These marvellous performances are culled from Artie Shaw’s final recordings as an instrumentalist. It is crystal clear that he retired at the height of his powers. Throughout these pieces, his playing is a joy to the ear and the mind, and his unique sound on the clarinet has seldom if ever been better captured. Shaw was still in his prime as a leader as well: this last Gramercy Five was a collective of the first order with a sound and style of its own, attuned to the times but never falling into the trap of trendiness.
In the early 70's a band named Catalyst was formed in the heart of Philadelphia. The core of the group was Odean Pope, Sherman Ferguson, Eddie Green and Al Johnson (who was replaced by Tyrone Brown after their first album). The band drew from a wide range of musical styles; jazz, funk, R&B, avant garde and fusion all found their way into the creative sonic tapestry of Catalyst. With the given talents of Catalyst they could have and should have been bigger but sadly they found themselves with little promotion or recognition outside the proximity of Philadelphia. Thankfully Catalyst were able to leave behind four extraordinary recordings that will appeal to both jazz heads and those in the hip hop community.
These Awakenings compilations are always interesting, featuring a selection of previously unreleased tracks from both well-known names amongst the Electronic Music scene and those who might not be quite there yet but on the basis of some of their offerings often should be! The opener 'Synbiosis' by Alpha Wave Movement is incredibly Vangelis like both in symphonic backing and sequence departments. Create's 'Iridium' might start off in similar fashion but introduces a more contemporary rhythm. One of the less well know names, to me anyway, was Chromengel (though there is some nagging recognition in the back of my mind) who donates a track initially formed around tinkling metallic percussion. This part of proceedings I thought worked quite well as did the various other atmospheric and gently rhythmic sections of the piece. The sequence was also good and there is plenty of movement throughout.
Brendan Pollard donates his awesome twenty-minute 'E-Live 2006 Rehearsal' to get this double CD set underway. The initial sounds are as if vast objects are being hurled into the sea accompanied by all sorts of weird whooshes and twitters. A superb combination of sequences emerge from the aquatic depths. These meld rapid melodic runs as well as bass pulses. It is all underpinned by some wonderful mellotron. In other words Berlin School Heaven. More sequences are added accompanied by a flutey lead line. In the seventh minute things subside to more thick analogue sonic effects, coming out of it with a decidedly 'Ricochet' sounding collage of sounds. Very impressive indeed. More sequences emerge including a sedate but wonderful three note one then an amazing one hundred mile an hour scorcher before things quieten down again and we get an exquisite moody finish.
John Sherwood who is responsible for the Awakenings series of concerts in Leeds has put together another compilation for us (the first being 'Awakenings 2005') featuring both known and lesser known acts. Much of the music is exclusive to this set. The opener 'Maametalli' by Chaos Research certainly covers a lot of ground. Peaceful shimmering tones develop an oriental / classical feel then we move on to a melodic sequencer line. Overall the track is gently rhythmic with many a twist and turn. Modulator ESP donate 'Gynomatik', a slowly bubbling sequencer based number mixed with metallic tones. The first of the bigger names, Skin Mechanix, are represented by a live version of 'Dimension Jump'. The sequences and Arcish rhythm burst into life along with a bass beat. As with the studio version the foot is full down on the accelerator and its impossible to keep the body still but the live setting gives it more of a fun feel. The leads, if anything, have greater bite here than on the original.
The material on CD 1 dates from the latter half of Artie Shaw’s career as a bandleader, which ended with his retirement in 1954. Always presenting tasteful and often unusually deep interpretations of big-band jazz and dance music, and featuring his exquisite and frequently profound clarinet improvisations, Shaw’s career climaxed in his rise to superstar status as the most popular musician in North America at the height of the Swing Era in 1939.
Conversing with Artie Shaw – as Loren Schoenberg and I did in preparation for annotating these further treasures from his last recordings – is an exhilarating experience. This is because this master of the clarinet excels at making connections. Just as he always knew how to get from one note the next in such a way that the result was a cohesive statement – a story, as jazz musicians used to put it – he knows how to link one idea to another, to make allusions, to place things in context, within a frame of reference that ranges wide and far. Artie Shaw always told a story when he played, and he had that sound – immediately, unmistakably identifiable as his and his alone. It is a treat to hear him tell us some timeless stories we hadn’t heard before. Dan Morgenstern.
Arbee Stidham became known to British blues fans through his later recordings as a guitarist/singer during the folk/blues revival of the early sixties but he had earlier been signed to RCA Victor as a vocalist backed by small horn & piano based groups. Includes his hit from this period: 'My Heart Belongs to You'.