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Ronnie Foster: Ronnie Foster: Two Headed Freap – 1973

Marc Davis By

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The critics hated Blue Note in the 1970s, and that might be an understatement. Me, I'm kind of intrigued.

Fans of good old hard bop, or even soul jazz, were largely left out in the cold. Blue Note in the '70s was a label struggling for its very existence, desperate to find a niche and snag some sales. All of which drove the critics and jazz purists nuts.

Richard Cook, in his 2001 book Blue Note Records: The Biography, is positively savage. "The music which the imprint recorded was full of noodling, posturing and modish idiocy. Scarcely any of the musicians who recorded for Blue Note during this period emerged with any real credit or credibility."

Even Richard Havers, in his wonderful 2014 book Uncompromising Expression—a must-own coffee- table history of Blue Note—doesn't ignore the critical consensus. He quotes Hugh Witt of Jazz Journal: "It is sad that a label with the reputation of Blue Note should be reduced to recording the casual meanderings of background pop music."

Still, if you like soul, funk and R&B, you can't help digging many 1970s Blue Note albums. Ronnie Foster's Two Headed Freap may be the poster child for the genre, for better or worse. I like it. Foster is an organ virtuoso and Freap is a cross between Sly & the Family Stone and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. In fact, the title track could be an outtake from ELP's Tarkus. It's that kind of keyboard-crazy funky weirdness.

Two Headed Freap is full of soul-funk deliciousness. In addition to the title track, check out the closer, "Kentucky Fried Chicken," a heap of organ excursions—yes, noodling, if you insist—based on a catchy funk riff. Or the opener, "Chunky," which is more of the same.

Unfortunately, Freap also includes a few soulless, funkless muzak tunes. "Summer Song" is soulful enough—it sounds like it could be an instrumental version of an old O'Jays tune—but it merely distracts from the catchier tunes. Ditto an instrumental take on Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."

It's true: By 1973, Blue Note had wandered very far from its hard bop roots. No need to mourn. If hard bop is your cup of tea, there's plenty to feast on in Blue Note's back catalog. But if you're cool with late '60s/early '70s funk, Two Headed Freap is a tasty buffet.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Not exactly a rarity

Cost: $11 used, $17 new, $9.50 for MP3 files

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