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Charles Earland: Black Talk!

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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One of the all-time classic soul-jazz records gets its turn at remastering by Rudy van Gelder, the original engineer of the 1969 session.

Charles Earland had a strong affinity for the organ, though he didn't start on the instrument. He began his career as a saxophonist, playing in groups with organists like Jimmy McGriff and Gene Ludwig before making his unconventional instrumental switch, eventually joining Lou Donaldson's group. His playing exploits the organ's capacity for sustain and timbral effects (though on "More Today Than Yesterday" his fleet playing often sounds like a transposed piano solo).

The soul-jazz format tends toward popularity, even populism. Indeed, Black Talk! was a hit record in its day; DJs played the title cut and "More Today Than Yesterday," in spite of their length, even before Prestige had released radio-friendly edited singles. Earland's group nevertheless avoids the narrow clichés of the genre. While they may not have pushed the format as far as their contemporaries in Tony Williams' Lifetime, the ensemble sound is nevertheless subtly an advance on the early-sixties style in which Earland received his apprenticeship.

This is mostly due to the leader's playing, and to that of guitarist Melvin Sparks and drummer Idris Muhammad. Sparks reminds us of the organic link between the blues and the avant- garde (like James Blood Ulmer or Pete Cosey), his scratchy playing and always- approximate timing adding delightful texture to a format that could otherwise be conservative and monochromatic. Muhammad, meanwhile, can provide a driving rock 'n' roll beat, or a pleasing shuffle; but his drumming on "Aquarius" could almost be mistaken for Art Blakey's.

The contributions of tenor saxophonist Houston Person and trumpeter Virgil Jones, though competent, are often merely ornamental rather than substantive. Sympathetic conga accompaniment on a couple of tracks is furnished by Newark convenience store owner Buddy Caldwell ("the musicians dug him," according to Bob Porter's liner notes).

The set list is quirky but successful. "Aquarius," from Hair, cannot help but sound a little kitschy, but the modal groove in the middle of the cut over which the solos are played, is among the record's finest moments, and Person sounds more imaginative here than elsewhere. One-hit wonder Spiral Starecase's "More Today Than Yesterday" is not Black Talk!'s most adventurous moment, but it is certainly the most winsome.

Track Listing: Black Talk; The Mighty Burner; Here Comes Charlie; Aquarius; More Today Than Yesterday.

Personnel: Charles Earland: organ; Virgil Jones: trumpet; Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Melvin Sparks: guitar; Idris Muhammad: drums; Buddy Caldwell: congas.

Title: Black Talk! | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Prestige Records

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