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I got ahold of some blow today. Then I got myself a cocktail and put on a few records.

 

"Risky Changes" Bionic Boogie (1975, Salsoul Records)

I can't believe it was '76 and not earlier that we heard this incredible, power-Summer-time tune with the incredibly infectious percussion solos (did I mention the bongos really, really work?) and the hook "shot-in-the-dark." Add the Philly-sound strings and wonderful production values all around, and you got yourself a hit...

This was not Euro-style. This is what the early (Studio 54) days were all about; when Euro-Disco was much more comfortable at Regine's. Been listening to Sylvester lately, too. Yeah, hit that link and see what the venerable pingouin had to say about that...

I'm just hearing it over and over: "Fresh, and hot; we'll show you what we've got (rinse, repeat)"

 

Yesterday a customer offered me some cocaine.

Not only did I "inhale" I kept some to do later.

It's wrapped in a $20 bill and is in a location that I refuse to disclose at this time. Perhaps for the very first time, the thrill of possessing the crap has been eclipsed by the sheer dread fear that possession of this shit is a felony in my state.

 

Mid-Life Crisis

I thought I'd be immune to the crap that'd already happened to my friends. Many bought motorcycles. Some bought sexy sports cars. A couple have very, very bad hair-pieces.

Tonight, as my fiftieth birthday. (Yeah, 50 years... kid, I'm old enough to be your freakin' grandfather) approaches — okay it won't be for another eight days — I'm in bed tapping on the laptop with headphones strapped on and hooked up to the stereo the mix is definitely calling to me from a childhood (okay, teen-ager-hood) that seems like it was just a dream, an illusion.

"My Love Is Free" Double Exposure (1976, Salsoul Records)

More so than Barry White, First Choice and Bionic Boogie, Double Exposure's "My Love Is Free" epitomized the "Philadelphia" sound. Over-produced strings, the ambling, infectious beat, and a lead singer raised up in the Baptist Church who's so soulful it ain't funny. Indeed, Len (Leonard) Davis could erupt with vocal pyrotechnics on-cue and did his best on "Ten Percent," one of the first records to enjoy success as a 12" single; arguably one of the first "Disco Singles" ever created.

In case you're wondering, the answer is yes. Yes, we were depending on 7-minute 45 rpm records until then. Aw, crap; by '77 we had Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" that lasted over 14 minutes depending upon which record you had. "I Feel Love" was the only reason to be interested in Donna Summer at all. The rest of her stuff earned her a whole bunch of money but was all pop pablum.

That brings us back to the cocaine. Without it, could we have danced to a Giorgio Moroder mix of Donna Summer (or anything else) for a whole quarter of an hour? I can't do it now (but like I said, I'm old). Could I have done it then without the aid of speedy drugs? I guess so. Then.

Now, as the sun rises, we veer off into a different direction...

 

"Tribute to Count Basie" Gene Harris (1998, Concord)

This screaming big-band chart features the piano pyrotechnics of Harris, whose stylizations have been compared to the great Oscar Peterson and Bill Basie himself. Get this tune on "The Best of the Concord Years," so you can have your cake and eat it too. Of course Harris arranged the music for his powerful big-band (complete with enough trombones to make Sy Zentner jealous). In fact I think there was a tuba or euphonium (spelling?). You see, this is Harris's ode to Basie, but it's actually Basie on steroids.

The string bass, plucked properly,  is the star during the intro; there's so much gain on the microphone you can hear everything the bassist's fingers are doing. Harris enters the spacious, echo-laden performance with his very distinctive, very powerful technique. He's ushered in by a snap to attention from trumpets and trombones. Then they find themselves yielding to Harris's over-amplified (it's okay) solo work and backup. He does indeed venture into chords when it sounds like the band's not quite warmed up altogether. And warm-up one must do in order to perform a chart like this, because it becomes audio dynamite by the time it's half over.

This man would sit almost still, yet the power in his fingers was legendary and singular. As Basie did, Harris eschews chords for single notes but for when the chord will merely be a background for what's going on with the soloist. He persuaded some of the finest (and some of the most under-appreciated) musicians in the world to work with him. Just like Basie, he'd use a minimalist style to direct his powerful big-band from the piano bench..

The beauty of this chart is that except for the very simple solo right up front and the finale riff, Harris sits back and actually is very humble, spotlighting saxophone and trumpet, as Basie did. Well, kinda. Let's deconstruct the piece...

His woodwinds have that "sweet" sound. The trombones are working overtime. Then, just when we think we're going to have heard the very best, the trumpets come in and the soloist reiterates the famous Charlie Spivak solo on Basie's 1960 outing "One O'Clock Jump." The 1960 version, not the "country club" version nor the pre-war version.

Basie's is on a long out-of-print compilation of his work that was produced on the Metro label (an MGM division that's long defunct). Anyone who's heard it knows that Harris transcribed the entirety of the "One O'Clock Jump" performance on record, with a few subtle changes, and performed it with his own big band. Then, for the recording, Harris engineered it so that the piano would be pushed to the front-and-center of the soundscape; (with an ever-so-luscious, tiny echo for presence). And then he sped it up, ever-so-slightly.

No Boesendorfer piano for Harris. He was a Steinway guy all the way. He preferred the steely, clear sound rather than the tweedy Euro-sound that Tony Bennett's accompanist, Ralph Sharon, preferred. On record for Concord, he played an enormous concert grand, with power and precision. More power than Oscar Peterson had, even on a good day.

The engineering on this cut is hard to describe. Let's call it "hot." The engineering is definitely in favor of the piano, bass and drums (the core combo). The big band is merely icing on the cake. For a short while, the horn section's orchestrated to sound more like something out of North Texas University than Basie's world-class, understated style. Of course, there's nothing understated about Gene Harris. The tune ends up resolving to a frenetic, adrenaline-charged version of Basie's signature tune. In fact, Harris's arrangement is extremely complex and is so infectious it invites the listener to press the "repeat" button a few times.

The classic rhythm and blues repetition announces the final frenzy of the piece. And what a frenzy it is... as I said before this is Basie on steroids. This is almost a caricature of Basie; it's true to the most exciting period of his work, from the mid-fifties to the early sixties. This stuff swings hard.

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