Philadelphia

‘Color Blind,’ single Maze, feat. Frankie Beverly (Capitol Records, 1977) two versions, plus live performance of Raw Soul

Could have selected any number of great songs by Frankie Beverly in his various groups (Maze, Raw Soul) but chose this 1977 version of ‘Color Blind’ for the depth of the recording, the no-space nature between the elements and its simplicity. The other side of the single was ‘While I’m alone’

Here's the earlier version, which follows the other funk path of the big-band sound and interests me a lot less.

Below the video on YouTube, there's a nice comment from Michael Burton Sr (such comments are one of the best things about YouTube) :

'As the original Stage Manager of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly 1975 - 1978, I'm always excited to find a rare oldie of the Guys, and no exception with this track with my best friend McKinley "BUG" Williams (R.I.P.) singing. Color Blind said it then, and still makes a statement today, it was a real story in 1971 when this was recorded. Some things just never get old.'

Some info on Frankie Beverly now, just love the names of these groups: this in itself indicates an earlier innocence (something that continues in contemporary rap/hip-hop culture with the MC names that are often impossible to pronounce and/or made up of bizarre capitalizations, it's as if the artists are both playing and constructing barriers, ie to say their name you need to have heard it first).

As a teenager (Frankie Beverly) formed The Blenders, a short-lived a cappella, doo-wop group that were influenced by The Dells, The Moonglows, and The Del Vikings. After that outfit dissolved, he founded The Butlers (subsequently Frankie Beverly and the Butlers), which would be the first group he recorded with in 1963. In 1967, he cut “If that’s what you wanted”, which became a northern soul standard. As time passed, they caught the attention of the record producer Kenny Gamble, who eventually released recordings by the group.

It turned out that music performed by The Butlers did not fit into the “Philly Sound”, and after some heavy touring, the group relocated to California. The unit was re-christened as Raw Soul and caught the attention of a sister-in-law to Marvin Gaye. Gaye featured them as an opening act at his shows, and also convinced Beverly to change the band’s name to Maze.

To close the story, I'll let Frankie Beverly’s lyrics have the final word:

'I've often heard that white is right
You better believe black is alright too
So is blue and green and yellow
What difference should it make to you

These ties we got on us just ain't too hip
I know you got your thing and I've got mine
We've been judging people by colors
Maybe we should all be color blind

What I want to know is
What color have you colored peace
What color is harmony
What color have you colored peace
What color is harmony

There's a saying you can't judge a book by it's cover
What are we doing but just that
We've been judging people by color
Love ain't got no color that's a fact

What color have you colored peace
What color is harmony
What color have you colored peace
What color is harmony'

Really like this live performance at by Raw Soul (Recorded Live: 2/15/1975, Winterland, San Francisco, CA) – everything everything everything.

Madchillainy, Sadhugold (original format: digital download via Bandcamp, 2017)

Revisiting, revising returning to the source, this riff on the Madlib/MF DOOM collaboration, Madvillainy that received much acclaim on its 2004 release (even from magazines that don’t normally report on hip-hop, as the wik-précis explains, rather breathlessly). 

My favourite detail in terms of the background: the fact that the 'record contract' with Stones Throw was apparently signed on a paper plate.

Here is the artist's self-description, provided by Sadhugold:


'Sadhugold, 25, from Philadelphia, been producing for about 10 years now, started with looping "Certainly" by Erykah Badu on Audacity lol. My major influences consist of Madlib, Danger Mouse, Alchemist, Lord Finesse, RZA. I originally started with visual art and cartooning, so I plan to one day animate visuals for my music.'

Sadhugold is part of another circle of artists (Mach-Hommy most notably, but also Fly Anakin, CRIMEAPPLE, Estee Nack, Tha God Fahim, Al.Divino) that resembles the Massachusetts line-up referred to previously, producing and creating music together and thereby forming a new centre (no need to speak of margins).

This release immediately appealed to me when I heard it soon after it came out in September. Only one track is now publicly available, 'Beginning of the Rainbow' via Bandcamp where it's available for purchase for ‘$7.77 or more.’ Here's my response to the song while listening to it in real time, and no I'm not making any claims for poetry: 'thump, swirl, internal dynamics, sloshing beat, meditative complexity … warmth/intensity.’

