The arrival of these two compilations of 1970s jazz/funk begs one simple question: what took RCA so long?
The fact that the mini-revival known as acid jazz peaked about five years ago puts these otherwise intriguing packages in the unfortunate position of sounding outdated... a second time. But if you can get past that little detail there’s quite a bit to enjoy in these two flashbacks.
Though Flying Groove and Flying Funk draw from the RCA and Bluebird catalogues, they rely most heavily on material from Bob Thiele and his Flying Dutchman label. As a longtime jazz producer and shrewd businessman, Thiele kept one eye on the past and the other on the charts. Thus we find the neo-Coltrane wailings of Gato Barbieri on Flying Groove and the proto-rap street poetry of Gil Scott-Heron, who’s included on both discs.
Flying Groove will appeal more to the traditional jazz lover, with the aforementioned Barbieri sharing disc space with Wild Bill Davis, Count Basie and Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan. And speaking of Hendricks—I mean, Hendrix— what ’70s acid jazz flashback would be complete without a dollop of Gil Evans’ tribute to Jimi (represented here by the spaced-out “Crosstown Traffic”)? Similar head trips from David Axelrod and Oliver Nelson (!) will put you in a psychedelic mood, capped off with the set-closing classic from Leon Thomas, “The Creator Has a Master Plan” (this four-and-a-half minute version omits Thomas’ yodeling).
Flying Funk will appeal more to soul fans and listeners in general, since the more out-there stuff is replaced with solid grooves. Not surprisingly, keyboardist and urban jazz pioneer Lonnie Liston Smith gets not one, but two cuts here (including “Expansions”), and Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” is possibly the most harrowing first-person account of drug addiction ever set to music. The inclusion of tracks by the Main Ingredient, New Birth, and the Jimmy Castor Bunch show in an eye-opening way just how much jazz and soul music borrowed from each other in the ’70s.
One can imagine many of these tunes sampled by today’s hip-hop artists, and no doubt most of them already have been. But the question remains: Can this music start a revival—again?
This review originally appeared in All About Jazz: San Francisco .