Idris Muhammad - Black Rhythm Revolution!

Idris Muhammad Black Rhythm Revolution! (Prestige 1971)

Laying down a propulsive groove was Idris Muhammad’s specialty. Funk jazz galore on the drummer’s debut as a leader, Black Rhythm Revolution!.

Idris Muhammad - Black Rhythm Revolution!

Personnel

Idris Muhammad (drums), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Clarence Thomas (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Harold Mabern (electric piano), Melvin Sparks(guitar), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Buddy Caldwell (congas)

Recorded

on November 2, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 10005 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Express Yourself
Soulful Drums
Superbad
Side B:
Wander
By The Red Sea


Idris Muhammad, formerly known as Leo Morris, wasn’t your average jazz drummer. To understand what Muhammad was about, it is best to describe him as a New Orleans drummer. It might not exactly explain why Muhammad became the penultimate jazz funkateer whose probing beat was a deciding factor in the artistic and commercial succes of the soul and funk jazz albums that rolled off the assembly line of Blue Note and Prestige in the late sixties and early seventies, which in my book comprise the lasting legacy of the drummer. But this way of looking at Muhammad does account for his versatility and eclectic career path.

Born in a family of brothers and a sister who all played drums, the young Leo Morris was fascinated by the Mardi Gras parades at an early age and would come to play professionally in marching bands at age nine. The Morris family was friends with the Neville family, that hardcore tribe of New Orleans Funk, and Leo was part of the Hawkettes, Art and Cyril Neville’s early incarnation of the legendary The Meters. Muhammad is the drummer on Fats Domino’s world-wide smash hit Blueberry Hill. At age sixteen! The promising drummer also gained experience performing and recording with Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, Eddie Bo, Earl King, Lloyd Price, Larry Williams, King Curtis and Curtis Mayfield. Later in his career, Muhammad worked with Roberta Flack, George Benson and John Scofield. Nice resume, aye? Might not get you through math, but opens doors standing in front of St. Peter Of Soul.

It gets better. Jazz was a part of Muhammad’s upbringing early on, yet fully came to the fore during his stay in New York in the early sixties, when he gigged with Roland Kirk, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. His meeting with Lou Donaldson was a game changer. Lou Donaldson’s recording of Alligator Boogaloo in 1967, with Idris Muhammad on drums, set a trend of funky jazz with a hip, solid beat to it. The rest, as they say, is funk jazz history. Muhammad – who had converted to the muslim faith in the mid-sixties, appeared on subsequent Lou Donaldson albums as Midnight Creeper and Everything I Play Is Funky, Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation, Grant Green’s Carryin’ On, Charles Earland’s Black Talk!, Lonnie Smith’s Turning Point and many more commercially and artistically viable funk jazz albums.

1974’s more slick Power Of Soul on Kudu turned Muhammad into a hit maker (the hit, Loran’s Dance, eventually was sampled by the Beastie Boys on Paul’s Boutique, in fact, Muhammad’s beats are all over the place in hiphop territory) and, to Muhammad’s astonishment, a disco king in the late seventies/early eighties. Simultaneously, Muhammad recorded prolifically and performed for years with adventurous contemporaries as Pharaoh Sanders (The B-side of Sanders’ 1968 album Jewels Of Thought, called Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah gives you an idea of their mutual interests and passions…) and, later in life, the virtuosic and innovating pianist Ahmad Jamal. Muhammad passed away on July 29, 2014 at the age of seventy-four.

