If ever a first wave jazz-funk album deserved a 180gm vinyl reissue in 2020 it is this near masterpiece. It was originally released in 1975 on Flying Dutchman
, the label Bob Thiele set up after he left Impulse!.
Jazz-funk divided the jazz world in the 1970s as much as free-jazz had done a decade earlier. And with reason. Much of it was crap. Just like a lot of jazz-rock was crap. More or less desperate attempts by jazz musicians to make a living in the face of an all-conquering rock culture. If you could hardly blame them for trying, that did not mean you had to like it. But just as Miles Davis
' In A Silent Way
(Columbia, 1969) and Bitches Brew
(Columbia, 1970) proved that jazz-rock could have cred, so his erstwhile keyboard player Smith's Expansions
did the same for jazz-funk.
Actually, Smith did it with three back-to-back Flying Dutchman albums, of which Expansions
was the last and the crème de la crème. It was preceded by Astral Traveling
(1973) and Cosmic Funk
The credentials Smith brought to jazz-funk (which he preferred to call cosmic-funk) were impeccable. He began the 1960s playing in Betty Carter
's band and followed that with lengthy spells with Roland Kirk
and in Art Blakey
's Jazz Messengers. From 1968 -1971 he toured and recorded with Pharoah Sanders
, through whom he first met Bob Thiele, who produced Sanders' breakout album, Karma
(Impulse!), in 1969. Much of 1972 was spent on the road and in the studio with Miles Davis.
Smith's 1973 -1975 Flying Dutchman albums remain his finest work, recorded with ex-Sanders and Davis colleagues including Cecil McBee
, whose bass ostinatos are key to the success of Expansions
, and percussionists Badal Roy
, James Mtume
and Lawrence Killian. Recent Cecil Taylor
alumnus Andrew Cyrille
also figures. Astral Traveling
is instrumental; on Cosmic Funk
, Smith's brother Donald joins the band on flute and vocals.
Amiable, melodic and groovadelic, if you only have one jazz-funk album in your library, make it Expansions
Expansions; Desert Nights; Summer Days; Voodoo Woman; Peace; Shadows; My Love.