Tue. Oct 20th, 2020

Music Review |1979-9-4

The Jones Girls

On Stage

Word that The Jones Girls were appearing at Club Leviticus for an exclusive premiere performance brought a steady stream of fans to the midtown nitery. I arrived just before show time, and seeing a large band complete with horns and a 5-piece string section, I braced myself for what I felt sure would be a hot show. The three sisters, Shirley, Valorie and Brenda, earned their stripes as Diana Ross’s back-up singers and made numerous guest appearances on other artists’ albums. Now they had struck out on their own with a disco-thumper called You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else.

Leviticus’s elaborate orchestra set-up, it turned out, was only for the warm-up group Chazz, a male trio with some potential. After the musicians vacated the stage, The Jones Girls were brought on to lip-sing all of one song—their new hit. A shocked and stunned audience witnessed the 5 minute and 17 second show of mimicry by three women otherwise respected for their vocal artistry.

According to CBS, the distributor of the Jones Girls’ Philadelphia International label, the girls were contracted to lip-sing the one song as part of a promotion tour set up by the Philadelphia division.

In fact, the performance was nothing more than a cheap thrill that turned out to be an expensive waste of $8. The girls’ failure to reappear for the scheduled second show further irritated the crowd. Leviticus staffer Tri Smith told ROUTES that people were demanding their money back. I don’t blame them. Black folk are responsible for giving The Jones Girls the amount of public support they have thus far received, and black folk deserve better.

Off stage

Speaking of tapes, Jamaican-born singer Claudja Barry (Boogie Woogie Dancin’ Shoes) finds them absolutely imperative when she is touring the European disco-circuit and can’t afford a live band. The 29 year old beauty also takes along four dancers, a light show and stage settings wherever she performs.

Claudja, who now lives in Munich, Germany, recently told ROUTES that European disco audiences have come to expect instrumental tracks on their dancing tapes. “You can’t do much else in those discos,” Claudja admits with a sigh of resignation, intimating that deep inside she wants to go beyond the merely technical aspects of music.

Tapes are a widespread practice in Europe, she said, and the disc-jockeys have it down to a science. When Claudja wants to do a reprise, the sound engineer re-threads the song to the desired spot in the time it takes to say Let’s take it again from the top.

She has discussed plans for a US concert tour in the fall but will only agree to the tour if promised a live orchestra for all engagements. “Every appearance will be a challenge,” she predicted.

Rapping with Claudja only two days after her arrival in the United States, she still showed signs of acute culture shock. “I went to Fire Island and was amazed at how many people are strung out on dope,”she confessed. She also expressed dismay regarding the sorry state of affairs of the nation’s young people, for whom unemployment has surpassed crisis levels. “People are rapidly losing hope and the desire to fight. It’s hard to have hope when you can’t eat or pay your light bill,” she declared.

“Giving hope is important to me, and if that’s what I can provide by my music, I will give till it hurts.” Thankfully, Claudja will have her chance very soon.

It was a virtual sing-along-with-The Shirelles night when the crooning threesome of Doris Jackson, Beverly Lee and Mickey Harris worked up a sweat at Chelsea’s Club Tomato several weeks ago.

Ecstasy reigned supreme during the brief, 30 minute set that featured the long string of hits made famous by the group. Theirs was not a simple nostalgia show thanks to contemporarily reworked arrangements of their all-time classics, including Soldier Boy, Foolish Little Girl and Dedicated To the One I Love. With some added orchestration, their first smash stomper I Met Him On A Sunday could become a 1979 disco contender.

Doris Jackson, who, like her two partners, has been a member of The Shirelles for more than 21 years, handled most of the leads admirably, adding sparkle and excitement to the act. Her disarming smile subtly coaxed oohs and ahh (and even screams) from the packed-house audience, that sang along on almost every refrain. Mickey Harris remained the clown she has always been; though hampered by a defective microphone, Beverly Lee radiated enough charm to melt the faulty piece of equipment.

Conspicuously absent from the Club Tomato crowd were the black community members who had helped propel The Shirelles to fame. The club’s booking agent, Ron Palastro, admitted that he forgot to inform the black media that the darlings of the late 50s/early 60s music scene were going to be in town. He promised it wouldn’t happen again.

Records

LTD (Love, Tenderness, Devotion) has once more lived up to its fiery image with a new collection of disco, funk and mellow ballads, entitled Devotion.