The YT video  of Madchillainy was quickly taken down. Sadhugold explained that he hadn't put it up. His sales took a ‘serious turn’ after some unknown poster did so he got his 'team' to remove it. But when after a period of time I returned to his email to listen to the links he'd sent through, they were no longer viable. From memory then, the rest of the release is of similar worth. Its defining quality is its ‘warmth/intensity.’  It has real verve, calming, but intense at the same time; a less-jaded, more melodic, much sweeter, more youthful, less pinned-out Metal Machine Music (maybe) :

The act of returning to a previous work and re-interpreting it as a way of showing respect and suggesting kinship has broader significance, of course and is a central part of Black musical traditions: hip-hop, jazz, dub. By chance around the same time, I read this old interview from 2012 with Yasiin Bey in HYPEBEAST, link no longer operational, that referred to this and put it in context.      

What can we expect from your new series Top 40 Underdogs and what inspired it?


I am doing this for the culture. The tradition, taking someone’s song and making your version out of it, is not new to hip-hop. It is similar to dancehall music, where there is one rhythm and many artists offer their interpretation of it. Covering songs is certainly in the DNA of the culture. 50 Cent, as a matter of fact, built his name in New York for awhile doing just that. I also like the community mind aspect of it that it belongs to all of us. It basically gives and extends the life of our culture, our rhythm. Thus, this series is something that comes quite natural for me to do. I’ve done it before. Just look at “Children’s Story,” or even my version of JAY-Z’s “Takeover” in 2004. It is something that is really fun to do, you know, giving different perspectives on a familiar piece. 

To learn more about Sadhugold, here's a great interview he did with Tyron de Harlem (Casa de Lowery). In it he speaks about his reworking of some freestyles by Meek Mill - a coincidence that LA producer  Knxledge put out a similar tape around the same time for possibly similar reasons; I thought this section of his reply on the Meek Mill project was interesting:    

'The first few jawns, honestly ... I just really liked those raw loops. All of the loops that you heard on those tapes were loops that I used to listen to continuously, over and over and over again. And it never occurred to me to put acapellas on it because they’re just loops and not full beats but when I put the acapellas on them sh*ts, the sound that came out of that was different than any flip I’d ever done. It was kinda flat but not in a bad way. It was flat like time space continuum and it pulled out different nuances in his flows that I was already so familiar with that I never really like peeped. And it was just crazy to hear that kind of delivery on my medium and sh*t, something that I listen to all the time.' 

'It was kinda flat but not in a bad way ...' 

'Your song' Billy Paul (360 Degrees of Billy Paul, Philadelphia International Records, 1972)

Many, many years ago, when I was living through a desperate time I used to listen to Billy Paul’s ‘Your Song’ each morning …

First thing when I woke up, I’d switch on the computer, find the song, put it on, go wake my son and then listen to the music on repeat, during our breakfast, until all the other morning tasks were done and it was time to leave. 

Often it seems to me that films score the truly tragic moments incorrectly especially where the moment of tragedy and loss is accompanied by sad music. This isn't true to life, or at least my life. Sure, I could have been listening to Diamanda Galás or Joy Division, or something bleak, but I didn't need a reminder of what I was feeling. I wanted to have a reminder of something I couldn't see, but hoped could be there for me in the future. This need of mine makes me think of the profound lyric by Jonathan Richman from his masterpiece 'Hospital' (that was also released in 1972) ...

I go to bakeries all day long
There’s a lack of sweetness in my life
And there is pain inside
You can see it in my eyes

where the narrator seeks out the 'sweetness' externally because of the lack within. So that in this moment of real urgency and despair I sought out ... the pop-sugar of Billy Paul. 

Billy Paul has a whole catalogue of serious songs with a political edge – songs that I’m a fan of as well, of course ‘Am I black enough for you?’ (check out this wild take on the theme by Schoolly D a decade or so on) or ‘I’m just a prisoner’ that were both included on the 360 Degrees of Billy Paul album.

