examples of music Frank Foster left for us. Fortunately, there is much of Foster documented on disc and plenty of other worthy talents who appreciated what Frank Foster contributed to music in his six-decade career.

Foster’s glorious “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” – as interpreted by Jerry Lewis in The Errand Boy (search YouTube for the brilliant copycat version made but not used for Family Guy):

The immortal “Shiny Stockings” by Count Basie and his Orchestra:

“Raunchy Rita” from the great 1968 Elvin Jones/Richard Davis album Heavy Sounds, with Foster reeling out on tenor sax and the little-known and possibly pseudonymous Billy Greene on piano:

The Impulse 2-on-1 Series - Celebrating 50 Years of Impulse Records

Out today in the U.S. are the first 15 volumes of the Impulse 2-on-1 series, celebrating the musical legacy of one of jazz's most important labels.

Impulse Records was more than just a label. It was an identity. It was a statement. Impulse Records was a musical brand of artistry that provided some of jazz’s greatest creators with a platform for making some of their very best music. The new wave of jazz was indeed on Impulse!

With its distinctive logo and unique packaging, Impulse stood out in the crowd. But it was the music that made Impulse impressive. Impulse captured not only such traditionalists as Duke Ellington and Art Blakey but also cataloged many of the fiery voices of the emerging free-jazz movement, notably led and inspired by John Coltrane, who made his most memorable music for Impulse.

The label also caught everything in between, from traditional jazz combos with a special affinity for jazz’s best drummers to psychedelic jazz-rock and orchestral outings, while later specializing in spiritual jazz and musical fusions.

I am proud to have produced these sets with Matthias Künnecke, celebrating not only one of the finest labels jazz has ever known but some of the most diverse and innovative music the art has generated. If "The New Wave of Jazz" was on Impulse, the tide has come in with the new Impulse 2-on-1 series.

Now available at Dusty Groove and most online retailers.

Ahmad Jamal: Even though the great pianist Ahmad Jamal had “retired” from performing in the late 1960s, he waxed a number of recordings for the Impulse label, including these two live sets from 1969 and 1971, that proved he was not only at the top of his game but at the height of his musical prowess.

Albert Ayler: The searing and searching saxophone of Albert Ayler (1936-70) explored the roots of jazz as much as its outer reaches. John Coltrane brought Ayler to the Impulse label, where he recorded a dizzying display of his iconoclastic lore, including these two scorchers, Love Cry and The Last Album.

Alice Coltrane: Pianist, harpist, organist and composer Alice Coltrane (1937-2007) turned her attention toward orchestral endeavors on these great Impulse albums from the early 1970s, producing a rich musical palette without ever sacrificing the spiritual jazz she had long championed.

Archie Shepp: Swept up in the “new thing” of the 1960s, Archie Shepp quickly began to discover how more traditional forms of music, like African polyrhythms and R&B, could appropriately inform the jazz he was delivering, as evidenced on these two terrific albums recorded between 1968 and 1969.

Art Blakey: The revered leader of the Jazz Messengers, one of jazz’s greatest musical proving grounds, drummer Art Blakey (1919-90) recorded only these two dates for Impulse, 1961’s Jazz Messengers!!!! (with the superb “Alamode”) and 1963’s unconventional, yet sterling, quartet outing A Jazz Message.

Coleman Hawkins: Coleman Hawkins (1904-69) was not only one of jazz’s greatest tenor players, but probably its loveliest ballads performer. The Hawk recorded several Impulse records, including these two from 1962: Today and Now (with “Love Theme from ‘Apache’”) and the unusual Bossa Nova.

Curtis Fuller: Bebop trombone great Curtis Fuller had already led dates for Prestige, Blue Note, Savoy and Epic and joined the Jazz Messengers when he waxed his only two leader dates for Impulse in the early 1960s, Soul Trombone (with fellow Messengers) and Cabin in the Sky (arranged by Manny Albam).

