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BGO Records: Excellence in Jazz Reissues

Jakob Baekgaard By

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In the digital age we live in, there is no doubt that the business of reissuing music is booming. It has never been easier to get music, old and new, in digital or physical form. However, one thing is to re-release a record; another thing is to do it the right way. BGO Records, run by Andy Gray with help from Mike Gott, is a British label that focuses on doing reissues like a dedicated fan and collector would like them to be. Here, you will find handsomely packaged albums with excellent sound and thick, detailed booklets with lots of information and fascinating details. Not to forget, there is a lot of music too.

Most of their releases combine two or three albums on a single or double-disc. The label has a wide range of musical styles: rock, blues, folk, country, easy listening, soul, world music and rock 'n' roll, but they also have a substantial amount of jazz releases, with a special love for quality smooth jazz and fusion, but also modern jazz, avant-funk and bop, including classics by bassist and composer Charles Mingus. Following are six gems from the BGO jazz-catalog.

Gato Barbieri
Gato...Para Los Amigos / Qué Pasa / Che Corazón
BGO Records
2013

Passion is the keyword when it comes to the Argentinian-born saxophonist Gato Barbieri. Throughout his career, he has travelled through a wide range of styles. Not many artists have been able to embrace such opposing genres as free jazz and smooth jazz, but Barbieri has and all the time he has played authoritatively with the same highly emotional tone: raw, gruff and growling, but also fragile, sweet and sensual. This BGO-release includes his live-album Gato...Paro Los Amigos (CBS, 1984) and the smooth jazz-influenced albums: Qué Pasa (Columbia, 1997) and Che Corazón (Columbia, 1999).

Gato...Paro Los Amigos finds Barbieri in strong form, playing for his friends: the audience. Titles such as "Bolivia," "Latino America" and "Brazil" reveal Barbieri's fascination with world music, especially Latin rhythms. His drummer here, the amazing Bernard Purdie, adds a solid dose of funk to the proceedings. This is music that dances with wild joy and deep emotion.

Both Qué Pasa and Che Corazón find the saxophonist in a silky setting. Charles Waring, who has written the detailed liner notes, humorously describes the music on Qué Pasa as "Kenny G on steroids." There is a stark contrast between the elegant and lush soundscapes and Barbieri's positively flawed and human tone. It is exactly this contrast that makes these releases so intriguing and they should not be dismissed by the jazz police. Instead, they are a keen reminder that one of the most important ingredients in jazz is emotion and Barbieri has plenty of it. He plays with his heart on his sleeve.

Earl Klugh
Soda Fountain Shuffle / Life Stories / Solo Guitar
BGO Records
2015

Guitarist Earl Klugh has not only been flirting with smooth jazz like Gato Barbieri. To many people, he is one of the crowned masters of smooth jazz guitar. Like fellow guitarist, George Benson, Klugh shows this often scolded genre from its best side and combines a warm sound with melodic sophistication. The BGO-package in question combines three different Warner-releases: Soda Fountain Shuffle (Warner Bros, 1985), Life Stories (Warner Bros, 1986) and Solo Guitar (Warner Bros, 1989).

Soda Fountain Shuffle finds the guitarist wrapped in electronic sounds from synthesizers and drum machines. As the title implies, the sound is sugary, but Klugh's acoustic guitar adds a welcome acoustic touch to an otherwise predominantly synthetic setting. There is a more organic balance between acoustic and electronic sources on the meticulously arranged Life Stories. The strings on the album are arranged by no other than Don Sebesky, whose elegant touch has graced many releases from the CTI-label.

While both Soda Fountain Shuffle and Life Stories sport a smooth and highly accessible sound, it is important to underline that the aesthetic of the records was shaped by Klugh himself and not a producer from outside. This is also shown in the emphasis on melody and clarity. While elaborately arranged, the music never drowns in sound and Klugh's clever melodic ornaments shine bright and clear.

However, the album Solo Guitar provides an even better chance to hear Klugh close-up and personal. As he says in a note to the album: "I have wanted to do a solo guitar my entire career. I'm very happy I finally had the chance to do one."

Solo Guitar is a special record for many reasons. Not only is it a rare chance to hear Klugh alone with his instrument, it is also a reconnection with the jazz tradition as Klugh plays himself through personal interpretations of standards like "It's Only a Paper Moon," "Emily" and "Embraceable You" and shows himself as a gifted storyteller and a master of texture, tempi, dynamics and mood. Indeed, these three releases give an almost complete portrait of Klugh, showing him in an electronic, orchestral and pure acoustic setting.