Were it not for the distinguished vocals of Jeffrey and William Osborne, LTD would probably be just another rock/funk band. The Osbornes’s powerful bass/baritone delivery sets LTD apart from such contemporary groups as Instant Funk and Earth, Wind and Fire. To prove the point, one need only listen to the dramatic vocal arrangements on Promise You’ll Stay and Stranger.

Their superior singing leaves little else to be done vocally by the rest of the group, who seem quite content with adding a variety of instrumental musical coloring. Acoustic and electric drums and a vibrant brass section help to enhance the Osbornes’s vocals.

LTD’s disco cut, Danc‘n’ Sing ‘n’, is strong but not quite innovative enough to stand out among other current products on the market.

LTD: Devotion—A&M SP 4771

Shirley Brown’s latest album venture, For The Real Feeling, is a signal to the music world that the Memphis sound is still alive, even though the gutsy instrumentation Al Bell once coaxed out of his studio musicians has mellowed considerably.

Two Shirley Browns emerge on this outing. One is the belting soprano whose punch, stamina and flowing phrases approach those of Aretha Franklin. The other is a disco Brown whose vocals are as chirpy as Anita Ward’s irritating bells.

Ballads are definitely Shirley’s forte, as she has proven on her previous releases. Thus, producers David Porter and Lester Snell, Jr., couldn’t resist the temptation of letting her rap on at least one cut, Eyes Can’t See.

Rapping or talking to the girls, an intimate time-out to voice heartaches of the soul or to tell somebody off, was a craze of the 50s—a style recently resurrected by Millie Jackson. Shirley’s rap is not as biting as Millie’s but simply a statement of feeling which seeks to heal rather than to cut.

Shirley Brown: For The Real Feeling—Stax STX 4126

Jr. Walker a.k.a. Mr. Sax
Jr. Walker a.k.a. Mr. Sax

Hey everybody, Mr. Sax (Jr. Walker), the man who established the saxophone as an integral part of the maiden Motown sound, is back! Now with the aid of Motown alumnus Norman Whitfield as producer, Walker is attempting a comeback with Back Street Boogie. However, the album, after all is blown and done, proves to be a disappointment.

The excitement and spontaneity of his earlier saxophone spurts has been replaced by 70s slickness. No longer are we blown away by his instrumental eruptions. Walker’s playing on the album—what there is of it—seems all too predictable. Since Walker’s voice is far from the best, I wonder why Whitfield allowed him to sing so much.

An honorable mention, however, must go to Wishing On A _ Star, which carries on the fine tradition of Got To Hold On To This Feeling. On both songs, Walker’s sax shares the spotlight with soft soprano voices which respond to its instrumental callings.

The album’s closing cut, Sax Attack, finally allows Walker to flex his musical muscle but comes too late to exert any clout.

Jr. Walker: Back Street Boogie — Warner Brothers WHK 3331

Songbird Anita Ward has been ringing our chimes with what seems to be every-hour-on-the-hour air-play of her hit Ring My Bell. Her high pitched soprano, which sounds at times like Minnie Riperton’s voice put through a synthesizer, made me fearful that listening to a whole album of that chirping would drive me crazy.

Her producer, Frederick Knight, apparently aware of this acute packaging problem, smartly steers Anita away from her high-voltage disco screeching and lets her settle in on a series of laid back ballads, on Songs Of Love, her debut album effort for TK.

Although Anita doesn’t possess the range of a Minnie Riperton or Susaye Green, she delivers well and is particularly convincing as a symbol of youthful innocence on You Lied.

Some of her ballads lack melodic distinction and seem to have been chosen merely to fill the two album sides. TK productions has a potentially powerful singer in their camp and ought to take more care in their selection of material for her future albums.

Anita Ward: Songs Of Love—Juana 200,004

Norman Connors
Norman Connors

Norman Connors, drummer/percussionist/singer, has always surrounded himself with top-notch musicians, and Invitation, his latest album, continues that fine tradition. Norman masterfully weaves us through a number of mood pieces, ranging from up-beat disco numbers to reflective ballads, on this current release.

Invitation also introduces a soaring soprano identified simply as Miss Adaritha, who belts out near the C’s without losing any clarity or crispness,

As a producer, Connors has a special knack for using a host of instrumental charts without making the finished product sound cluttered. Invitation’s instrumental arrangements, by McKinley Jackson, Paul Riser, Onaje Allen Gumbs and Connors himself, exemplify that Norman still has that midas touch.

