Five New Impulse Reissues

C. Andrew Hovan By

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When it comes to classic record labels of the ‘60s, the Impulse imprimatur is an icon of diversity and quality. From tenor icon Ben Webster to vocalist and future pop star Freda Payne, the Impulse catalog cut a wide swathe during its heydays and while many think of John Coltrane when they ponder the successes of Impulse, there’s more to the catalog than just the vision of the legendary saxophonist. As an added bit of trivia, how many jazz fans know that two folk albums (Oscar Brand’s Morality and Michael Brown’s Alarums and Excursions ) fill spaces in the early years of the catalog? Along these same lines, recent Impulse reissues tap material that has eluded all but the most astute followers, even while its significance is undeniable and worthy of rediscovery.

Along with The Happy Horns and It’s What’s Happenin’ , Spanish Rice was one of three albums that documented some great music by trumpeter Clark Terry during his time spent with Impulse. On this 1966 session co-led with the noble arranger Chico O’Farrill, Terry goes south of the border for some cooking Latin numbers that make the most of O’Farrill’s tasty charts. With crisp recorded sound, the mood is definitely of a celebratory nature here and Terry even gets to some hilarious vocalizing of the “Mumbles” variety on the title track. A favorite of this reviewer for some time, this is the type of big band stuff that you just don’t hear anymore and its reissue should be cause for merriment.

Although briefly married to tenor saxophonist George Coleman, the musical activities of organist Gloria Coleman are all but unknown to most jazz fans. The main reason to acquire a copy of Soul Sisters over the years has been to hear yet a few more morsels of guitar genius from Grant Green. This is not to say that Coleman doesn’t hold her own here, because both her and drummer Pola Roberts are solidly swinging throughout, but the real stars are Grant and saxophonist Leo Wright. Equally beguiling are Coleman’s fantastic originals, such as tributes to Ike Quebec and Melba Liston. “My Lady’s Waltz” happens to be one of the greatest jazz waltzes ever and the whole session swings from start to finish.

Among the European deejays and hip hop crowd, there are certain artists who have been ripe for sampling over the years and the name Mel Brown has been at the top of the list, making his large catalog of Impulse sides collectors items that go for the big bucks. The Los Angeles native first caught the ears of Impulse producers on a live Oliver Nelson session, with 1966’s Chicken Fat being the first of many sides under his own leadership. This is grits and gravy stuff that finds the guitarist delivering a stinging sound influenced by T-Bone Walker and B.B. King. The small combo includes Gerald Wiggins on B3 organ and on several tracks Herb Ellis adds some texture with the use of his 12-string acoustic guitar. Let’s hope this is the first of many more Brown reissues as this blues-based fare should appeal to a wide variety of music lovers.

Multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef signaled to jazz followers at an early stage that his muse was one that allowed many influences to mix with a decidedly improvised approach that was many years ahead of its time. It wasn’t until he signed with Impulse however that he was able to fully document the far-reaching applications of his work. The Golden Flute was one of several Lateef Impulse sets that featured the outstanding rhythm section of pianist Hugh Lawson, bassist Herman Wright, and drummer Roy Brooks. While a bit more conventional than his other projects, this 1966 recital presents Lateef on flute, tenor saxophone, and oboe (while its title suggests otherwise). Never exotic just for the case of novelty, Lateef connects with whatever instrument he happens to be playing and his romps through “Rosetta” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right” prove him to be a major voice on tenor saxophone even while Rollins and Coltrane were getting all the press at the time.

Next to Attica Blues , one of Archie Shepp’s most memorable early ‘70s albums is The Cry of My People , a tour-de-force of blues and funk-based jazz that allowed Shepp to temper his wilder avant-garde personality with a more commercial presentation that would better appeal to the masses. As with the aforementioned Attica Blues , this set would also benefit from the writing and arranging of the seriously underrated Cal Massey. “All God’s Children Got a Home In the Universe” is gospel in the purest sense with jangling tambourines and a full chorus. Shepp’s two-part “African Drum Suite” recall’s the full blown work of Max Roach on his own historic It’s Time. Soulful and with a message of spiritual proportions, The Cry of My People is essential to any Shepp collection.


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