1970 Jazz: Atlantic Records

In 1970 the jazz division of Atlantic Records was in the hands of producer Joel Dorn, who joined the label in 1967, the same year it was sold to Warner Bros. Most of the albums in this review were produced by Dorn, who also acted as A&R man, responsible for signing many jazz artists to the label. As always, jazz was not the main focus of Atlantic Records, a label that started with rhythm n’ blues and progressed to soul in the 1960s and now invested heavily in rock music of all flavors. Still, in the hands of great producers (Nesuhi Ertegun in the 1950s and early 1960s and Arif Mardin in the mid 1960s, and now Joel Dorn) the label was always releasing excellent jazz albums. We start with a pianist, singer, composer and a man of wit.

In 1970 Mose Allison recorded and released an album with an extended lineup titled Hello There, Universe. In contrast to the trio format that he utilized on most of his recordings for Prestige and Atlantic since the late 1950s, this time he brought into the studio stellar horn players including Joe Henderson, Pepper Adams and others. The album marks a change in musical direction, sparked by Atlantic house producer Joel Dorn, famous for his work with Roberta Flack and Bette Midler. Dorn would work with Allison on this album and his next one, Western Man in 1971.

Mose Allison did not lose his wit and sense of irony on this album. Dorn remembers a story Allison told him during that period: A prominent white educator was studying the culture of the Hopi, a Native American desert dwelling tribe. He found it strange that almost all of the Hopi music was about water and he asked one of the musicians why. He explained that so much of their music was about water because that was what they had the least of. And then he told the white man, “Most of your music is about love.”

Allison talked about his unique ability to insert irony and humor Into Jazz: “Someone once accused me of having an irony hang up but that’s just one of the forms of humor you deal with in your surroundings. I come from that rural Mississippi Depression era thing. There was a lot of irony, stoicism and understatement. I got all that from my childhood. That’s how we got through all that. Country people, farmers, they never said anything straight. There was always innuendo or understatement involved.”

Mose Allison

On this album Allison reveals another side of him, a darker, politically-charged facet that is most overtly displayed on the track Monsters of the Id:

Demons of the deep

are going without sleep

and phantoms of the dark

have their own place to park

no need to lock the doors

they’re sprouting through the cracks

they’re making room for more

they’re deputizing maniacs

Not what you’d come to expect from Mose Allison’s lyrics, but that was a time of upheaval in the US, when protests against the war in Vietnam and police crackdown on protesters where constantly in the news. The arrangement on that tune matches the dark theme.

Mose Allison – piano, organ, vocals

Jimmy Nottingham, Richard Williams – trumpet

Jerome Richardson – flute, alto saxophone

Joe Farrell, Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone

Pepper Adams, Seldon Powell- baritone saxophone

Bob Cranshaw, John Williams – bass

Joe Cocuzzo – drums

We move to an artist who started recording for Atlantic in 1969 after an eight-year run on RCA Records. Vibraphonist Gary Burton released a number of excellent albums in the1960s, including Duster and A Genuine Tong Funeral. In March of 1970 he entered the studio to complete the recording of his album Good Vibes, released later in the year.

Two tracks were recorded in this session, including a beautiful rendition of Las Vegas Tango, composed by Gil Evans and first recorded for his 1964 album The Individualism of Gil Evans.

A Downbeat review from March 1971 reads: “To greater or lesser degree, all three guitarists are in B. B. King’s debt, and the influence is particularly noticeable in the funky music that comprises most of this LP. Burton, within the limitations of his instrument, gets as funky as any of the guitarists.”

Gary Burton Downbeat Ad 1970

Years later Joel Dorn talked about his work with the vibraphonist: “With Gary Burton, I put him in with Eric Gale and Chuck Rainey and those guys.  That’s what we were doing: ‘Let’s try this!’  You can only make a certain amount of incredible quartet records in your life, and at a certain point, you’ve done that, unless lightning strikes and you get a hit.  So all of these things, to me, looked like a canvas.  Let’s put Gary Burton here. You listen to those Burton records now.  That’s like looking at a fucking Chaplin movie.  That stuff ain’t going away.”

