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When founder/producer Alfred Lion retired from Blue Note in 1967, the label was plunged into a creative decline from which it never recovered.
If that proposition was put to the critics, chances are most of them would agree. Lion was such a massively influential figure, and the various strands of hard bop he fostered on Blue Note so perfectly captured the mid '50s though mid '60s zeitgeist, that it's hard to imagine anything so wonderful could have come out of the label again following his departure.
But not so fast! The double-disc compilation Righteousness, one of the launch sets in Blue Note's new Explosion series, demands that the immediate post-Lion period be re-evaluated. On the evidence submitted here, Blue Note enjoyed a second floweringwith a radical and coherent new aestheticfollowing its acquisition by the Liberty group of labels based in Los Angeles.
The music, made between 1967 and 1971 (and mostly in the two years 1969-70), features many of the artists associated with the Lion era, and much of it is produced, ostensibly, by Lion's co-founder, Francis Wolff. But from there on in, we're on a different planet....
The tunes are funk-drenched and almost entirely groove and ostinato-driven; Eastern sonorities and melodic motifs are widespread; electric instruments, especially guitars, are featured in most lineups; blackism is centrestage; many of the artists are experimenting with vocals, from swelling background choirs through spoken recitation; phasing and other advances in studio technology are being enthusiastically embraced; and ten minute-plus tracks are pretty much the norm. Extra-musically, but significantly, the Reid Miles-designed sleeves which defined the Lion era are replaced by vibrant, Afro-psychedelic cover art from Bob Venosa and the Havona agency (all the original album sleeves are reproduced in the accompanying booklet).
It's a trip from start to finish. Only Horace Silver's two tracks fail to convince: though dressed up like an Indian maharajah for the cover of That Healin' Feelin' (1970), in a Muddy Waters/Electric Mud moment, Silver's heart doesn't seem to be fully in it (and disc two's "Acid Pot Or Pills" is unapologetically and unfashionably anti-dope). But the Donald Byrd, McCoy Tyner, Duke Pearson, Eddie Gale, Bobby Hutcherson, Andrew Hill, Lonnie Smith, Wayne Shorter and Jackie McLean tracksthirteen in allare nothing less than stone, five-star masterpieces.
The two Byrd tracks alone are worth the price of admission. 1967's "Slow Drag," the only Lion-produced track here, is a long, slow screw of epic proportions (as is Duke Pearson's "The Phantom"), while 1971's fifteen-minute "The Emperor" (from Ethiopian Knights) is still one of the finest funk/jazz tracks ever recorded. Tyner's "Message From The Nile" (from his criminally underrated 1970 album Extensions), featuring Alice Coltrane on harp, and Andrew Hill's "Illusions" (from 1969's One For One), blending a string quartet with a deep astral-jazz groove, are unforgettable too. As is so much else.
Kick back, fire up and feel the groove.
Track Listing: CD1: The Phantom; Black Rhythm Happening; Black Heroes; Hey Hey; Psychedelic Pi; The Emperor; Riot; Sweet Pea; Soul Soul Soul. CD2: Message From The Nile; Slow Change; Acid Pot Or Pills; I Have A Dream; Illusions; Peace; Psychedelic; Slow Drag; Fulton Street.
