Thursday, 31 January 2013

Keeper of My Soul

Twenty-one albums and eleven singles is the entirety of Black Jazz Records' well-sought-after catalogue.  One of my goals as a music enthusiast and vinyl nerd is to collect them all.

Founded in 1971 by pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory (also of Ovation Records), this Los Angeles label features some of the finest soul and spiritual jazz ever produced, and is often considered the west coast analogue to New York label Strata-East.  

Most of the Black Jazz albums are unearthed only after much arduous digging, as they have - for the most part - been repressed just the once.  And the quality of said 1998 versions leave much to be desired with their low fidelity and static sibilant highs.  There are also scant Japanese CD reissues from 2005 on P-Vine Records floating around the peripheries of the internet.  But these editions are of only a select few albums from the already diminutive catalogue, and they're are fairly pricey to boot.  It's worth it to bide one's time until an original pressings materialize.  

Oddly enough, given these albums' quasi-rarity and cult collectibility, the original master tapes surfaced on Craigslist in 2011.  For a mere $12,000 each, or $285,000 for the whole catalogue, one could procure the session reels, plus their copyrights and distribution licenses.

This enigmatic internet listing initiated wild speculation about the fate of the label, the potential buyers and the appropriate stewardship of the tapes.  And as with every discussion on the internet, it immediately devolved into a trashing-talking soap opera, much of the hate-on instigated by James Hardge Jr, the then-current owner/seller of the tapes.  For the gossipy types, Flea Market Funk did a thorough job summing up the drama, although I'm not entirely sure who ultimately bought the tapes.

Be that as it may, my first rule of the internet is: stay out of the comment section.  Thus I'll forgo further discussion on that bizarre sale and instead play you choice tracks from the Black Jazz records in my own collection.

Doug Carn - "Infant Eyes," Infant Eyes, 1971

Discogs: Infant Eyes

You've no doubt identified this Wayne Shorter composition from his classic Blue Note date Speak No Evil.

You may further recognize it from my Spiritual Jazz Christmas Mix: Peace on Earth.

The vocalist is Doug's wife Jean Carn, who later cut several Philly joints with disco duos Gamble & Huff and McFadden & Whitehead.

Doug Carn - "Naima," Revelation, 1973

Discogs: Revelation

Y'all know this classic Coltrane ode to his first wife.

Kellee Patterson - "Maiden Voyage," Maiden Voyage, 1973

Discogs: Maiden Voyage

There are a lot of people who l-o-v-e this album.  Personally, I'm of the blasphemous opinion that her singing is nasally and somewhat uneventful.  Her voice isn't melodically flat but it is spiritually flat.  Kellee just doesn't bring it like Jean does.  I also hold all Herbie Hancock covers to extremely high standards.  But I'll let you decide for yourselves.

Calvin Keys - "B.E.," Shawn-Neeq, 1973

Discogs: Shawn-Neeq

I picked up a recent 180 gram repress on the somewhat-out-of-place folk/country/blues/boho bumpkin label Tompkins Square.

Walter Bishop Jr.'s 4th Cycle - "Soul Village," Keeper of My Soul, 1973

This is one of my prized records.  I own represses of all the aforementioned albums, except this one.  I'm the O.G. with the O.P.

If your appetite has been whetted, Gilles Peterson recently released a compilation of his favourite Black Jazz tracks.  I saw copies available at Playderecord just this afternoon.

Photo: Doug and Jean Carn