Duke Ellington: It was producer Bob Thiele’s idea to feature legendary orchestra leader Duke Ellington (1899-1974) in small-group settings with former Ellingtonian Coleman Hawkins (1905-69) and the fiery saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-67). Both 1962 sets are inspired, historic and featured here.

Elvin Jones: At the time propulsive drummer Elvin Jones (1997-2004) manned the beat in John Coltrane’s 1960-1965 quartet, he also found time to lead these great Impulse gems, Illumination (co-led with Coltrane bassist Jimmy Garrison and featuring Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner) and Dear John C.

Gabor Szabo: While the late, great guitarist Gabor Szabo (1936-82) recorded many studio albums during his brief career, he was always best served by his few live recordings. These two live Impulse albums brilliantly catch Szabo’s working group, featuring the stunning guitarist Jimmy Stewart, in 1967.

McCoy Tyner: Legendary pianist McCoy Tyner launched his mercurial solo career with these two exciting trio sides, a mix of well-known standards and effective originals (including the now standard “Effendi”) recorded in 1962 while he was still part of John Coltrane’s historic quartet.

Milt Jackson: Vibraphonist Milt Jackson (1923-99) led a double life, co-fronting the Modern Jazz Quartet, while also charting a significant course of his own on records such as 1962’s bracing Statements and 1964’s light-hearted Jazz ‘n’ Samba – two of his earliest and best Impulse endeavors.

Pharoah Sanders: Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders was initially part of John Coltrane’s group before scoring his own hit with 1969’s “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” The saxophonist went on to become a world-class leader, waxing the East-meets-West-meets-Africa of these two great albums from 1973.

Shirley Scott: Hammond B-3 great Shirley Scott (1934-2002) often played with John Coltrane in the 1950s but rose to fame as part of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’s group. Her long string of Impulse albums included these two, among her best, alternating her trio with a big band arranged by Oliver Nelson.

Sonny Rollins: Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was already one of jazz’s greatest players and composers when he recorded 1965’s On Impulse. Thirteen years later that album’s template, There Will Never Be Another You, caught live several weeks earlier, finally appeared. Here, they’re together at last.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gerry Mulligan “Watching & Waiting”

Dave Grusin, like fellow Silver Age film composer Lalo Schifrin, has steadily slowed the pace of his movie scoring down over the last few years. Like Schifrin, Grusin – also a jazz pianist – has devoted more of his attention to other facets of his remarkable musicality. But even as Dave Grusin seems to have moved away from film, he thankfully remains an active force in music.

Grusin, who turned 77 last month and has been quietly turning up in the most unexpected places of late, has also seen some fervor on CD as his latest, An Evening With Dave Grusin, has seen the light of day, along with recent reissues of the maestro’s glorious soundtrack to Mulholland Falls (1995) and the upcoming Divorce American Style (1967), Grusin’s first feature film score, both on Kritzerland.

So why discuss Dave Grusin in an article about Gerry Mulligan?

Well, Dave Grusin contributes significantly to this particularly obscure recording that very few even know anything about. It all started when actress/producer Denise Petitdidier contacted the great jazz leader and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan (1927-96) in the spring of 1977. Petitdidier had told the jazz legend that director Alain Corneau (1943-2010) had specifically requested that Gerry Mulligan score his thriller, La Menace, starring Yves Montand.

Mulligan had previously scored Clive Donner’s little-known film Luv (1967) and had several of his songs featured in films, particularly by French filmmakers. Much of his own music was perfectly well suited to film, offering a moody sense of romance and longing and a painterly sense of mystery and adventure.

No better examples exist than Mulligan’s subtle and sublime Night Lights (1965) – one of his most perfect recordings – and his too-much derided masterpiece The Age of Steam (1971), an ode to his youthful love of trains. There are many other great Mulligan masterpieces and many more famous and significant jazz mileposts. But these two albums in particular are the ones that appeal most to this listener and, no doubt, drew filmmakers of substantial merit to Gerry Mulligan and the quality of musical mood and perfect resonance he offered in a visual medium – particularly a French thriller.