If not exactly a revolution – let’s just reserve that term for the drum innovations of Kenny Clarke that shifted the jazz landscape from swing to bop in the late forties – Muhammad’s drum style was an important force in the late sixties return of jazz to a danceable vibe. The momentum that Muhammad develops during the course of a tune is crazy. Also very striking are Muhammad’s resourceful and greasy rolls, pushing and pulling his bandmates into ambiences they were heretofore unacquainted with. The guys on Black Rhythm Revolution! are infected by the joyful motion of Muhammad, with no antidote in sight. It might lack a soloist with the flair and experience of Lou Donaldson, but trumpeter Virgil Jones, in particular, shines through as a lively, hot player. A tight-knit outfit, Muhammad, bassist Jimmy Lewis and pianist Harold Mabern – heard on electric piano here – turn in a luscious slow drag like Express Yourself, the basic blues line Soulful Drums, a vehicle for Muhammad’s gritty improvisations, and the roaring, uptempo mover Wander. James Brown’s Superbad is as baaaaadass as it can get. Black Rhythm Revolution! is a badass album and delicious proof of Idris Muhammad’s unique style of drumming.

Fats Theus - Black Out

Fats Theus Black Out (CTI 1970)

A deviation from the polished jazz catalogue of Creed Taylor’s CTI label, saxophonist Fats Theus’ Black Out is a gritty funk jazz session with the overpowering presence of hard bop and funk jazz heavyweights Grant Green and Idris Muhammad.

Fats Theus - Black Out

Personnel

Fats Theus (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar), Clarence Palmer (organ), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Idris Muhammad (drums)

Recorded

on July 16 & 22, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as CTI 1005 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Black Out
Light Sings
Bed Of Nails
Side B:
Stone Flower
Moonlight In Vermont
Check It Out


Afootnote of the soul and funk jazz era, the life story of saxophonist Arthur James “Fats” Theus remains largely obscure. Originating from the West Coast r&b scene in the fifties, as a logical outcome Arthur James “Fats” Theus cooperated with jazz organists the following decade, including Reuben Wilson. A concise discography reveals (to the knowledge of Flophouse) recordings with organist Billy Larkin And The Delegates (Hold On! – World Pacific, 1965; Ain’t That A Groove! – World Pacific, 1966), organist Jimmy McGriff (I’ve Got A New Woman – Solid State, 1968; The Worm – Solid State, 1968 and Step One – Solid State, 1969) and guitarist O’Donel Levy (Black Velvet – Groove Merchant, 1972). The blues lick The Worm, which Theus wrote for the McGriff date, was a succesful single.

Black Out is one of the earliest CTI sessions (CTI was an imprint of A&M and went independent in 1970) and cousin to the late sixties/early seventies funk jazz sessions on Prestige and Blue Note. Green had made his comeback on Blue Note after his first prolific stint from 1960 to 1965, this time in funk jazz vein, the first being Carryin’ On in 1969. That album also included the organist who’s present on Black Out, Clarence Palmer. Muhammad was a Blue Note and Prestige staple. Green and Muhammad carry the album. The grit and sleaze is in Muhammad’s bones and his funky beat is hypnotic. Green fine-tunes the basic changes with red-hot, articulate phrasing. Theus, albeit clearly operating in their shadow, occasionally does away with his formulaic phrases and jumps from one corner of a tune’s fabric to the other, notably on the title track. Theus embellishes the funky bossa tune Stone Flower with mean staccato phrases and whirling arpeggios.

Theus employs a smooth, high-pitched sound one usually doesn’t associate with late sixties funk jazz. Sound and style-wise, comparing Theus’ leadership date with the saxophonist’s side dates has intriguing results. On the three crackerjack McGriff albums, the Billy Larkin affairs as well as O’Donel Levy’s easy listening funk album Black Velvet, by and large, Theus consistently uses his slightly metallic sound. One is led to consider for a minute that the saxophonist plays the electric Varitone sax, following the footsteps of Eddie Harris and Sonny Stitt. At any rate it has become evident that it’s the signature tone of Fats Theus. Style-wise, Theus fluently adjusts to the bluesy and funky surroundings, yet also throws in a number of excellent, bop-inflected phrases, notably on Easter Parade of McGriff’s big city blues fest Step One LP.

