Stoned Soul Picnic is vibraphonist Roy Ayers' third and probably best solo album, made in 1968 while he was still a part of Herbie Mann's group. Ayers stands clearly in the shadow of Bobby Hutcherson on this primarily modally-oriented date, sounding nothing like the groove-meister he would become known as later in the 1970s.
Producer Mann, always an underrated talent scout, assembles an especially exceptional septet for Ayers here with Gary Bartz on alto sax, arranger Charles Tolliver on trumpet/flugelhorn, Hubert Laws on flute, Herbie Hancock on piano (and probably uncredited organ on the title cut), Ron Carter or Miroslav Vitous on bass and Grady Tate on drums.
The program is a typical late 1960s menu, heavy on such Top 40 pop covers as the dated "Stoned Soul Picnic," "For Once In My Life" and "What The People Say." What sets these and the interesting, if unsuccessful, cover of Jobim's "Wave" apart are Tolliver's rather ingenious arrangements. Tolliver seems to tear apart the constraints of these duds (although "Picnic" is beyond hope) by dramatically slowing down the melodies, providing Ayers the time and space to set the mood (Tolliver correctly recognizes Ayers's strengths with ballads) and punctuating with nicely considered horn statements in between.
It is the two modal originals here Ayers lovely "A Rose For Cindy" and Tolliver's waltz, "Lil's Paradise" that make this disc worth hearing. Ayers plays some of his finest-ever work on these pieces. You're sure to hear something new and different in these pieces every time. Hancock completists will also be especially pleased with the pianist's performance here (and on "What The People Say" too).
Except for the nods toward late 1960s pop-jazz conventions, Stoned Soul Picnic is a marvelous disc well worth investigating. With so much of Ayers's West Coast work of the 1960s (especially with Jack Wilson) lost in limbo, this disc serves as a cogent reminder of the strength of the vibraphonist's chops. And groove lovers might be happily surprised hearing what Ayers was up to before the groove.
Tracks:"A Rose For Cindy; Stoned Soul Picnic; Wave; For Once In My Life; Lil's Paradise; What The People Say.
Players:Roy Ayers: vibes; Gary Bartz: alto sax: Charles Tolliver: arranger, trumpet, flugelhorn; Hubert Laws: flute; Herbie Hancock: piano, organ; Ron Carter: bass on "A Rose For Cindy," "Stoned Soul Picnic"; Miroslav Vitous: bass on "Wave," "For Once In My Life," "Lil's Paradise," "What The People Say;" Grady Tate: drums.