Rolling right along with the musical celebration of April, the first full month of spring, here’s an interesting album from the late flutist Herbie Mann. Mann was a dedicated bebopper, but in the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s, he delved into world music, particularly Afro-Cuban and Latin music, and created some intriguing music in process.
Tune: I’ll Remember April
Recorded 5 May and 26 July, 1960 in New York City
- Herbie Mann: Flute
- Johnny Rae: Vibraphone
- Nabil “Knobby” Totah: Bass
- Rudy Collins: Drums
- Ray Mantilla: Conga
- Ray Barretto: Bongos
This is one of the more unique renditions of this jazz standard, given a Cal Tjader-ish arrangement with its hybrid of jazz and Afro-Cuban mashup. This is also a unique instrumentation; there’s no guitar or piano to hide behind. It’s just you and the bass, with percussion as a foundation. In this exposed setting, the boys are separated from the men, and the men here rise to the occasion. On some of the tracks there’s a trio of trumpets adding tonal color. On this tune, however, the trumpet choir sit out.
After a gentle intro, the drums kick things into high gear and Herbie is off to the races, setting a pattern with two choruses in straight-ahead jazz and one as an Afro-Cuban jam. Johnny Rae tears into his vibes, matching Herbie’s own punchy solo. The drums then get their time in the spotlight, and it’s back to head, played in double time this time. It’s an invigorating outing on this jazz classic.
Herbie Mann was one of the first jazz men to focus his talents almost entirely on the flute, and up until 1958 was primarily a bebopper. After working with Machito and then embarking on a 1960 State Department-sponsored tour of Africa, Herbie became enamored with African music. When the bossa nova craze hit the U.S. in 1962, he was among the first to record with the creators of the new music. This is a relatively early but solid example of his ‘giving jazz back to Africa’ music.
I mean, it’s cool and all, but what is it? Sometimes, jazz record art from the mid-50’s up through the 60’s seemed to try a bit too hard to be artsy and hip. This album cover looks like it was one of those attempts. Perhaps if the white circle streaks weren’t there it would a bit better, but it’s just working. I’m not sure what it has to do with the music, either. Any suggestions? It almost looks like Verve wasn’t too happy with the artwork either; the artist’s name appears to be cut off, and that’s if you can even read it. The cover is in relatively great condition, the whites still white, no torn seams, an immaculate and still very readable spine. And to think I found this record at the store without a protective sleeve.
They should’ve used that picture of Herbie as the cover art. Dressed in a black crew-neck sweater that seems to melt into the background and with his facial hair (now THAT was artsy and edgy in the 1950’s and early 60’s), Herbie looks like a stereotypical jazz hipster, one of the ‘beat’ poets then-popular in pop-culture. It certainly would have made for a more interesting album cover than a bunch of colored dots.
The liner notes, written by legendary jazz writer Leonard Feather, are a wonderful time capsule in that they are written when stereo music was a brand new experience. The liner notes are almost equally about the music and hi-fi equipment and sound. A particularly wonderful line explains how the unique instrumentation of the music “…involves a frequency range that will provide high-fidelity-minded listeners with an admirable opportunity to check the responses of their equipment.” I’m not sure what the ‘5’ on the far bottom-left signifies, although I have a hunch it has something to do with where/who printed the album jacket, similar to Columbia Records. If anyone knows, comment below!
An original first pressing in ‘living sound’ stereo, with the pre-1961 Verve ‘Stereophonic’ labels, which by 1961 would’ve been at the tail-end of production. The lack of deep grooves implies a record press date of at least 1961, and the lack of the little trademark ‘r’ after ‘Verve’ on the label all point to a record made right at the cut-off point between labels. The runnout has both the record’s numeric code and side (V6-8392-A) and the record’s actual number (3076-1) written by hand.
There’s also a mysterious ‘BH’ followed by five lines, also hand-written. I’m assuming it’s the initials of the recording engineer, pulling a Rudy Van Gelder-style move and putting his own stamp on the record. With such a glowing review of the sound by Feather in the liner notes, I suppose I’d want to let everyone know who did the recording and mastering, too. Unfortunately, the album cover doesn’t tell us who ‘B.H’ is, and a Google search didn’t reveal anything. It’s a mystery. I tried to take a picture of it, and after much consternation, managed to get this shot. I promise, there’s a fifth line in there.
The vinyl itself is in fantastic condition, and plays smoothly and quietly. The liner notes notwithstanding, this is no 6-eye Columbia, but the sound is good and the fidelity is fantastic. The stereo is rather spacious, with the flute on far right, the vibes, percussion an bass on far left, with nothing in the middle. It makes for an interesting aural ride. I would love to hear what the mono version sounds like. The engineers were still getting the hang of stereophonic sound, bless their hearts.
The Place of Acquisition
While visiting family in the Bay Area of Northern California, I paid a visit to the famous Amoeba Music Store, specifically their store in San Francisco (there’s two more, one in nearby Berkeley and the other at the other end of the state in Hollywood). Among the many neat finds I grabbed was this album, with its intriguing cover. Maybe there’s a method to the art department’s madness after all. They figured they’d make it so confusingly curious that you’d have to pick it up to investigate. Maybe I should update my rating… ‘C’ to a ‘C+’. It gave me pause, and I checked it out. The song selection coupled with the instrumentation piqued my interest, and the price of $4.99 piqued my wallet, so homeward bound it went. Aside from being a seemingly obscure title, this record doesn’t appear to be in particular demand or hard to find. There’s an eBay listing claiming this is a rare record, with a $25 ‘buy-now’ price-tag. It’s the most expensive listing on eBay right now. More power to ’em.
The San Francisco Amoeba is a cool store with a big jazz section and an equally large discount i.e. dollar bin section devoted to jazz. Naturally, the parking situation is terrible, but it wouldn’t be San Francisco if it wasn’t.