Mulligan accepted the job of scoring La Menace, but found it difficult to complete his assignment in the 15 days allotted to him. During this period, Dave Grusin happened to be visiting the composer at his home in Connecticut and graciously agreed to help Gerry Mulligan organize the finished tracks into a filmic semblance, as well as play behind the saxophonist for support.

That support is significant as the music to La Menace is energized more by its piano and keyboard backings than Mulligan’s still quite appealing melodic lines – driven, for the most part on baritone sax, but also on other saxophones, clarinets, keyboards and synthesizers.

At this point Grusin was well-known for his scores to such films as The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (1968), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), The Yakuza (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Murder by Death (1976) as well as his TV themes and/or scores for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., It Takes A Thief, The Name of the Game, Baretta, Maude andGood Times.

In 1977 alone, Grusin waxed four film scores including Sydney Pollack’s Bobby Deerfield and Herbert Ross’s hit The Goodbye Girl as well as his first jazz album in his newly-formed “Grusin Rosen Productions,” the start of the famed GRP Records, One of a Kind.

Mulligan’s soundtrack to La Menace yielded 13 tunes, with Grusin on piano and keyboards and a group including Derek Smith on piano, Tom Fay on piano and Fender Rhodes, Pete Levin on Moog synthesizer, Ed Walsh on Oberheim synthesizer, Jack Six (who worked with Mulligan in Dave Brubeck’s brilliant late 1960s group) or Jay Leonhart (who would go on to work with Mulligan on other recordings) on bass and Bobby Rosengarden or Michael Di Pasqua on drums.

The French arm of CBS issued a soundtrack to La Menace in 1977 (pictured above). Since the film, known in English-speaking climes as The Threat, never had a proper US release, the music had also never had a proper American release until this 1999 CD release, stupidly titled Watching & Waiting.

The disc inexplicably takes its title from one of the seemingly randomly-chosen songs included on the 13-track set. It’s a great little tune, with Mulligan in his prime. But why they would call this anything but La Menace is anyone’s guess. Still, hardly anyone knows that the American DRG CD of Watching & Waiting totally equals the French CBS LP of La Menace.
It seems like a bootleg, looks like a bootleg (even though Mulligan recorded Walk on the Water for DRG in 1980, arranged by Tom Fay) and presents itself as any other Gerry Mulligan album, with no musician credits on the outside and a very small note on the back panel that the music is the original motion picture soundtrack of La Menace. As an aside, many write-ups on this disc, and the music, inexplicably indicate that music was made and/or released in 1982 – but it wasn’t…it was 1977.

While it’s often derided as a lesser Gerry Mulligan set (keyboards and real jazz apparently don’t go together for real jazz critics), it is easily celebrated as a wonderful addition to any Dave Grusin soundtrack discography. Keep in mind, too, that the prolific Dave Grusin, in addition to all of his own jazz and film work, has done plenty of session work on other artists’ records and many other composers’ film scores (Patrick Williams, Quincy Jones, etc.). Grusin also later recorded with Gerry Mulligan on the baritone saxophonist’s Little Big Horn (1984) and the sensationally beautiful Dragonfly (1995).

Were it not for Mulligan’s terrific compositions, one could easily consider La Menace / Watching & Waiting a Dave Grusin soundtrack, with special guest soloist Gerry Mulligan. Grusin’s sensitively aesthetic touch is much in evidence here. The brief opener, “Dance of the Truck,” trumpets its Grusin origins as does the soundtrack’s single strongest piece, “Introspect” (which doesn’t even introduce Mulligan until his solo two minutes in). Grusin’s influence is also evident on the lengthy “The Trap,” a keyboard-driven piece that will remind some of Grusin’s Condor conspiracies, and the attractive bossa, “The House They’ll Never Live In.”

