Record collecting purists out there would shudder at the idea of purchasing a reissued album, let alone a compilation of tracks. For them it’s all about the original pressing, that trophy of sourcing and finding the original piece of wax in (ideally) mint condition with crisp artwork and the knowledge that they have another rare gem in their collection (and a considerably lighter wallet). If it’s a reissue, where’s the hard work in finding that record, where’s the value and pride in owning something that’s fresh from the pressing room? If it’s a compilation they’d walk even further away. And this I understand, and to a varying degree have adopted this attitude… but only after many years of getting myself acquainted with the trials and errors of looking for music to play at home or in clubs. Twenty years on from starting to build my own collection, my excitement has evolved into finding that original album or 45 to add to my hoard, trying to filter out and sell my reissues and comps and re-investing my money into original stone cold cuts.
But hey, back in the day when my knowledge was minimal, compilations were a safe way for me to discover new avenues of music and players without having to risk buying an artist’s whole album and not (excuse the pun) ‘digging it’. Very often the funk, soul and jazz compilations I would find in the little back street record shops of London, Brighton, Liverpool and Leeds would be very much geared to the dance floor and more often than not, contain rare tracks and obscurities that it would take years to discover if I was searching through an artists discography from album to album for tracks I liked.
Over the past twenty years, it’s compilations that have really helped bring resurgence in funk, soul and jazz music to a younger generation. Those getting to grips with turntables and setting up their own club nights and promotions have had the blessing of collectors and compilers on the scene, making it easy for these new enthusiasts to ignite a dance floor with a record box full of other selector’s wisdom. From the Jazz Juice compilations of the 80s and 90s and the Legendary Deep Funk comps of Keb Darge to the Soul Jazz Records selections and brilliant releases on BGP Records. I could go on and on naming the contributors and labels in the game that have lent their knowledge and tastes to the compilation market and inspired my journey, but you want to know about this record, so I’ll move on.
Two years ago, Eddie Piller, founder of Acid Jazz Records and guru to the acid jazz scene, asked friend and fellow mod and music addict, Martin Freeman to join him on his Electric Soul radio show for the brilliant Soho Radio. The listening response to this special broadcasting duet was overwhelming, causing a barrage of positive feedback via emails and social media and made them realise they had a special formula that needed to be replicated for this musically hungry and discerning public.
The idea was set, and time given for both selectors to dig deep into their collections to come up with 11 favourite tracks each to add to a compilation. Two years on, in March this year, they released ‘Jazz On The Corner’ on deluxe gatefold vinyl and CD to mark Acid Jazz’s 30th Anniversary celebrations and give back their listeners a large slice of what was heard on Soho Radio on that fateful day. This is a very generous collection of music, not only in the way that both Eddie and Martin have shared their intricate tastes and musical passions from their vaults, but also that you get 22 tracks, many hitting the six of seven minute mark. A true journey into 60s and 70s jazz, soul and crossover, but also with a nod to 90s acid jazz.
Martin’s selection begins with American jazz and blues pianist, Mose Allison’s ‘If You’re Going To The City’, with Mose’s individualistic and quirky vocals sat on top of his equally bluesy and jazzy piano riffs. With sax and trumpet jamming in situ and lyrics that are sprinkled with subtle humour, this track has a real nice mood to get the collection rolling. Joe Gordon’s ‘Terra Firma Irma’ drops in next from his second and final album ‘Lookin’ Good’, recorded in 1961 not long before his death. A track with a sense of urgency and style, one for the jazz dancers and a talent that hints at what might have been had Joe Gordon lived. It’s the solos that shine on this number and Joe’s trumpet cuts the way for the rest of the band to show their skills, directed by Art Blakey on the drums.
Talking of Art Blakey, the next track is his, with his Messengers, from the stunning 1960 album, ‘A Night In Tunisia’, on Blue Note Records. ‘Kozo’s Waltz’ was written by Lou Donaldson, playing trumpet alongside fellow band members Wayne Shorter on tenor, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jymie Merrit on bass. This is a great example of these guys in their prime youth with Jymie’s extraordinary bass line, Lou and Wayne’s horns wrapped around each other like spaghetti and Art shuffling along on the cymbals and snare like a train leaving a station. This track has integrity and is a personal favourite of mine. Following suit you have the Eddie Harris’ ‘Listen Here’, and of the many versions Eddie recorded of this track, Martin has chosen his iconic sax solo take stretching out to over seven minutes in length. Slick double bassist Sam Jones steps in next with his punchy number, ‘Some Kinda Mean’, from his 1960 debut album ‘The Soul Society’, really showing off his finger work. David Axelrod, one of America’s most influential composers, producers and arrangers gets selected for the next slice of music in ‘Get Up Off Your Knees’, a 1974 jazz, rock and soul workout from his Capitol Records period, with a larger than life horn section.
There’s obviously been a lot of thought put into the shortlist for Martin Freeman’s contribution to this collection. There’s a great flow to the selections and although styles and time periods flit between the 60s and 70s, everything fits really nicely into place as you listen along. Moving through his choices you’ll hear the succulent soul jazz of Lee Morgan’s ‘Psychedelic’, the big band blow out of Jimmy Smith’s ‘A Walk On The Wild Side’, (from his first release for Verve Records) with all its mighty Hammond B-3 trimmings, alongside the softly intricate and peaceful vocals of Blossom Dearie’s ‘Now At Last’, and the Afro Latin shuffle and groove of ‘Trees and Grass and Things’ by Charles Williams.
