I had high anticipation for this particular album in the new series of high quality reissues from Jazz Dispensary, the boutique-within-a-boutique imprint from Craft Recordings: Heavy Axe by David Axelrod. Prior to last Fall, I’d only “heard of” Mr. Axelrod but never really actually heard his music.
Then I got my hands on a sweet soul-jazz compilation which came out on Record Store Day late last year called Orange Sunset (which I reviewed, click here) which opens up with a track by him called “Everything Counts.” That song knocked me out, a fairly epic production with big horns and a sweeping build that could easily be a final scene in a film (perhaps the next Guardians of the Galaxy?).
It turns out that opening track on Orange Sunset was actually the final song on Axelrod’s Heavy Axe. So when I put the full album on I had some fairly high expectations.
Sonics wise this reissue is just fine. The rich brown “timber” colored vinyl is well centered and quiet, pressed at RTI and mastered by Cohearant Audio (as all of the albums in this series have been). So the physical, technical sound of the album wasn’t of any issue for me — it sounds good for what it is.
As I’ve listened to it a number of times, however, I do wish however this actual recording had been fully remixed, not just remastered. “Why,” you ask? Well, there are some neat bass synthesizer parts which are pretty much buried in the mix (either played by George Duke or Rudy Copeland). I mean, really, there is not a lot of distinctive bass on this album but everything else is quite clear: drums, scratchy funky guitars, punchy horn sections, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. The low end is there but it is very muted, so when they go break out into a solo, it feels a bit like something is missing from the mix. Curiously, when I checked out the album on Tidal and Qobuz, the bass — while still not super satisfying and balanced, especially volume-wise in relation to the kick drum— it is a wee bit more apparent there.
Heavy Axe opens up encouragingly with “Get Up Off Your Knees” (written by producer Julian “Cannonball” Adderly). I could do without the covers of Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” and Carly Simon’s “Your So Vain.”
The side one closer is an Axelrod original called “My Family” and it rings much truer. To that — for me at least — Axelrod’s originals are the focus on this album, which comprise about half of the tracks here. “It Ain’t For You” is a groovy little funk swinger but again, the bass parts are sort of buried so … well… its a little hard to get down and boogie (if you will) without a prominent bass line!
That first track I mentioned, “Everything Counts” somehow works, probably because there is so much else going on in the tracks — big shimmering strings, chime-y Fender Rhodes textures and so on.
All that said and given the price point on Heavy Axe, you might want to explore the album first on a CD or stream to see if you like the album enough to want to own it on vinyl. You can find it streaming on Tidal in 192 kHz, 24-bit MQA format (click here) and on Qobuz in Hi Res format (click here). Heavy Axe is a good album. But if you already have Orange Sunset, you have a pretty good idea what this album is about and that might well be all you need.