Uplifting funk galore, perhaps Light Sings is the highlight on Black Out. Palmer plays with gusto without being overbearing, Muhammad’s driving beat and propulsive single strokes cause a stir, Green’s liquid silver notes sizzle, his phrases bite and bark. Black Out was Green’s sole appearence on CTI. Much greasier than the slick A&M/CTI albums that star guitarist George Benson was turning in at that time.

Charles Earland - Black Talk

Charles Earland Black Talk (Prestige 1970)

The single from the session that spawned organist Charles Earland’s album Black Talk, a cover of the Spiral Staircase’s More Today Than Yesterday, was a big hit on black radio stations. Subsequently, Black Talk became one of Prestige’s best-selling albums. As far as organ and soul jazz goes, it is hard to find an album that keeps the energy level so enormously charged from start to finish.

Charles Earland - Black Talk

Personnel

Charles Earland (organ), Houston Person (tenor saxophone), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Melvin Sparks (guitar), Idris Muhammad (drums), Buddy Caldwell (congas)

Recorded

on December 15, 1969 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7758 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Black Talk
The Mighty Burner
Here Comes Charlie
Side B:
Aquarius
More Today Than Yesterday


Mainly responsible for Black Talk’s unstoppable vibe are Earland and quintessential soul jazz drummer Idris Muhammad. They shared duties in Lou Donaldson’s group and played on Say It Loud! and Hot Dog and would continue to play together on Everything I Play Is Funky. Apparently, recording Black Talk had been satisfactory, because the complete line-up of Black Talk minus Houston Person would record together six months later on saxophonist Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation.

Even a relatively lithe shuffle as More Today Than Yesterday is charged with remarkable energy. Earland’s driving solo is a highlight of the album, containing a string of coherent, funky statements. Another (famous) pop song, The Fifth Dimension’s Aquarius, also has guts, drive and a deeply groovy solo by Earland, as well as quietly thunderous bits by Virgil Jones. Jones strikes me as a very knowledgeable and pleasantly buoyant trumpeter.

Here Come Charlie is a Lou Donaldson-type boogaloo that evolves into a spirited piece of soul jazz, courtesy of Earland’s and Muhammad’s amazingly tight, dynamic interplay. Houston Person delivers a particularly hot solo. The Mighty Burner is a concise, swinging uptempo tune. Earland shows why he deserved the nickname of the tune’s title, ‘The Mighty Burner’.

The title track, loosely based on The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, is blessed with a firecracker beat of Idris Muhammad that kicks the listener out of his chair. Earland and the group pick up on it and groove deeply, with the exception of Melvin Sparks, who delivers a cumbersome opposition of a story. He’s better on More Today Than Yesterday, leaving out blurred, cheap frills and instead succinctly making lines meet. One thing in favor of Sparks, the guitarist possesses an individual, quirkily funky style.

Style is written all over Charles Earland’s Black Talk. Meaning repertoire consisting of hot funky originals and wonderful pop adaptations and above all, a delicious, staggering drive.

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Reuben Wilson Love Bug (Blue Note 1969)

Basically, the artistic success of a jazz album dedicated to pop and funk music depends on the quality of the musicians and the way they interact. In this respect, organist Reuben Wilson and the heavy-weight crew he assembled for Love Bug in March 1969, presented a cum laude performance. It’s neither glib nor pretentious, but an allround groove album.

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Personnel

Reuben Wilson (organ), Lee Morgan (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar), Idris Muhammad (drums)

Recorded

on March 21, 1969 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST 84317 in 1969

Track listing

Side A
Hot rod
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
I Say A Little Prayer
Side B
Love Bug
Stormy
Back Out


Wilson’s debut for Blue Note half a year earlier, On Broadway, contained a mix of soul and tin pan alley. Follow-up Love Bug, including three long groove cuts and a danceable rendition of I Say A Little Prayer, puts the emphasis on pop and funk. In an interview in her book Grant Green: Rediscovering The Forgotten Genius Of Jazz Guitar, Sharon Andrews Green, the biography writer of guitarist Grant Green, Wilson said:

“See, I came up with this idea of playing pop music with jazz. I didn’t think they should be limited. In a lot of ways it had already been done, but not necessarily given the appreciation. They used a lot of jazz musicians in Motown. They were background players. So instead of having them in the background, it was just a matter of bringing them to the foreground. When I went to Grant with these things I wanted to do, he was just ecstatic. He was like: ‘Yeah, man. Let’s go. This is hip. Come on, Ru, let’s do this thing.’

