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Review: A Quartet From BBR – The Pointer Sisters, Buddy Miles, Pharoah Sanders, Greg Phillinganes

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Among the most recent reissues from Big Break Records is a 1974 album from Electric Flag founder and Jimi Hendrix drummer Buddy Miles entitled All the Faces of Buddy Miles.  But one could easily title any given batch of music from the Cherry Red-affiliated label as All the Faces of BBR, so reliably diverse is each group of the label’s releases.  Today’s capsule reviews look at four of the latest from the Big Break team!

Buddy Miles, All the Faces of Buddy Miles (Columbia KC-33089, 1974 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0123, 2012)

Producer Johnny Bristol was one of the brightest names at Motown in the late 1960s, responsible for such hits as Diana Ross and the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together,” David Ruffin’s “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)” and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  Following his departure from Motown, Bristol continued producing other artists but embarked on a successful solo career, first at MGM Records and later for labels including Atlantic.  The same year he charted on MGM with the Top 10 “Hang on in There Baby,” Bristol took the controls for All the Faces of Buddy Miles.  He brought along Funk Brothers cohorts including bassist James Jamerson and guitarist Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin, and lent the titular drummer a smooth sound at the crossroads of pop, funk and soul.  Miles ceded the drum chair and concentrated on vocals for the settings provided by Bristol and veteran arranger H.B. Barnum, who had worked with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Aretha Franklin.  Although Miles wasn’t a vocal powerhouse, he brought a great deal of passion to a largely original set that touched on most of the faces of seventies soul music.

Bristol supplied most of the material, with future Warren Zevon collaborator Jorge Calderon contributing a couple of new songs.  Calderon’s “All the Faces” supplied the album with its title, as Miles queried, “How can all the faces be a part of who I am?”  There’s not much of the forceful funk-rock Miles of Electric Flag and Band of Gypsys.  There’s more of the Miles who played with Ruby and the Romantics and The Delfonics.  But Miles and the band cut loose on Calderon’s raucous “Kiss and Run,” Bristol’s tougher “Wants and Needs (The Earth Song)” and the album’s lone instrumental, “Baby Don’t Stop (Sit on the Rock).”  The softer influence of Philly soul is felt on Bristol’s “I’m Just a Kiss Away.”  A revival of Tommy Edwards’ “It’s Only the Good Times” is cabaret gone to church, and Bristol’s “Pain” smolders and simmers with the title emotion until the singer and the song reach boiling point.   A jazzy saxophone lends “Pain” a late-night vibe.  Miles even ventures into Barry White territory with the sensual R&B of “Got to Find Ms. Right.”

Keyboardist Clarence McDonald contributes to the liner notes in this fine package, which also includes the single version of “Pull Yourself Together” as a bonus track.  All the Faces of Buddy Miles is one album that lives up to its title, and will likely be mandatory listening for fans of under-the-radar seventies soul.

Pharoah Sanders, Love Will Find a Way (Arista 4161, 1978 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0117, 2012)

How to commercialize the sound of one of the leading pioneers of the free jazz movement?  That was the question that producer Norman Connors positioned himself to answer when he signed with Clive Davis’ Arista Records label.  Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders was lauded by Ornette Coleman as “probably the best tenor player in the world,” and had been closely associated with the avant garde jazz of Sun Ra and John Coltrane.  Sanders first joined Coltrane on record for 1965’s Ascension, and Meditations (1966) spectacularly featured the two men on “dueling” tenor saxophones with extensive “free” passages.  After Coltrane’s 1967 death, Sanders played with his wife Alice, and also served as a leader, continuing to push the boundaries of jazz.  But Norman Connors, a songwriter, arranger, and drummer who had scored a hit with 1976’s You Are My Starship, had designs on updating Sanders’ sound without compromising it.  The result was Love Will Find a Way, which walks the line between R&B, fusion and even smooth jazz.

Though Connors smartly didn’t try to disguise the fact that Sanders was, first and foremost, a jazz musician, the surroundings (courtesy Motown stalwarts McKinley Jackson and Paul Riser) were markedly different than the lengthy, frequently dissonant jazz his fans had come to expect.  The title track found Sanders melodically playing over a lush bed of strings, tinkling piano and sweet background singers.  “Pharomba,” arranged by Jackson, allowed Sanders more room to wail over funky support from Connors and Kenny Nash on percussion, Lenny White on drums and Alex Blake on bass.  As producer, though, Connors kept the track melodic and tight.  He also enlisted a not-so-secret weapon in the form of the budding vocal star Phyllis Hyman.  Hyman had made her first big splash when Connors produced her on You Are My Starship’s revival of Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s “Betcha By Golly Wow.”  She lent her remarkable and appropriately jazz-inflected voice to three tracks: “Love is Here,” “As You Are” and “Everything I Have is Good.”   For “Everything I Have,” Connors himself sang a duet with Hyman.  With vocalists out front, Sanders’ playing is much more restrained but no less dexterous.  Sanders takes the soprano sax for a languid instrumental version of the 1953 standard “Answer Me, My Love” and gets the party started with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s then-recent Motown hit “Got to Give It Up.”  But Pharoah’s version isn’t as funky as Gaye’s cool original, and it’s one of the less distinguished tracks here.  (Nor was it a favorite of Connors’, according to the extensive liner notes by Shelley Nicole.)

It’s impossible not to note the irony that a groundbreaker in the free jazz arena came very close to the realm of smooth jazz with Love Will Find a Way.  This transformation of Pharoah Sanders might be anathema to those moved by the extended explorations of his past, and indeed, Sanders soon returned to the style of music that was more personal to him.  But thanks to Norman Connors’ contributions, Love is a singular hybrid of R&B and soul with jazz as well as a true time capsule.  Big Break’s expanded edition adds the single versions of “As You Are” and “Got to Give It Up.”

We’ll meet you after the jump with looks at the latest reissues from The Pointer Sisters and Greg Phillinganes! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 18, 2012 at 12:07

Release Round-Up: Week of May 1

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George Harrison, Living in the Material World / Early Takes Vol. 1 (Hip-O/UMe)

The big release in the U.S. today: Martin Scorsese’s documentary about the esteemed Beatle on DVD and Blu-Ray, and a 10-track disc of entirely unreleased demos and outtakes.

The Beach Boys, 50th Anniversary Collection ‘ZinePak (Capitol/EMI)

A new compilation/mini-booklet, available exclusively at Walmart stores in America, that features classic Beach Boys singles alongside the first-ever album appearance of the band’s new recording of “Do It Again.”

Greg Phillinganes, Pulse: Expanded Edition (Big Break Records)

The famous session keyboardist’s 1984 solo album, featuring the Michael Jackson outtake “Behind the Mask,” gets expanded and re-released in the U.K. by Big Break.

Lee Hazlewood, The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes, & Backsides (1968-1971) (Light in the Attic)

Released on vinyl for Record Store Day, this compilation of solo tracks from the “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” writer/producer gets a CD release today.

The Ad-Libs, The Complete Blue Cat Recordings / Mel McDaniel, Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On — His Original Capitol Hits / Eddie Rabbitt, 13 Original #1 Hits / The Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks Vol. 30 — Academy of Music, New York City, NY 3/25 & 3/28/72 and Dick’s Picks Vol. 31 – 8/4-5 Philadelphia Civic Center, Philadelphia, PA 8/6/74, Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ (Real Gone)

A diverse offering from the fine folks at Real Gone, including two reissues of classic Dead shows.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, We Salute You (Warner Bros.)

In honor of their recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the Chili Peppers release this digital-only EP of B-side and non-LP covers of their fellow inductees.