Jazz Dispensary – Orange Sunset – Craft Recordings (2020) – RSD Black Friday yellow starburst stereo vinyl, 40:31 ****1/2:
(Featuring tracks by David Axelrod; The Blackbyrds; Johnny Hammond; Roger Glenn; 24-Carat Black; Merl Saunders; Funk, Inc.)
Fusion had a significant impact on the jazz world. In an effort to draw mainstream audiences and increase commercial sales, certain high-profiled luminaries explored this genre. Led by none other than Miles Davis, jazz players eschewed the swing aesthetics for a rock-like back beat. The use of synthesizers and other keyboards helped to create a smoother overall sound. Along with Davis, artists like Cannonball Adderley, Gary Burton, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea embraced this emerging movement. Jazz fusion was especially predominant in the late-sixties and for the first half of the seventies. Its accessible motifs would have an influence on future musical genres, including hip hop.
Craft Recordings has released a vinyl collection of early to mid-1970’s jazz. Jazz Dispensary – Orange Sunset has partnered with Record Store Day. It features 7 tracks of accessible fusion music that injects “medicinal” soul into the listener. With top-notch studio production and instrumentals, a mellow, but pulse-driven vibe permeates the album. Side A opens with David Axelrod’s “Everything Counts”. Axelrod was an accomplished composer and arranger. This original composition (featured on the 1974 album, Heavy Axe) begins with a funky electric piano (George Duke). It expands with a lush wall of horns (trombone, trumpet), woodwinds and strings. Duke keeps the groove locked in as drums (Roy McCurdy), congas (King Errisson) and a synthesized bass line merge into instrumental swells. There are many textures to the arrangement with crisp guitar (Billy Fender) trading off with the horns. In what feels like a movie theme from “Shaft” or Superfly”, The Blackbyrds (from the self-titled 1974 release) perform Donald Byrd’s “Funky Junkie”. A unison repeat vocal chant is intermingled with a muscular saxophone (Allan Barnes), nasty bass (Joe Hall) and “wah-wah” guitar (Barney Perry), including some jazzy chords. The tempo is never interrupted. The soulful celebration continues with a gritty funk-driven number (“Shifting Gears”) by Johnny Hammond, who shines on electric piano. Additional touches like clavinet (Fonce Mizel) and flute (Roger Glenn) add contrasting shades of density and a feathery touch. As with all of these cuts, the hypnotic uninterrupted rhythms are magnetic,.
Side B continues the dreamy resonance with Roger Glenn’s “Don’t Leave” (Reachin’/1975). His flute and vibraphone accents lend an ethereal resonance to the swaying dream-like jam. Two Fender Rhodes (Larry Mizell, Mark Soskin) provide the contemporary background acoustics. Picking up the funk, “24-Carat Black Theme” (from 1973’s Ghetto’s Misfortune’s Wealth) is moody with a propulsive electric bass (Larry Austin). A counterpoint of understated electric piano (James Talbert), organ (William Talbert) and the saxophone pairing of Jerome Derrickson and Gregory Ingram (tenor and alto respectively) build the intensity. They are joined by trumpets (Ricky Foster/William Gentry) and the music gets taken up another notch. Even though this is a “various artist” compilation, the sequential consistency is prevalent. Up next, is Merle Saunders’ “Righteousness” (from his self-titled 1974 Fantasy release). Saunders is known for his musical eclecticism, including collaborations with Jerry Garcia. His ‘down ’n’ dirty” clavinet anchors this hard-charging resolute statement. With occasional sax (Martin Fierro) and congas (Errisson), there is a multi-faceted explosion of sound. It seems entirely appropriate that a band named Funk, Inc. is showcased on the finale of Orange Sunset. “Goodbye, So Long” is quintessential soul-jazz. Bobby Watley’s sultry baritone voice is vibrant and rich. An all-star cadre of reeds and horns (Gene Barr/tenor saxophone; Jackie Kelso/tenor, baritone saxophone; George Bohannon/trombone; Ollie Mitchell/trumpet; Allen De Rienzo/trumpet) significantly augment this number. A ragged electric guitar (Steve Weakley) further underscores the period aesthetics.
Craft Recordings has done a superior job on this sonic upgrade (Elysian Masters) of Orange Sunset. The overall mix is blended evenly with excellent stereo separation. Multi-instrumental layering is pristine. Vinyl aficionados will be ecstatic over the eye-popping “yellow starburst” colored wax and stunning (visual and touch) cover art by Dana Falconberry. It is reasonably priced and worthy of a purchase.
Side A: Everything Counts; Funky Junkie; Johnny Hammond
Side B: Don’t Leave; 24-Black Carat (Theme); Righteousness; Goodbye, So Long