Friday, June 25, 2010

“Mickey D’s” by People’s Choice

Here’s a great one by the short-lived Philly amalgamation called People’s Choice from the groovin’ and worthy album Boogie Down U.S.A. (TSOP, 1975). While the group itself said that “People’s Choice is…you. People’s Choice is…People,” People’s Choice was actually Frankie Brunson on definitive tenor lead vocals and keyboards (which lead here), David Thompson on percussion, Roger Andrews on bass and Guy Fiske on guitar.

The Kenneth Gamble-Leon Huff production team was at the helm and the track, written by Harry Coombs, Leon Huff and Frankie Brunson (arranged by Leon Huff and Frankie Brunson) was laid down, of course, at Sigma Sound Studios, engineered by Joe Tarsia and Jay Mark.

As was the case on about half of the album – reissued in full (plus several bonus tracks) on a worthy 1996 Collector’s Choice CD called Golden Classics whose cover replicates the group photo on the back side of the original LP - “Mickey D’s” is a refreshing take on the instrumental side of the magical Philly sound of the day. It’s jazzy in a funky way and funky in a Blaxploitation way and soulful in a magical way that sticks with you like a good musical meal.

While People’s Choice scored some minor hits with “Do It Any Way You Wanna” and “Party Is A Groovy Thing,” it’s amazing these guys never made it big - really big - and that their transcendentally soulful sound didn’t cross over into the big time like MFSB’s great signature number “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” aka the Soul Train theme. It sort of reminds me of Black Heat (and their great "Wanaoh"), another small soul group that tried to marry jazz with soulful funk and ended up with nothing in the way of the recognition they deserved.

There’s more to Boogie Down U.S.A. than I’m able to share here. But “Mickey D’s” is worth considering for its greasy groove and addictive appeal. Sounds like the “super size me” restaurant, doesn’t it?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

“A Street In Bombay” by Amancio D’Silva

The truly amazing Indian guitarist Amancio D’Silva (1936-96), who made a name for himself as a jazz player in London during the late 60s and early 70s, recorded several albums under his own name, including the tremendous Konkan Dance, which features this jewel of East-meets-West jazz, “A Street in Bombay.”

The song features the handsome and tremendously talented Amancio D’Silva on guitar, Don Rendell on saxophones, Alan Branscombe on flute, vibes and electric piano (none of which are immediately detectable here), the legendary Stan Tracey on piano, Toni Campo on bass, Clem Alford on sitar, (most likely) Doug Wright on drums and either Keshav Sathe or Mick Ripshar on tabla.

The original recording was laid down somewhere between 1972 and 1974 at Lansdowne Studios, London by the legendary British jazz producer Denis Preston (1916-79).

According to the Amancio D’Silva web site, this album was never released in its time, so to speak, which it says may have had something to do with Denis Preston’s passing. However, with the inclusion of the track “A Street in Bombay” on Gilles Peterson’s Impressed Volume 2, interest in the whole album began mounting during 2005. This led to a full release in February 2006 by British label Vocalion, with mastering by the renowned Mike Dutton.

“It's unlikely, as Record Collector magazine said, that “you will ever hear Anglo-Indian music as subtle or as beautiful as this.” Truly, more people need to hear this music.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

“Born at the Right Time” by Paul Simon

Rediscovery: I have lately been fascinated with the bewitching melodies of Paul Simon and remembered this gorgeous song from the singer/songwriter’s follow-up to his 1986 worldwide (and worldly) hit Graceland, The Rhythm of the Saints (Warner Bros., 1990). The melody is tremendously lovely, the instrumentation is stupendous and the lyrics, while baffling to me (or quirky as he was wont to be at the time), contain this gorgeous chorus:

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant church bells chime
Whole world whispering "born at the right time"

Written, of course, by the singer himself, the song is performed wonderfully by Simon on guitar and vocals with Vincent Nguini and J.J. Cale on guitar, C.J. Chenier on accordion and Armand Sabal-Lecco and Bakithi Kumalo on bass and Felix Sabal-Locco on drums, with an orchestral percussion section featuring Ya Yo de la Nelson on chakeire, Sidinho on conga, bass drum and bottles, Dom Chacal on conga, Mingo Araujo on conga and go-go bells and the lovely choir of Florence Gnimganon, Charlotte Mbango, Felicite Fouda and Elolongue Mbango Catherine. Not sure exactly what it means. Just when you think he might be talking about something Biblical, he's off joking about spending "those Euro dollars." But it was certainly the very best song on the album.

“Born at the Right Time” was issued as a single in Europe (only, I think), but since it wasn’t issued in the U.S. as a single, it probably did not get the attention it deserves. It’s a beautiful pop song that deserves some of the cover attention from jazz players that a lot of Paul Simon’s earlier music received.

Garry Shider - R.I.P.

Garry Shider, the funk-rock guitarist and singer whose spacey but soulful and rhythmically powerful playing provided one of the pillars of the influential Parliament-Funkadelic sound of the 1970s and propelled him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, died on Wednesday at his home in Upper Marlboro, Md. He was 56.

The cause was brain and lung cancer, said his son Garrett.

Onstage, Mr. Shider, known as Starchild or Diaperman (because of his fondness for performing dressed only in a loincloth), cut an outlandish figure, emphasized by his tie-dyed dreadlocks. But he delivered incendiary solos and impressively funky rhythm work on his guitar, most notably on the jam showpiece “Cosmic Slop.” With George Clinton, the founder of Parliament and Funkadelic, he wrote some of the groups’ signature songs, including “One Nation Under a Groove” and “Atomic Dog.”

Born in Plainfield, N.J., on July 24, 1953, Mr. Shider began performing as a child, singing and playing in a local family-based gospel group, the Shiderettes, and providing support for nationally known acts like Shirley Caesar and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. It was at this time that he met Mr. Clinton, who owned a barbershop near the church Mr. Shider’s family attended and led a doo-wop-inspired vocal group called the Parliaments, which would later evolve into the intertwined groups Parliament and Funkadelic, also known collectively as P-Funk.

As a teenager, Mr. Shider played in a band called U.S., short for United Soul, some of whose recordings were produced by Mr. Clinton and the keyboardist Bernie Worrell, later to be another important member of the P-Funk family. That led to his being asked to play on Parliament and Funkadelic recordings in the early 1970s and an invitation shortly afterward to join the bands.

Along with his fellow guitarists Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton, Mr. Shider, his playing by now also incorporating the influences of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, gave both punch and funk to hit P-Funk albums including “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On” and “Hardcore Jollies” and live performances throughout the remainder of the decade. He also played with the offshoot bands of other P-Funk members, especially those of Mr. Hazel and the bassist Bootsy Collins.

After Parliament-Funkadelic dissolved in the early 1980s, Mr. Shider continued his association with Mr. Clinton and served at times as musical director of the P-Funk All-Stars, a successor band. He also performed with other P-Funk members in the movies “PCU” and “The Night Before,” playing songs he helped write; appeared on records like the Black Crowes’ “Three Snakes and One Charm”; and had his earlier work sampled on hit CDs by rap performers like Dr. Dre, OutKast and Digital Underground. In 1997, he and the other members of Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Benefit concerts to help pay Mr. Shider’s medical bills have been scheduled for July 10 in Plainfield and July 11 in Manhattan.

In addition to his sons, Garrett and Marshall, Mr. Shider is survived by his wife, the singer and songwriter Linda Shider.

Written by By LARRY ROHTER
Published: June 20, 2010, New York Times

Monday, June 21, 2010

“Be My Lover Now” by Philip Oakley and Giorgio Moroder

Today’s disco discovery: While I remember when this album came out in 1985, I must confess that I never heard “Be My Lover Now” before, well, now. Written and performed by the handsome leader of the Human League (on vocals) and Giorgio Moroder (in one of his best dance numbers), “Be My Lover Now” is a tremendous dance classic that seems to post-date what Vince Clarke took from Moroder to craft some of the historic music of both Depeche Mode and Yazoo (Yaz). It’s a shame that Moroder had to steal from the thieves who stole from him…but this one works.

“Be My Lover Now” was the third – and last – single issued from the album Philip Oakley and Giorgio Moroder, a partnership which began in 1984 with the song “Together in Electric Dreams,” the hit theme to the long-forgotten film Electric Dreams. Unfortunately, nothing after “Together in Electric Dreams,” including “Be My Lover Now,” performed particularly well and Oakley went back to the Human League, which also never performed as well as it had when it issued the great “Don’t You Want Me” way back in 1981!

The rather stark video that accompanied “Be My Lover Now” seems to borrow a little something from Robert Palmer’s much better-known “Addicted to Love,” but with some extremely weird twists. While it’s certainly worth watching, the instrumental of the song (featured below) is well worth hearing for an example of the glorious dance music Giorgio Moroder was capable of at even this late date.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nona Hendryx “Nona”

Like a cat, Nona Hendryx (b. 1944, Trenton, New Jersey) has had many lives. But she deserves much - much! - better. Nona Hendryx got her start while still in her teens as part of the vocal group the Del-Capris. That group eventually merged with Patricia “Patsy” Holte, who changed her name to Patti LaBelle and gathered initial acclaim as part of Patti LaBelle & The Bluebells with their first hit, “I Sold My Heart To The Junkman,” in 1962.

The group found middling success during the 1960s as a Motown-styled “girl group,” performing doo-wop numbers and typically “girl group” sorts of songs. But none of this was enough to warrant any sort of notice. Eventually, the trio of Patti Labelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx went to England and discovered rock. They then backed Laura Nyro on the singer/songwriter’s 1971 album Gonna Take A Miracle and, eventually, Alice Cooper on his 1973 album Muscle of Love.

Upon the advice of the group’s manager, Vicki Wickham, they remade the “girl group” concept into a “women power” groove. They changed their name to Labelle and started doing things on their own terms. They issued the albums Labelle (Warner Bros., 1971) and Moon Shadow (Warner Bros., 1972) to sadly little avail.