Steve Khan
Tightrope / The Blue Man / Arrows
BGO Records
2015

From one master of the guitar to another. Steve Khan has been a prominent sideman on many albums, but he is also a charismatic solo artist and plays first-rate jazz-fusion on his three Columbia-albums: Tightrope (Columbia, 1977), The Blue Man (Columbia, 1978) and Arrows (Columbia, 1979). These albums are all conveniently gathered in a nice package from BGO.

Tightrope was produced by keyboard-player Bob James and includes a very convincing cover of Gamble & Huff's soul chestnut "Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love). The album features Randy Brecker on trumpet and Michael Brecker on saxophone and, in fact, there's a close affinity between Khan's music and that of the Brecker Brothers. As Khan reveals in the liner notes: "What I wanted to do was to continue the concepts that we had with the original Brecker Bros. Band, and try to just keep that sound and feeling alive."

Khan succeeded in doing this and on his next album, The Blue Man, he placed himself in the producer's chair. The guitar is turned up a bit, but there is still the signature combination of funk, jazz and rock and on the extended jam, "An Eye Over Autumn," a composition Khan considers one of his best from the period, he gets into some heavy soloing with Brecker while drummer Steve Gadd works wonders on the kit.

Arrows marked Khan's exit from Columbia, but he finished his era on the label with style. The album both includes the ambitious "City Suite," with a nice Latin interlude, and the ethereal ballad "Candles." Steely Dan's Donald Fagen wrote the album's quirky liner notes that mixes fact and fiction, but one statement from the notes is definitely true: "The kid from Westwood, after years of study and sacrifice, can now do just about everything he wants with an electric guitar."

Back Door
Back Door / 8th Street Nites / Another Fine Mess
BGO Records
2014

The BGO-catalog features many established artists, but there are also some more or less obscure gems to discover. One of them comes from the English trio Back Door that pioneered the unusual combination of drums, electric bass and saxophone before the acclaimed trio Morphine. Fans of Morphine will definitely want to check this package out. The music has the deep roots of blues and the power of rock combined with the advanced understanding of rhythm and harmony from jazz. All spiced with a solid dose of funk and soul.

The BGO-package includes three albums from Back Door: their self-titled debut from 1973, 8th Street Nites (Warner, 1973) and Another Fine Mess (Warner, 1974). They all show the trio's tightknit playing with bassist Colin Hodgkinson's impressive technique and thick chords, drummer Tony Hick's combination of swing, funk and blues beats and the unique saxophone playing of Ron Aspbery. He is described by NME-writer Roy Carr in the following way: "Roy Aspbery somehow manages to manifest himself as Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and King Curtis let loose in the House of Mirrors."

Another Fine Mess is the most elaborately produced of the three and features a wide range of instruments, textures, effects and the occasional vocal of producer Peter Thorup. However, the most remarkable thing about the group remains how much music they could produce with just electric bass, drums and saxophone. In that sense, the debut is the most pure distillation of their art.

Chase
Chase / Ennea / Pure Music
BGO Records
2008

Another gem on BGO is the collection of three albums by Chase, a jazz-rock band that can stand up to better known bands as Blood, Sweat & Tears and Weather Report in terms of quality. The band was led by trumpeter Bill Chase and he packed his band with an unusually potent brass section, with no less than four trumpeters. Bill Chase had a regular jazz past and had played with legendary bandleaders such as Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, but with his own band he wanted to move in a more modern direction and soak up the sounds of his times: the rhythmic explosions of 70s rock, soul and funk. At the same time, he did not want to lose the ties to his jazz past, as he revealed in an interview with the magazine Down Beat: "If you're playing jazz, it's got to be good jazz, with good time, swing...everything. If you are playing rock, it has to be good rock. So the group is really a challenge. We have to be pursuers in both idioms, yet be able to cross over."

Chase did cross over successfully. Their eponymous album was a hit with the audience and the critics. The esteemed jazz critic Nat Hentoff even wrote the liner notes and praised the band's musical honesty and excitement. This was a band that listened to the signs of the times without selling out. The use of vocals added a further pop element, but the vocals were soulful and gritty and not sugary. The lyrics were also deeper than the usual pop fare, especially on the follow-up Ennea (Epic, 1972), with its references to Greek culture, and perhaps this was too much to swallow for the audience. The album was praised, but mainstream success was lost and the next album Pure Music (Epic, 1974) saw the nine-piece band completely reconfigured, increasingly moving away from vocals towards a more complex type of instrumental music, but still with catchy hooks and grooves. However, the ties to pop were not completely lost as the energetic "Run Back to Mama" clearly shows. Unfortunately, the next step in the band's evolution was not completed. Tragically, the band was involved in a plane crash that killed Chase and three other members of the group: drummer Walter Clark, guitarist John Emma and keyboard-player Wallace Yohn.