The 8-minute track, 'I'm just a prisoner' is fabulous, so sensitive in its depiction of the experience, carried along with what comes across as a super-precise, but thoughtful monologue reflecting the psychological head-space of the incarcerated man; I really love the musical excess that kicks in about half-way through, it’s so expressive.  

Indeed, ?uestlove has called for Paul to be recognised for his more serious work, stating that he is one of the ‘criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post-revolution '60s civil rights music.'

Listening to Billy Paul’s ‘Your song’ now, all these years later, it’s easy for me to see why I loved it so much then; there’s something about the naïve quality of Paul’s delivery – including the rasping, sound of his breathing almost – that makes you connect with the feeling of optimism and hope. Added to this is the expression of idealised love (‘.. How wonderful life is when you're in the world, world, world..’ This is the part my son sings along with). 

You feel transported, carried along by the energy; it’s musical escapism of the sweetest kind.  

The delivery also seemed so exotic to me too, then, especially the way the intonation and language was played around with, using the idioms of Black American English, incorporating all those joyful flourishes, including the high-point that makes me smile each time I hear it: ‘I’m doin’ beautiful’. Now after checking the lyrics to write this, I have just discovered that this, my favourite-ever etc part of the song is not correct: the real line is much more prosaic, in fact. That's a shame. 

Just look at the way these verses are reinvented, with the emphasis on a word that has no real meaning, if – if and the repetition.   

If, if, if I was on a rooftop I’d kick off my shoes
I’ll write a few verses, and then I’ll get the blues
But the sun’s been quite, quite kind while I wrote this song
It’s for people like you, people like me
I wanna, wanna keep turnin’ on, so excuse me, so excuse me

So excuse me forgetting, Lord, these things I do
You see, you see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or blue, baby
And anyway the things is, anyway the thing is, what I really mean
Your are the sweetest eyes, the sweetest eyes
The sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen

I hoping you go back, go back and tell everybody that Billy Paul’s got a
song
I’m, I’m gonna sit upon a, a rooftop and kick off my shoes
I’m gonna write it, write it, write it
I might come out with the Gospel, the Blues, the Jazz, the Rock and Roll

Gospel, the Blues, the Jazz, the Rock and Roll

Alongside Paul’s energetic delivery, what saves the music from falling into false sentiment is the playfulness of the instrumentation: all those insistent piano stabs that come out of nowhere, those swirling descending flourishes, the snippets of horns piping away and (yes, I know) the gorgeous backing-vocals.

This musical sensibility, arch and romantic and excessive but never too much, reminds me of the more lyrical artists working in hip-hop production – past and present – where sound as elements is loved in and of itself, as something to be cherished.   

To get a sense of the ‘Billy Paul magic’, return to the Elton John original  or this cover – which I like a lot as well – from Al Jarreau; see, this live version from Hamburg, 1976 with its super-sleazy introduction and his bizarre Theremin-type movements mid-performance.

R.I.P Billy Paul (1934-2016) & Al Jarreau (1940-2017)

'All I do is think about you' Tammi Terrell (Tamla, 1966)

With a beat so clean, opening everything up like clicking fingers, while also offering such a sweet contrast with all the swooning effects and Tammi Terrell’s stunning delivery. Her voice is so pure, it could be an instrument right there in the mix, with her playful personality shining through.

Terrell’s phrasing is gorgeous, the way she pauses in unexpected ways to offer emphasis, but in a sense just also drawing our attention back to her gift; ‘trying … to find’ and I love the way she stretches the vowels, it’s highly expressive, but perfectly controlled.

When you hear Stevie Wonder’s 1980 version of the song he wrote as a teenager …

you can see how original Terrell’s singing was. (Stevie Wonder emphasises key words that make sense in terms of the lyrics’ meaning, Terrell emphasises words as if she’s luxuriating over the sounds. Having said that, this version by Stevie Wonder has one of the most extraordinary bass-lines in popular music, truly; the way it trips about, but maintains structure is something to behold. And on Wonder’s version, check out Michael Jackson helping out on backing vocals).

You can also hear how expressive Terrell’s version is when it is compared to that of Brenda Holloway, which appears to have exactly the same backing track and came out the same year, it seems.