The album’s strongest cuts, and it’s a captain’s choice, are Your Love, Handle Me Gently and Disco Land. The Jones Girls (borrowed for the sessions from Philadelphia International) add electrifying harmonies that propel the vocal intensity of these numbers into the outer limits.

Norman Connors: Invitation— Arista AB 4216

Linger Awhile is a warm album from two masters of the swing idiom: Budd Johnson, a grossly underrated saxophonist, and Earl Hines, the daddy of swing. And swing both musicians sure do. Johnson switches from a biting edge and flights in double time, on Gone With The Wind, to a soul-gripping wail, on If You Were Mine and Blues For Sale. The latter song is counterpointed with riffs on the soprano sax. An endless stream of ideas also gushes forth from Hines’s piano. Listen to the unpredictable way in which he places his left hand on The Dirty Old Men.

Listen also to the way he makes the piano sing in the upper register. Only a handful of pianists — Ahmad Jamal is one of them — can do it so well.

We had a hell of a lot of fun on this one, Johnson exclaimed after the session. You should too.

Earl Hines & Budd Johnson: Linger Awhile—Classic Jazz CJ 129

French Festival is another worthy release from the memorabilia department. Abetted by pianist Claude Hopkins and bassist Arvell Shaw, Davenport (trumpet), Dickenson (trombone), Tate (tenor sax) and Cole (drums) bring back to life a medley from the 20s and 30s: I Never Knew I Could Love Anybody, a standard of Paul Whiteman’s book, Farewell Blues, Undecided, Linger Awhile and other tasty morsels. These Foolish Things is gorgeous music to woo someone by late at night. Claude Hopkins’s Cryin’ Out My Heart For You, with Vic Dickenson’s pretty solo, is equally appealing. Recommended listening sites for this record are under a palm tree, inside a Bugatti or on a balcony somewhere in Morocco.

Wallace Davenport, Vic Dickenson, Buddy Tate, Cozy Cole: French Festival, Nice, France, 1974—Classic Jazz CJ 133

Woody III, the latest release of Woody Shaw, the stellar trumpeter from Newark, introduces a new breed of top-notch musicians: Carter Jefferson, Rene McLean, Steve Turre, Azzedin Weston, Clint Houston, Onaje Allan Gumbs, George Cables and Victor Lewis. The album is further enhanced by such seasoned players as James Spaulding and Curtis Fuller. What a lineup! All the compositions are solid stuff for devotees of quality jazz. New Offerings is exactly that, opening a virgin path far superior to the Newark-New York one. It has the advantage of grooving as it moves. Woody could very well write The Big Americana Suite. His music has symphonic quality and enough strength and color to depict a whole continent. All soloists cook, and Buster Williams is his usual lyrical, bubbling self. Another plus is Amiri Baraka’s humane and informative liner notes. And last but not least, Mr. Woody Shaw, Sr., who looks like a wonderful man, appears on the album cover. He should be commended for procreating such a talented son.

Woody Shaw: Woody III— Columbia JC 35977.

The Lester Young Story comprises a mixed bag of sessions ranging from the mediocre to the sublime. Lester Young, alias Pres, appears, rather unexpectedly, with organ accompaniment, with Count Basie, with Helen Humes, of course with Lady Day, for whom he was the perfect complement, and with a number of lesser known sidemen. This two-record set is especially interesting in that it shows how Pres shines through in any musical environment. I particularly enjoyed the lively Songs of the Islands, formerly played by Louis Armstrong, with its pungent riffs, The Man I Love, Lady Day’s classic, and I Left My Baby, which Jimmy Rushing paints with the darkest shades of blue. The roaring Clap Hands — Here Come Charley, with its rock ‘n’ roll flavor a la Chubby Checker, also comes as a pleasant surprise.

The Lester Young Story, Vol. 4 Lester Leaps In — Columbia 34843, John Hammond Collection.

Because of Tony Williams’s talent, I expected a more exciting venture. Despite the mainly jazzy lineup George Benson, Ralph MacDonald, Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock, Jon Faddis and Dave Sanborn, The Joy of Flying comes across as a rock effort and not a very inventive one at that. The fault lies not so much with Williams, whose drumming remains extremely competent, but rather in the blandness of the material. Tony, my favorite cut, displays Herbie Hancock’s ear for harmony and texture. Yet even here, Herbie is not showcased the way he should be. There is also a Cecil Taylor/Tony Williams duet, which will probably please Cecil Taylor’s fans but disorient funk seekers. All in all, this album is kind of a letdown.

Tony Williams: The Joy Of Flying— Columbia JC 35705

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