Spiritual jazz is not necessarily an easy term to pin down, though the roots and sources of the sub-genre are. In the case of Bob Shad’s Mainstream label, this emerged at a time of fluctuation in the development and fortunes of jazz. This excellent compilation focuses on a fixed and short time period between 1971 and 1973 when new groups and fusion sounds were challenging traditional conceptions of jazz. These included then new groups such as Weather Report and Return to Forever. Meanwhile Donald Byrd was funkifying the jazz world on the prestigious Blue Note label with his seminal, ‘Black Byrd’, and Herbie Hancock was in the process of making an important transition from the density of his Mwandishi band to the funkier climbs of the Headhunters in 1974. Miles Davis, on the other hand, was exploring world beats and jazz on, ‘On the Corner’, complete with streetwise cover graphics. Carlos Santana was arguably experiencing a spiritual jazz awakening on his, ‘Caravanserai’ album, and this neatly brings us on to the compilation in hand because that recording featured the relatively unknown reeds man Hadley Caliman.
Here, Caliman is leader on a funky jazz number that wins the contest for best track title hands down, ‘Cigar Eddie’. As a whole, this is very much a showcasing of the jazz side to Mainstream and its major strength is to delve deeper and beneath the surface to uncover some real gems and highlight some of the more obscure names who deserve to be better known. A real discovery to this writer was the Eastern-flavoured flute by Pete Yellen – a sedately paced, ‘Mebakush’. More needs to be heard of this musician if the rest is anything near as good as this scintillating piece. Modal bass and piano combine on Buddy Terry’s offering that also happens to be the name to which this compilation borrows the title. Bob Shad clearly had a deft ear for horn arrangements and these permeate the tracks here. Fine and lyrical horn ensemble playing plus percussion is a feature of the, ‘Senyah’, contribution from drumming legend Roy Haynes and the classic guitar riff and fender have grace many a hip-hop sample. Tenorist Harold Land was a long-time collaborator of Bobby Hutcherson in the late 1960s, but had branched out as a leader and the west coast musician excels on the intriguingly titled, ‘In the back, in the corner, in the dark’, which has something of an updated Blue Note groove. The same in fact can be said of LaMont Johnson’s, ‘Libras longing’, though in this instance it is Horace Silver who is the more obvious influence and there is a meaty trumpet solo from Sal Marquez that recalls Woody Shaw with the Horace Silver band circa the ‘Cape Verdean Blues’ period.
While Fender Rhodes predominate, the funkier edge of the Hammond organ is present on Charles Williams’, ‘Iron Jaws’, and this could easily be taken from a film soundtrack with influences including Charles Earland as much as Jimmy Smith. The compilation ends on a percussive, if all too brief note, with drummer Shelly Manne’s percussion-led, ‘Infinity’. All in all, a fine example of how jazz could progress on an independent label in the early 1970s and an ideal follow-up to the previous compilation of jazz-oriented material from Mainstream, ‘Feeling Good’.