The group moved to RCA very briefly in 1973 and recorded the excellent Pressure Cookin’ (which was recently reissued on CD). Here, Nona Hendryx came into her own. She began to assert her strong songwriting abilities – and, indeed, the remainder of the Labelle albums are dominated by her music and Labelle came to be dominated by her compositions. Hendryx wrote seven of the nine tunes on Pressure Cookin’, including the great title track, “Sunshine” and “Goin’ on a Holiday” (which featured Stevie Wonder, who also wrote, produced and played on one of the album’s other great odes, “Open Up Your Heart” – though it’s hard to ignore Labelle’s excellent take on “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”).

It was the trio’s next album, the Allen Toussaint produced Nightbirds (Epic, 1974), backed by The Meters, which yielded the group’s greatest hit “Lady Marmalade,” a justified funk classic written by Bob Crewe (The Four Seasons) and Kenny Nolan (“I Like Dreamin’”). While “Lady Marmalade” was hard to top, Nona Hendryx contributed half of the album’s songs, making it one of the more notable albums of the year, especially Hendryx's terrific title track and the funky “Are You Lonely.”

The Nightbirds follow-up, Phoenix (Epic, 1975), seemed to bring Nona Hendryx forward more in the group, particularly as a vocalist. Much of the album is due to Hendryx’s contributions. There are, inevitably, more than a few tips of the space cap to “Lady Marmalade” to no particularly useful avail. But the record is either lacking some of the magic of Nona Hendryx’s God-given sincerity or attempts to embellish her talents too much with unnecessary funky/soulful clichés. Still, “Messin’ With My Mind” sticks in the memory.

The last Labelle album, Chameleon (Epic, 1976), has a very different musical vibe than previous Labelle albums and one not unlike producer David Rubinson’s earlier productions for The Pointer Sisters, particularly noticeable on the album’s best tracks: “Who’s Watching The Watcher?” and “A Man In A Trench Coat (Voodoo),” Nona’s first solo feature in Labelle. Both, of course, are Nona Hendryx compositions.

When Labelle disbanded (due, among other things, according to Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx’s emotional breakdown at the time), Nona Hendryx finally debuted with her own eponymous solo debut on Epic in 1977. The edgy rockish sister doing it for herself must certainly have confounded any number of potential listeners. Nothing like the soulful Labelle albums she made, Nona Hendryx is a pop album that very few women would have ever even have been allowed to make. While it’s not as out there or as remarkable as most descriptions – including mine – would have you believe, it was easy enough to do what just about everyone did with it: disregard it completely. It does boast Nona’s gripping “Problem” and a cover of Russ Ballard’s less-than-wondrous “Winning,” captured here four years before Santana made the song a hit (Nona Hendryx and Carlos Santana performed the song together several years later).

Following her solo album’s ridiculous lack of promotion and, ultimately, its terrible lack of success, Nona Hendryx issued several 45s on the British Arista label including “You’re The Only One I Ever Needed”/”Casanova” (1979), “Love It”/”King of Hearts” (1979) and a remake of The Supremes’ “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” b/w “X-Ray.” She also provided vocals as a studio musician in New York (David Johansen, Cameo) and ended up as part of the Talking Heads aggregate (Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues and the tour which resulted in Stop Making Sense) and as part of the Material crew (“It’s A Holiday,” “Busting Out,” “Take A Chance” and the brilliant cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Let Me Have It All”), some of the most happening music coming out of New York at the time.

She issued a single called “Do What You Wanna Do,” as by The Cage featuring Nona Hendryx, in 1982 (also featured on the 1982 Summer Lovers soundtrack album) before she released what remains her single best slice of wax ever. Nona (RCA, 1983) is a beautiful mix of soul, new wave and rock that perfects everything the singer/songwriter unleashed before and, to date, has not been bested by this talented musical artist since.

Nona is one of the earliest starry Material (Bill Laswell) pop productions that predates Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock (“Rockit”), Yoko Ono’s Star Peace or even Mick Jagger’s She’s The Boss. The groups change out from song to song, as is typical on a Bill Laswell production, but each features some exceptionally talented musicians plying their trade for an effective and satisfying end – another typical trait of a Bill Laswell production.

Hendryx co-writes most of the material here, but it has her absolutely unique stamp all over it. She partners perfectly with B.J. Nelson (from Material) and Dolette McDonald (from Talking Heads) on background vocals and conceives a well-written, well-arranged program of great staples – among the best in her voluminous catalog.

The danceworthy “B-Boys,” is a made-to-order hit for 80s dancefloors, with the uber-talented Kashif (who more or less made Whitney Houston, an early Material discovery, a star) on the signature bass synthesizer. It’s not the best number on the album. But it’s a clever way to entice interest in what follows.

One of Hendryx’s very best confessional anthems, “Keep it Confidential,” which also appears on the recent CD compilation Disco Discharge – Disco Ladies, features a number of great performances – including one of Hendryx’s best vocal performances on the album – and above average support from Nile Rodgers on guitar, Kenni Hairston on keyboards, Kashif on synthesizers and Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass.

“Design for Living” was originally written for a Labelle album that didn’t get issued because the group disbanded before the song could be released. Here, Nona Hendryx reconfigures the song into a “women power” anthem featuring a gaggle of great women musicians including Laurie Anderson, inspired on violin, Heart’s Nancy Wilson on guitar, the brilliant Valerie Simpson of Ashford & Simpson on piano, Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth and Defunkt’s Kim Clarke on bass, The Go Go’s Gina Schock on drums, Carole Steel on percussion and Patti Labelle on background vocals.

The album’s best song comes at the beginning of side two with “Transformation,” a great track that mixes new wave with soul better than almost anything else that ever came out of the early 80s dance movement at the time. The song features Sly Dunbar on drums, “Wizard” on synthesizer and Steve Scales on percussion (who was also with the Talking Heads at the time that Hendryx was). Interestingly, “Transformation” was re-recorded recently as something of an anthem by Nona Hendryx with Pam Grier (Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown) and BETTY for The L Word: The Third Season soundtrack.

The remainder of the album features one of my favorites, the great and very One Down sounding “Run for Cover,” featuring Material-ists Bill Laswell on bass and Michael Beinhorn on synthesizer, the Reggae-esque “Steady Action,” featuring Olu Dara on “horns” and the very Talking Heads-like “Dummy Up,” prominently featuring Bernie Worrell, who also appears on “Living on the Border” and who also prominently featured at the time as part of the Talking Heads (a shame that David Byrne and company never asked Nona Hendryx to contribute material to their already wonderful program…she would have made some sparkling additions to be sure). So who is “The Headless Horseman” who sounds so wonderful on guitar?

Three singles were issued from Nona: “Keep it Confidential” b/w “Dummy Up” (the 45, RCA PB-13437, contains a 3:48 edit of “Keep It Confidential” while the 12-inch, RCA PD-13438, contains the album-length versions of both songs); “Transformation” b/w “Design for Living” (the 45 on RCA PB-13559 and the 12-inch on RCA PD-13560); and “B-Boys” b/w “Steady Up” (the 45, RCA PB-13643, contains a 4:04 edit of “B-Boys” while the 12-inch, PD-13644, has a longer take of “B-Boys” at 6:35 backed by a 6:52 instrumental version of the song). And while Nona has yet to be issued on CD – which, in my book, is something of a criminal offense – four of the albums songs (“Transformation,” “Keep it Confidential,” “B-Boys” and “Design for Living”) were issued on a Razor & Tie compilation CD in 1999 that has also been long out of print. Wrong, wrong. Wrong.

Nona Hendryx went onto record two more rather lackluster albums for RCA, The Art of Defense (1984 - also produced with Material) and The Heat (1985), then waxed the indifferent Female Trouble (EMI, 1987) and the new-agey Skindiver (Private Music, 1989). The singer, who never got the big hit she deserved, sort of faded back into session work thereafter for some reason. But Nona Hendryx has come back in a big way recently with her own musical stage play Blue, starring The Cosby Show’s Phylicia Rashad, and the recent Labelle reunion album Back To Now (Verve, 2008), for which she contributed the bulk of material (the notable tracks include “Roll Out” with Wycleff Jean, “The Truth Will Set You Free” and “Tears for the World”).

Since so much of Nona Hendryx’s music is now held by SonyBMG, it seems something of her work deserves some consideration. I would be glad to volunteer my services in recognition of this beautiful and talented lady. She is one of music’s greatest unheralded artists.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dimitri from Paris “Get Down with the Philly Sound”

DJ Dimitri from Paris, born Dimitris Yerasimos in Istanbul, Turkey, was born six months after me in 1963 and grew up, like I did, listening to disco. Unlike me, though, he claims in his notes to this worthy two-disc set that “disco sucks” and that he has always hated disco in favor of the non-white, non-suburban music of Barry White, James Brown and Shalamar which he considered “funk” not “disco.” Uh huh.

He claims that he only discovered the joys of “disco” after House music started sweeping DJs like him and dancers into its repetitively intoxicating groove in the late 80s. But he insists that only certain types of “disco” music qualify as music or, at least, worthwhile grooves.

When he tried to determine what kind of disco he actually liked, Dimitri found it all emanated from Philadelphia during the 70s. At that time, Philadelphia was home to the great Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff holy house of Philadelphia International Records (PIR) and a studio team of musicians, arrangers and producers that helped procure great recordings for almost everyone of note at one time or another like David Bowie, Stylistics, The Spinners, Dexter Wansel, Lou Rawls, O’Jays, MFSB, Salsoul Orchestra, Montana, The Jacksons, Dusty Springfield, Grover Washington, Jr., Gabor Szabo, Elton John and many, many others.

It’s simply amazing to consider the sheer volume of good and historically significant music that actually came out of Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios, especially during the 1970s. Get Down with the Philly Sound does an adequately decent job of capturing a small fraction of this music. Inspired by innovative producer Tom Moulton’s classic Philadelphia Classics (Philadelphia International, 1977) – the world’s very first official remix set – Dimitri from Paris has compiled a two-disc set of Philadelphia sounds recorded for a variety of labels between 1973 and 1979.

