Januar 1999

Have You Ever Seen The Pain of many a jazz fan who's listening to certain '70s albums of certain jazz musicians? Stanley Turrentine recorded various albums for CTI in the early 1970s which perfectly blended the commercial with the artistic (thanks to producer Creed Taylor), but when Stanley left CTI, the artistic seemed to mostly stay behind.

This 1975 album for Fantasy features (according to the credits) "a full string section" -- with emphasis on the word "full" -- which means that the songs are drowning in saccharine string arrangements. These songs are all ballads, including two Earth, Wind & Fire songs ("Reasons" and "That's the Way of the World"), Marlena Shaw's "You" and the title track by Creedence Clearwater Revival. What's probably most disappointing about this record is the waste of an impressive lineup: the rhythm section consists of Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette, who are largely bereft of any musical personality here (can you imagine DeJohnette playing a set of commercial ballads?), although Carter stretches out a bit on "T's Dream." Then there's Patrice Rushen on keyboards and various session musicians, like Harvey Mason, Scott Edwards and David T. Walker (who manages to throw in one or two trademark licks). Freddie Hubbard, on trumpet and flugelhorn, plays a lot of beautiful but largely uninteresting solos and somehow doesn't really register. Stanley himself is soulful as usual. There are two tracks which are a bit faster than the rest -- "T's Dream" and "Tommy's Tune" -- which doesn't prevent them from still being basically ballads. The latter was written and arranged by Stanley's brother Tommy and is easily the best track (and the shortest one, too), providing a little flashback to the past and omitting the strings. Still, the record's kitsch level is extremely high, and just when you think it can't get any cheesier, the album always goes that extra mile.

But on a positive note, for some people at least, this might turn out to be one of the most beautiful and romantic albums of all time, if they're deeply in love and listening to this together with or without their object of desire. Perhaps this is exactly the kind of album you'd like to put on when you're with your girlfriend. Turrentine and Hubbard's playing is undeniably beautiful and romantic -- and there's something about this album which makes it a bit hard to dislike, perhaps because it'd be all too easy to dismiss it. It's probably also due to the fact that Stanley is always very sincere about what he does; he just wants to play ballads. With cynicism put aside, it's not easy to decide whether this record is a hideous cash-in, cheesy beyond belief, or if it's an unfiltered taste of Stanley's most romantic side. Perhaps it's both.

This review was written for the All-Music Guide on January 30, 1999.

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In 1975, Herbie Hancock's group the Headhunters, which brought him immense success at the time, released their first solo album. Produced by Hancock, but without his participation, the lineup features the THRUST group of Mike Clark on drums, Paul Jackson on bass, Bill Summers on percussion, and Bennie Maupin on various reeds, plus new guitarist DeWayne "Blackbird" McKnight, who toured with Hancock and performed on the MAN-CHILD and FLOOD albums. They added a few guests: three further percussionists (Zak Diouf, Baba Duru and Harvey Mason Sr. -- the latter was the first Headhunters drummer) and flutist Joyce Jackson. While the thought of a Hancock-less Headhunters might puzzle some listeners, the group did extremely well without him -- in fact, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST may be the ultimate space-funk album. The interplay between all musicians is tighter than tight, especially in the rhythm section of Jackson-Clark-Summers, who can effortlessly make everything groove and move.

Whether you'll like ENCOUNTERS OF EVERY KIND, the follow-up to Meco's successful STAR WARS AND OTHER GALACTIC FUNK, depends on whether you like both lounge and disco. Or, more precisely, whether you'd like the thought of a discofied James Last orchestra with a science fiction theme and a bit of silliness thrown in for good measure. The orchestra, by the way, is made up of top session musicians (like Will Lee, Alan Shulman and Tom Malone) and even includes Randy Brecker.

The theme of this album is the "Meco Time Machine," which leads Meco and the listener through several epochs of time and space. "In the Beginning," we're thrown right into a prehistoric (as a matter of fact, 1, 348, 264 B.C.) setting, with furious pterodactyls sweeping across the sky. Next stop is "Roman Nights" (45 B.C.), at an orgy in the Senate Bath House with fanfares (the liner notes meticulously describe the whole travel). Then we're led to 1690 A.D., meeting "Lady Marion" in Sherwood Forest; this one sounds more like a classic Star Trek episode, but chirping birds are all around us. We're "Icebound" in the 1880 A.D. Antarctic next, with chillingly cold wind and creepy strings, but we'll quickly reach the next era on our agenda, "Hot in the Saddle," in 1881, invoking visions of "Bonanza," complete with gunshots, Indians, arrows and the cavalry!

Side two of the record presents the two most hilarious tracks; one is a rendition of "Crazy Rhythm" -- loungey swing in 1926 Chicago, not omitting the sudden raid by a couple of machine-gun-toting gangsters. In 1952's Johnsonburg, we're exposed to an unbelievable version of "Topsy" (yes, that Topsy), with "Smurfy" vocals by an alien family. Back to the present; we're watching the city from the top of the Millennium Building while listening to "Meco's Theme" -- might be a forgotten soundtrack to an equally forgotten '70s cop TV series. Lastly, we're heading right for the future, climbing atop Devil's Tower, Wyoming, to experience "Close Encounters" (of the Third Kind, of course); supported by a rendition of John Williams' famous theme.

It's hard to be halfway about this album; you'll either love it or hate it (who said that this only has to be valid for avant-garde records?), and I love it. A product of its time, and a rather silly one too, but actually very clever and inventive at the same time.

This review was written for the All-Music Guide on January 23, 1999.

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