Bill Chase was a visionary musician and it could have been exciting to hear the further development of the band. However, with this BGO-package, complete with lyrics, original liner notes and a lengthy essay by John Tobler, the band has received a worthy tomb and it is a treasure waiting to be discovered by fans of fusion and jazz rock.

John Stevens
John Steven's Away / Somewhere In Between / Mazin Ennit
BGO Records
2015

Another jazz-rock gem on BGO comes from the British drummer John Stevens whose Vertigo recordings are reissued for the first time. Stevens had a past in avant-garde jazz, playing with the acclaimed Spontaneous Music Ensemble, but on his Vertigo albums, he moves into electric territory while still staying true to his experimental roots. The result is an original brand of avant-funk and jazz-rock that combines catchy rhythms with tonal experiments.

The three albums on this BGO-release are John Steven's Away (1976), Somewhere In Between (1976) and Mazin Enit (1977). The release also includes four bonus tracks, especially "Anni Part I" and "Anni Part II" are interesting. Here, guitarist and singer, John Martyn, is a prominent guest and the empathy between the two musicians is heard as they work themselves deeper and deeper into a bluesy groove.

As a musician, Stevens could play anything: funk, blues, bop, swing, folk, rock and avant-garde. It is all in his music, he even incorporates a bit of afro-beat. On "Spirit of Peace," he salutes Elvin Jones, a master of the drums. Stevens has never become a household name like Jones, but the reissue of his Vertigo albums is a welcome opportunity to hear a less exposed voice on the instrument who was able to bridge the divide between popular music and the avant-garde successfully. It's funky music with an edge.

Tracks and Personnel

Gato...Para Los Amigos / Qué Pasa / Che Corazón

Tracks: CD1: Introduction, Llamerito Y Tango; Carnavalito; Brazil; Viva Emiliano Zapata; Latino America; El Arriero; Bolivia; Finale.

CD2: Straight Into The Sunrise; Blue Gala; Mystica; Dancing With Dolphins; Círculos; Guadeloupe; Cause We've Ended As Lovers; Indonesia; The Woman I Remember; Granada; Adentro.

CD3: Introduction; Cristiano; I Want You; Seven Servants; Blue Eyes; Eclipse; 1812; The Woman On The Lake; Rosa; Sweet Glenda; Encounter; Auld Land Syne; Finale.

Personnel: Gato Barbieri: saxophone; Eddie Martinez: piano; Frank Ferruci: keyboards; Bill Washer: guitar; Lincoln Goines: bass; Bernard "Pretty" Purdie: drums, Pancho Morales: conguero; Skip Bucci: timbales; Guillermo Franco: percussion; Philippe Saisse: keyboards, programming; Poogie Bell: drum programming; Jeff Golub: guitar; Vanessa Falabella: background vocals; Ron Jenkins: bass; Dennis Chambers: drums; Mario Rodriguez: electric bass; Cyro Baptista: percussion; Eric Calvi: sound design; Robbie Gonzalez: drums; Anthony Jackson: bass; Romero Lubambo: guitar; Jim Hynes: trumpet; Andy Snitzer: alto saxophone; Will Lee: bass; Lionel Cordew: drums; Mike Ricchiuti: keyboards; David Charles: percussion; Sammy Figueroa: percussion; Carmen Cuesta: background vocals; Peter Valentine: background vocals; Frank McComb: vocal; Wolfgang Haffner: drums; Michel Forman: piano; Mark Egan: bass; Bill O'Connell: piano; Richie Flores: percussion; John Beale: bass; David Rataczek: drums.

Soda Fountain Shuffle / Life Stories / Solo Guitar

Tracks: CD1: Just Pretend; Baby Cakes; Soda Fountain Shuffle; Moonlight Dancing; Incognito; One Night (Alone With You); Some Other Time; Rainbow Man; Close To Your Heart; April Love; The Traveler; Just For Your Love; Second Chances; For The Love Of You; Debra Anne.

CD2: Santiago Sunset; Sandman; Return Of The Rainmaker; Moon And The Stars; The Traveler, Part II; It's Only A Paper Moon; So Many Stars; I'm Confessin' (That I Love You); If I Only Had A Brain; Emily; Love Is Here To Stay; Someday My Prince Will Come; Any Old Time Of The Day; Once Upon A Summertime; Embraceable You; I'm All Smiles; You Make Me Feel So Young; Autumn Leaves; The Way You Look Tonight.

Personnel: Earl Klugh: guitar, keyboards; Greg Phillinganes: keyboards, synthesizer programming; Harvey Mason; drums, OMX programming; Louis Johnson: bass; Paul M. Jackson: electric guitar; Paulinho da Costa: percussion; Bo Tomlin: synthesizer programming; Thom Hall: keyboards; Calvin Bryant: bass; Gene Dunlap: drums; Jimmy Maelen: percussion.