For the most part, the two-disc set avoids the obvious. That’s the good news.

Disc one features 13 grooves from Teddy Pendergrass, Eddie Kendricks, Philly Devotions, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Jacksons, John Davis & The Monster Orchestra, Carl Bean (his classic “I am gay” proclamation “I Was Born This Way”), The Trammps, Charles Mann and T.J.M.

Disc two features Dimitri’s “reworks” of nine of the previous disc’s tunes. Dimitri does this in a highly commendable way that doesn’t obfuscate or change the original groove of the originals but, rather, actually enhances the jazz-like and soul symphony-like convention of the originals. On the other hand, the “Reworks” disc leans a bit too heavily on Teddy Pendergrass, with his sub-Marvin Gaye wailing and vocal intrusions overbearingly commanding a whopping five of the disc’s nine long tracks. Certainly there was more of the Philly Sound that Dimitri from Paris could have found without turning the whole thing into something of a Teddy Pendergrass tribute.

For my part, I dislike the use of the “disco” nomenclature throughout this set, particularly in Dimitri’s note and writer Al Kent’s otherwise thorough and wonderful notes. As a long-avowed disco fan, I have neither considered much of the Gamble-Huff oeuvre nor much of the many records issued by PIR (the bulk of material that Dimitri features in his "Reworks”) as “disco.” It’s very soulful material that is rich in rhythmic improvisation and beautifully-conceived string parts. Hardly anything else can touch the classy music that came from Philadelphia during this period. But, as disco, it’s kind of a stretch…whatever your definition.

If Motown was musical beer, the Philly Sound was musical champagne.

Still, it doesn’t make it disco. The Phillys probably wouldn’t even want to consider their music disco, unless they could take credit for inventing the musical form, which really came from out of the New York and Miami underground much more effectively – and differently – than what was coming out of Philadelphis.

And while there are many that might hear this music from Philly as “disco” or something better than “disco,” Get Down with the Philly Sound is not disco by definition and much more enjoyable on a number of different levels than the “disco” nomenclature would generally allow.

Gabor Szabo “Jazz Raga”

The estimable Light in the Attic (LITA) has taken it upon themselves to finally issue one of guitarist Gabor Szabo’s finest and least known albums, Jazz Raga. Among one of my very favorite of the guitarist’s records, this long-neglected album is aptly summarized by the LITA promotional text as “East meets West, guitar meets sitar, on this seminal 1967 Impulse Records jazz release.” It is a classic that has never properly gotten its due by jazz critics or even by those who admire Gabor Szabo’s better-known or more jazz-like music.

Jazz Raga is a brilliant, much-derided record featuring Szabo’s distinctive guitar and his overdubbed, slightly out-of-tune sitar playing. Too easily dismissed, the 34-and-a-half minute set contains some of Szabo’s best recorded guitar work: enchanting single-line runs mixed with jangled chords, repetitive riffs/drones and memorable, melodic solos. The short tunes (most under four minutes each) include Szabo staples like "Mizrab" and "Comin’ Back" and bring out Szabo’s ability to effectively compress good ideas. The core unit of Jack Gregg on bass and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums contributes successfully to the real groove of the record (something new for Gabor Szabo) and even the odd-sounding sitar isn’t as obtrusive as is often suggested.

LITA gives Jazz Raga the respect it has long deserved some four and a half decades after the fact, reissuing the record on vinyl and, for the first time ever, on CD this month. The gatefold digipak CD (the LP release is forthcoming) is a stunning presentation, maintaining the original LP's front and back cover and even the orange and black Impulse spine. Included in the set is a positively overflowing 40-page color booklet that includes unseen photos (courtesy of brother John Szabo), interviews with Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Rudy Van Gelder, Jack Gregg and Michael Shrieve and truly brilliant liner notes by Doug Sheppard (Ugly Things, Goldmine) revealing, among other things, that Larry Coryell was intended to be part of the sessions.

I am very pleased to have been able to provide LITA with much of the background and documentation to prepare the release of Jazz Raga and they have succeeded immeasurably by respecting the record with great reverence as a Psych classic and honoring its musical gravity with a properly beautiful package.

Jazz Raga is readily available now through LITA or, of course, from the good folks at Dusty Groove. It’s a must have for guitar fans and Psych listeners of all stripes.

Dave Grusin “Tootsie”

Like Quincy Jones, Lalo Schifrin, Michel Legrand and many others, composer and pianist Dave Grusin has a following among both jazz listeners and film-music fans alike. And like those jazz artists that also have a career in film, the two very different styles of musical artistry required for each medium rarely find a happy union among audiences with certain expectations.

Dave Grusin found a happy medium to wed both his jazz fusion magic with the prowess of film composition he’d already perfected in such Hollywood hits as The Graduate (1967), Murder by Death (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), Heaven Can Wait (1978) and On Golden Pond (1981) and memorable TV scores for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., It Takes A Thief, Baretta and St. Elsewhere with his tremendously infectious score to 1982’s Tootsie.

The film starred Dustin Hoffman as an unemployed actor who dresses in drag to land a role on a soap opera. But when his outspoken feminist creation, “Dorothy Michaels,” becomes a media sensation, he grows desperate to stop leading a double life—and to confess his love for his colleague, played by Jessica Lange. With a masterful blend of drama, comedy, contemporary realism and social commentary, and brilliant supporting performances by Dabney Coleman, Teri Garr, Bill Murray, Charles Durning and director Sydney Pollack (as Hoffman’s apoplectic agent), Tootsie is justifiably a classic.

Tootsie went on to become a huge hit and one of the most highly regarded comedies in Hollywood history, with a love song (“It Might Be You”) that has become a pop standard. Yet the soundtrack has been virtually unavailable on CD—until now.

The pitch-perfect score to Tootsie was by Dave Grusin, Pollack’s longtime collaborator on films such as The Yakuza, Three Days of the Condor, Bobby Deerfield and The Electric Horseman (and later, Havana, The Firm and Random Hearts).

Tootsie’s unique combination of laughs with serious subject matter required an original approach, and Grusin elevated the film by using the modern jazz fusion style he had helped create in his career as a recording artist. Upbeat, energetic and contemporary, jazz fusion was the perfect choice for Tootsie, and Grusin himself performed the keyboards.

Issued between Grusin’s jazz-fusion albums Out of the Shadows (1982) and Night-Lines (1984) - a live album was recorded five months before Tootsie, featuring the Grammy Award winning “Summer Sketches ’82,” but not issued until after the soundtrack – the Tootsie album fits in remarkably well with the composer’s jazz-fusion work. It is something that easily satisfies both his jazz and film-music audiences.

The good folks at Film Score Monthly (FSM) have issued Tootsie for the first time on CD (outside of a brief release in Japan some two decades ago), presenting the ten songs from the 1982 Warner Bros. soundtrack album plus 18 additional tracks that constitute the entirety of the score Grusin provided for the film. Much of the music that appeared on the original LP was from Grusin’s original score, except for three tracks (“Don’t Let It Get You Down,” “Sandy’s Song” and “Out of the Rain”), re-recorded in New York City a mere two weeks before the official soundtrack album was issued in December 1982.

There are many highlights to the set, including “An Actor’s Life (Main Title),” “Out of the Rain,” “Don’t Let It Get You Down” and “Working Girl March,” and very much some of the best music Grusin produced in his jazz-fusion style. Even the classic and well-known “It Might Be You” benefits nicely by Grusin’s tremendous melody and lovely way of orchestrating with electric keyboards (much of Grusin’s acoustic piano work here, on the other hand, is gloriously suggestive of Richard Tee’s playing). The newly heard source cues, some of which were not even used in the film, reveal Grusin’s always extant ability to produce excellent straight-ahead jazz too.

The FSM set is a marvelous celebration of Dave Grusin’s music and is especially well packaged, featuring first-rate liner notes by the terrifically thorough Jeff Bond and Lukas Kendall, aided in some small measure by your humble narrator.

Tootsie is very highly recommended, particularly to those listeners who – like me – could not get enough of Dave Grusin’s magical jazz fusion from the period (1977-83) and it’s a welcome addition to the terribly slim catalog of available Dave Grusin scores.

For more of my musings on the tremendous music of Dave Grusin, please check out my posts Grusin’s Goodies and Dave Grusin’s Soundtracks.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

“It’s A Holiday” by Material with Nona Hendryx

Today’s disco discovery: In between her Labelle years and her 80s solo onslaught, the great Nona Hendryx did a lot of session work in New York City. Eventually she hooked up with some of the Downtown crowd and wound up as part of the Talking Heads ensemble and as a favored vocalist with Bill Lasewell’s still revolutionary Material.

The 1981 “It’s A Holiday” is one of the earliest collaborations between Nona Hendryx and Material. The two would also collaborate on the brilliant dance-floor classic “Busting Out” as well as One Down album staples “Take A Chance” and a riveting cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Let Me Have It All.”

Here, Nona Hendryx is joined by Michael Beinhorn on synthesizers, pianos, clarinet, percussion, tapes; Bill Laswell on 4 & 6 string basses; Fred Maher on guitar, drums, rhythm box, percussion; and Cliff Cultreri on guitar. It’s an absolutely scintillating performance by all involved.

