Category Archives: Music

Herschel Dwellingham’s Soul Bass

Soul Bass Album Cover
Fans of Weather Report’s Sweetnighter album know the name Herschel Dwellingham. He’s the drummer that brought the funk. A few years ago I wrote a post updating readers about Herschel’s current activities. Now he has produced a new album called Soul Bass, utilizing his Sweetnighters Band. As the band’s name suggests, the inspiration comes from his experience playing on Sweetnighter. But Soul Bass is a very different kind of album, one that highlights Herschel’s love of R&B and his own writing and arranging. In addition to Zawinul classics such as “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and “Boogie Woogie Waltz,” as well as Wayne’s tune, “Palladiium,” you’ll find a bunch of Herschel’s original material on Soul Bass, some of it dating back to his days before Sweetnighter when he was a fixture in Boston’s R&B scene.

The Sweetnighters BandThe Sweetnighters band on the last day of recording at Studio In The Country, Bogalusa, Louisiana.

Herschel asked me to write the liner notes for Soul Bass, which I was happy to do. I have reproduced them below. You can find the album itself on Apple iTunes. You can also find the tunes on YouTube, and I believe a CD is in the works.

In February 1973, Herschel Dwellingham got a call from Bob Devere, a producer at Columbia Records, inviting him to a recording session. This wasn’t unusual–Herschel was doing a lot of sessions in those days–but when he arrived at Connecticut Recording Studio a few days later, he realized that this one would be different. For in the studio were legendary jazz musicians Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, along with the rest of their band, Weather Report.
Upon seeing them, Herschel’s first thought was, “These guys want to play with me?” At the time, Weather Report was an avant-garde jazz band, whereas Dwellingham was known for his R&B grooves. It seemed like an odd pairing.

But unbeknownst to Herschel, his sound was exactly what Zawinul was looking for and together they spent several days recording Weather Report’s third record, Sweetnighter. With Dwellingham providing the funky underpinnings the album sold over 300,000 copies and proved to be the turning point in Weather Report’s fortunes. Years later, Joe would greet his old friend as “the Boogie Woogie Waltz man,” a reference to the album’s best known track. “There wouldn’t be Weather Report if it wasn’t for you,” Zawinul would say.

Forty some odd years later, Herschel had a dream in which Zawinul, who died in 2007, urged him to start a new group dedicated to performing some of Joe’s old tunes, as well as showcasing his own writing. In the past, such dreams had led to some of Dwellingham’s most successful projects, so this was something to take seriously. In response, he assembled a topnotch thirteen-piece band populated by many of his favorite musicians, some of whom he’s known for decades, and augmented them with a full string section and guest vocalists. Together they recorded Soul Bass, an album consisting of two of Zawinul’s best-known pieces, one of Wayne Shorter’s, and a clutch of Dwellingham originals, all dressed in luxurious string and horn arrangements and tasty grooves.

The leadoff track is “Big Girl,” the first of two Dwellingham-penned instrumentals. Listeners who know Herschel only from his drumming would be unaware that his real passion is writing and arranging his own music—something he’s done since high school. This tune dates back to Herschel’s college days and features a fine tenor sax solo by multi-instrumentalist Ed Pazant and the trumpet work of Cullen Knight. Both are among Herschel’s oldest musical associates. Pazant died not long after this recording, and Herschel has dedicated this album to him and Zawinul.

“Boogie Woogie Waltz” was the centerpiece of Weather Report’s Sweetnighter album–a thirteen-minute groove with a lot of improvising around a handful of melodic themes. Dwellingham’s version is more to the point, expanding the orchestration behind the melodies and providing another platform for Pazant, this time on soprano sax. As with the Weather Report version, Herschel grounds the tune by rapping out every beat on his snare drum, while his bass drum never deviates from emphasizing the and-one.

The soulful ballad, “Cold Spot,” features vocalist Marlena Lady Black Lace, formerly known as Molly Holt of the Rascals. Her musical association with Dwellingham goes back many years and this tune has long been among their favorites. The lyrics explore the heartache of unrequited love, and Marlena delivers an emotive performance worthy of the tune’s message, emphasized by the sustained tones of Tony “Strat” Thomas’ electric guitar.

“Flex-a-ble” is Dwellingham’s take on soul-meets-rap. With its chromatic melodies and deliberate rhythm, it sounds as if it could be at home in a 1960s secret agent movie. But just as listeners get comfortable with that vibe, into the mix comes the rapping of Kenyell Brown. The point, Dwellingham says, is that you can’t be rigid in life and in love. Sometimes you have to compromise and learn to be flexible.

