Archaelogists recently uncovered the following correspondence while excavating a first generation Pentium computer:
You once described all this Wynton spearheaded retro jazz as "Bush jazz". (That's "Bush" as in "George H.W.," not "jungle," "minor league" etc.)
Sony bought Columbia Records and the Japanese are archivists so they have started reissuing on CDs all of this early 70s - early 80s jazz with careful remastering (the acoustic and electric basses no longer blend into low-end mush on Weather Report's Sweetnighter, for example).
I recently picked up two of these reissues: the aforementioned
Sweetnighter (the first jazz record I ever bought, and still one of my favorites) and James Blood Ulmer's Odyssey.
You may not remember Blood. He put out two (possibly three) lps on small independent labels which I purchased for 'SRN. I may have been the only person to play them on the air. (Maybe Dan did, subbing a jazz show. I sometimes wonder what happened to those records -- I've got some great tapes that are beginning to wear out and break.)
Odyssey was his major label debut. It came out when I was a graduate student at Hopkins. I remember seeing it displayed at the record store near the campus. I could not afford to buy it.
I did have the opportunity to see Blood touring to support it, though. For some reason, for about a six month period a suburban disco, bless their souls, booked Blood, Jamaladeen Tacuma, Defunkt, James White/Chance et al. on Wednesday nights for a $2 cover. (Actually, their strategy was pretty transparent -- nobody was gonna show on Wednesday night, so book these guys, start the shows real late and sell beer.) Anyway, saw I Blood. By the time he did "Are you Glad to Be in America?" during the second set around 2am the crowd had fallen from about 300 to 6, making me and two grad student buddies half the audience. It must have been really discouraging. Columbia dropped Blood after one album when its plan to make him the "new Hendrix" didn't pan out.
(Jamaladeen and Cosmetic were great by the way -- they had these
wonderful pastel suits -- Jamaladeen looked like a giant grasshopper playing the bass. Rick Iannacone played guitar in that band. They did a beautiful version of "I Looked for Love". I don't think they ever recorded it. Last I heard Tacuma and Iannacone were playing in a band with a bunch of Korean folk drummers -- seriously -- I bought the CD in a Seoul department store.)
Anyway, listening to Odyssey became a kind of minor obsession for me -- one of those things I had never been able to attain, and given circumstances, probably never would. You missed all this stuff being in Ghana. (Kinda like I missed Willie Horton being in Japan.) It was a momentary (underline momentary) continuation and a merging of the free jazz and punk movements. Contemporaneously, Phil Glass was packin' 'em in and playing Letterman.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I walked into a record store the other night and to my astonishment there were Sweetnighter and Odyssey on display (remember U and W are not far apart
The mix on Sweetnighter is really an improvement over the record.
Discernable basses (there were two bass players on some cuts) and it no longer sounds like someone changed the equalization setting
roughly 10 minutes into "Boogie Woogie Waltz".
Odyssey is a idiosyncratic, daring record (guitar, violin, drum
line-up). Charles Burnham plays a wah-wah violin - don't worry -- it sounds better than it reads. And whoever at Columbia backed its release was either a) an idiot, b) a visionary, c) had done some serious hallucinogens, or d) was doing us a favor. My guess is that it is all of the above.
What is interesting and saddening about these two releases is that it is inconceivable that they would be issued on a major label with serious distribution or get airplay on commercial stations today. (Despite Columbia's backing, Odyssey probably got little commercial exposure when it was released, but I do remember hearing Sweetnighter and Mysterious Traveler on the more adventuresome rock station in Houston when I was in high school. I also remember Weather Report playing a double bill with the Ohio Players in an arena and selling it out.) Technological change and narrow-casting certainly increases the amount of accessible expression, but the cost is fragmentation --
can't imagine a Weather Report - Ohio Players double bill today
(Lollapalooza comes the closest, I suppose), nor 'HFS even playing something as accessible as TJ Kirk. Despite the Parents Against Bad Words (or whatever they call themselves) we are living in the 1950s, aesthetically at least.
Anyway, what provoked this ramble was the new Odyssey liner notes
which I recalled your earlier remark:
"Odyssey was, and is, a very different and exciting recording from a unique and instantly recognizable guitar voice. It also poignantly captures a period of bold musical experimentation in downtown early 1980s New York City when funk, punk, jazz, and blues were seamlessly co-mingling and young lions in three-piece suits were only beginning to xerox jazz's past...Those jarring sounds, at once tumultuous and beautiful like the city itself...captured a moment in time -- New York City, circa '80-something B.W. (Before Wynton)."