Terrell’s individual style is so strong and so dominant in this song, with all those asides, all the ‘oh baby’ or ‘I’m going to tell you boy’. She’s so sweet, as a performer; something that also shines through in the duets with Marvin Gaye. See, for example, their cute, naughty expressions at the start of this famous song.

I love this so much, those first 30 seconds are so pure and beautiful ... it's enough to cheer anyone up on this below-zero, cold winter's day.

The Max Roach Trio featuring the legendary Hasaan, Max Roach and Hasaan Ibn Ali (Atlantic, 1965)

Defined by a series of dramatic, moody openers, or introductions - setting the scene, displacing the scene, making everything appear ambiguous and atmospheric - and very abrupt track endings, this record is something else. It carries an entire universe you don't find in any other place. If I were to be asked to 'take five' jazz records that are close to my heart, this album would be there.

Sometimes you can love a record by an artist and not be an obsessive fan of their other work, and while of course Max Roach is a major star in the firmament, it is his unexpected interaction with the little-known Philadelphia pianist, Hasaan Ibn Ali (this was his only recording, even though he was well-known at the time: Thelonious Monk cited him as his key inspiration) that makes this album so special.

Roach keeps his drumming loose, sloppy, open-wristed, almost deconstructed - falling apart as it keeps its shape - to offer a sharp emotional contrast with Ali's idiosyncratic piano playing style; at times, emphatic and assertive, other times whimsical and playful, or toying with some kind of just below the surface groove.

Track one: 'Three four vs Six-Eight Four-Four ways' opens with one of those beautifully excessive aforementioned intros, a deep, resounding heartbeat that plays with the child-like piano refrain; the drumming stops and starts, rolling in its wonderful abundance, to stop completely at four minutes to start up again with the piano-line, as an ironic after-thought.

My favourite though, this kills me, it seems so modern: track three 'Hope so Elmo' ... Opening so moody and monumental, sounding like bullets breaking up and then the drums disappear to allow the sonorous bass, provided by Art Davis to become the central element. And then Roach comes back, about four minutes in, and the piano part speeds up, becoming very determined, insistent almost, as the drums cut in and out like tiny explosions.

Now I'd never put myself forward as an expert (it isn't false modesty, but more my awareness that like a character in a short story by Borges that finds himself, in awe when faced by a library without limits, I know that there will always be a piece of music, or maybe some person holding tight to an encyclopedia to 'prove me wrong') but this track strikes me something very different, something unique within the jazz genre.

(Talking about being wrong, hope there's no issue with the title above, the YT vid doesn't have a track-listing, the wik reference is not the same etcetera; write me a note if it's off; talking about YT originally I posted the entire record, but it has since disappeared; major shame).  

The music on this album strikes me as an exploration of space - in an emotional sense, in a kind of atmosphere - rather than time, where the different elements are expanded to fit and to distort what we expect; we see it in the way the musicians hold the space open, pausing and exploring, rather than moving to some kind of resolution.  

Here's a nice comment on the record by another fan, Timy Keller that I found on the very short AllMusic review:      

This is the only record where you can hear pianist Hasaan. Note the irony of the word “legendary” in the album title for a musician then unknown and who fell from public eye soon after.

We owe Max Roach this miraculous session where we can discover new pianistic sounds that lay somewhere between Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk, soon wishing we had a whole discography of this to explore. But beyond the historic nature of the session comes the music and for that the word “legendary” seems more appropriate.

The sound and the general mood of the record made me think of the classic Money Jungle record, also with Max Roach on drums. There’s the same type of interaction and that raw and dirty feel that I love to find in improvised music.

All the compositions are penned by the pianist, another reason to regret such a small output. Hasaan isn’t a king of melody or riff like Monk but builds his tunes more around rhythmical patterns and contrasts (just listen to the head on the first track), there are no catchy melodies but the energetic quality of the whole keeps our interest alive. Maybe that’s the word that describes this album best: energy. This is a rare gem.

And I came across a thread where there were various interesting replies to the question below:

Hasaan Ibn Ali made a very fine recording with Max Roach and Art Davis for Atlantic. I’ve been searching for information about him but I can’t find anything. He was a very interesting piano player who played with a very original and different style. I was very impressed with this recording. Does anyone have any information about this man......?