Album credits (multiple sessions with varying personnel):

Gary Burton — vibraphone, piano, organ

Eric Gale, Jerry Hahn, Sam Brown — guitar

Richard Tee — piano, organ

Steve Swallow — bass, electric bass

Chuck Rainey — electric bass

Bernard Purdie, Bill Lavorgna — drums, percussion

Gary Burton recorded one more album for Atlantic in 1970, this time one of the best on the label that year. He collaborated with one of the most exciting jazz musicians of the period, Keith Jarrett. In an interview for a UK magazine in 1971 Burton talked about how that collaboration came about: “We had known each other a long time, and we met up again in Europe the last time I was here, in the Fall of ‘69. He was living over here at that time, and working with a trio; we kept running into him as we travelled around. I liked a lot of his tunes, that I heard him play with his trio, and I asked him to send me some. Then he decided that he wanted to write some things for us, but he couldn’t make up his mind what to do. Through talking about it back and forth, the idea came about to do a record together, as we were on the same label. He finally came back to the States, and things were set up.”

The album, simply titled Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett, was recorded in New York City when Keith Jarrett was part of the Miles Davis band, the same week that band performed at Madison Square Garden. It features four compositions by Keith Jarrett and one by Steve Swallow, the Latin-tinged Como En Vietnam.

Burton said of the album: “What we played always fitted together perfectly. Our harmonic sense was very similar, apparently, and a lot of our lines were similar; so it seemed to fit quite naturally. I could play with him at greater ease than I could with most guitarists, I found.”

The album was recorded just a few weeks after Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett played at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival. Downbeat magazine covered the event and reported: “Gary Burton’s group was host to Keith Jarrett, and the guest dominated the proceedings, giving a brilliant account of himself on both electric and acoustic piano, and also throwing in some of his odd soprano sax noises. Jarrett is a wizard at the keyboard, can draw some astonishing (and always musical) effects from the electric instrument, and has a wholly original conception. Burton’s delicate vibes sounded almost like chamber music after Jarrett’s ebullience, but guitarist Sam Brown got off some impressively fleet solos.”

My favorite tune on the album is Moonchild / In Your Quiet Place, composed by Keith Jarrett. A Downbeat review of the album in May 1971 concurs: “My personal favorite is the contemplative In Your Quiet Place. It opens with the melody stated by Burton with sensitive comping and countermelody by the composer. The feeling and mood of the melody suggest the soft warmness of Bach’s Air for the G String as well as the middle Beethoven piano sonatas and the best of Antonio Carlos Jobim.”

The review concluded with an unusual rating (its highest is five stars): “It goes to show what can happen when giants meet. The record really deserves ten stars: five for the writing and five for the playing.”

Keith Jarrett – piano

Gary Burton – vibraphone

Sam Brown – guitar

Steve Swallow – bass

Bill Goodwin – drums

Joel Dorn talked about artists he was interested in signing to Atlantic Records: “I wanted to sign Rahsaan and Yusef and Les McCann because of the difference between their live shows and the records they’d made. They didn’t hit you like the way they did in the clubs. There was so much more potential there.” Two of the artists he mentioned recorded albums for Atlantic in 1970.

Multi reed player Yusef Lateef recorded his fifth album for Atlantic Records, Suite 16. This is an album of two halves, the first consisting of tunes recorded in New York with a stellar rhythm section (Joe Zawinul, Eric Gale and Chuck Rainey among others). Also on board is the vocal group The Sweet Inspirations, known from many rhythm and blues and soul hits they backed up in the 1960s, as well as Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”.

The second side was recorded in Germany and is a completely different story. It features “Symphonic Blues Suite”, written by Lateef and made up of seven movements with the Cologne Germany Radio Orchestra playing together with his quartet. The liner notes say this about this fantastic piece of music: “An innovator of new technique, Mr. Lateef has injected into symphony a different form. His Symphonic Blues Suite (neo concerto-grosso), composed for quartet and orchestra, permits freedom to improvise. This artistry was lost after Dietrich Buxtehude, 1637-1707, now restored. He has also revolutionize conducting. This gives the conductor the opportunity to express himself as freely and as musically as the improviser.” The entire Suite was recorded in one take.