At which time the established team of sidemen came into the picture. Playing with the famous Lee Morgan and crew was a big deal for the organist, but Wilson is composed and authoritative. The way he embellishes the extra slow boogaloo Hot Rod with meandering phrases suggests a mind that’s intent on both logic and understated emotion. Sound-wise, Wilson is almost indistinguisable from fellow organist Lonnie Smith. As if Wilson borrowed his organ; the register and pitch are alike. His phrasing, however, is less flamboyant, more introverted. A minor complaint about Hot Rod: one could do without the drum solo near the end.

Otherwise, the bass-heavy back beat of Idris Muhammad is key to the irresistable charm of Love Bug. It’s there on the title track; an uptempo, sharp-as-a-tack threesome of snare, bass and hi-hat that puts you smack, dab, in the middle of a soulful groove and stimulates Wilson, Green, Coleman and Morgan to put their best foot forward. And on Back Out as well. It has a beat that resembles the beat of Spinning Wheel, the 1968 hit from Blood, Sweat & Tears. At the time, Blood, Sweat & Tears’ combination of jazz and rock raised quite a few eyebrows in the jazz community and led to a number of hot debates about the state of jazz in periodicals such as Downbeat Magazine. Apart from this, the beat that Wilson and Muhammad incorporated is effective and swinging.

Grant Green had interpreted some pop tunes on mid-sixties Blue Note albums, but the territory of funk, which he had been preoccupated with as a listener for some time, was fresh ground. After a troubling period wherein Green had disappeared out of the limelight, because of both a drug problem and a disappointment in the music business, Green sounds invigorated. Love Bug would stimulate Green to boost his career by delving deeper into funk, starting with Carryin’ On in October, 1969. Love Bug and Carryin’ On brought Green back into the Blue Note family. George Coleman is in particularly fine form; his playing is in the possession of both gutbucket feeling and complexity.

Reuben Wilson’s pop covers on Love Bug contain tight ensemble work and a lithe feeling. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me – a Gamble & Huff composition that was a hit for Dee Dee Warwick in 1966 and a smash hit in 1968 for the combination Supremes/Temptations – has a natural, irresistable flow. The laid-back comping of Wilson and smart combination of chords and strummed bass parts by Grant Green blends well together. George Coleman takes a lyrical, vocalised solo. Lee Morgan delivers a far from pedestrian bit, but his mind seems to be elsewhere and there are some bum notes. On the whole album, George Coleman is in better form than Morgan.

Burt Bacharach’s I Say A Little Prayer has a sunny feeling and bouncy vibe. It cooks with ease and boasts delicate phrases by Grant Green and understated, yet spirited statements by Reuben Wilson Stormy, a Classics IV hit from 1969, gets a nice Latin treatment.

Love Bug contains three deft and danceable excursions into the pop realm and three cookin’ funk originals by Reuben Wilson. It is proof organ jazz, as performed by the talented and knowledgable, was smart and groovy at the same time.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper

Lou Donaldson Midnight Creeper (Blue Note 1968)

Of the popular jazz funk dates alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson did in the late sixties, Midnight Creeper is one of the best. It’s a driving date involving a mellow-blowing leader among a bunch of talented sidemen that were becoming successful leaders in their own right.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper

Personnel

Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), George Benson (guitar), Lonnie Smith (organ), Idris Muhammad (drums)

Recorded

on March 15, 1968 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST 84280 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Midnight Creeper
Love Power
Elizabeth
Side B:
Bag Of Jewels
Dapper Dan


Veteran Donaldson, who was influenced, as many or most were, by Charlie Parker and whose cooperations with Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith date back to the late forties and early/mid-fifties, had a good hand in picking new breed cats in his mid-sixties soul jazz and late-sixties/early seventies jazz funk heyday. To name but a few: Grant Green, Big John Patton, Ben Dixon, Charles Earland, Melvin Sparks. The group of Midnight Creeper is of similar high standard.