Mulligan fares well throughout; perhaps less as an improviser and more as a mood setter. But the wonderful clarification he brings to his horn parts sings with the overall goal of the piece. Like any composer, he isn’t aiming to be the star soloist. He is suggesting the right setting for the film he is accompanying. But his beautifully signature-sounding baritone is bountiful on such pieces as “Introspect” (both versions), “Watching and Waiting,” and the lovely “Vines of Bordeaux” (heard here in two versions and one which probably deserved to transcend this score).

La Menace / Watching & Waiting makes for some wonderful listening, whether you are a Gerry Mulligan fan of the Night Lights or Dragonfly order or whether you are a Dave Grusin aficionado who revels in the moody jazz of his GRP releases or the bountiful scores he has on offer, many of which are now quite fortunately easy to acquire.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection

After a prodigious session career in the 1960s, several solo albums that toyed with both the traditional and freer forms of jazz and a mercurial period of experimentation with Miles Davis between 1968 and 1972, pianist and composer Chick Corea crystalized the notion of his first “group” endeavor, to be known as Return to Forever.

Corea recorded his blueprint for the concept with his tremendous Return to Forever album for ECM Records in February 1972. The album collected the talents of reed player Joe Farrell (1937-86), who featured on the pianist’s 1967 Tones For Joan’s Bones (Corea is also heard on Farrell’s first two CTI records, Joe Farrell Quartet and, brilliantly, on Outback), young up and coming electric bassist Stanley Clarke, percussionist and former Miles mate Airto Moreira and Airto’s wife, Flora Purim, on vocals and percussion. and yielded three near standards in Corea’s “Crystal Silence,” “What Game Shall We Play Today” and “La Fiesta.”

The following month, Corea, Clarke and Moreira backed Stan Getz for the saxophonist’s terrific album Captain Marvel, which wasn’t issued until 1975, and then all five of the Return to Forever musicians collected (with others) to wax Airto’s CTI classic Free. Corea, Clarke, Farrell, Moreira and Purim finally reconvened in October 1972 to record Return to Forever’s Polydor debut, Light as a Feather, which includes Corea’s now standard “Spain.”

Airto and Flora left shortly thereafter to form their own group, Fingers, as did Joe Farrell, who formed his own quartet. Guitarist Bill Connors, drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Mingo Lewis were added to the group, but Gadd’s studio duties prevented him from staying. By the time of the group’s second album, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (featuring Corea’s well-known “Señor Mouse”), Corea, Connors and Clarke were joined by drummer and percussionist Lenny White.

Tired of touring and the required adherence to his electric instrument, Bill Connors left the group and was replaced by recent Berklee School of Music alum Al Di Meola. The Corea/Di Meola/Clarke/White configuration then recorded 1974’s Where Have I Known You Before and 1975’s No Mystery for Polydor.

In 1976, Chick Corea took Return to Forever to the mighty Columbia Records label, where the group waxed only three releases in an 18-month period. One of these recordings is the group’s most significant recording and yet another represents one of the group’s best recorded performances. One is an under-appreciated gem that deserves more appreciation.

Under the direction of reissue producer Richard Seidel, Sony has done a masterful job collecting Return to Forever’s three Columbia recordings on this lush six-CD box set called Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection.

The set is packaged in a handsome, sturdy box that fits easily on most CD shelves with each individual album packaged in replica mini LP sleeves, reproducing the original record’s exact graphics, and a 27-page booklet with complete discographical information, photos and new liner notes by Chick Corea and musician/historian/producer Bob Belden. It’s a treasure trove of music, immaculately packaged and beautifully presented, well worth reconsidering for the surprisingly timeless surplus of artistry it contains.

Romantic Warrior (1976): After four albums on Polydor, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever moved to Columbia Records, even though Corea the solo artist remained with Polydor for the better part of the decade. Columbia was home to other fusion leaders of the day like Miles Davis, Weather Report, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Herbie Hancock. Note here that all, including Corea, were connected to the trumpeter’s electric phase. Little wonder that Columbia should have named their reissue line “Legacy.” And this is just the jazz fusion portion of Columbia’s holdings.

