[Originally posted February 2012]
As the horns announce the distortion of their other entry into the mix, you know that after the opening flute tranquillity of Variations on a Theme by Eric Satie [1st and 2nd Movements], this is an album getting ready to launch.
And second track Smiling Phases also announces the great voice of David Clayton-Thomas. A Winwood/Capaldi/Woods song, Blood, Sweat and Tears tear it up with some wonderful horn arrangements by Fred Lipsius before transferring into the jazz middle with piano [by Lipsius] and some strutting Jim Fielder bass. The horns return to yank the song back to organ and Clayton-Thomas’ key vocals: the consummate B, S & T’s song.
This is followed by the schmaltz and lite jazz of Sometimes in Winter with writer Sam Katz on vocal. But those sweeping horns try to sustain fully the sound. This isn’t the strongest track in the band’s second outing, but it sets us up nicely for what’s to come next.
Fourth More and More reminds us of why we want Clayton-Thomas at the vocal helm. Drums and horns provide a more staccato rhythm in this song, and the funky bass with stabs of organ lead into the Katz guitar solo, one of the few rock guitar with effects contributions on the album, and a snatch from a similar sound on their excellent debut album with Al Kooper leading the band.
Fifth And When I Die, written by the brilliant Laura Nyro, keeps the clever song choices supporting the band’s progress. Its cowboy interlude lightens the mood and is fully in keeping with the jaunty bass and overall rhythm. The song’s gospel roots get played out in the lovely ending to this upbeat version.
Another superb song choice gets placed at number six with the Holiday/Herzog classic God Bless The Child. The Clayton-Thomas vocal again carries this great track, perhaps a requisite when covering such an original. The song is arranged by Dick Halligan, and his organ into Latin piano-led interlude with swirling horns [Winfield/Soloff/Hyman] and saxophone [Lipsius] reminds me of the Buddy Rich Big Band and provides that lovely nuance to such a famous number.
Seventh Spinning Wheel is perhaps the peak on this big band vehicle. The cowbell introduces the beat, and Clayton-Thomas again controls from here on in, employing some distortion effects on an otherwise quite conventional playing. I love the squealing horns around the trombone drag, but could have done without the circus recorders at the end – a twee finale that prompts someone to say that wasn’t too good! But perhaps this is all part of the fun.
Wavering horns, drum roll and organ introduce eighth track You’ve Made Me So Very Happy. Listening to this and the whole album in 1968, its consistent jazz orchestrations, as on this beautiful romantic track, had a huge impact. These songs are essentially pop numbers and/or classic standards. There is very little rock guitar, apart from the one solo already mentioned, and even less in terms of sound effects. It’s the jazz that made it raunchy and heavy and so cool because as well as listening to rock we were all listening to jazz to find that ‘alternative’ sound. The band Chicago went the heavier and at times psychedelic route – and I love that – but this album and these songs retained a simpler but nonetheless distinctive sound that became a template for so many other jazz rock bands that followed.
The band’s self-penned and penultimate track Blues-Part II lets members solo and perhaps gives its nod to rock blues and improvisational moments to align it to the more experimental. A fine Lipsius alto sax solo dances above a simple repeated bass line, then slows to a melancholic layer before the bass picks up on Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love riff – a great surprise – and then there’s one other subliminal of a rock guitar lead, as two bars of Spoonful are played. Oh the homage and humour. It’s Clayton-Thomas who takes the song out on a crescendo of his soulful voice before segueing sweetly into the echoing flute of Halligan on the 1st Movement from Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie where it all began – until we hear a door close.