blackjazzrecords

Doug Carn ‘Infant Eyes’

Modal, spiritual, and soul-jazz blend beautifully on a record that packs a lot of power. I’m fussy about jazz vocal records, and I don’t reach for them often, but this one is FANTASTIC. Jean Carn’s vocals convey a sense of purpose. Of clarity. Of hope. Things that seem to be in short supply in so many places at the moment. The lyrics (which all have a spiritual/inspirational vibe) were written by her husband, leader, and keyboardist Doug Carn. He then worked them into new arrangements of compelling compositions by Wayne Shorter (“Infant Eyes”), John Coltrane (“Acknowledgement”), Horace Silver (“Peace”), and Bobby Hutcherson (“Little B’s Poem”). All are knockout performances. You’ll also hear impressive instrumentals, including a killer take on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance,” and the Doug Carn original “Moon Child.” The band is top-notch: in addition to Jean’s vocals and sizzling organ/piano playing by Doug, you’ve got George Harper (tenor sax, flute), Bob Frazier (trumpet, flugelhorn), Henry “The Skipper” Franklin (bass), Al Hall, Jr. (trombone), and Michael Carvin (drums). ‘Infant Eyes’ was originally released on Gene Russell’s legendary Black Jazz Records in 1971. The label released a total of 20 albums in its short four-year existence, all of which share two properties: excellence and rarity. This one seems to have been reissued (and bootlegged) more than some of the others, though, so it’s findable, and you can also stream/download it on most digital platforms. If you’re looking to take a deep breath and lower your shoulders a couple of inches, while at the same time be inspired by a soaring, uplifting, deep, well-played jazz album, Doug Carn’s ‘Infant Eyes’ may be the record for you. It’s a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning here in the NYC area, and this record is making for fine listening. Make it a great day

Henry Franklin ‘The Skipper’

High energy modal/spiritual grooves driven by the formidable bass playing of Henry Franklin and electric piano of Bill Henderson. I dig the frequent nods to early electric Miles and Return to Forever, though I wouldn’t classify this as a fusion record. I’m reminded in places of Eddie Henderson’s sides for Capricorn and Joe Farrell’s CTI records as there’s a similar vibe. The brass frontline—Oscar Brashear on trumpet/flugelhorn & Charles Owens on tenor/soprano sax—wails, swings, duels and soars as Franklin and Henderson scurry busily in, under and around them. There’s some heavy duty yet intricate three-headed beats from drummer Mike Carvin who’s flanked by percussionists Fred Lido and Tip Jones, while guitarist Kenny Climax rears his head only occasionally, but when he does he makes he presence known. “Beauty and the Electric Tub” lays down a groove so deep you wonder how they’re ever gonna find their way out. They do, but they take the scenic route. Tough to find on vinyl, available if you look on CD, but seemingly absent from the usual streaming services other than YouTube. Obscure but worth searching for, as are most of the albums on the Black Jazz label. Franklin recorded a follow-up, the equally scarce ‘The Skipper at Home’, a favorite, particularly after a couple of tracks were sampled by A Tribe Called Quest. Franklin has an extensive discography with more than a dozen sessions as a leader, and sideman credits on over 100 records ranging from Stevie Wonder to Ornette Coleman. He’s still out there playing and recording…more power to you Mr. Franklin

Rudolph Johnson ‘The Second Coming’

Modal/Spiritual grooves galore from this killer quartet. Issued in 1973 on the Black Jazz label, session leader/tenorist Rudolph Johnson (who plays no flute here despite cover photo) pens four originals and pianist Kirk Lightsey contributes one. Bassist Kent Brinkley is a marvel: tone, chops and overall control of his instrument are masterful. Drummer Doug Sides has a deft yet assertive touch. Pianist Kirk Lightsey is a terrific melodic sparring partner for Johnson, anchoring block chords to emphasize and weaving lead lines to tantalize in equal measure. I love the sound on this LP—really upfront with barely a hint of reverb to be found and each instrument balanced perfectly. Mr. Johnson made a couple of records for the Black Jazz label as a leader and played on several as a sideman, though he’s better known for his three decade tenure as a member of Ray Charles orchestra, and his work with Jimmy McGriff. Great stuff here