In February 1976, Corea and company headed to Chicago producer James Guercio’s popular and isolated Caribou Ranch in a remote part of Colorado to wax what was to become the group’s definitive musical statement, Romantic Warrior. Without a doubt, the album is the pinnacle of the group’s creative and artistic vision. It’s a fusion classic and, coming out of 1976, surely one of the music’s final highlights. Placing their musical topography somewhere in the middle ages, RTF rethinks its strategy to be more large scale and consciously more musical; an electrically-charged Ellingtonian statement that is like a soundtrack for a non-existent film or an electronic symphony for a post-jazz age.

With Chick Corea (piano, electric piano, clavinet, synthesizers, marimba and percussion), Al Di Meola (electric guitar, guitar, soprano guitar, hand-bells and slide-whistle), Stanley Clarke (electric bass, piccolo bass, bass, bell-tree and hand-bells) and Lenny White (drums, timpani, congas, timbales, hand bells, snare drum, suspended cymbals, alarm clock) in a formation that has since become known as “RTF 2” – the same group waxed the group’s previous Where Have I Known You Before and No Mystery - Romantic Warrior features strong originals from all principals, including Lenny White’s “Sorceress” (my vote for the album’s best track), Al Di Meola’s “Majestic Dance,” Stanley Clarke’s “The Magician” and Chick Corea’s “Medieval Overture,” “The Romantic Warrior” and “Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant.”

Romantic Warrior has been rightly available in one form or another almost consistently since its original 1976 release and, in addition to its inclusion on Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection, can also be heard in its entirety on the 2008 Concord set Return to Forever – The Anthology. No matter where it appears, it’s important music well worth hearing.

Musicmagic (1977): This surprising turnabout must have surprised many Return to Forever fans in 1977, even those Chick Corea fans willing to follow the bandleader down just about any long and unyieldingly winding path. Long derided and dismissed altogether by even the most devoted Return to Forever fan, Musicmagic really has much musical magic to offer, even if it isn’t served up like previous RTF albums.

The sound is remarkably more orchestral than anything the group had previously done, with a heavy dose of vocal leads and vamps that veer dangerously close to pop territories and, most surprisingly, solos on primarily acoustic instruments. It’s as vexing as it is bewitching and probably the intention all along.

Only Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke remain from the previous edition of RTF, gathering a larger-than-usual group that became known as “RTF 3” including Corea (piano, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, Hohner clavinet, Moog 15, Polymoog, ARP Odyssey and vocals), Clarke (electric bass, piccolo bass, bass, vocals), Gerry Brown (drums), original RTF reed player Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flutes, piccolo), Chick Corea’s wife Gayle Moran (Hammond B-3 organ, Polymoog, piano, vocals), John Thomas (trumpet, flugelhorn), James Tinsley (trumpet, piccolo trumpet), Jim Pugh (tenor trombone) and Harold Garrett (tenor and bass trombone, baritone horn).

Again recorded at the Caribou Ranch in Colorado in January and February 1977, Musicmagic seems to celebrate the pure joy of music with contributions from Corea (“The Musician”), Moran (the existential jazz ballad “Do You Ever”), Corea and Moran together (“Musicmagic,” and the most typically RTF-sounding piece here, “The Endless Night”) and Clarke (“Hello Again” and the album’s single greatest moment, “So Long Mickey Mouse,” offering particularly great spots for Farrell’s flute and soprano, Corea’s keyboard kaleidoscope and Clarke’s entrancing bass-ics).

Adventurous and enjoyable as it is, Musicmagic seemed to suggest that the Return to Forever concept had effectively run its course. The ever restless Corea was probably bored with the whole thing at this point, either not coming properly to terms with his new RTF experiment or looking forward to other challenges altogether. This particular musical model was fascinating and new in 1972, when RTF waxed its first album, Light as a Feather, but after 1976’s masterful Romantic Warrior, there was only one direction left for the group.

A monumental, but little-known, live album followed and shortly thereafter, Corea disbanded the group. Not too long after this, Chick Corea abandoned electric keyboards altogether. Corea reunited with Clarke, White and guitarist Al Di Meola for one song (“Compadres”) on Corea’s 1983 album Touchstone.