Yusef Lateef – tenor saxophone, flute, bamboo flute, pneumatic bamboo flute, oboe, bells, tambourine

We mentioned Joe Zawinul, who also recorded a great album in 1970, the self-titled Zawinul. It is a transitional album from the period between his involvement with Miles Davis and the formation of Weather Report. A Downbeat review from 1971 compares the music here to his collaborations with the trumpet player: “This music grows from the concepts heard in Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. But it is important to keep in mind that Zawinul was involved in those projects and may have had considerable influence on them. The music in Zawinul is free, yet more tightly controlled than that in the Davis albums, more lyrical and romantic. Zawinul’s European roots manifest themselves in a certain ambience growing out of but not imitating classical forms.”

Miles Davis himself wrote in the album’s liner notes: “Zawinul is extending the thoughts that we’ve both had for years. And probably the thoughts that most so-called now musicians have not yet been able to express.”

Joel Dorn said of the album: “It is one of the most important albums of the era. You don’t have to be a genius to see that it was the perfect set-up record for the first Weather Report album.”

A number of tracks on the album were written by Zawinul when he took a trip back to Austria in the winter of 1966-67, including In A Silent Way, Orange Lady, Pharaoh’s Dance, and Double Image. Each title on the album has a one-line description. The track Double Image carries this footnote: “A concept of what man thinks he is as opposed to what he really is.”

Joe Zawinul – acoustic and electric piano

Herbie Hancock – electric piano

Hubert Laws – flute

Woody Shaw – trumpet

Wayne Shorter – soprano saxophone

Miroslav Vitouš, Walter Booker – bass

Billy Hart, David Lee, Joe Chambers – percussion

Jack DeJohnette – percussion

Another multi reed player who has been releasing albums on Atlantic Records since the mid-1960s is Rahsaan Roland Kirk. In 1970 the label captured his performance at the Village Vanguard jazz club and the resulting album was the first to be released under the name Rahsaan. Kirk explained in the liner notes: “The name Rahsaan deals with my religion, which is the religion of dreams and spirits. It is the motivating power of my life. Last year on the day before my birthday, I dreamed of a lot of people saying Rahsaan Rahsaan.”

In a 1970 article about Rahsaan Roland Kirk in DownBeat magazine, an interviewer did his best to understand what the vibration society is exactly: “The Vibration Society, a come-together of kindred souls, becomes for Rahsaan the compatible element within a sadly deaf pop culture.” Trying to get into the reed player’s head was not that easy, as interviewer Michael Bourne discovered:

Bourne: Why is the group the Vibration Society?

Rahsaan: I’m not talking about my group, not necessarily. I’m not talking about the group that you see. The group we’re talking about includes this group and whole lot of other people.

Bourne: Musicians?

Rahsaan No, just people! I got a whole big book of people all through this land in the Vibration Society. See, that’s what I’m saying, you’re prejudging everything and you don’t know.

Bourne: What prejudging?

Rahsaan: You said, why did I pick my group? But you don’t know all these people here inside this book are of the Vibration Society.

Bourne: Then what is the Vibration Society?

Rahsaan: Why do you want to know?

Bourne: Because I want to know, why do you want to create a Vibration Society?

Rahsaan: The Vibration Society created us.

Bourne: How does your music represent the society?

Rahsaan: Our music is the vibrations that holds the society together.

And so it goes.

[Roland Kirk and the Vibration Society]

Bass – Vernon Martin

Drums – James Madison

Piano – Ron Burton

Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet – Roland Kirk Tambourine – Joe Texidor

We move to a jazz royalty who in 1970 recorded and released his first album on Atlantic Records. George Wein commissioned Duke Ellington to write a composition titled The New Orleans Suite for performance at the 1970 New Orleans Jazz Festival. Ellington wrote a suite that featured portraits of some of the city’s celebrated musicians including Sidney Bechet, Mahalia Jackson and Louis Armstrong. His band rehearsed the music during live performances leading to the festival.

Ellington had strong memories of Sidney Bechet, dating back to his early career as a musician: “I shall never forget the first time I heard him play, at the Howard Theatre in Washington in 1921. I remember hearing him play I’m Coming, Virginia – the greatest thing I ever heard in my life. It was a completely new sound and conception for me.”

