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2 New Jai Alai 7s - Maze & Donal Byrd & Gerald Levert

2 New Jai Alai 7s - Maze & Donal Byrd & Gerald Levert magazine cover

Delighted to announce two new Jai Alai references, this time consisting in four favourite tracks never released on 7" before. Both Maze songs are simply outstanding so it´s certainly surprising Warner Bros didn´t pick up any of them for single releases ("Love Is" was quite hard to get on vinyl too, as the album only came out as promo). Same could be said about the dancefloor delight (an Isaac Hayes production, no less) "Everyday" and the CD only album track by Gerald Levert, obviously influenced by Curtis Mayfield.

 

PRE-ORDER NOW FOR 17TH APRIL

www.soul4real.es

 

JAR13 - MAZE feat. FRANKIE BEVERLY – SOMEBODY ELSE´S ARMS / LOVE IS

 

 

 

The package, posted from Inglewood in California, dropped through my letter box…

I was looking forward to seeing this, the VHS of the then relatively ‘unknown’ but now legendary live show at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. But when I fed it into my VHS player, I was disappointed. I could not quite figure out why. The band were tight, each musician sounded great, the product of being on the road, year after year, club after club in the States, sometimes playing five shows a night, all propped up by one of the best soulful voices we had ever heard, the maestro Frankie Beverly.

It took a second play to realise what was missing. It was ‘too comfortable’ an atmosphere. A few wealthy customers sat around coffee tables quaffing champagne. It seemed to me that this audience, somehow, did not fit the band.

Paul Fenn at Asgard promotions received the contract from the band to appear live in London and Manchester. I became more and more convinced that his UK fans were going to be a lot more responsive than those from New Orleans.

We put the word out with just a couple of exclusive ‘shout outs’ by Robbie Vincent on his Radio London Soul programme. Those two plugs were enough to sell out all four shows at London’s premier music venue, the Hammersmith Odeon. The ticket office was rammed and the queue six deep, stretched halfway down Queen Caroline Street.

“I have never seen anything like it” expressed the manager of the theatre as he rolled down the shutters and turned on the “Sorry, SOLD OUT” notice above the theatre box office.

I was curious, so I went up and stood in the wings of the Hammersmith stage on that first show. Frankie, introduced to the stage by his sound engineer, Greg Blockman, sauntered past me, strumming his rhythm guitar, dressed in a casual dark green towelling suit, a brown leather visor and flip flops…and then five seconds later, he suddenly stopped. He seemed suddenly to be aware of the thunderous ’Welcome to London Maze’ roar, circling around the theatre about to engulf him. He slapped every black and white hand offered up to him that night, with a huge smile as he circled the edge of that stage. We wanted to get next to him, even if it meant climbing over rows of seats in front of us to do so.

That was the beginning of our love affair with Maze and Frankie Beverly. It certainly wasn’t New Orleans comfort; it was more like a crazy, but friendly, London riot.

Five albums on from the “Live in New Orleans” LP, Frankie sauntered into the California recording studio, probably with the same swagger as in London, to cut the delightful A-side here, “Somebody Else’s Arms”, from his aptly named ‘Silky Soul’ album. Along with the B-side, ‘Love is’ (from the “Back To Basics” CD, 1993) both are so delicious you might want to relax and pour yourself that London glass of champagne, 1983 vintage. Tell your mates your Maze/Hammersmith story too. You deserve it.

 

Grahame Joyce

 

JAR14 - DONAL BYRD AND 125th STREET, N.Y.C. – EVERYDAY / GERALD LEVERT – THE TOP OF MY HEAD

 

 

 

 

DONALD BYRD AND 125th STREET, N.Y.C.

 

The latest release on Jai Alai follows the format of forgotten vinyl tracks never before released on 7” format, or previously CD only album tracks, and will raise some eyebrows in artist selection and pairing.

Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II was one of the most significant jazz artists of all time having joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid-50s and establishing himself as one of the best hard bop trumpeter/flugelhorn players. His progression was continuous through the 50s/60s working with John Coltrane, Gigi Gryce, Pepper Adams, Thelonius Monk, Sonny Rollins as sideman, and became one of Blue Note Records leading artists.

By the end of the 60s Byrd decided to move away from that idiom, experimenting with jazz fusion, African music and Rhythm & Blues. He worked hard to make jazz and its history part of the curriculum in US music colleges and he taught at many including Rutgers, Hampton, Howard, and Columbia, the latter from who he received his PhD in music.

Byrd took a great interest in how Miles Davis’ experimentation was resonating with a younger audience, and despite being castigated by his musical peers, his development of jazz fusion changed the jazz scene forever. His work with the Blackbyrds was a cornerstone for the progression of jazz funk in the UK.

The effect of his hook-up with brothers Larry & Fonce Mizell was immediate and his Blue Notes albums “Black Byrd” (1973), “Street Lady”, “Stepping Into Tomorrow” (1974), “Places & Spaces” (1975) and “Caricatures” (1976) became legendary on the newly evolving jazz funk scene with certain tracks such as “Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle)” normalising dance jazz on the disco floors, not to mention being a rich source for many hip-hop samples.

A slightly leaner period followed when he moved to Elektra Records and of the three albums with his new incarnation 125th Street NYC, a group of musicians he taught at North Carolina Central University, two were produced by Isaac Hayes including “Words”, “Sounds, Colors & Shapes” (1982) from which “Everyday”, a fabulous forgotten piece of mellow jazz funk derives.

By the end of the 80s he had returned to his harder straight-ahead jazz roots, but his place in history and the evolving of jazz as a dance culture in our clubs should never be forgotten.

 

GERALD LEVERT

 

 

There is only so much tragedy one family can take and legendary O’Jay Eddie Levert has surely had more than most. To have lost both sons by the time they reached 40 is incomprehensible, particularly ones so talented, and in such tragic circumstances; an accidental but fatal mixture of over-the-counter drugs and prescription pain-killers in Gerald’s case, and due to incompetent medical care whilst temporarily incarcerated in Sean’s.

Gerald Levert left quite a legacy though. He set up his first band LeVert in 1985 with younger brother Sean, and childhood friend Marc Gordon. They released an album each year for the next five years enjoying increasing success, recording seven in total of which four went gold. Their initial album “I Get Hot” (1985 Tempre) was critically acclaimed as one of the greatest soul albums of the decade.

A solo career beckoned in 1991 and he immediately topped the R&B charts with Private Line and the following year had huge success with the number one hit “Baby Hold On To Me”, a duet with his father, which led to the album “Father And Son” in 1995. Levert released nine solo albums, discovered the R&B groups the Rude Boys, Men At Large and 1 Of The Girls, as well as being part of the Black Men Unlimited, the collective who scored with U Will Know, the soundtrack to the widely acclaimed ghetto film “Jason’s Lyric”.

Gerald was also a member of supergroup LSG, with Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill (their initials forming the name) who between them had enjoyed thirty number one R&B hits and album sales of more than thirty million. Their debut album unsurprisingly sold over 2 million copies with the single “My Body” going platinum.

Of his solo albums, all but the first two were CD only, and the selection here, “The Top Of My Head”, is a delicate string-laden stepper taken from arguably his finest album, “G Spot” (2002 Elektra), and features his lead falsetto vocal interwoven with his own background vocals. Pure class.

 

Steve Hobbs

 

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