Mainstream Records

Mike Longo ‘The Awakening’

Covid-19 has claimed jazz pianist and composer Mike Longo, who flew from this world this past Sunday. In addition to his longtime partnership with Dizzy Gillespie, Longo cut some terrific funky jazz records for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label in the early 70s. ‘The Awakening’ features jazz luminaries like Ron Carter (bass), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Mickey Roker (drums), Virgil Jones (trumpet) and lots of killer electric piano from Longo

Alice Clark

Strength. Despair. Longing. Determination. Heartache. Redemption. You’ll hear all this and more in this OUTSTANDING soul/jazz blend. Watch out though—Alice Clark’s voice delivers tales of world-weariness and heartbreak with such authenticity you may find yourself calling your fifth grade crush and spilling your guts before the echo of the song leaves the room. This Mainstream Records cult classic has had an underground following for awhile, kicked up a notch in the early 90s as acid jazz DJs embraced the track “Don’t You Care” which became a dancefloor favorite. The original LP is mega-rare and its credits didn’t reveal much, so this Record Store Day release courtesy of the revived label (tip o’ the hat to comedian/filmmaker Judd Apatow whose grandfather Bob Shad was the original label head and producer of this session) is most welcome. What we now know is that a bunch of Aretha Franklin’s backing band (including Cornell Dupree & Ear Dunbar-guitar, Ernie Hayes & Paul Griffin-organ/Rhodes/piano, Bernard Purdie-drums, Gordon Edwards-bass, Joe Newman & Sonny Cohn-trumpet and additional unknown/uncredited horn players) gathered for a two-day session under the supervision of Shad and conductor Ernie Wilkins as Clark worked her magic, nailing this one LP and a handful of other tracks before disappearing from the music scene entirely. It’s difficult not to love this album—one look at the cover alone and you can tell that Clark speaks the truth. Her voice is sheer emotive power—I love the fact that even though she falters once or twice it’s in the service of the heartfelt message, not the perfection of the take. It only adds to the raw emotion that’s written all over her face on the cover photo. Furthermore, these are real jazz cats backing her up…you won’t find any half-assed arrangements or cheesy cliches that turn this into a syrupy, sappy, adult-contemporary mess. This is a jazz-infused, soul-powered, love-gone-bad album for the ages, and I can’t get enough of it. Highest recommendation

Harold Land ‘A New Shade of Blue’

The musical partnership of Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) & Harold Land (tenor sax) had become a true brotherhood over the course of several releases on Blue Note in the 60s. All of those records are worth hearing, and most worth owning. But there’ are five additional chapters of their story told outside of @bluenoterecords, one on Cadet (the outstanding ’The Peace-Maker’), one on Jazz Music Yesterday (1990’s ‘Blow Up’ which I’ve never heard), one on Muse (1981’s ‘Xocia’s Dance’ which looks terrific but another one I’ve not heard) and two for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label, of which this one ‘A New Shade of Blue’ is the first, recorded & released in 1971. Take the already incredible dynamic duo—the Hutcherson/Land frontline—add the rhythm section from Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet (Buster Williams-bass and Billy Hart-drums) and inject some additional groove courtesy of Bill Henderson (piano/electric piano) and Mtume (congas) and you’ve got a killer line-up. Despite several online “meh” ratings (all of which I disagree with), there’s a lot to like (if not love) here. Blues, modal, hard bop, advanced soul jazz, and spiritual jazz flourishes abound, and this 2017 reissue courtesy of @wewantsounds sounds TERRIFIC. While I don’t have an original to compare, it’s a lovely gatefold with new session photos unearthed for this reissue, as well as new liner notes. The standout track is “Mtume”, previously delivered with a bit more urgency by Hutcherson/Land on Hutcherson’s ‘Head On’ LP, though the more deliberate approach here actually works beautifully. It’s a long, deep, modal journey that’s a terrific showcase into what makes the Hutcherson/Land partnership work so well. Digital/CD versions have a bonus track called “Dark Mood

Paul Jeffries ‘Watershed’

Great quartet session by an under-recognized hero in jazz. Kudos to tenor saxophonist Paul Jeffrey, whose impressive resume includes recordings and tours with @theloniousmonk @charlesminguslegacy @bbkingofficial and Sam Rivers. Much of his life however was dedicated to music education, serving as director of jazz studies @dukeuniversity since 1983. ‘Watershed’ recorded in 1971 and released in 1973 features Richard Davis (bass), Thelonious Monk Jr (drums) and secret weapon Jack Wilkins (guitar). Wilkins is nearly a co-leader, with explosive single lines and wildly creative chordal trickery throughout. Not to be outdone on his own record, Jeffrey RIPS on tenor sax through largely uptempo material, but his technique is well-rounded as he delivers a ballad with restraint and sensitivity. He and Wilkins have terrific repartee (this session led to Wilkins himself getting signed to do a solo album for which was recently reissued), and alternately pushed/supported by the nimble rhythm section they deliver a gem of a record. Widely available across the digital landscape and common enough in the used LP bins, this is worthy of picking up and perhaps (hopefully) as @juddapatow continues the revival of the Mainstream label it might see the light of day on vinyl again

Pete Yellin ‘It’s the Right Thing’

Obscurity can be a badge of honor in the world of jazz, but let’s take a moment to explore why it’s kinda weird that that Yellin isn’t better known. Abandoning basketball at the University of Denver to study saxophone at Juilliard after finding inspiration in the music of Art Pepper, Yellin found work and camaraderie with a variety of jazz luminaries, from Joe Henderson to Chick Corea. He worked extensively during the 60s & 70s in a variety of small and large combos (including Tito Puente, as well as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band) until releasing the first of two recordings as a leader on Bob Shad’s Mainstream label in 1973, ‘It’s the Right Thing’. Yellin steps out fiercely on both alto sax and flute, leading a mid-sized combo that includes Hal Galper (Electric Piano), Jack Wilkins & Roland Prince (Guitar), Mario Rivera (Flute, Tenor/Soprano/Baritone Sax), Barry Rogers (Trombone), Clint Houston (Bass), Darryl Washington & David Lee Jr. (Drums), Lawrence Killian & Angel Allende (Percussion/Congas). Yellin contributes a couple of originals, and there’s a fine rendition of “Softly As A Morning Sunrise” and an unexpectedly groovy take on Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”. Jazz snobs who turn their noses up at electricity and a willingness to take on “commercial” tunes like the aforementioned Stevie Wonder cover are missing out on a fine jazz record—there’s some tremendous playing here. Yellin SHREDS. Good stuff