Mon. Oct 26th, 2020

Music Review On Stage, Off Stage and Records |1979-6-5

On Stage

First Choices’s performance at Town Hall was one of the worst shows to hit the city in a long time. The group calls its act Disco Entertainment, but that merely spells silly antics designed to fill those long instrumental solo passages that leave stage performers with nothing to do.

First Choice — Rochelle Fleming, Debbie Martin and Annette Guest— got off to a promising start emerging, amid bellows of dried-ice smoke, from behind a seven and a half foot tall golden bust of King Tutankhamen, but it was downhill from there.

The insidious masks they donned to portray Egyptian goddesses made them look more like kids trick-or-treating on Halloween and the sound system was bad and the band painfully inadequate — but I found two segments of the act particularly disturbing: in one scene the girls lie down on the stage floor, facing the audience with their legs spread-eagle; the second bothersome scene, the three young ladies singing their latest hit, Double Cross, parade around the stage flashing knives in front of the audience (to symbolize revenge, I suppose). The girls ought to be force-fed the closing scene of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, where Diane Keaton is the victim of brutal sexual revenge — it might cure First Choice of incorporating such a despicably ugly gimmick in their show.

The Town Hall concert ended abruptly, which under normal circumstances could have caused an uproar in the audience, but that night it didn’t. It only caused confusion and bewilderment and the audience filed out of the theatre as though relieved — I know I was.

Can a black comedy group get laughs from an integrated audience without having to resort to so-called ethnic humor? And stereotypes? Sure. Just ask The Kitchen Table, three delightful comics who are featured weekly at the Top of The Gate’s Top Bananas showcase.

The bulk of The Kitchen Table’s material is directed at that great American institution — the television commercial. Their teasing has broad appeal, so everyone can relate to this act on one level or another.

Your-don’t leave-home-without-it credit card is converted into the American Impress Card, a handy little plastic card that will unlock any apartment door; clever tape editing and split-second timing create an advertisement for the latest Barry White cut-out album where all tracks sound the same — because they are; a tribute to modern technology has them singing Send In The Clones to a bunch of taped-together, transparent test-tubes made to look like an infant.

A piano accompanist and some voice lessons could greatly enhance Kitchen Table’s act, as songs and recast jingles make up a good part of their routines.

Angela Scott, Pam Jones and Melvin George II should find a smaller room to perform in, the Top of the Gate, with its huge big band stage is not conducive to the kind of intimacy this act calls for — I doubt if even Gilda Radner or Richard Pryor could score there.

Off Stage

Bill Withers is known to be outspoken. Thus, it came as no surprise that during a recent promotional tour to New York he expressed some candid views on his philosophical difference with Columbia Records, particularly regarding its concept of Black music and marketing.

Withers is known for his universality — witness the broad appeal of his two most famous recordings Lean On Me and Ain’t No Sunshine—and he feels such songs would not have been hits at CBS, because its Black Music Marketing division, by its very nature restricts the audience for minority artists. Of his four years with CBS, Withers said they have been the worst of my life. I thought for a while there my career was over.

Among his CBS experiences a white man told Withers and his wife that he didn’t like his music, nor for that matter, black music. He was told to remove his shirt and pose for an album cover with a black girl and a white girl hugging his thighs; he was told outright that CBS provides certain promotional material for their white artists but not for their black ones; and a CBS department-head told Withers his music wasn’t Black enough.

A lot of creative time was lost in trying to find an environment at CBS where I could be myself, Withers said. He went to Reverend Jesse Jackson of Operation PUSH to get pressure put on CBS’s California office to hire more black personnel, who at that time were confined to promotion.

Withers feels that the CBS Black Music Marketing concept is narrow and that it thus works as a deterrent to black artists. Why not have a black entrance, a black bathroom and a black water fountain, too, he mused, adding that, despite his experiencing extreme loneliness because CBS can’t relate to him, he will produce three more albums as called for by a contract with the company.

Supremes star Mary Wilson is now involved in negotiations with Motown Record Corporation for a solo contract. Michael Roshkind, the label’s chief operating officer and Berry Gordy’s right-hand man, has indicated that when consummated, the contract could produce two Mary Wilson solo albums, which, according to Roshkind, is what Mary Wilson has wanted to do for a long time.

We may have seen the last of the Supremes after Susaye Greene and Sherrie Payne backed out, allegedly after serious differences with Pedro Ferrer. Hollywood insiders have charged that Ferrer — who is Mary Wilson’s husband — is largely responsible for the group’s breakup, citing bad booking policies, inexperience and poor financial dealings.

Records

Anyone familiar with Motown product of the 1960s might guess that a huge amount of unissued material from the famous studios on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit exists — it does. And now Motown has begun to empty from its vault these unreleased gems from its most distinguished creative period.