Shame on Madonna for either ripping this off or dumbing it down a few years later.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Agatha Christie’s Poirot - Series 9

Agatha Christie’s Poirot – An Introduction
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 1
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 2
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 3
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 4
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 5
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 6
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 7
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 8

1. Five Little Pigs (first broadcast December 14, 2003): As an artist, Amyas Crale was famous. As a womanizer, he was infamous. Despite a devoted and loving wife, Caroline, and a young daughter, Crale was a man whose passion for life demanded many satiations. His most recent flame, Elsa Greer, inspired Crale to what he felt was his very best work and a passion that was more serious than his wife had previously endured. One day Crale was poisoned to death and his wife was arrested, tried and found guilty of his murder. The woman did little to defend herself and some believed, as she had initially claimed, that Amyas Crale actually killed himself. Sixteen years later, after both parents had long been dead, the Crales’ daughter approaches Hercule Poirot to propose an investigation into the affair with an insistence of her mother’s innocence. Poirot assures her of the investigation but can not promise the validation of the daughter’s hypothesis. He sets interviews with the five surviving people who factored into the situation at the time: Philip Blake, Crale’s best friend; Meredith Blake, Philip’s brother and neighbor to the Crales; Elsa Greer, Crale’s muse and paramour; Cecilia Williams, the governess; and Angela, Caroline’s much younger sister. Poirot wends his way through a maze of conflicting opinions and varying emotions to discover a truth that differs completely from what was previously accepted.

First published in the US in 1942 as Murder in Retrospect and later in the UK as Five Little Pigs, this is, like One, Two, Buckle my Shoe (1940) and Hickory Dickory Dock (1955), another of Agatha Christie novels using a nursery rhyme for its title and the story’s structure. Here, the author uses the nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy,” a little ditty recited by parents to infant children about their toes that ends with the parent tickling the child. The author symbolically aligns Poirot’s main suspects into each little piggy of the nursery rhyme much as she does later with Poirot’s investigations in The Labours of Hercules (1947): This little piggy went to market (Philip Blake, a stockbroker). This little piggy stayed at home (Meredith Blake, a “stay-at-home sort of chap”). This little piggy had roast beef (Elsa Greer, the girlfriend and social climber). This little piggy had none (Cecilia Williams, the governess). And this little piggy went wee, wee, wee all the way home (Caroline Crale’s younger sister, the disfigured Angela).

It’s a rip-roaring riddle of a story that eloquently provides several different accounts of the same situation and puts Poirot’s crime-solving tactics of intelligence and psychology to the test. Like Dorian Gray in reverse, Five Little Pigs is an eloquently told tale that ranks withOrdeal By Innocence (1958), Nemesis (1971) and Sleeping Murder (1976) – all of which deal with murder in the past – as one of Agatha Christie’s best and most original stories. Some of Christie’s most beautiful and thoughtful writing can be found here – and some of her most well-developed and human characters. Like the ruses Poirot employs in Dumb Witness (1937), the detective here uses the pretext of authoring a book of the years-old crime to get otherwise reluctant people to talk about the “murder in retrospect” – a device which, again, is not used in the film. It makes sense in the book. But it would have seemed silly in the film. In the book, the detective also asks the “five little pigs” for written narratives of the event. This, too, would not have been plausible in the film. So what we have is a very literary tale that takes some guile and cunning to turn into an effective visual presentation. The author herself adapted the book for the stage in a play called Go Back For Murder (1960), removing Poirot from the story and replacing him with a young lawyer, Justin Fogg, who is the son of the lawyer who defended Caroline Crale many years before.

The 2003 film was scripted by Kevin Elyot, who also scripted the 2004 Poirot film Death on the Nile and has substantially re-written and re-thought Agatha Christie’s plots in a number of Marple scripts. It was directed by Paul Unwin, who also helmed the 2006 Marple film The Sittaford Mystery (not scripted by Elyot), in a way that suggests the different perspectives of Elephant (2003) rather than the different versions of Rashomon (1950). It’s got a look and feel markedly different from all previous Poirot films. From here on in, Poirot films become quite a bit more lavish and, frankly, more like theatrical films. There is far less reliance on sets, therefore doing away with the obviously but wonderfully staged Art Deco interiors of before, and more of an insistence on location shooting. The scripts become a bit more literate and somewhat more fancifully modern from here on in, too, often exploring ideas that Agatha Christie merely hinted at or couldn’t explore appropriately at the time.

Unfortunately, Elyot’s script does away with any explanation of the film’s title, something which confounded viewers a generation earlier in the case of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. The utterly superb casting of this particular episode, making each and every one of the “five little pigs” very human and hurting indeed, makes the title seem absolutely wrong and almost offensive without the necessary explanation. Still, the film does an immaculate job of parading a panoply of very lonely, sad and isolated people before Poirot. The film contains a number of annoying hand-held camera shots for flashbacks and the script changes the book’s crime of sixteen years ago to fourteen years for some reason. But several of the more notable changes from the book to the film include changing the Crale daughter’s name from Carla to Lucy (“Carla” suggests “Crale”and the union between Caroline and Amyas much better than “Lucy”), Caroline’s death by hanging (there was not enough evidence to sentence her to death in the book, but she died in prison anyway), Philip Blake’s affection for Amyas (which makes a certain sense) over his misplaced “feelings” for Caroline (which does not make him “gay”), the denoument at the old Crale homestead (which doesn’t really make sense) rather than the book’s denoument at Meredith’s house, and the weird – and unresolved – showdown at the end of the film between Lucy and Elsa. Still, for the most part, the film gets most of the book quite right. And each and every one of the actors do their part to deliver a very convincing and human story – truly one of the best of the Poirot films to date.

The beautiful and talented Rachael Stirling (Caroline Crale), daughter of Diana Rigg (who starred in the 1982 Poirot film Evil Under The Sun), also starred in the 2004 Marple film The Murder at the Vicarage (which also features this film’s Elsa Greer, Julie Cox) while handsome Toby Stephens, who is probably best known as the baddie in the 2002 James Bond film Die Another Day, also appears in the 2010 Marple film The Blue Geranium. Marc Warren (Meredith Blake) has uncredited appearances in two 2004 Marple films, The Murder at the Vicerage (again!) and The Body in the Library. Talulah Riley (the young Angela) also appears in the 2006 Marple film The Moving Finger while Annette Badland (Mrs. Spriggs) also appeared in the 1985 Miss Marple film A Pocket Full Of Rye (as Gladys).

2. Sad Cypress (first broadcast December 26, 2003): As Elinor Carlisle stands trial, accused of the murder of Mary Gerrard, she reflects upon her predicament. It all began when she received an anonymous note warning of bad intentions toward her ailing aunt, Laura Welman. Elinor and her fiancé, Roddy, travel to the old lady’s house, Hunterbury, to find that, though well attended by Nurses Hopkins and O’Brien and comforted by a servant’s daughter, Mary Gerrard, Aunt Laura is in very poor health indeed. Mrs. Welman has a stroke and Roddy begins to fall in love with the beautiful, young Mary Gerrard. Elinor Carlisle is upset both by her aunt’s condition and the realization that she is losing Roddy to Mary. During all this uncertainty, Mrs. Welman passes away quietly one evening. It turns out that the old lady had made no will so her vast estate passes onto her next of kin, Elinor Carlisle. Instead of enjoying her good fortune, Elinor discovers that Roddy is indeed in love with Mary Gerrard. With great remorse, Elinor breaks off their engagement. Elinor slowly begins to resent Mary for stealing Roddy’s heart and soon starts wishing the beautiful young girl were dead. One day, Elinor invites Mary and Nurse Hopkins, who are both at Hunterbury to clean out the lodge where Mary’s parents lived, to lunch. Elinor fixes sandwiches and Nurse Hopkins makes tea. After Nurse Hopkins cleans up, she helps Elinor to clean out Mrs. Welman’s belongings. Wondering where Mary has disappeared, Nurse Hopkins and Elinor discover her in the sitting room where she is dying. Nurse Hopkins tells Elinor the girl was poisoned. Mary dies and Elinor is immediately arrested for her murder. Poirot investigates.

First published in 1940, Sad Cypress is something in the line of Agatha Christie’s courtroom dramas, of which “The Witness for the Prosecution” is, perhaps, the best known. Like some of the later Hercule Poirot novels, the detective here seems to be an afterthought or commercial consideration. Poirot seemingly interferes with the narrative Agatha Christie presents here. Sad Cypress derives its title from a song out of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Act II Scene IV, beautifully charachterizing unrequited love. Christie’s use of this poetic allusion is meant to illustrate how unrequited love can lead not only to murder or thoughts of murder (Elinor) but also to the desire to find one’s beloved innocent or absolved of any guilt (Dr. Lord). Unfortunately, the film, like the film of Five Little Pigs before it, never properly explains or references Christie’s tremendously philosophic conception. The book brings Poirot into the mystery after Elinor Carlisle has been accused of murdering Mary Gerrard by Dr. Lord, who references the mutual association the two men have with Dr. Stillingfleet from “The Dream” (1939), a Christie character who later appears in Third Girl (1966). The detective does surprisingly little detecting in the book. Even the little “evidence” he provides at Elinor Carlisle’s trial is oddly referenced rather than detailed.

As scripted by David Pirie (the U.K.’s Murder Rooms, Murderland) in his only Poirot outing, the film of Sad Cypress maintains the basic elements of Christie’s plot and some of the author’s more trivial dialogue, but drastically cuts the courtroom drama by substantially increasing Poirot’s involvement in the story. The film introduces Poirot into the events of the story much earlier than the book by having Dr. Lord, a chess-playing acquaintance of Poirot’s and a man who has long harbored deep, unrequited feelings for Elinor Carlisle, request the detective’s assistance with the anonymous letter, well before Mrs. Welman dies. This requires Pirie to play up Poirot’s investigation into the anonymous letter (which is surprisingly non-existent in the book), the poison which kills Mary Gerrard and the administration of the poison or, at least, the importance of the sandwich spread. An old photograph and a letter referencing Mary’s true parentage are also considerably different here than the book, but entirely logical. Pirie invents a final showdown between the real killer and Poirot, which is particularly well conceived and sensible and quite a bit more interesting than the drawn-out verbosity of the book’s end. Pirie makes a few mistakes setting the story in 1937 (three years before the book’s setting) and also oddly changes the verdict Elinor Carlisle receives, which puts Poirot in a race-against-the-clock to solve the mystery which, by rights, he would have solved long before the verdict was handed down. Pirie’s script leaves out Epharim Gerrard, Mary’s nasty father, and changes Roddy Welman to Roddy Winter (to avoid confusion) and makes Mary “the gardener’s daughter,” which is confusing since the film’s actual gardener, Horricks, is very much in love with Mary.