Joe Zawinul’s tune, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” was a surprise instrumental hit for Cannonball Adderley in 1967. It quickly rose to number eleven on the Billboard pop chart and within weeks two vocal versions, each with different lyrics, were also released. At one point, all three of them occupied spots on the R&B singles chart. Here Dwellingham fashions it as an R&B powerhouse, with full-throated horns and a vocal chorus, and after Michael Lemmler’s Hammond B-3 intro, the band hits a toe-tapping groove behind Beverly Crosby’s stirring vocal. An added bonus is the baritone sax solo played by Roger Lewis, a founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

“Palladium” is Dwellingham’s nod to Zawinul’s musical partner, Wayne Shorter. It originally appeared on Weather Report’s 1977 album, Heavy Weather, which also includes “Birdland,” Joe’s well-known ode to the famous New York City jazz club of the same name. “Palladium” is its counterpart, named after the Palladium Ballroom, which was located just down the street from Birdland. In the 1950s it was the epicenter of the mambo craze that took the country by storm, and Wayne spent many evenings there as a young man, dancing to the likes of Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, and Machito. Dwellingham’s arrangement lends the tune an easy going Latin feel. Dig the conga work of Kahlil Kwame Bell.

“Soul Bass” is another Dwellingham instrumental, with fine solos by Ed Pazant on flute and Cullen Knight on trumpet. The tune is based on a catchy drum-and-bass groove that Herschel improvised in his home studio. He wrote the melody and chart the day before the rest of the musicians arrived for the recording session. As with all of these tunes, Dave Ellis is rock solid holding down the bottom on electric bass.

Closing out this collection is the ultra funky “What I Got, I Got,” a throwback to Herschel’s Boston days when he led the house band at the Sugar Shack, then the city’s biggest and best soul venue. Dwellingham originally recorded this tune in 1971, with lyrics written and sung by Maurice Rice. Here Eli “Paperboy” Reed delivers a vocal straight out of that era, while “Strat” Thomas wraps a searing guitar solo around the melody. This is Boston soul, Dwellingham style.

Decades after its release, Sweetnighter continues to have a lasting impact on Dwellingham. Numerous hip-hop artists have sampled it, and Joe Zawinul went so far as to say it contains the first hip-hop beat.

“That one album put me on the map,” Herschel says. “My wife and my friends say I really don’t realize what I did and how important to drumming my playing was. I’m just a country boy who doesn’t think nothin’ about that. To me, I was just trying to make money to feed a wife and three little kids. That’s what I was doing. I didn’t think I was making history or anything. I was just trying to keep money in the house.”

It’s safe to say that Herschel did more than that. And now Soul Bass gives us a broader taste of his musical range—his love of soul and R&B, and his affinity for arranging for large ensembles. Let’s hope there’s a sequel.

Friday Music to Release Live in Tokyo on Audiophile Vinyl

Weather Report Live In Tokyo
Good news for vinyl fans. On February 17, Friday Music will release Weather Report’s Live In Tokyo on on 180 Gram translucent red audiophile vinyl, retaining its original gatefold format. It will join three previous Weather Report releases from Friday Music: the first Weather Report album, Sweetnighter, Black Market, and Heavy Weather.

Friday Music has become a major producer of vinyl products, including many entries in the progressive rock arena. You can pre-order Live In Tokyo now. Here’s a bit of the press release from Friday Music.

Friday Music is pleased to announce for the very first time on audiophile vinyl Live In Toyko by Weather Report. Mastered impeccably by Joe Reagoso at Friday Music Studios, this amazing classic truly shines in the audiophile vinyl domain. Pressed at R.T.I., this brilliant masterwork truly resonates as you remember from years ago.

To enhance your limited anniversary edition album experience, this first time audiophile vinyl release is also for a very short time being offered on translucent red audiophile vinyl in a first time gatefold cover presentation, featuring the rare original album cover design.

Welcome back and celebrate the music of Weather Report with their amazing Live In Toyko … an audiophile first time vinyl release, only from your friends at Friday Music

The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981

Hey, we have something new from Sony Legacy! I know that Peter Erskine has long had an interest in seeing some of this material get released. Thanks to Tony Zawinul’s efforts, representing the Zawinul Estate, to get Sony on board, there’s a treasure trove of previously unreleased live music in store for us Weather Report fans. The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981 is a four-CD set of live recordings of the Jaco-Erskine band, primarily culled from soundboard recordings by Weather Report’s live sound engineer, Brian Risner. It’s due for release on November 20, but you can pre-order it on Amazon here.

