Sunday, July 25, 2010
Brute Force (Embryo, 1970)
Say what you will about Herbie Mann's admittedly spotty discography, but the same nose for talent that served him well in selecting the accompanists for his best albums - such as Impressions of the Middle East, Memphis Underground, and Push Push - also effectively lent itself to helping him sign intriguing artists to his label and Atlantic subsidiary, Embryo Records. Although his detractors will argue that the flautist was always quick to exploit the latest musical trend for his own benefit, these same people also have to admit that his sense for what was going to be the next big thing was usually right-on. Not to mention the fact that Mann often exhibited better taste in deciding what was released on Embryo than he did in regard to choosing material for his own albums.
One of the finest titles in the imprint's catalogue, the eponymous lone LP from 1970 by Brute Force contains elements of funk, soul, avante-garde jazz, and even traces of African music and will appeal to those who enjoy early P-Funk, Sly and the Family Stone, the Ohio Players, and contemporaneous material by Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Unfortunately, very little is known about the band members, who included electric pianist, primary composer, and probable vocalist Richard Daniel, saxophonist-flautist Stanley Strickland, trumpeters Teddy Daniel, Jr. (Richard's brother?) and Arthur Ray Brooks, bassists (two bassists?) Russel I. Ingles and Thomas Lee Williams, drummer Sidney Smart, and conga player Robert A. Jones. The liner notes reveal that the group came into existence in 1968 while its personnel were students at Central State University (formerly College), a historically black institution of higher learning close to Dayton, Ohio. According to one source, the band members had been childhood friends of free jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock, which explains his unmistakable presence on the proceedings. Indeed, his contributions help make what would have been a very good album a great one as his trademark feedback-laden guitar eruptions often emerge when the listener least expects them. Although Sharrock is credited on only three tracks, my ears tell me that he plays on all but one of them. That misinformation on the album sleeve could have been a typo or - perhaps for contractual reasons - intentional. At any rate, most of Sharrock's other recordings are just a little too free for my tastes, so it's nice to hear him play within the confines of an instrumentally advanced funk band, a setting in which I can better appreciate his formidable talents.
All of the album's cuts display the musicians' virtuosity and reveal them to be one tight unit. Assuming that Richard Daniel is indeed the vocalist, he has a pleasant, silky-smooth voice that counterbalances Sharrock's frenetic guitar salvos. The songs "Do It Right Now," "Some Kind of Approval," and "Right Direction" all have hooks aplenty and any of them could have been hits on the R&B charts with better luck and/or promotion. The instrumentals "Monster" (appropriately named) and "The Deacon" convincingly display the band's chops as does the quasi-tribal chant piece "Ye-Le-Wa," an ambitious jazz exploration that justifies its epic length. Another instrumental closes the LP, the mellow and atmospheric "Doubt," which another reviewer describes as "the perfect come-down piece." I couldn't have said it much better myself, so I'll just add that I think it sounds like something that would have not sounded out of place on either of Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi or Crossings LPs.
1. Do It Right Now
2. Some Kind of Approval
3. The Deacon
4. Right Direction