Sad Cypress is directed consciously artfully by David Moore, who also helmed the 2010 Marple film The Blue Geranium, in the 16:9 widescreen format of a cinematic film. There are a lot of graceful camera moves, fly-on-the-wall camera angles and Hitchcock-like washes and dissolves. Moore ups the arty ante significantly by providing a number of haunting but ambient horror-film quotes from Psycho (the opening bedroom scene), Angel Heart (the ominous elevator) and creepy hallway shots recalling Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining and Suspiria that take full advantage of the dauntingly huge and mysteriously lovely Dorney Court, Dorney, Buckinghamshire. Moore provides one particularly chilling dream sequence where Mary’s face morphs into that of Laura Wellman’s as it dissolves into a burnt out skull, recalling any number of transformation horror films like The Wolfman and I Vampiri, but it is exceedingly well executed and important to Poirot’s solving of the mystery. With all the filmic suggestions and symbolic integrity, it is indeed surprising that, to date, David Moore has not directed any other Poirot film.

An absolutely terrific ensemble cast was assembled for the making of Sad Cypress including Elisabeth Dermot Walsh (perfect as Elinor Carlisle), Rupert Penry-Jones (Roddy), Kelly Reilly (exceptional as Mary Gerrard), Phyllis Logan (Nurse Hopkins) and Marion O’Dwyer (Nurse Hopkins). The great Diana Quick (whose appearance as Laura Welman is indeed quick) also appeared as Gwenda Vaughn in the 1985 film Ordeal by Innocence while Paul McGann (Dr. Peter Lord) also appeared in the 2006 Marple film Sleeping Murder. Jack Galloway (Marsden) also appeared as Bill Archer in the 1986 Miss Marple film The Murder at the Vicerage while Geoffrey Beevers (Seddon) also appeared as Father Gorman in the 1997 film The Pale Horse and as Mr. Tolliver in the 1989 Poirot film Problem at Sea.

3. Death on the Nile (first broadcast April 12, 2004): Jacqueline de Bellefort persuades her rich friend, Linnet Ridgeway, to hire her pennyless fiancé, Simon Doyle, as a property manager for the affluent young woman’s estate. Linnet and Simon are so taken with one another that they soon discover they are in love. Linnet and Simon abandon all their previous plans and the two are wed in blissful happiness. The couple honeymoons in Egypt, where they find they are hounded by Jacqueline at every turn. Hercule Poirot, who is also vacationing in Egypt, is accosted by Mrs. Doyle to do something about Jacqueline’s advances. He agrees to warn Miss de Bellefort off, but to no avail. The Doyles concoct a plan to mislead Jacqueline de Bellefort in their travels by secretly alighting to the Karnak, a boat that will take travelers down the Nile. Hercule Poirot also travels by the boat. Soon they all discover that Jacqueline has, yet again, discovered the young couple’s destination and is also one of the passengers on the boat. Later, while visiting some ruins, Linnet is almost killed by a falling rock. Jacqueline seems the most likely suspect. But it’s proved that it could not have been her that did the terrible deed. Then, one night on the boat, an altercation between Simon and Jacqueline ensues. In a maddening rage, Jacqueline shoots Simon in the leg. Jacqueline is taken to her room, guarded against any further harm. Simon is attended by a doctor traveling on the boat. The next morning Linnet is discovered dead, shot to death in her bed the night before. As Poirot investigates, several more murders occur.

First published in 1937, Death on the Nile uses the same title Agatha Christie had previsouly used as the title to a completely unrelated short story published in 1933 in the Parker Pyne Investigates anthology. The short story is remarkably similar to the 1923 Poirot short “The Cornish Mystery” but the novel, Death on the Nile, expands upon themes the author previously laid out in the 1935 Poirot short “Problem at Sea.” The novel is one of Agatha Christie’s most popular and constructs a fancifully too-clever mystery with many leaps of faith that are too hard to accept. Still, it takes due advantage of its glamorous and exotic setting to suggest that it all could have happened the way it is presented. The author herself adapted Death on the Nile into a stage play (written as “Hidden Horizon”), that debuted in 1944 as Murder on the Nile. A live one-hour performance of Murder on the Nile was presented on American television on July 12, 1950, as part of the Kraft Television Theatre. The novel was later adapted as a theatrical feature in 1978 with an all-star cast featuring Bette Davis, David Niven, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, Olivia Hussey, Jon Finch, George Kennedy, Jane Birkin, Maggie Smith and Peter Ustinov in his first of six turns as Hercule Poirot. The film was directed by John Guillermin (Shaft in Africa, The Towering Inferno, King Kong) and scripted by the great Anthony Schaffer (1926-2001), who, aside from plotting Frenzy, Slueth and The Wicker Man, also beautifully scripted Agatha Christie adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Evil Under The Sun (1982) and Appointment With Death (1988).

The 2004 film is a lot truer to the novel than the handsomely mounted 1978 theatrical film, where everyone is given a motive and a shifty nature. Although, like the previous film, the newer film appropriately does away with the novel’s Jim Fanthorp, Mr. Fleetwood and Signor Richetti, it even manages to delete Nurse Bowers (played by Maggie Smith in the earlier film) and have her not be missed. Scripted by Kevin Elyot, who penned the earlier David Suchet Poirot film Five Little Pigs, Death on the Nile retains much of Agatha Christie’s plotting and even more surprisingly – for Elyot – a fair amount of the author’s original dialogue. The only significant change Elyot makes to the story is to suggest that Zoe Telford’s Rosalie Otterbourn’s rather implausible affection for Daniel Lapine’s unbelievably flamboyant Tim Allerton, is spurned (“afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree”) due to the man’s probable homosexuality or, more peculiarly, for love of his mother. The Suddenly Last Summer quality of the Allertons’ relationship could even mean it’s both! While Elyot in his script never introduces the unnecessary light-hearted attempts at humor Schaeffer included in his earlier script, there are several well-timed and well-delivered lines heard here which give a sense of the absurdity of the proceedings, particularly when David Suchet’s Poirot, upon surveying Mrs. Doyle’s shooting, is informed that Mr. Doyle was also shot.

Death on the Nile is competently directed by Andy Wilson, who also directed the 2006 Poirot film Taken at the Flood as well as the Marple films The Body in the Library (2004), 4.50 From Paddington (2004) and They Do It With Mirrors (2009). The need to be artful is supplanted by glorious locations captured throughout Egypt and even aboard the Karnack, which IMDb trivia claims is the exact same boat used in the 1978 film (though there are far more obvious real exteriors to be seen here than in the earlier film). The only real scenes of artificiality appear to be those long shots of the Karnack at night (the water reflects far more light than the boat can possibly emit) and the oddly Harry Potter-esque opening sequence that finds the camera, descending like a spirit, down through the storm-filled skies through a skylight to a more-frank-than-usual scene of lovemaking. Series composer Christopher Gunning provides a most enchanting and engaging score here, if slightly more modern than it should be for its 1936 timeframe. As with other films starting in the ninth series, the familiar Poirot theme is gone – and not even hinted at here, as in this series’ previous films – but while the extremely odd use of Bernard Herrmann’s familiar slashing Psycho strings scored to Louise Borget’s murder seems ill-advised, the inclusion of several old-time popular songs like Noel Coward’s “Mad About The Boy” (1932) are especially well considered.

The cast here is simply magisterial. All have been selected with particular attention to their specific roles – not for the mere fact that they are dazzling the screen with their presence in whatever performance they’re supposed to give. Still, there are “stars” to be seen and pitch-perfect performances from all concerned. Present are such heavyweights as James Fox (Colonel Race), The Devil Wears Prada’s Emily Blunt (Linnet Ridgeway) and Cracker’s Barbara Flynn (Mrs. Allerton) in leading roles. Starsky & Hutch’s David Soul (Andrew Pennington) also appeared in the 1988 Poirot TV film Appointment With Death, where Peter Ustinov portrayed the Belgian detective for the last of six times. The appropriately boyish and handsome JJ Field (as the exquisitely charming Simon Doyle) also appears in the 2010 Marple film The Pale Horse (not originally a Miss Marple story!) while Emma Griffiths (Jacqueline De Bellefort) also appears in the 2009 Marple film They Do It with Mirrors. Zoe Telford (Rosalie Otterbourne) also appeared in the 2006 Marple film The Sittaford Mystery while Steve Pemberton (Dr. Bessner) also appeared in the 2008 Marple film Murder Is Easy. The delightful Frances De La Tour (Salome Otterbourne) has also appeared in the 2006 Marple film The Moving Finger as well as the 1985 Miss Marple film Murder With Mirrors, with Helen Hayes as Miss Marple.

4. The Hollow (first broadcast April 26, 2004): A weekend house party is planned at Henry and Lucy Angkatell’s country estate of The Hollow. Invited guests include Dr. John Christow and his wife, Gerda; Midge Hardcastle, a distant Angkatell relation; Henrietta Savernake, a cousin and sculptor who shares a special relationship with John; and Lucy’s cousin Edward, who has long been in love with Henrietta and who occupies Ainswick, the family’s beloved homestead. Everyone knows that Lucy Angkatell is eccentric, but hospitable to a fault. Still, all look forward to a weekend in the country except Gerda, who knows she is considered stupid by all the others and only politely tolerated as John’s wife. One evening, while all are gathered for after-dinner games at The Hollow, a beautiful lady suddenly bursts into room. The woman turns out to be the famous actress Veronica Cray, who is lodging nearby at Dovecotes cottage. Claiming that she is out of matches and hopes to borrow some, she immediately recognizes John Christow, a former lover. Upon receiving her matches, Veronica insists John escort her back to her cottage. John Christow returns much later that night. The next day, John receives a note from Veronica demanding he visit her as soon as possible. He accedes and finds that Veronica wants him to abandon everything to be with her. John absolutely refuses and storms out. She is angered and claims to hate him more than she thought she could ever hate anyone. John goes back to The Hollow to reflect and consider. He is then shot. Hercule Poirot, also staying at Dovecotes cottage and, conincidentally, invited to The Hollow for lunch that day, discovers an elaborate tableau with a seemingly dead man lying by the side of the pool, his wife holding the gun, and two women looking down at it all in shock. As the investigation unfolds, clues come to light and suspects emerge, leading the police and Poirot to feel the answer to their murder is a game that all the suspects are willfully playing.