'Groove Merchant' replied: 'If I remember correctly Hasaan Ibn Ali , born William Henry Langford , died in 1981 at age 50. I don't play his lp much ; guess I'd rather listen to Monk , Nichols or Hope . Tom Dowd's engineering didn't do anyone any favors either . I recall though that Max's playing is top notch , so that's as good a reason as any to dig this one out and revisit it.'

And another reply: 'I attended a Jimmy Heath interview/master class on Saturday afternoon, followed by a Jimmy Heath concert in the evening. During the Q&A with the audience, I asked Heath about Hasaan. His face kind of lit up as he asked, "Hasaan? The piano player?!?" He spoke for a couple of minutes about Hasaan, mainly focusing on his eccentricities. Here are a few random bits:

1) To Hasaan's annoyance, Philly Joe called him Hot Sam. Others called him Count Langford.

2) Hasaan complained about another musician, saying "He stole my 13ths, but I got 29ths!"

3) Hasaan had the habit of buying new ties and cutting them in half, a practice that still seemed to baffle Heath.

4) Heath referred to Hasaan being avant garde before Cecil Taylor, and said that Hasaan didn't get as many gigs as other pianists, which the following story might explain. Hasaan was playing a gig with the singer Bull Moose Jackson, who was an ugly man (hence the nickname) who could sing pretty. The band was going to play 'Flying Home'(Heath sang the melody so people would know how it went). Bull Moose said to Hasaan, "Give me that intro." Hasaan proceeded to play the intro as you'd expect Hasaan to play it. Bull Moose then said, "Give me that intro again!" He couldn't find where to come in.

The audience enjoyed Heath's Hasaan anecdotes, even if most of them had never heard of him before. Heath remembered that Hasaan only appeared on one album, so maybe some of them will seek it out. In my question, I also asked about John Dennis, another obscure Philly pianist. Although Heath didn't address the Dennis part, I was happy to at least learn more about Hasaan. I get really nervous when speaking in public, but Heath's stories made the rise in blood pressure worth it.' 

Re Veteran Groover's posting of 15 May 2012: "Hasaan had the habit of buying new ties and cutting them in half, a practice that still seemed to baffle Heath."

Hasaan did not cut his ties in half. What gave people that impression was this: Hasaan would position his tie with the narrow, back part in the front, adjust the length so that the narrow part hung only to mid-chest, and wind the remainder of the tie around his trunk so that it would be hidden under his shirt. I know this to be true because I once saw him do it. 

by HomageToDonByas

Hasaan did not cut his ties in half.

I like that this is the only post from "HomageToDonByas."

Listened to the Atlantic recording today. Tom Dowd panned Hasaan's piano far left — right on top of Art Davis's bass. Max gets (pretty much) the whole right channel to himself. The record (not the recording) itself is killer. Though Hasaan was mentored by Elmo Hope, I hear quite a bit of Herbie Nichols in his playing. Almost a missing link between Monk and Nichols. Anyone else hear this?

I'm back by request from Spontooneous but not sure that I have any more of interest to contribute. Any specific questions?

Welcome back! Would you please tell more about his behavior, on or off the stand? Was he easy to get along with? Solitary? Prickly? Angry? Spacey? (Not too specific there, I know! Just trying to get a better picture of him.)

He was extremely eccentric. He was not prickly, not angry. He was an only child and was doted on by his parents, with whom he continue to live as an adult.

He titled his letters. I remember one title: Retrospect in Retirement of Delay.

Drummer Donald "Duck" Bailey, in a 2008 interview with writer Don Alberts, said, "And who was [Thelonious] Monk's idol? Hasaan Ibn Ali. Nobody knows that!"

Ref: Alberts, Don (2011) A Diary of the Underdogs: Jazz in the 1960's in San Francisco. p. 120. Chill House Publishers. 

(the forgotten masterpiece 2) the unreleased David Ruffin album, 'David' 1971

Just before 3 am one morning  in June, 1991 a limousine brought the unconscious body of one of the greatest vocalists of the twentieth century, David Ruffin to a Philadelphia hospital. Wearing 'bright, multi-coloured Bermuda shorts, white sneakers and a lime-green sport shirt,' Ruffin carried no identification; 'when (the) doctors released his body to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office, it was tagged, "John Doe."