One only has to take a listen to Bag Of Jewels to appreciate the rapport of George Benson & Co. The artistic merit of a simple vamp like this one, written by organist Lonnie Smith, lies in the protagonists’ groove-ability. The drive of the rhythm section of drummer Idris Muhammad (formerly Leo Morris) and Lonnie Smith is tremendous. The twangy chords of George Benson add body to the bottom. Lonnie Smith is a wholesale dealer in juicy funk and enigmatic surprises. Smith, on this album, shows that he had become one of the most original organists of his time.

Following Smith, the rest of the soloists – Blue Mitchell, George Benson and Lou Donaldson – bring a lot of jazz finesse to the otherwise basic vamp. Worth mentioning are Blue Mitchell’s skilled work and buoyant style, Benson’s clever yet spicy build-up from low to high register, Muhammad’s stimulating way of announcing soloists with crackling press rolls and, finally, Donaldson’s deceptively casual, logically evolving tale.

The signature tune, Midnight Creeper, is an easy-going groove, a mellow boogaloo. The title and bounce suggest the nocturnal journey of a greasy cat, but for me that lazy gait ignites visions of old geezers in the park, scuffling around a chess board and glancing from under their Panama hats to attractive women passing by. That, of course, is one of the beauties of music, that it creates a variety of feelings.

Donaldson shines brightly on ballads, and Elisabeth is no exception. Not only does Donaldson have chops in abundance, his tone is warm and penetrating and the way Donaldson wraps his arms around the melody is breathtaking.

The funky beat of Love Power is irresistable. It has a kind of Bo Diddley twist as well. Lou Donaldson’s comments bring about a playful, calypso feeling. George Benson delivers a skilled r&b section, including bent strings and slurs. In short, the cover of Teddy Vann’s tune – recorded by The Sandpebbles in 1967 – is a spicy stew.

The album Midnight Creeper is an appetizing melting pot as well. Lou Donaldson’s commercial jazz funk albums, even if not all of them are up to par with Midnight Creeper, include classic groove tunes that, I’ve always felt, have the vital function of keeping jazz accessible for newcomers into the jazz realm. At least it worked like that for me as well as a number of teenage buddies in the mid-nineties. Donaldson reminded us of the blues and soul music we were passionately involved with. Midnight Creeper and Lou Donaldson’s other boogaloo gems spelled: wow, this is jazz as well! We’re enjoying the ‘far out’ Coltrane and Monk, but let’s get low, down & dirty for a change! Yeah, let’s just.

Rusty Bryant - Soul Liberation

Rusty Bryant Soul Liberation (Prestige 1970)

Rusty Bryant was the kind of big-toned saxophonist that switched easily between r&b and jazz. In the late sixties Bryant recorded in the funk jazz vein. With Soul Liberation Rusty Bryant arguably delivered the grooviest funk jazz set of his career.

Rusty Bryant - Soul Liberation

Personnel

Rusty Bryant (tenor saxophone), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Charles Earland (organ), Melvin Sparks (guitar), Idris Muhammad (drums)

Recorded

on June 15, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7798 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Cold Duck Time
The Ballad Of Oren-Bliss
Lou-Lou
Side B:
Soul Liberation
Freeze-Dried Soul


As the title track demonstrates, from the first lines Bryant grabs you by the throat and thence builds a heated solo, inspired by an equally fiery line-up. There’s Idris Muhammad. The steamroller! The funky wizard! The eloquent groovemaster! Competent in many facets of jazz, of course Muhammad is admired mostly for his groundbreaking soul jazz grooves. On this album Muhammad’s trademark press rolls ‘on the one’ are plentiful.