First published in 1946, The Hollow, which was also published in the U.S. as Murder after Hours, is one of Agatha Christie’s many manor murder mysteries. But it is also a fine commentary on the artificiality and absurdity of so many mysterious upper-class “manners.” The Hollow, which derives its name from the Angkatell homestead – “an echo of Ainswick” (“The Echo” was an early draft title for the novel) - and a reference from the first part of the Tennyson poem “Maud,” is a compelling tale of the murder of a complex man among a group of particularly “hollow” people. Indeed, it takes the author ten chapters to outline the vacuous characters before someone made of unexpectedly sterner stuff kills the good doctor off. Poirot’s introduction in the eleventh chapter feels intrusive - the film invites him into the plot a day or so earlier on - and Agatha Christie later said she ruined the novel by introducing the Belgian detective into the story at all. Indeed, in 1951 the author developed the novel into a stage play and omitted Poirot completely from the proceedings.

The Hollow is a singularly difficult story to film successfully as the plot concerns itself more with misplaced emotions and inner monologues than action-driven mayhem. As a result, the film takes several viewings to properly understand each character’s peculiar perspective – if that’s possible - particularly that of John Christow, who in the book finally comes to understand himself and appreciate what’s he’s got at the very moment it’s all taken away from him. Beautifully scripted by Nick Dear in the first of his four (thus far) Poirot dramitizations, The Hollow stays admirably true to Agatha Christie’s story, making only minor modifications such as dispensing with brooding and bookish David Angkatell, the unlikey discovery of the murder weapon at Poirot’s cottage (of all places!), Midge breaking off her engagement to Edward and Edward’s subsequent suicide attempt, though the film maintains the eventual outcome of the relationship without this rather histrionic action. Also, the suicide which ends the story occurs a little differently in the film than the novel suggests. Otherwise there is little to suggest that Dear’s script takes any liberties with the author’s text, written some six decades before.

Directed in a suitably elegiac, almost operatic, style by Simon Langton (Smiley’s People, The Whistle Blower) in his only Poirot effort, The Hollow is rife with poetic and ambient gestures that, like the dirty swimming pool that serves as the scene of the crime, reflect the melancholy or misaligned emotions of its wanton well-to-dos. In conspiring with the art director (Richard Hogan) and the cinematographer (James Aspinall), Langton beautifully shows how “everything” is often equal to those things you want that you can never have, no matter how much you already have. There’s a nice sense in this film of those who “have it all” never having what they want or getting enough of it. Langton’s direction also captures the autumnal setting so often referenced in the book most spectacularly and gives it all a very contemporary feel without ever betraying the story’s original setting. Christopher Gunning provides an appropriately sad yet markedly sensitive score with absolutely no hint of his classic Poirot theme. The gorgeous main theme in particular is suggestive of something classical that Gunning probably intended to be symbolic. There is also a nice use of a vintage recording of “In the Gloaming by the Fireside” to underscore the puppeteer of the plot’s own emotions.

The Hollow is unquestionably one of the most beautiful looking of all the Poirot films and, to this point, perhaps the very best of the films in the entire series. The superb cast assembled for this film is ideally suited to each and every one of their particular roles and all perform with appreciable aplomb. The great Sarah Miles (splendid as Lucy Angkatell, the way Agatha Christie wrote her, and which, to date, is her most recent film role) also appeared as Mary Durrant in the 1985 film Ordeal by Innocence while the tremendous Edward Fox (hilariously perfect as the obsequious and curmudgeonly Gudgeon), whose brother James appeared in the previous Poirot film, Death on the Nile, also appeared in the 2010 Marple film The Secret of Chimneys and as Inspector Craddock in the 1980 film The Mirror Crack’d. Also in the cast is the great Edward Hardwicke - terrifically regal as Henry Angkatell – who is best known for taking over as Dr. Watson in the Granada Television Sherlock Holmes adventures after David Burke, who appeared in the 1995 Poirot film Hickory Dickory Dock, departed from the role. Jonathan Cake (John Christow) also appears in the 2010 Marple film The Pale Horse while Angela Curran (Miss Simms, the maid) also appears in the 2006 Marple film The Moving Finger.

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 10
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 11
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 12

Monday, June 14, 2010

“Disco Calypso” by Beckett

Today’s disco discovery: How about this from the dusty bins of disco history? Not unlike Ralph MacDonald’s 1976 smash “Calypso Breakdown,” immortalized the following year in Saturday Night Fever, this neglected gem from 1977 fuses the two distinct genres of the song’s title for a groove that’s compulsively exciting and eminently danceworthy. “Disco Calypso” is the title track to Alston “Beckett” Cyrus’ second album, Disco Calypso and his American debut on the mighty, mighty Casablanca label, the high house of disco in the day.

A Native of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Cyrus eventually dropped the second “t” from his nickname and went on to record a long string of party soca albums under the names Becket and Alston Becket Cyrus, scoring a number of hits along the way: “Coming High,” his first hit, also included on Disco Calypso, “Gal Ah Rush Me, “Teaser,” “I Love To Party” and “Soca Rocker Cabaret.” Many of these were arranged by soca keyboardist Frankie McIntosh, the magician behind the tremendous arrangement heard here.

“Disco Calypso” was recorded in New York City in 1977 and, despite a prominent feature in the Robert Shaw/Jacqueline Bisset film The Deep, directed by Peter Yates - and a prominent place on the otherwise forgettable soundtrack album too (except for the cool copies pressed in blue vinyl!), the song just didn’t make it big. ABC, as he is also known, never recorded for another major American label, issuing (himself?) most of his music on the Oxon Hill, Maryland-based Cocoa Music label.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

“A Lover’s Holiday” by Change

Today’s Disco Discovery: I must confess that I was immediately drawn to this song the very first time I heard it way back in 1980. But I don’t get to hear it anymore now and I think that’s just wrong. It doesn’t show up on too many disco anthologies, even though it was a big enough hit back in its day to warrant the coverage so many other overplayed disco songs get this day in age.

Change was a creation of Jacques Fred Petrus (1949-86), founder/producer of a number of Euro-disco bands including the Peter Jacques Band, Brooklyn, Macho, Caprice, Midnight Gang, Zinc and many others. It seems that the idea behind Change was to exploit the success of the American group Chic (“Dance Dance Dance,” “Le Chic,” “Good Times” etc.). And for a while, Change even overtook the Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards band in its disco-fied success.

"A Lover’s Holiday,” featured on the group’s debut album The Glow Of Love, was written by hunky Davide Romani (High Fashion, BB&Q Band) and soon-to-be Twennynine member Tanyayette Willoughby. The musical portion was apparently recorded in Italy and the vocals were recorded in New York City at the Power Station, where a young Luther Vandross was among the vocalists involved (though he does not sing lead here as he does on several other numbers from this record).

The song spent nine weeks at number one, though hardly anything else by the group – which issued another three albums – was ever heard again. “A Lover’s Holiday” was sampled by the Happy Monday’s for their 1990 song “Holiday” and was featured in the 2009 film Couple’s Retreat.

It’s a great groove…and I wish I knew more about the musicians that made it so, particularly the pianist and the bassist who make it what it is: a funk classic.

Between Sound and Space

Artist, author, photographer and composer Tyran Grillo has compiled Between Sound and Space – An ECM Records Resource, a most remarkable and beautiful blog dedicated to the powerful music of the ECM Records label. Once provocatively – and accurately – advertised as “the most beautiful sound next to silence,” ECM Records has for forty years provided a wealth of music by the greatest players in both the jazz and classical fields.

Founded in Munich, Germany, in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, ECM stands for “Editions of Contemporary Music” and has captured the recorded output of some of music’s most notable composers and players. The label’s most prominent – and prolific – recording artist is Keith Jarrett, who has recorded dozens of albums in a variety of formats from jazz trios (most notably The Standards Trio) and piano solos to classical recordings of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Shostakovich and others and the label’s all-time best seller, The Köln Concert (1975).

ECM’s first recording was laid down in 1969 by pianist Mal Waldron (who also recorded the Italian Soul Note label’s very first recording) and the label went onto specialize not only in jazz pianists such as Paul Bley, Steve Kuhn and Chick Corea, but guitarists Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie.

ECM has also captured not only many fine discs by otherwise neglected American jazz players like Don Cherry, Gary Burton and the brilliant Paul Motian but has also been particularly resolute at nearly single-handedly cataloging some of the best of Europe’s music makers from Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal and Eberhard Weber to Kenny Wheeler, Tomasz Stanko and John Surman. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the many fine, beautifully produced classical recordings the label has issued in its miraculous “ECM New Series.”

Tyran Grillo’s excellent blog is set up to address every single one of ECM’s releases – which now number into the thousands. Thanks to Manfred Eicher’s brilliant management, the label has remained very true to its artistic vision since day one and, surprisingly, a great many of the label’s releases stay in print and available to listeners who journey into the land of ECM.

Tyran has posted a number of my ECM-related reviews under his “Guest Reviews” section. But I would advise reading Tyran’s own beautifully-sculpted write ups, some of the most beautiful writing next to enjoying the music itself.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Jazz Genesis and Genius of Marvin Gaye

By the late 1960s, Marvin Gaye had deservedly earned the title of "The Prince of Motown" for his many hits and that definitive and gorgeously silky smooth singing voice of his. As the hugely influential label's best-selling male star, Marvin Gaye had also scored Motown's biggest-selling hit, "I Heard It through the Grapevine" by 1968. He also maintained a successful parallel career singing duets with several of Motown's leading ladies, namely Tammi Terrell.