The SupremesTake Me Where You Go (March 1965) is as bubbly and alive as any song written by Smokey Robinson; Diana Ross’ voice is at its best and the harmonies of Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson are clear and crisp as we are spared the muddle dampers of later mixes.

The TemptationsNobody But You (April 1965) is as earthy as Beauty Is Only Skin Deep, but Martha and the Vandellas are stuck with a silly, disjointed Undecided Lover (December 1962). Other artists in this collection are Marvin Gaye, The Monitors, The Marvelettes, The Spinners, The Miracles, Mary Wells and Gladys Knight and the Pips. This is one of the best albums to come out of Motown this year — and therein lies a message, I suppose.

From the Vaults: Various Artists — Motown/Natural Resources NR4014T1

Herb is back with a new Peaches. Together they have put out an album that has taken off thanks to a thunderous disco single, Shake Your Groove Thing. A great vocal chemistry between these two artists makes their premier outing as a new duo jell. Wade Marcus’ knack for symphonic sounds enables Peaches and Herb to weave through soft and elegant vocal passages, and, on up-tempo tunes, prevents the songs from grinding themselves into the ground.

Reunited, a soft, lyrical ballad just released as a single, is the album’s most convincing cut, it indicates that the new duo has the vocal and harmonic compatibility to provide us with a string of future releases of an even better quality.

Peaches and Herb: 2 Hot—Polydor PD-1-6172

Gladys Knight has again changed record companies and her move away from the Pips to Columbia suits her well. After working with the family back-up group on Bell, Motown and Buddha, Gladys is now on her own with producer Jack Gold — the combination works well. Once you get past the tacky polka dot cover you will find Gladys and all her tender, lyrical and expressionistic glory.

Each tune is a gem even if the production is not always up to par, for Gladys’ unique vocals compensate. She glides with ease through two well-arranged disco numbers, You Don’t Have To Say I Love You and It’s The Same Old Song (not to be confused with the Four Tops’ classic), but the radiating virtues of her voice come out best on The Best Thing We Can Say Is Say Good-bye. Listen closely to the background vocals, Gladys dubbed them herself.

Gladys Knight: Gladys Knight—Columbia 35704

Irakere is a hot group and the first to have emerged from Cuba since that country became off limits to us. Understandably, their first American album was eagerly awaited by their fans. Individually, Irakere members are stunning musicians equally versed in Afro-Cuban, classical music and jazz. Perhaps because of these musicians’ versatility, Irakere suffers from a lack of focus. It is a mixture of many different idioms, without a precise direction. Also, in their eagerness to keep up with the times, Irakere members often drown their music in an ocean of electronic noises and over-amplified guitars (something they only started doing after their first tour of the US). Nevertheless, this album offers many valuable moments. Juana Mil Ciento, Ilya and Misa Negra feature Afro-Cuban rhythms at their most exciting; Juana Mil Ciento starts with a percussion introduction then segues into ritual chanting, then into high-powered jazz with trumpets soloing in peak-high range; on Mozart’s Adagio, saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera’s funky licks almost sound like James Moody’s; Misa Negra provides ample space for leader Chucho Valdes’ McCoy Tynerish piano; Aguanile is salsa done to an electronic turn and with a clave slightly different than the one used in New York.

I had the pleasure of hearing Irakere live at the Palladium early this year and was stunned by the group’s tightness. Percussionist Armando Cuervo, who seemed to have a wonderful time dancing on stage, put listeners in a happy mood. Irakere in concert beats Irakere on wax, but hearing their album is still better than missing them altogether.

Irakere: Irakere—Columbia 35655

Cedar Walton is a hip pianist with a sound totally his own, and throughout his career, Cedar has never ceased to evolve, all for the better. I took a few lessons with Cedar when he was still living in Brooklyn and was amazed at how simple he could make the most difficult runs appear. When Cedar moved to California, I was afraid that his moving on up the ladder of financial success might make him give up the acoustic piano, which he plays with so much finesse, but, fortunately, Cedar proved me wrong. Anyway, Cedar Walton is such a congenial musician that no matter what keyboard he touches, he produces congenial music. Animation is the result of Cedar’s new forays into funk land. Brazilian percussionist Paulinho da Costa adds his lilting Latin touch to the album. Cedar has written biting riffs for tenor man Bob Berg and trombonist Steve Turre, an alumni of Roland Kirk and the Muse workshop in Brooklyn. As on his former hit Holy Land, Cedar has kept a gospel flavor on Precious Mountain. If It Could Happen, one of my favorite tunes, has a joyful feeling. Animation sure is an apt title.

Cedar Walton: Animation—Columbia JC 35572

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