At the time, Muhammad mostly played with Lou Donaldson. Other Donaldson alumni are Earland and Sparks. Furthermore, all four sidemen played on Charles Earland’s masterful Black Talk. Thus they have some experience playing together and would continue to play on other recordings the following year. Charles Earland is a great organist but often demonstrates an unnerving form of bombast in this session, wasting powder and shot and leaving us wondering which solo climax is next. Yet the heavy ground beef he delivers for Rusty Bryant’s Big Wopper is wholly satisfactory.

Virgil Jones is an exciting trumpet player who shows an appetite for the exuberant blowing of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Melvin Sparks’ gritty, r&b-influenced play, at times echo-reverberating quirkily, is also an asset for a party record such as Soul Liberation; to boot, in Lou-Lou – a Charles Earland original dedicated to Lou Donaldson – the second part of Spark’s straightforward, bluesy solo is preceded by whimsical, spiraling, Oriental turns. Very charming.

Rusty Bryant sets the pace with Eddie Harris’ Cold Duck Time, shouting brusquely and throwing in some flashy bop phrases as well. Apart from the impeccable Ballad Of Oren Bliss Bryant continues to blow hard. Try putting on this album during your bi-annual house party. It’ll simultanuously prompt people to tip-toe to your linoleum dance floor and have their ears perked up well enough to notice whoever on Soul Liberation is currently cookin’.

YouTube: Cold Duck Time

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Grant Green Carryin’ On (Blue Note 1969)

Around 1966 Grant Green’s life and career had fallen into a slump, due to a major drug problem and an alleged dissatisfaction with the music business that kept him from recording on a steady basis. This album, and how aptly titled it is, marked his comeback as a leader on the Blue Note label in 1969. It is a testimony to the funk.

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Personnel

Grant Green (guitar), Claude Bartee (tenor saxophone), Willie Bivens (vibes), Clarence Palmer (electric piano A1-3 B1), Earl Neal Creque (electric piano (B2), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Leo Morris (a.k.a. Idris Muhammad, drums)

Recorded

on October 3, 1969 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Released

as BST 84327 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Ease Back
Hurt So Bad
I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I’ll Get It Myself)
Side B:
Upshot
Cease The Bombing


Green manages to bring a relatively mellow touch to funk gems such as The Meters’ Ease back and James Brown’s I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. It might have something to do with Green’s soft-hued tone, that blends well with his trademark fiery, repetitive runs that keep your head spinning as if it’s become a wheel on the merry-go-round. Its lightness is also in large part due to the airy sound of Clarence Palmer’s electric piano, which production-wise is a succesful left turn away from the equally soulful but dimmer sources of Hammond Boulevard. By 1969, Grant Green had assembled a tight outfit. In the hands of New Orleans native Leo Morris (a.k.a. Idris Muhammad), whose drums sound as crisp and clear as ever, and tenor saxophonist Claude Bartee, who stands out in particular with a red hot solo in Green’s uptempo sole original Upshot, grittiness is guaranteed.

Carryin on might not have won over fans of Green’s earlier work. Yet it appealed to a new fanbase that was hip to musical and social changes and in doing so, along with a batch of contemporary recordings such as those of Lou Donaldson and Lonnie Smith, created a new vibe in modern jazz. Of course by now we know that same vibe from the mid-eighties on started a breakbeat craze that lasts well into this day.

Back then Grant Green wouldn’t have imagined this, but trying to be a business man of sorts, with a knack for popular tunes and a reputation as one of the few top guitar players in jazz, Green must have asked himself a question: why not me? If my boy (George) Benson can do it!

And who could blame him? Versatile beyond comprehension, Green pulled it off as far as being groovy is concerned and soon Grant Green records came of Blue Note’s assembly line like cupcakes again. Although, in the end, they wouldn’t give him the greenbacks he so well deserved.