Ruffin died one hour later from a drug overdose, aged 50 years old. One of the saddest parts of an extremely sad (and controversial) documentary on Ruffin's ascent to the top of US popular music, as part of the Temptations is the moment when his son, David Ruffin Jr. looks at the camera face-on to insist that his father died in a hospital (not a crackhouse). My father died in a hospital, he repeated with urgency. He died in a hospital.

When told of his death, Ruffin's girlfriend, Dianne Showers said she was saddened but not shocked by his death. 'He walked in the line of fire,' she said.

Ruffin became famous for his songs of love and loss. One website describes the 'moods' of his work using these adjectives; 'gritty, passionate, earthy, gutsy, poignant, romantic, dramatic, stylish' but then has only one word for his central theme: 'heartache'.

And yet Ruffin's musical achievement stems from the way it enacts contrasts, similar to those that dominated his life. Sweetness and light; force and delicacy; despair and determination.

David Ruffin famously fell out with Motown - just as he had with the Temptations - so the fact that the label decided not to release 'David' in 1971 perhaps should not come as a surprise. But it does, it is hard to imagine how even the most burnt-out execs did not recognise the record's essential impact and its great beauty. In the words of an Allmusic critic:

While this music was rooted in Motown’s signature sound and performed by the Funk Brothers, it also looked beyond Detroit, adding heavy doses of funk, psychedelia, and smooth soul, filled with galvanizing horns, driving guitars, down-n-dirty clavinets, flourishes of electric sitar, fuzz tones, and wah-wah guitars, all grounded by Ruffin’s earthy testifying and tied together by top-notch songwriting. All these elements wound up sounding much hipper than much of the music officially released by Motown in the early 1970, when Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were just beginning to break free of the studio’s formula, and while David and its accompanying bonus tracks are not a masterpiece along the lines of Talking Book or What’s Going On (or even Where I’m Coming From, for that matter), it’s vibrant, exciting music that still sounds fresh — arguably fresher than full-length Temptations albums of the late ‘60s — which qualifies it as a lost classic of sorts.
— Stephen Thomas Erlewine review, 'Allmusic'

Starting with the extraordinary 'Each day is a lifetime' ....

This song amazes me every time I hear it, simply for the way it is constructed and the way his voice carries the melody; and then there are all the details (just listen to those backing-vocals, for instance or that bossy 'Listen' and the later interlude).

Such contrasts are put to even more dramatic effect in 'I can't be hurt any more' that starts with an over the top declaration to suddenly shift to a groove that is so sugary, while Ruffin's voice keeps breaking, cracking threatening to be overwhelmed by the backing track. My personal favourite, though is 'Let somebody love me' -

Marvin Gaye paid tribute to Ruffin by saying that 'I heard in (his voice) a strength my voice lacked' and this strength comes through here, even though he is expressing his need for love from 'someone true, you know what I mean ..'

Anyone with any knowledge of Ruffin's own complicated love life that involved a large number of attractive women might cough at the idea of him pining for a true woman who 'doesn't need to be a beauty queen' but these lyrics are part of the track's core sweetness and conceit. Like a lot of worldly soul singers from that era and since such feigning innocence only adds to their charm.      

Whether it comes from listening to a lot of music these days with the intention of writing about it, or listening to a lot of sample-based music, when I listen to this track by Ruffin I hear all the different elements in isolation, but also together; I listen to that tricky drumbeat, so fragile compared to his voice, or the brass and the tinkly elements and feel newly impressed each time. On the same record there's also a cover of the Jackson 5 hit,  'I want you back'.

Here's just an added extra, okay yeah I'm just a bit of a (ridiculous) fan -

When Earline Ruffin, then 92, learnt of the death of her stepson in 1991 she said, 'I would be glad if they could send his body to Meridian so they could sing one of his songs over his body.' She wanted him to return to the church where he once won a watch in a singing competition. 

'I was surprised at how he turned out in life,' she said. 'He wanted to play all the time. He could sing like a mockingbird.'