Tightrope / The Blue Man / Arrows

Tracks: CD1: Some Punk Funk; Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love); Tightrope (For Folon); The Big Ones; Star Chamber; Soft Summer Breeze; Where Shadows Meet.

CD2: Daily Bulls; The Blue Man; Some Down Time; The Little Ones; Daily Valley; An Eye Over Autumn—For Folon; City Suite—Part I: City Monsters/Part II: Dream City; Candles; Daily Village; Some Arrows; Calling.

Personnel: Steve Khan: guitar, 12-string guitar; Jeff Mironov: guitar; David Spinozza: guitar; Don Grolnick: piano, clavinet, organ, Arp String Ensemble; Bob James: Fender Rhodes, Oberheim polyphonic synthesizer; Will Lee: bass; Mike Brecker: tenor saxophone; Dave Sanborn: alto saxophone; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Ralph MacDonald: percussion; Steve Gadd: drums; Michael Mainieri: marimba; Rick Marotta: timbales, cowbell, drums; Errol "Crusher" Bennett: percussion; Rob Mounsey: electric bass, fretless bass.

Back Door

Tracks: CD1: Vienna Breakdown; Plantagenet; Lieutenant Loose; Askin' The Way; Turning Point; Slivadiv; Jive Grind; Human Bed; Catcote Rag; Waltz For A Wollum; Folksong; Back Door; Linin' Track; Forget Me Daisy; His Old Boots (Sein Alter Stiefel); Blue Country Blues; Dancin' In The Van; 32-20 Blues; Roberta; It's Nice When It's Up; One Day You're Down, The Next Day You're Down; Walkin' Blues; The Bed Creaks Louder; Adolphus Beal.

CD2: I'm Gonna Stay A Long, Long Time; Blakey Jones; T.B. Blues; Candles Round Your Hat; Detroit Blues; The Spoiler; Shaken By Love; Streamline Guitar.

Personnel: Colin Hodgkinson: Fender bass, vocals, 12 string guitar; Ron Asprey: alto and soprano saxophones, C. Melody saxophone, flute, Wurlitzer piano; Tony Hicks: drums, percussion; Felix Pappalardi: piano, tambourine, percussison; Dave MacRae: Fender piano, acoustic piano; Bernie Holland: guitar; Peter Thorup: backing vocal, scat vocal, streamline guitar.

Chase / Ennea / Pure Music

Tracks: CD1: Open Up Wide; Livin' In Heat; Hello Groceries; Handbags And Gladrags; Get It On; Boys And Girls Together; Invitation To A River: Two Minds Meet/Stay/Paint It Sad/Reflections/River; Swanee River; So Many People; Night; It Won't Be Long; I Can Feel It; Woman Of The Dark; Ennea Suite: Cronus (Saturn); Zeus (Jupiter); Poseidon (Neptune); Aphrodite Part I (Venus); Aphrodite Part II (Venus); Hades (Pluto).

CD2: Weird Song No.1; Run Back To Mama; Twinkles; Bochawa; Love Is On The Way; Close Up Tight.

Personnel: Bill Chase: trumpet; Ted Piercefield: trumpet, vocal; Alan Ware: trumpet; Jerry Van Blair: trumpet, vocal; Phil Porter: keyboards, organ; Dennis Johnson: bass, vocal; Angel South: guitar, vocal; Jay Burrid: percussion; Terry Richards: vocal; Gary Smith: drums; C.G. Shinn: lead vocal; Jay Sollenberger: trumpet; Jim Oatts: trumpet; Joe Morrissey: trumpet; Dartanyan Brown: bass, vocal; Wally Yohn: keyboards; John Emma: guitar; Jim Peterik: vocal.

John Steven's Away / Somewhere In Between / Mazin Ennit

Tracks: CD1: It Will Never Be The Same; Tumble; Anni; C. Hear Taylor; What's That?; Can't Explain; Follow Me; Chick Boom.

CD2: Spirit of Peace; Now; Away; Sunshine!! Sunshine; Mazin Ennit; Whoops A Daisy; Touch Of The Old; Still Here; Light Relief; God Bless; Temple Music; Anni Part I; Anni Part II; Cant Explain (part 1); Can't Explain (part 2).

Personnel: John Stevens: drums; Peter Cowling: electric bass; Steve Hayton: electric guitar; Trevor Watts: alto saxophone; Nick Stephens: electric bass; Ron Herman: acoustic bass; Robert Calvert: soprano & tenor saxophones; David Cole: electric guitar; Bréno T'fordo: percussion.

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