Following Terrell's collapse in his arms onstage during the summer of 1967 for an undiagnosed brain tumor, Marvin Gaye began a spiritual and emotional decline of his own. Problems with his wife, the IRS and Terrell's eventual death in March 1970 brought him to a point where he felt he wanted to express himself his own way. No doubt inspired by the inventive Norman Whitfield, who was chiefly responsible for "I Heard it through the Grapevine" and many, many other classics that transcended Motown's rather restrictive limitations, Marvin Gaye felt it was no longer enough to bring out the best in other producers and musical associates. He wanted to bring out the best in himself.

But this wasn't the way at the Motown machine. Singers were fronts for corporate music and, like so many other artists elsewhere – especially those of the African American variety – he was not allowed to have any sort of artistic control. Marvin Gaye refused to be reigned in by that and while his obstinacy rightfully furthered the cause of black artists gaining control of their own musical artistry, it did nothing but cause him problems with the Motown brass and namely Motown's chief and Marvin Gaye's brother-in-law, Berry Gordy, Jr. almost until the very end of his life. It probably even hurt his own career as much as the new direction he sought in music furthered the financial fortunes of Motown and, later, other labels as well.

As rampant racism, the Vietnam War, protest in the streets and police brutality seemed to bring America to its knees in 1970, Marvin Gaye brought forth all his talents to simply state – or ask? - "What's Going On." As Ben Edmonds says in his beautiful notes to the Deluxe Edition CD release of <em>What's Going On</em>, "Its relaxed yet forceful groove was closer to jazz than anything in the Motown canon, but it wasn't really jazz either. Usually the Funk Brothers [the studio musicians who played without credit – until this album – on nearly every Motown recording ever made] didn't have the slightest idea for whom a song was intended or even what it was called. These supremely gifted musicians often looked down their noses at the pop music they were hired to churn out. Not this day. When bassist James Jamerson got home from work, he told his wife he'd just cut a classic."

Marvin Gaye had been inspired and fashioned an inspiring ode that did indeed become a classic, almost immediately. But Berry Gordy, Jr. hated it and refused to release it. Too political. Too weird. And not a hit. Marvin Gaye refused to record anything more for Motown unless "What's Going On" was released. Finally in January 1971, it was released and not only did it become a number 2 pop hit, it even outsold the hugely popular "I Heard it through the Grapevine." Motown demanded an album to follow it up with and this launched Marvin Gaye into the most artistically satisfying stage of his career.

What he was doing was searching the wellspring of his soul to create music he felt. Rather than singing words that were put in front of him, he was singing what came from within him. Lyrically, it might not even make sense. But it was him and there was a poetic beauty about it all. It was the same spontaneous composition that fuels so much of jazz. Marvin Gaye learned how to use technology to make his voice do multiple things at once. If you listen to any of the music from this period (1970-1980), a study of Marvin Gaye's voicings would read like a treatise on a jazz group. Marvin Gaye heard something that no one before him had ever heard: precisely how to turn a crooner into a choir. A jazz choir.

Much of the jazz sensibility Marvin Gaye was exercising in his perfect and profitable voice extended to the musical instrumentation supporting those songs. The Funk Brothers must have loved playing for this guy. Marvin Gaye was not looking for pet licks, riff-based programmatics, familiar/topical sounds or chock-a-block, cookie-cutter rhythms. He was hearing an extension of what he was trying to express. That it yielded hit after hit of hitherto unheard musical magic is miraculous enough. But that it is, like Miles Davis, seeking to express a sound that has never been heard before is a testament to the man's musical genius – a genius that was probably sublimated to that "Love Man" voice as the unfortunately crowned "Prince of Motown."

There is much that is fascinating and worthwhile in Marvin Gaye's music from this period aside from the hits and that beautiful voice. Here, now, is a voice that is an instrument of divinity, transcending Top 40 radio, and expressing what is soulful about soul, heartfelt about life and creative about so much jazz. Since I do not propose a survey of the hits and how successful or unsuccessful any of the music is, I will contain my commentary to the jazz elements I detect in the work – and the jazz coverage the music has received. It's what makes Marvin Gaye's music important to me and what makes it live beyond The Big Chill type nostalgia.

What's Going On (Tamla, 1971): From Eli Fontaine's introductory alto sax wail and the multiple vocal tracks on the title track, What's Going On announces itself as something new, different and most audibly as something very, very special. Marvin Gaye is playing keyboards and arranger David Van DePitte adds a lush string arrangement. The percussion is especially well thought-out and conceived (mostly by Marvin Gaye) like a big-band arrangement of old. The groove here is much more like jazz than most R&B, but more soulful than most of what passed for R&B at the time. All the musicians are credited here – for the first time ever on a Motown album – as well they should be since their contribution is significant to the music's success. Jazz players such as Grover Washington, Jr., Jay Anderson, Houston Person, Marc Copland, Charles Lloyd (!), George Gruntz and Carl Allen have covered "What's Going On" but Quincy Jones' marvelous 1971 cover from Smackwater Jack is most highly recommended. All of these renditions perfectly showcase the jazz genius Marvin Gaye brings to his music. The rest of the album was recorded some months later, but the result is so amazing as to stand as one of the finest albums recorded during the first half of the 1970s. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" was another big hit from this album and has a particularly sad, blues-like vibe highlighted by the mournful bluesy sax solo (probably Wild Bill Moore) and a transcending bizarre choir that concludes the dirge-like groove.

The melodic "Mercy Mercy Me" has also fared particularly well in jazz with covers by Richard Evans, Leon Spencer, Reuben Wilson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Chico Freeman and most notably Grover Washington, Jr. The gorgeous "Wholy Holy" is one of the album's secret pleasures and it too has been covered by Aretha Franklin, twice (!) in beautiful jazz renditions by Bill Cosby and once by Mavis Staples, coincidentally, on The Cosby Show. The urban groove of "Inner City Blues" contains one of the most important bass lines in all of music (surprisingly not in evidence on the earlier mix of the song included on the Deluxe Edition CD). It's probably one of the most astounding melodies on display here, with David Van DePitte's remarkable string accompaniment and, lest I neglect to mention elsewhere, some of Marvin Gaye's finest vocalisms. "Inner City Blues" has been covered in earnest by Sarah Vaughn, Phil Upchurch, Reuben Wilson, Gil Scott Heron, Herbie Mann, Larry Coryell, Carl Allen and, most notably (again) by Grover Washington, Jr. To this listener, the album's musical highlight is the great Latin jazz groove of "Right On," with its flute, sax, (probably MPG's own) piano and percussion features. "Right On" was covered particularly well by Javon Jackson with Dr. Lonnie Smith on the 2003 album Easy Does It. In 1997, smooth saxophonist Everett Harp covered the entire What's Going On album rather reverentially for the Blue Note label, an opportunity that should have probably been offered to Grover Washington, Jr., whose sax seems to sing with the same sensual magic of Marvin Gaye's voice.

Trouble Man (Tamla, 1972): This was the first – and, sadly, last - soundtrack to carry Marvin Gaye's name and, while it was attached to a forgettable Blaxploitation epic, directed by the estimable Ivan Dixon - the former Hogan's Heroes star who directed the great The Spook Who Sat By The Door the following year, with a score by Herbie Hancock - the music magnificently transcends the hardly-seen film. As a soundtrack, Trouble Man has remained in print longer and more memorably than almost every other score of its ilk other than those exceedingly popular ones by Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes. As Ben Edmonds says in his excellent liners to the 2001 Let's Get It On (Deluxe Edition) CD, "Largely instrumental and based around Marvin's piano and Moog synthesizer, [Trouble Man] demonstrated that the singer could master musical mood without the divine intervention of his voice." This film brought Marvin Gaye to Los Angeles for the first time and it seems to have inspired him immeasurably. It's hardly the worthy follow up to What's Going On that anyone was seeking. But it's so much more significant than almost any other Blaxploitation soundtrack ever issued. And it's a great record on its own. Maybe that's because it didn't resort to cheap chicanery. Everything Marvin Gaye does here feels soulful and heartfelt. MPG plays most of the lead keyboard instruments and Trevor Lawrence, who came up playing with Reuben Wilson, King Curtis, Mongo Santamaria and Chuck Rainey, provides most of the horn work on various saxes.

Nearly everything heard here is a highlight. But "Trouble Man," with a great Marvin Gaye vocal and an arrangement by the underrated Dale Oehler, and "Don't Mess with Mister T" (arranged by Jack Hayes and Leo Shuken) are exceptionally good; stunningly good in fact. "Trouble Man" was covered nicely (in all cases) by Leon Spencer, Ahmad Jamal, Janis Siegel, Pucho and his Latin Soul Brothers, Kyle Eastwood (with Joni Mitchell), Reuben Wilson, Dr. Lonnie Smith and, most memorably of all, of course, by Grover Washington, Jr. "Don't Mess With Mister T" became something of a theme song for saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, who recorded the song twice (definitively in 1973 and then again in 1995) and was also recorded by Jack McDuff, Regina Carter and The James Taylor Quartet. But the instrumentals "T Plays It Cool" (arranged by Jerry Long), "Cleo's Apartment" (arranged by Bob Ragland) and, best of all, the funky "T Stands for Trouble" (arranged by the great J.J. Johnson, who had also recently scored Cleopatra Jones) make Trouble Man worth every effort to hear, savor, respect and appreciate.