Then, many years later in 2008, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White came back together for a RTF reunion tour and in June 2011 issued a double-disc set of acoustic studio tracks and electric live tracks (with guests, including former RTF members) on Concord called Forever under the suspiciously non-RTF moniker of “Corea, Clarke & White.”

Originally issued in March 1977, Musicmagic quickly disappeared before finding its way onto a limited-run, long out-of-print CD in 1990. Its inclusion in Return to Forever – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection is the album’s first domestic CD release in over two decades and a most welcome “return” it is.

Return to Forever Live – The Complete Concert (1978): This is effectively the final Return to Forever album released and, perhaps, one of its most significant. It was recorded live at the Palladium in New York City on May 20 and 21, 1977, as part of the Musicmagic tour, which led the group to meet President Jimmy Carter the following month.

The performers here more or less match those heard on Musicmagic and include Chick Corea (Minimoog, Fender Rhodes, Moog 15, Oberheim 3 Voice, Hohner Clvinet, ARP Odyssey, MXR Digital Delay, Steinway piano), Stanley Clarke (Alembic basses, piccolo bass, bass, vocals), Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, piccolo), Gayle Moran (vocals, Hammond B-3 organ, Yamaha electric piano, Mellotron, Minimoog), Gerry Brown (drums), John Thomas (trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet), James Tinsley (trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn), Jim Pugh (tenor trombone, baritone horn), Corea’s manager at the time and later president of Corea’s Stretch Records, Ron Moss (tenor trombone) and Harold Garrett (bass trombone, baritone horn, tuba).

Needless to say, there is a plethora of fantastic playing to be heard here that RTF’s studio albums probably prohibited, with inventive interjections from almost all concerned, waxing eloquently over some very long passages that are sufficiently more worthwhile than their studio counterparts.

Return to Forever Live has an unusually peculiar history, though. It was originally issued as single LP release (Columbia JC 35281) in late summer 1978, with a cover featuring Picasso's “Three Musicians” and the following line up:

Side 1
1. "So Long Mickey Mouse" (Stanley Clarke) – 6:53
2. "The Musician" (Chick Corea) – 7:03
3. "Chick's Piano" (Corea) – 4:35
4. "Musicmagic" (Corea, Gayle Moran) – 6:29

Side 2
1. "The Moorish Warrior and Spanish Princess" (Clarke) – 6:39
2. "Come Rain or Come Shine" (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) – 3:19
3. "The Endless Night (Part I)" (Corea, Moran) – 8:00
4. "The Endless Night (Part II)" (Corea, Moran) – 7:14

For some strange reason, a greatly expanded version of the album was released in October 1978 on four full LPs in a generic-looking box set as Return to Forever Live - The Complete Concert (Columbia C4X 35350), showcasing two and a half hours of music recorded over two nights. The four-disc version of the concerts contains the entirety of pieces that had been edited down for the original single LP release, many additional pieces and lengthy spoken introductions.

A two-CD version of Return to Forever Live was issued by Columbia’s reissue imprint, Legacy, in 1990 with several strange edits to be found. Missing are four of the spoken introductions, while “Chick’s Piano Solo” (featured on the single LP) and “Spanish Fantasy” are rolled into one long marathon performance and, strangely, “The Musician” and “So Long Mickey Mouse” get their original single LP edits rather than a full airing – probably to fit the program on to two CDs. A Japanese release over three CDs in 2000 changed the color of the cover from red to blue and restored all the music heard on the original four-LP box set. This is the version of the recording included within The Complete Columbia Albums Collection.

While there’s little argument for including the rather lengthy spoken introductions, it is fair to say that Return to Forever Live – The Complete Concert makes The Complete Columbia Albums Collection box set an indispensible part of any Chick Corea or Stanley Clarke collection (I would count Joe Farrell in there too) and worth every penny for the magisterial music and its gloriously loving presentation here.