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Various: Heavy Flute: Funky Flute Grooves From The 60s And 70s

AAJ Staff By

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Label M founder Joel Dorn is the same Joel Dorn who produced many of the great Atlantic jazz albums. Now that Dorn has access to that legendary Atlantic catalog, he's taking advantage of some of the classic flute tracks of that era to make a statement about that instrument's coming of age in the 1960's.

With robust album sales, name recognition from interviews (even on television) and enthusiastic fans attending festivals wherever he performed, Herbie Mann contracted for an almost unheard-of 26 weeks at The Village Gate, where a few of his live recordings were made. "Comin' Home Baby" from Herbie Mann At The Village Gate was arguably one of the most popular flute tracks of that era, creating a broader public interest in the instrument.

Appropriately enough, Label M's Heavy Flute starts with "Comin' Home Baby," and the remainder of the often classic jazz flute recordings unfold from it. David "Fathead" Newman's "The Thirteenth Floor" follows "Comin' Home Baby," proving the transition of some well-known saxophonists to the use of the flute on some of their sixties recordings.

But Heavy Flute kicks into gear when Yusef Lateef reveals a funkier application for the flute as pianist nonpareil Ray Bryant and a youngish Kenny Barron infuse "Nubian Lady" with a more sophisticated harmonic richness and, in conjunction with "Tootie" Heath and Sam Jones, a more percussive intensity than the preceding tracks'.

The show-stopper, as always, is Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whose interest lies in the music more than in the means to his musical end, the instruments. Zooming into his flute, Kirk provides vocal clues to the lyrics of "Ain't No Sunshine." But he varies the instrumentation so quickly and seamlessly within the two-plus minutes of the recording that the listener focuses on the quirkiness and irresistibility of the presentation instead of whether Kirk is fluting or stritching or manzelloing or gonging or police whistling. Kirk does it again on "One Ton," he being utterly distinctive and inspiring as he plays two horns at once before settling in on the flute and a wild-man vocalization.

Charles Lloyd's track, "Sombrero Sam," is interesting because it presents his now-famous trio with Keith Jarrett and John DeJohnette before their clamorous public acceptance a year or two later. "Sombrero Sam" just barely qualifies for Heavy Flute because most of the recording consists of Jarrett's crashing and cascading piano, somewhat akin to what Don Pullen did years later, before Lloyd finishes the number on flute with an appealing simplicity.

Herbie Mann ends the CD with another of his then-well-known tunes, "Push Push." Heavy Flute reminds us of the potential of the instrument, which now has become accepted as a solo instrument in a jazz context. But Heavy Flute also reminds us of the flute's popularity in during the 1960's (with a spillover into 1971)—a popularity that hasn't been repeated since then.

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