Let's Get It On (Tamla, 1973): After the huge success of What's Going On, Marvin Gaye found it difficult developing a satisfying follow-up. When an artistic triumph is a commercial success, that level of inspiration is expected to continue, though it rarely ever does. A single, "You're The Man," followed in 1972 and failed to even chart. Motown forced the singer to work with a stable of producers to little avail. But during this time he managed to satisfactorily score a film (Trouble Man) and complete an album of duets with Diana Ross. Gaye then sought out producer/songwriter Ed Townsend (Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole) to help him find the direction he was lacking. They scored a hit with "Let's Get It On" and followed it up with one of the most romantic albums of the day. "Let's Get It On" features a cadre of LA-based jazz players including pianist Joe Sample, bassist Wilton Felder, drummer Paul Humphrey, saxophonists Plas Johnson and Ernie Watts and Victor Feldman on vibes that inspire Marvin Gaye to one of his jazziest-ever performances. The now well-known song has always been considered the ultimate paean to lovemaking and the sensational groove that's laid down bears this out. But the song was actually conceived by Ed Townsend while he was in rehab as a way to "get on" with life. Apparently, Marvin Gaye reinvented the song on the spot as his future wife made her first appearance in his life the moment they recorded this song, which possibly explains the lyric jumble that hardly anyone notices. But, as Ed Townsend notes, "Marvin could sing the Lord's Prayer and it would have sexual overtures."

Surprisingly, "Let's Get It On" never received the amount of jazz attention Marvin Gaye's other songs from this period did. But it has been covered by the World Saxophone Quartet, Maceo Parker, John Tropea and, inevitably, a number of smooth jazzers like Euge Groove. The rest of the album, filled out with a reprise of the title track called "Keep Getting' It On," is a letdown to this listener. Still, it maintains enough of that romantic melodicism of the title song to attract many other fans and, accordingly, a number of warm jazz tributes. Bobbi Humphrey has covered the album's second hit single, "Come Get To This." "Distant Lover," the B-side to Marvin Gaye's 45 release of "Come Get To This," has been covered by David "Fathead" Newman and Ronnie Laws. "You Sure Love To Ball," one of the album's most intriguing melodies and its third single, was also covered by Fred Wesley and the J.B.'s. The 2001 Let's Get It On (Deluxe Edition) CD also contains many of the formerly unreleased production numbers waxed by Gaye in an effort to craft some sort of follow-up to What's Going On, including three songs produced by Marvin Gaye and David Van DePitte featuring Herbie Hancock, one of the songs from Marvin Gaye's sessions with the Mizell Brothers ("Where Are We Going," which ended up on Donald Byrd's classic Black Byrd album), the excellent "The World Is Rated X" from sessions with producer Hal Davis and four old-school numbers produced with Willie Hutch. Most remarkably, there are three tremendous instrumentals - "Running From Love – Version 1," "Mandota" and "Running From Love – Version 2" – that Marvin Gaye laid down with guitarist Ray Parker, Jr., bassist Michael Henderson (who was bassist with Miles Davis at the time) and drummer Hamilton Bohannon (of Bohannon fame) that make the expanded set ultimately worth the expense and the endeavor. There's probably a lot more of this stuff that hasn't been released. But you could say that about any of the other productions the Deluxe Edition includes. It's nice to hear just exactly how Marvin Gaye was experimenting between his two most famous albums.

I Want You (Tamla, 1976): Though this album undoubtedly has its fans, it is merely a conventional soul record enlivened mostly by Marvin Gaye's textual and contextual vocalisms. Informed more by a mellow sort of disco than any sense of jazz or the creative intervention that produced What's Going On, I Want You puts Leon Ware in charge and the effect is that of Marvin Gaye as an invited guest on his own record. Naturally, MPG shapes the words and the way they are sung into his own message. The result is nothing less than a sexual valentine to his beloved, Jan, who would become his second wife a year after this album's release. Personal and heartfelt though it may be, it just seems like hearing someone have sex: maybe great for them, not so great for you. The album's two most notable songs, "I Want You" (which appears in three iterations here) and the fairly silly "After the Dance" (which is heard as both an instrumental and vocal piece here), barely even register in any fair comparison to Marvin Gaye's best work. But both were released as singles.

Saxophonist Gato Barbieri covered "I Want You" twice – once in 1976 on Caliente and again in 1999 on Che Corazon – and he had the luxury of getting Marvin Gaye to provide him with a song of his very own, "Latin Reaction," which appeared on the Argentine saxophonist's 1978 album Ruby, Ruby. "I Want You" was also covered by Stanley Turrentine, former CTI singer Tamiko Jones, Dave McMurray, Manny Oquendo, John Tropea, Kirk Whalum and Jason Miles. "After the Dance" was also covered by Harold Vick, Fourplay (with El DeBarge) and the James Taylor Quartet. "I Wanna Be Where You Are," which first appeared on Michael Jackson's 1972 debut solo album, was also covered by Gary Bartz (in 1972), Charlie Brown (in 1972 – in an arrangement by Horace Ott), Leon Thomas (in 1973) and O'Donel Levy (in 1974) – all of which preceded Marvin Gaye's version of the tune. I haven't heard the Deluxe Edition of this record. But the basic tracks of the original hardly add up to enough to warrant the effort.

Live At The London Palladium (Tamla, 1977): This was my very first experience and exposure to the wonderful world of Marvin Gaye. I can still remember in the ninth grade, being at a school dance when "Got To Give It Up" came on. I'd never heard anything quite like it before. Chances are, no one else had either. I screamed with joy and danced my ass off to this brilliant little piece of funk. It's always made me so happy. Apparently Marvin Gaye had to fight with the Motown brass to produce a double-album live set. Motown only wanted a single record. But MPG, who was not only stage shy but terrified of flying, insisted on featuring the entire show, recorded in London, on record. That amounted to three sides of a double LP.

It's an incredibly spirited performance that finds Marvin Gaye giving Motown the coverage of his oldies they wanted. But there's no sign that he's coasting or slumming for the audience here. Aside from hypnotizing the audience into a sexed-up frenzy, MPG delivers every song from the heart and the soul of his very being. The great arrangements – particularly on the horns (some of the old songs get more of a contemporary disco treatment than is agreeable to the music) – really energize the singer. After it was all captured, Motown relented but MPG's engineer, Art Stewart, knew they still needed something to finish off the fourth side of the double set. Marvin had been "fooling around" with a song where he discovers how to overcome his fear of dancing. Stewart knew they had a number one hit on their hands and, while in London, forced MPG to do something in the studio with the song and get it laid down for the album.

In addition to Marvin Gaye's commanding falsetto voicings, "Got To Give It Up" features the great MPG playing several keyboard parts (including a brilliant theramin-like sounding synthesizer), grapefruit juice bottle (!) and, most remarkably, the brilliantly funky RMI bass part. The 11-minute groove also features Jack Ashford on tambourine and "hotel sheet" (hahaha), Johnny McGhee on guitars, (son) Frankie Gaye and (wife-to-be) Jan Hunter on background vocals, Frankie Beverly (!) on milk bottle and spoon (hahaha) and Fernando Harkness delivering a JB's worthy sax solo. It all adds up to a clever piece of disco funk that has a great jazz groove as its genesis – particularly in the employment of MPG's many overlaid vocal parts. This brilliant performance did end up becoming a number one smash hit, to everyone's surprise except its producer, Art Stewart. Marvin Gaye was clearly "on," and probably listening to a bunch of James Brown and P-Funk when he conceived this dance classic. But they too had both listened to enough Marvin Gaye to produce their finer moments. "Got to Give It Up" is not only a surprise disco classic with a lot more going on than the usual disco trappings, but probably one of the most notable and memorable songs of the 1970s.

Here, My Dear (Tamla, 1978): Perhaps one of Marvin Gaye's most personal albums, Here, My Dear was fashioned as a divorce settlement and "up yours" card to his wife, Anna. By this time, Marvin Gaye had already been living with his girlfriend, Jan, and their two children for a number of years. As Anna was also Motown founder/president Berry Gordy, Jr.'s sister, it's no wonder the album received little promotional support and was a miserable commercial failure. Still, it's intriguing that Motown ok'ed the expensive double-album format and the specially-commissioned cover portrait. But the album really is much more romantic and regretful than this write-off description allows. Marvin Gaye poured much of the effort and emotion of What's Going On into Here, My Dear and ended up with an enchantingly sublime musical statement that isn't nearly as intensely bitter or as unapproachably personal as all the hype would have you believe.

The album overflows with great and musical material, but most which is little known by Marvin Gaye fans and jazz listeners alike. The two funkiest tracks, "A Funky Space Reincarnation" and "Anger," were issued as singles – no doubt to capitalize on the success of "Got To Give It Up." But it was all for naught as the former barely charted and the latter, astoundingly, didn't chart at all. Curiously, "Anger" has found its niche among industrial bands such as Kill Switch…Klick and Mark Stewart, but not among jazz, soul or R&B folks who could surely dig in on its groove. There's also the hypnotic funk jazz of "Is That Enough" ("can't get enough of that funky stuff" indeed), certainly hit-worthy and nearly in the same league of some of MPG's great work (just dig those brilliantly unusual woodwind highlights used in the arrangement!). The melodic and soulful "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" was not – surprisingly – issued as a single, but garnered some of the only jazz covers this album ever received, namely by Mongo Santamaria, Amanda Sedgwick (with Philip Harper) and Jeff Parker.

The 2007 two-disc CD set Here, My Dear Expanded Edition provides a number of great extras including the 12" only instrumental version of "A Funky Space Reincarnation" (recorded in 1979, after the LP's release, by removing Marvin Gaye's vocal and overdubbing guitarist Mike McGloiry of Switch and saxophonist Daniel LeMelle from Rick James' Stone City Band) and a number of alternate mixes of album tracks done up for this release by "guests" such as "Anger (Alternate Extended Mix)" by Marcus Miller, "Is That Enough? (Instrumental) alternate version" by Montez Payton, "A Funky Space Reincarnation (Alternate Extended Mix)" by John Morales and Paul Simpson and "You Can Leave, But It's Going To Cost You (Alternate Extended Mix)" by John Rhone.

There is much more musical invention on display here and it's truly amazing that not only fans but jazz musicians too haven't discovered it all. Here, My Dear truly ranks among Marvin Gaye's very best work.

[Note: I did not have access to the 1981 album In Our Lifetime or the preferable Love Man Special Edition CD to write about…but, in all probability the music should be included in this analysis.]