In August 1974, Clifford Jordan
entered the studio for what was to be the follow-up to his acclaimed 2-LP set, Glass Bead Games
(1973) for his third album on the Strata-East label. Sadly, the label folded in 1975, and the album was never released. Now, 49 years later, Drink Plenty Water
, has finally seen the light of day. It is a time capsule of that collaborative era when jazz stretched its boundaries. It features an all-star roster with a front line of Bill Hardman
, Dick Griffin
and Charlie Rouse
(a rare appearance on bass clarinet), and a rhythm section of Stanley Cowell
, Sam Jones
and Billy Higgins
The early 1970s was an era that saw big changes in the jazz/Black music scene. There was jazz-funk with its proponents like Donald Byrd
, The Crusaders
and Roy Ayers
. It also saw the rise of the Black Consciousness Movement, which had a significant impact on the music. Artists began incorporating socially conscious and politically charged lyrics into their music, addressing themes such as racial inequality, civil rights, and empowerment. Strata-East Records, an innovative, artist-owned label starting in 1971, was at the forefront of this musical revolution.
Jordan was a major contributor in the bop and post-bop scene and coming off his most acclaimed album, decided to go entirely in a different direction. He had absorbed all the influences going on around him and recorded an album almost entirely of vocal-centered music. In the liner notes, Swiss pianist Franz Biffiger, describes this album as the pure opposite of Glass Bead Games
, claiming the latter as the "highest level of the Clifford Jordan Quartet work and this as a social and musical event in the tradition of Black folk music"
Four of the first five tunes are short, R&B/jazz tunes featuring Jordan's daughter Donna Jordan Harris who was 16 years old at the time. Her singing is competent as are her three backup singers. Three of these are vocal takes on previously recorded Jordan instrumentals.
"The Highest Mountain" opens the record with an acapella gospel chorus before the band kicks in leading to a spiritual rendition of Jordan's most known composition. "The Witch Doctor's Chant (Ee-Bah-Lickey-Doo)" is a fun, jazzy tune that tells the listener about a magical incantation that will make everything all right. "I've Got a Feeling for You" has an Eddie Harris
funk groove underneath. The vocalists sing in unison while Jordan probes and soars between the lyrics. The best performance of the four is the The Manhattan Transfer
-sounding "My Papa's Coming Home," which is a joyous celebration from the eyes of a child. From the opening drumbeat to the bass and piano joining in, this is a swinging arrangement allowing Jordan to shine.
The other three tracks are what make this album more than a curiosity. Two songs, "Drink Plenty Water and Walk Slow" and "Talking Blues," feature actor David Smyrl (Emmy winner for the role of Mr. Handford, who ran Hooper's Store on Sesame Street
) talking and singing his poems/lyrics over the music. Both songs describe the scourge of drugs and the lifestyle that comes with it. The poems are beautifully written and hip. The message was part of the consciousness the music was bringing to the forefront.
The former is written from the viewpoint of a lifer in prison talking to an ex-jazz horn player who is serving one to ten. The arrangement features the cello of Bernard Fennell and Sam Jones on bass out front. It is a beautiful, sobering performance.
"Talking Blues" is here twice. The first is the vocal while the second is an instrumental version of the same track. Both are nine and a half minutes in length. The vocal version (see YouTube video below) has an epic poem/lyric going on for almost the entire track. Smyrl's background as an actor is used here to great effect. Once again he talks/sings about the life of a hustler, spending his life behind bars and reminiscing on how he had lived and what he should have done differently. The final lyric here though is one of hope and change.
The instrumental mix showcases what was happening beneath the vocal track. This version is a funky, bluesy jam with all members getting a chance to blow.
In its entirety, this recording is a worthy addition to both Jordan's and the Strata-East legacy. It shows a different side of Jordan while reminding us of a time when a small musician-owned label dared to be different.
The Highest Mountain; The Witch Doctor's Chant (Ee-Bah-Lickey-Doo); Drink Plenty Water and Walk Slow; I've Got A Feeling For You; My Papa's Coming Home; Talking Blues; Talking Blues (Instrumental).
Charlie Rouse: bass clarinet.
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