It’s the time of year for saving money!
Craft Recordings, through its Jazz Dispensary subsidiary, has a fine new series of Soul-leaning Jazz re-issues out, released in conjunction with the good folks at Vinyl Me Please (VMP). An exclusive series, the company was kind enough to send some of these for review.
While I did review one of these VMP editions for another publication, Idris Muhammad’s Peace & Rhythm (click here to jump to that and click here for an earlier album of his I reviewed on Audiophile Review), a couple the others (which VMP is offering in a bundle complete with a handy tote bag!) I think also may be worthy of your attention. in other words: I like them!
All of these recordings are manufactured to a high standard on thick, 180 gram colored vinyl, pressed at the respected RTI (Recording Technology, Inc.) facility. Mastering was done in an all analog process by acclaimed engineer Kevin Grey of Coherent Sound. The discs all come in faithful reproductions of original albums covers and Prestige Records labels. These are pretty rare records on the collectors market — original pressings are pricey, if you can even find them. Many of these albums are quite obscure and very expensive due (I suspect due to increased demand from the DJ / sampling community).
Happily, the highly patterned colored vinyl pressings on these VMP editions are generally very enjoyable. You might hear a little bit of surface noise if you are playing at loud volumes — and who doesn’t like to crank some good funky soul-jazz! — but I found it pretty much relegated to those between-track silent spaces and the run out grooves. It is not a deal breaker for me, but for some of you I know this may be an issue. Of course, finding a clean original pressing that is quiet can also be a big challenge so keep that in mind. If you’ve been seeking these recordings, the VMP editions might be a good stepping stone until you find that near mint / sealed original copy!
Following are two more of the series which I’ve enjoyed a bunch…
Melvin Sparks: Spark Plug
Jazz-blues guitarist Melvin Sparks Spark Plug is one of my favorites of this bundled series, in part because it’s the most consistent listen start to finish. Some of you might know Sparks’ playing from his work with notable soul-jazz artists including Jack McDuff, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland and Leon Spencer. The backup band here is also exemplary including Grover Washington on Tenor Saxophone, Idris Muhammad on drums (who I also reviewed here) and organist Leon Spencer (whom I’ve reviewed here as well, click here).
But ultimately it comes down to the music and there are some great tunes here, right from the catching opening track “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight,” which feels like a lost James Brown groove. I like the little Philip Glass-like repetitive two-note Trumpet lines creating a bed for Sparks’ soloing on “Conjunction Mars.” “Alone Together” and “Dig Dis” are a bit more straight forward swinging blues jazz romps but there is some fine playing going on here all around
You can preview Melvin Sparks’ Spark Plug on premium streaming services like Qobuz (click here, for Hi Res 96 kHz, 24-bit version), Tidal (click here, for CD quality) and Apple Music (click here for the Apple Lossless version)
Bayete (Todd Cochran): Worlds Around The Sun
Bayete (aka Todd Corcoran) is an artist whom I had somehow missed even hearing about along the way. It happens! But apparently, this album beat out Miles Davis’ On The Corner in the Down Beat Magazine reader’s poll in the year of its 1972 release, according to All Music Guide).
Worlds Around The Sun is a cooker for sure, traversing different realms of Jazz, making this a close second for a top pic among these new Jazz Dispensary / VMP releases. It is a sort of jazz song cycle, warranting repeated listens — there are some very strong melodies which make the album a quick “grower” in terms of earworm-like familiarity.
The album opening track “It Ain’t” feels like a lost Mingus tune! “Free Angela” is a gorgeous multi-part piece which ebbs and flows, reminding me at times of no less than Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On by way of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” on the Headhunters album. Apparently, Mr. Cochran was something of a teen prodigy at the and emerged out of Bobby Hutcherson’s band (who, by the way, plays Vibes and Marimba on this album and even pens the liner notes!).
If I like it so much, you may wonder why I didn’t make it my top pick. Well, it is not a perfect album as there are a couple just-ok tracks which break the mesmerizing feel for me as a full-album listen but in general there’s some great stuff here. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on one’s perspective) this album of his is not streaming on any of the higher resolution services.
There are some YouTube audio-video streams available posted below for you to check out. Warning: great grooves ahead!