Sidney Bechet

Ellington wrote the piece Portrait of Sidney Bechet with Johnny Hodges in mind. The liner notes tell the story: “Two days before the recording, as Ellington rested before dinner, he was thinking about how best he could persuade Johnny Hodges to bring out his long-forsaken soprano to interpret his homage to his early benefactor. Then the telephone rang, and he was told that Johnny had just died.” The stellar reed man had been part of Ellington’s orchestra since 1928 and his playing is featured prominently on some of the orchestra’s greatest moments, including The Star-Crossed Lovers, Prelude to a Kiss, I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good) and Blood Count. Ellington said of Hodges: “He’s the only man I know who can pick up a cold horn and play in tune without tuning up. And I’ve heard plenty of cats who can’t play in tune after they tune up all day.”

Johnny Hodges

The solo performance was handed to another sax great, Paul Gonsalves. The liner notes continue: “The emotions of those who felt their great loss most were manfully concealed at the session, visibly, but they are exquisitely expressed in the tender sadness of the tenor saxophone solos. Bechet is not forgotten, however, for Gonsalves skillfully represents the lyric flow of that master.”

In a review by Downbeat magazine, Dan Morgenstern raved about the album: “As is the case with most of Ellington’s suites, the piece can be enjoyed as a whole, but the individual segments stand up just as well by themselves. The music is evocative, highly atmospheric and marked throughout by the gorgeous ensemble textures that set this orchestra apart from every other big band in the history of jazz.”

We conclude this review with the most unique jazz album Atlantic released in 1970, one that branches out of the jazz idiom and adds poetry and electronic music to the mix. İlhan Mimaroğlu was born in Turkey in 1926 and after moving to the US, he studied music at New York City’s Columbia University and Columbia-Princeton Electronic Center. His electronic compositions appeared on various albums that also contained compositions by the likes of John Cage and Luciano Berio. In 1969 he started to work as producer at Atlantic Records, assigned by the Ertegun brothers to their jazz department. One of his very first efforts on the label was an album of his music, set to spoken texts written by Turkish poet Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca and others, and featuring a jazz quintet led by Freddie Hubbard plus a string orchestra and electronic sounds. Did I say unique?

Downbeat magazine said of this album in a 1971 review: “This is artistry of the highest order. It is no longer poetry with music or vice versa. Jazz fans may buy this album because of Hubbard, poetry buffs may buy it for no other reason than the poetry of Daglarca, and electro-musical buffs will buy it on the strength of the work of Mimaroglu and others at the Columbia- Princeton electronic music center.”

İlhan Mimaroğlu

In 1973 Freddie Hubbard talked to Jazz Professional magazine about recording the album: “I listen to a little electronic music. Did you ever hear an album I did on Atlantic called ‘Sing Me A Song Of Songmy’? It was an experimental type thing, with moog synthesizer, ring modulator and echoplex. This guy who teaches electronic music at Columbia University came to me with the idea. It’s a very deep album, which involves poetry, protest and a lot of other things. I’d like to perform it in Europe, but I have voices on it, also I was playing a sort of classical–type piece by myself; so, with all the sounds and the tapes that he would have to transport, it would be a pretty difficult venture.”

Freddie Hubbard

Indeed the complexity of the production made the prospect of taking it on the road a task too difficult to overcome. The Downbeat review discussed that topic: “Sing Me A Song of Songmy is a work of monumental proportions, and it is doubtful that it could ever be staged live as effectively as on record. The advantage of recording is that a composer can enter a studio with concepts, ideas of sounds in mind that cannot be approximated by instruments known to man, but through the use of electro-musical equipment, he can realize his dream sounds.”

Still, we have the album to enjoy and marvel at. The front cover is a reproduction of Picasso’s 1951 painting “Massacre in Korea”, a fitting image for the anti-war message of the texts. Here is a short piece from the album, a highly recommended listen as a whole:

Categories: A Year in Music

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1 reply »

  1. I never much cared for joel dorn as a producer as I felt he made unemotional records. But it’s really nice to revisit these choices of yours as they are all interesting. I still feel lacking emotion but enjoyable to look back at.

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