Jazz Albums Round-up

Funky compilations: Break Beats and Grooves from the Atlantic and Warner Vaults; Psychedelic Jazz and Soul from the Atlantic and Warner Vaults; Sounds From The Verve Hi-Fi
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With the season of parties comes the season of funky compilation albums. The separate volumes of the excellent "Right On!" series (Warner.ESP) have now been collected into a three-CD box-set. The compilers of Break Beats and Grooves from the Atlantic and Warner Vaults adopt a catholic approach, mixing tracks by famous Atlantic Records jazz masters such as Roland Kirk, Eddie Harris and Les McCann with, well, almost anything, really. Thus both Cher and Lulu get songs featured on volume two, while on volume three Brook Benton runs into a surprisingly funky Keith Jarrett. The acid test would appear to be whether the track in question is either sufficiently funky or sufficiently bizarre to warrant inclusion; happily, many are both at the same time. But whatever the criterion, "Right On!" can't really go wrong.

Even more bizarre is a new companion volume to the "Right On!" series, produced once again by Florence Halfon. Psychedelic Jazz and Soul from the Atlantic and Warner Vaults (Warner Jazz) covers a similar mid-Sixties to mid-Seventies period, but the focus is more jazz than funk, including a few experimental tracks that could empty any dance floor. Here, the acid test is often exactly that: a sliding scale of drug-induced craziness. In this respect, Freddie Hubbard's "Threnody for Sharon Tate" (and what a title!) is exemplary. Taken, like the collection's other Hubbard track, "This Is Combat I Know", from the trumpeter's 1971 album Sing Me A Song of Songmy (subtitled "Fantasy for Electromagnetic Tape"), it's quite astonishingly weird. Like an audio out-take from The Exorcist, a female voice (is she meant to be an impersonation of Tate, murdered by the Manson Family two years earlier, or of one of her killers?) whispers, "Give me love so that I can kill," interrupted by slashing, Psycho-like strings and old-school synths. "This Is Combat I Know" is an expressionistic, partly atonal setting for a Vietnamese anti-war poem. Marginally less weird, it's musically more successful. Can we have the whole album re-released immediately, please?

The other tracks include a completely mad acid-rock style freak-out, "Vibrafinger", by the normally rather staid Gary Burton, along with marvellously funky yet strange numbers by Yusef Lateef, Eddie Harris, Roland Kirk, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Mariano, Sun Ra and the group Black Heat, who are really more "Right On!" material. The combined effect is intoxicating, and the compilers deserve some kind of award – perhaps from the drugs industry, whose products can rarely have received such glowing musical testimonials.

Less funky than cheesy is Sounds From The Verve Hi-Fi (Verve), compiled by the DJ team Thievery Corporation. There's a strong Latin/Asian feel, and although it starts badly with the too-obvious choice of Stan Getz and Louis Bonfa's bossa nova "Menina Flor", things soon improve. As befits what is really a lounge-music collection, the best tracks are those where any notions of good taste are challenged, as in Astrud Gilberto's so-bad-it's-good version of "Light My Fire". If you really do want a retro-swinging, rat-pack friendly soundtrack to Christmas, this – and not Robbie Williams – could be exactly what you're looking for.