To round off Martin’s list, he takes us all the way to 2015, with a visit to the spiritual sounds of Kamasi Washington, presumably to not only showcase a stunning song but also to give evidence to the listener that these deep sounds are alive and well today. Kamasi’s track, ‘The Rhythm Changes’, with Patrice Quinn on vocals is a beautiful piece, uplifting and groovy, with a bittersweet depth. It gives good pace to the main man’s sax workings and allows Patrice’s vintage tones to soar in an almost cinematic soundscape. The track Martin has finished up with here is taken from Kasami’s second studio album, ‘The Epic’, on Brainfeeder records, an offering that received worldwide critical acclaim.
Are you still with me? I hope so as I’m yet to uncover what Eddie Piller has thrown into the pot. And with a man who has been so prominent in the scene for thirty years, signed and introduced so many ground breaking artists to his label, and influenced so many people’s musical directions… it should be our absolute pleasure and privilege to hear music that makes him tick. I can’t even imagine how big a list of tunes would have to be short listed for this record but I trust that he has made the right choices and it’s refreshing that this isn’t a platform for his label releases and much more a delve in his personal tastes.
So to Eddie, and what an immaculate piece to start with. ‘Bend Your Head Down Low’ by Geoffrey Stoner is taken from his very rare and overlooked 1973 album ‘Watch Out’ on Ovation Records. A stunning laid back brooder, with Stoner’s deep soul vocals punctuated by killer flute, a building drum break and floaty Fender Rhodes. If you’re a fan of Terry Callier, then Geoffrey’s vocals sit very comfortably next to him and if you can get hold of this album it’s a must. Eddie Piller is dealing out vocal tracks where Martin Freeman provided mostly instrumentals and the next track is a scorcher in Leon Thomas’, ‘Just In Time To See The Sun’. Leon recorded this track in 1973, the same year he toured and recorded as a member of the band Santana and you can hear the Latin influence within the arrangement of this song with its tight horns and rhythm. A true vocal great, having previously been picked to front Count Basie in the 60s and most known for his work with Pharoah Sanders.
Most of the artists to appear on this compilation are of American heritage, but the next track comes straight out of 1970s Australia with blues band Chain singing about the country’s historical convict past in ‘Blacks and Blues’. Crying guitars and gritty soulful vocals provided by Phil Manning dominate the track with bluesy piano licks and a gliding bass line to keep momentum. Marlena Shaw keeps things on a vocal tip next with ‘Look At Me, Look At You’ from her 1977 album ‘Sweet Beginnings’, a big hit at the time with UK soul audiences. This track has a nice jazz infused style with Marlena’s heavenly sweet and soulful vocals creating a mystically cool sound.
It’s only fair that Eddie gets a couple of tracks from the Acid Jazz back catalogue into the selection, and I couldn’t think of a better example of those early releases than The Brand New Heavies ‘Sphynx’ from their 1990 self-titled debut album. The Heavies may be known for their very successful vocal hits but when you dig into their early recordings it’s certain that they are totally at home creating music for instrumentalisation. This particular track has a stormy feel to it, like something is brewing in the air. A blissfully anxious jazz funk work out, with a bass line that stabs you in the chest. The storm doesn’t calm yet, Jamaican born Harold McNair jumps in with ‘The Hipster’ from his 1970 album ‘Flute and Nut’ with his intense but breezy flute work soloing throughout the majority of the track.
Moving towards the last few tracks, ‘Sad Little Girl’ by Les McCann brings the mood deep down and dark with this thoughtful upbeat mover, whilst Blue Mitchell takes things on a trumpet, tenor and Rhodes solo trip with ‘Mi Hermano’. One of the best crossover soul jazz artists of the 70s, Norman Connors’ ‘Mother Of The Future’ is pure jazz dance fire, with its infectious rhythm, spirited vocals and percussive groove. Just before we get to the end of the record, Eugene McDaniels slips in a mellower vibe with his soulful jazzy vocals on ‘Cherrystones’, a laid back head-nodder and an artist that has been heavily sampled for his psychedelic soul, funk and jazz rhythms.
On a few of the tracks on this collection I’ve physically found myself wanting to clap the solos, maybe I need to get out to jazz clubs more! Everything on here is immaculately well-chosen and each individual track is a potential opening to another branch of music for both people new to the genre and those more acquainted. Whether you want to sit back and chill or get up and add spins to your dance this compilation has everything and is a totally listening pleasure from start to finish, which leads me into the last track of the collection.
Eddie gives you a Swedish jazz quartet fronted on piano by Ulf Sandberg with ‘Bolivia’, his second inclusion from the vaults of his Acid Jazz label. You just have to love this track… a graciously seductive piano intro sweeps along into uptempo shuffly snare, hats, synchronised piano and sax riff which meander into individual solos with all the players giving each other room to move. The whole tune has a feel of Autumn about it. Interestingly James Taylor of The James Taylor Quartet was Ulf Sandberg’s pupil and James recommended him as an artist to Acid Jazz Records. ‘Bolivia’ certainly feels like a suitable end to this collection, but the mood of the track feels like the dawn of a new chapter… Jazz On The Corner 2? Yes please.