Weldon Irvine ‘Live at Dean Street’ (Squatty Roo) 2/5

Weldon IrvineBorn in Virginia in 1943 before moving to New York in 1965, Weldon Irvine became an accomplished musician and songwriter playing organ, piano, electric piano and synthesiser, but he was also a composer, arranger and producer during his diverse career. His achievements are quite varied, including writing ‘Young, gifted and black’ for Nina Simone while her bandleader, arranging Tom Browne’s party anthem ‘Funkin’ for Jamaica’ and towards the end of life, acting as a somewhat mentor to Mos Def, Common and Q-Tip and even giving them piano lessons and playing organ on Mos Def’s seminal ‘Umi says’.
His most significant work however are his 1970s solo albums, Liberated Brother (1972) and Time Capsule (1973) released on his own tiny independent Nodlew record label, In Harmony (1974) on the legendary Strata East label, and then his three distinguished RCA Victor albums with an obvious increased budget and personnel, Cosmic Vortex (1974), Spirit Man (1975) and Sinbad in 1976. All are highly recommended and incorporate his masterful blend of jazz, soul and funk influences.
Interestingly, some of his compositions have become more popular by others with Freddie Hubbard’s version of ‘Mr. Clean’ becoming somewhat of a standard and Stanley Turrentine’s funky breakbeat nugget ‘Sister sanctified’ often sampled by the hip-hop community. And even Jamiroquai got in on the act by regular performing ‘We getting down’ within live sets, probably Weldon’s most well-known track.

So where does this 1992 live recording from Dean Street, Brooklyn fit in? Well, this was when there was a significant resurgence in Weldon’s musical output with record collectors clambering to find his original 1970s vinyl albums. Unfortunately, he doesn’t perform any of those well-loved recordings here, with this 16-song set consisting of 13 standards, which include quite a bouncy Latin-esque 13 minute version of ‘Summertime’, a somewhat smooth jazz rendition of Grover Washington’s ‘Just the two of us’ and even an extended version of ‘Tequila’ (yes, that ‘Tequila’).

Other standards include a funky version of ‘Blue in Green’ the classic Miles Davis piece, Nica’s Dream (Horace Silver) and a blistering version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Rocket love’ – a song I’ve never heard covered live before. An uncredited female vocalist presides over the classic ballads ‘Since I fell for you’ and ‘Teach me tonight’, which in the jazz world was popularised by Dina Washington.

This recording features Weldon mainly playing organ but also piano and electric piano during the set. Personally, I prefer his piano and electric piano work here rather than his organ playing, with ‘Song for my father’ another classic Horace cover displaying his fluid piano chops.

Being a personal fan of Weldon’s music, it is quite difficult not to be frustrated when playing the album due to the very poor recording quality. It’s bad meaning bad not bad meaning good. This would have been called a ‘live bootleg recording’ pre-internet and passed around on cassette tape.

In the digital age, you can find unreleased live shows of artists uploaded to Blogs and other platforms for free and maybe this should also be the case here. Nonetheless, this is the only way to obtain this recording and there does not seem to be much in the way of unreleased material available since Weldon unfortunately committed suicide in 2002.

So if you’re a die-hard Weldon aficionado or a completest then maybe yes, track down this release to complete the collection, but be warned that the quality is the worst I’ve known for a CD release. But if you’re not, just return to Weldon’s other releases to enjoy his genius, as this should not be your first exposure to Weldon’s music.

Damian Wilkes