Here’s the official blurb:

Weather Report’s The Legendary Live Tapes features four discs of sensational unreleased performances all “completely, totally, unapologetically and insanely live” recorded by the legendary jazz group from 1978 to 1981.

Formed by one-time Miles Davis sidemen Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter in 1970, Weather Report defied categorization in the 15 years they recorded together. Inspired by their “electric” collaborations with Davis, Zawinul and Shorter would lead Weather Report into unpredictable territory, from free-jazz to structured but sprawling multicultural jazz-rock. Though Zawinul would reject the “fusion” genre the band are so often associated with “We don’t fuse nuthin’, we just play from the heart,” he once said their music would serve as a landmark for jazz revolution and evolution in the 1970s and 1980s.

The dramatic addition of electric bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius to the lineup in 1976 led to an even more energetic and daring Weather Report, who would even score a crossover hit in 1977 with “Birdland.” A year later, drummer Peter Erskine joined the fold, creating one of the band’s most notable lineups; that lineup would expand to a quintet with the addition of percussionist Bobby Thomas, Jr. in 1980.

These two lineups, responsible for some of Weather Report’s most important moments, are chronicled in this four-disc set, sourced from never-before-heard soundboard tapes recorded by longtime live mixing engineer Brian Risner. Produced by Erskine and executive produced by Joe Zawinul’s son Anthony, this package uniquely showcases Weather Report’s extensive prowess as a band, opting not to replicate the ebb and flow of a standard Weather Report set at the time, instead offering a uniquely curated experience that captures the dazzling directions the group took at the arguable height of their powers.

Here’s the track listing:

CD 1
1. 8:30
2. Sightseeing
3. Brown Street
4. The Orphan
5. Forlon
6. Three Views Of A Secret
7. Badia / Boogie Waltz
8. Wayne Solo
9. Jaco Solo (Osaka 1980)

CD 2
1. Joe And Wayne Duet (Tokyo 1978)
2. Birdland
3. Peter’s Solo
4. A Remark You Made
5. Continuum / River People
6. Gibraltar

CD 3
1. Fast City
2. Madagascar
3. Night Passage
4. Dream Clock
5. Rockin’ In Rhythm
6. Port Of Entry

CD 4
1. Elegant People
2. Scarlet Women
3. Black Market
4. Jaco Solo (Osaka 1978)
5. Teen Town
6. Peter’s Solo (Osaka 1978)
7. Directions

Jaco Pastorius and Record Store Day

Jaco Pastorius Record Store Day Poster

Tomorrow, April 19, is Record Store Day, and Jaco Pastorius figures prominently.

First up, we have a new Jaco Pastorius album release, available tomorrow only at participating independent record stores. I have no idea if the stores where I live will participate, but I’ll be checking it out.

The new release is Modern American Music… Period; The Criteria Sessions. The album contains the demo tracks that Jaco made in 1974 at the age of 22, which have either never been officially released, or previously released only in edited form. These tracks — with drummer Bob Economou, pianist Alex Darqui, steel drums players Othello Molineaux and Sir Cederik Lucious and percussionist Don Alias — led to Jaco’s first album, and you hear the early “demo” versions of many of the songs that Jaco later recorded. John Kelman of All About Jazz has a lengthy review.

In addition, Metallica bass player Robert Trujillo’s long awaited documentary about Jaco is the official film of Record Store Day, although it isn’t expected to be completed until late this year. You can hear Trujillo talk about Jaco and the documentary in an NPR interview that was published today. You can also follow the progress on the film at their Facebook page.

And finally, Jaco is the subject of the official Record Store Day poster (pictured above), which will be given away at select stores while supplies last. For more information, see the Record Store Day news release about Jaco.

Update: My local record stores did participate, and I saw both the CD and vinyl album at the stores. Didn’t see any posters, although by the time I made the rounds they may have already been taken.

“Five jazz concerts I wish I had been at”

Gabriel Solis has a post on the Oxford University Press blog titled, “Five jazz concerts I wish I had been at.” Coming in at number four is Weather Report Live in Tokyo, 1972. Indeed, I bet a few us wish we could have been there.

As Solis writes, “Recordings of this music can only begin to capture its range. Even on high fidelity equipment, the silences are not as heavy as they would have been in the concert hall, not as pregnant with expectation, and the band at full volume is not as overwhelming. In some sense jazz performances are always a bit of a ritual, but this seems like an immersive experience of another level.”

A friend called this album “savage” Weather Report. And I always liked what Joe said later, “Let’s hit ’em hard, right from the first note.” Indeed, they did.

Check Solis’ article for the other live albums he chose.