Personnel: CD1: The Phantom: Duke Pearson: piano, leader; Jerry Dodgion: alto flute; Bobby
vibraphone; Sam Brown: acoustic guitar; Al Gafa: electric guitar; Bob Cranshaw: bass;
Mickey Roker: drums; Carlos Valdes: conga, guiro. Black Rhythm Happening: Eddie Gale:
trumpet, leader; Roland Alexander: tenor saxophone; Jimmy Lyons: alto saxophone;
Russell Lyle: flute; Jo-Ann Gale Stevens: guitar, vocal; Judah Samuel, Henry Pearson: bass;
Elvin Jones: drums; John Robinson: percussion; Noble Gale Singers: vocals. Black Heroes:
Bobby Hutcherson: vibraphone, leader; Harold Land: tenor saxophone; Stanley Cowell:
piano; Wally Richardson: electric guitar; Herbie Lewis: bass; Joe Chambers: drums; Candido
Cameron: congas; Gene McDaniels: vocal; Christine Cameron, Eileen Gilbert, Maeretha
Stewart: background vocals. Hey Hey: Andrew Hill: piano, leader; Woody Shaw: trumpet;
Carlos Garnett: tenor saxophone; Richard Davis: bass; Freddie Waits: drums; Lawrence
Marshall Vocal Choir: vocals. Psychedelic Pi: Lonnie Smith: organ, leader; Dave Hubbard:
tenor saxophone; Ronnie Cuber: baritone saxophone; Larry McGee: electric guitar; Joe
Dukes: drums. The Emperor: Donald Byrd: trumpet, leader; Thurman Green: trombone;
Harold Land: tenor saxophone; Bobby Hutcherson: vibraphone; Bill Henderson 111:
electric piano; Joe Sample: organ; Don Peake, David T Walker: guitar; Wilton Felder: electric
bass; Edward Greene: drums; Bobbye Porter Hall: congas. Riot: Herbie Hancock: piano,
leader; Peter Phillips: bass trombone; Jerry Dodgion: alto flute; Ron Carter: bass; Mickey
Roker: drums. Sweet Pea: Wayne Shorter: soprano saxophone, leader; John McLaughlin:
electric guitar; Miroslav Vitous: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Chick Corea: vibraphone.
Soul Soul Soul: Jackie McLean: alto saxophone, leader; Grachan Moncur 111: trombone;
Woody Shaw: trumpet; Lamont Johnson: piano; Scotty Hold: bass; Rashied Ali: drums;
Barbara Simmons: recitation.
CD2: Message From The Nile: McCoy Tyner: piano, leader; Wayne Shorter: soprano
saxophone; Gary Bartz: alto saxophone; Alice Coltrane: harp; Ron Carter: bass; Elvin Jones:
drums. Slow Change: Bobby Hutcherson: vibraphone, leader; Harold Land: tenor
saxophone; Stanley Cowell: piano; Wally Richardson: electric guitar; Herbie Lewis: bass; Joe
Chambers: drums; Candido Cameron: congas; Gene McDaniels: vocal; Christine Cameron,
Eileen Gilbert, Maeretha Stewart: background vocals. Acid Pot Or Pills: Horace Silver: piano,
leader; Cecil Bridgewater: trumpet; Harold Vick: tenor saxophone; Richie Resnicoff: elecric
guitar; Bob Cranshaw: electric bass; Mickey Roker: drums; Salome Bey: vocals. I Have A
Dream: Herbie Hancock: piano, leader; Johnny Coles: trumpet; Garnett Brown: trombone;
Jack Jeffers: bass trombone; Jerome Richardson: tenor saxophone; Romeo Penque: bass
clarinet; Buster Williams: bass; Albert Heath: drums. Illusions: Andrew Hill: leader, vocals;
Bennie Maupin: tenor saxophone; Ron Carter: bass; Mickey Roker: drums; Sanford Allen:
violin; Al Brown, Selwart Clarke: viola; Kermit Moore: cello. Peace: Horace Silver: piano,
leader; Randy Brecker: trumpet; George Coleman: tenor saxophone; Bob Cranshaw: bass;
Mickey Roker: drums; Andy Bey: vocals. Psychedelic: Lee Morgan: trumpet, leader; Jackie
McLean: alto saxophone; Frank Mitchell: tenor saxophone; Cedar Walton: piano; Victor
Sproles: bass; Billy Higgins: drums. Slow Drag: Donald Byrd: trumpet, leader; Sonny Red:
alto saxophone: Cedar Walton: piano; Walter Booker: bass; Billy Higgins: drums. Fulton
Street: Eddie Gale: trumpet, leader; Russell Lyle: tenor saxophone; Judah Samuel, James
Reid: bass; Richard Hackett, Thomas Holman: drums; Elaine Beener: lead vocals; Jo-Ann
Gale, Sylvia Gibbs, Barbara Dove, Evelyn Goodwin, Art Jenkins, Fulumi Prince, Norman
Wright, Edward Walrond, Sondra Walston, Mildred Weston: vocals.