For 1972's Intensity, Charles Earland's fifth of ten Prestige discs, the Mighty Burner seemed to be aiming toward something a little different than his usual collection of soulful tenor-organ jams. The presence of two songs from the rock group Chicago and a small trumpet-dominated horn section indicate that jazz-rock was the goal. The result, the LP's four original tracks plus two tracks from the same date originally released as part of Charles III, is one of his very best.
Unfortunately, though, Intensity has the notorious reputation as the last recording trumpeter Lee Morgan participated in (done two days before his girlfriend shot him to death). But Morgan is perhaps the least notable aspect of what makes the record work well. His playing here -and elsewhere at the time -sounds rather indifferent, sometimes sloppy and far less stellar than the glowing commentary he offered up on a string of excellent Blue Note records throughout the 1960s (evident on his own lackluster "Speedball," also included here).
What does stand out is Earland's strong performances, especially on two lesser known Chicago tunes ("Happy Cause I Love You" and a "Lowdown" that is not Boz Scaggs's more famous hit, as the disc's liners imply). Both are punctuated for effect with a needless fuzz guitar. But it doesn't detract from the attractive energy the Earland-Laws-Morgan triumvirate achieves.
Earland also contributes two of his own above average originals: the wonderfully melodic medium tempo swinger, "Cause I Love Her," and the cooking "Morgan" (named after the fact of death, but neither a Morgan feature nor specifically dedicated to him).
One notices, too, the interesting sound spectrum engineer Rudy Van Gelder achieves here. The occasional trumpet punctuation (arranged by Earland and the underrated trumpeter Virgil Jones) shimmers, even though its glory-hallelujah harshness seems a bit overheated. But the combo tracks are superbly captured. Compare the sound here to any one of Laws's Van Gelder engineered CTI dates. Then listen to any one of Morgan's Van Gelder engineered Blue Note dates. The difference is remarkable. Unfortunately, though, Billy Cobham's exceptionally vibrant drumming sounds as muffled and in-the-next-room as too many Van Gelder sessions did during that time.
The Prestige records Earland made between 1969 and 1974 remain his finest work. Intensity certainly ranks among the best, capturing a fine player at the very top of his game and easily recommended to those who seek meaningful organ jazz and of equal appeal to fans of the ever-diverse Hubert Laws.
Happy 'Cause I'm Goin' Home; Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow; Cause I Love Her; Lowdown*; Speedball*.
* Bonus track on CD reissue