Collecting rarities from the vaults of Mainstream Records, Inner Peace acts as both a fine showcase for the label’s founder and producer Bob Shad, as well as a shag-carpeted aural time capsule.
For a guy who ended up being perhaps better known for his more pop-oriented productions (not to mention being the grandfather of the modern comedy’s uber-writer/director in Judd Apatow), Bob Shad’s career as a producer could not have had a more impressive start in the world of jazz than that of working with Charlie Parker for Savoy. By decade’s end, he’d begun recording such blues legends as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Taking this experience and his newly-appointed position as director of A&R at Mercury Records, Shad established the EmArcy label where he would go on to produce jazz giants like Sarah Vaughn, Maynard Ferguson, the legendary hard-bop-defining Clifford Brown/Max Roach quintet, Billy Eckstine, and Dinah Washington, among others. From here, Shad would dabble in not only jazz and blues (this time working with Hopkins and Big Bill Broonzy), but pop (the Platters, Vic Damone, Patti Page, et. al.), eventually, the burgeoning rock and roll market.
It is this latter venture that brought him the greatest acclaim, being the man behind the debut album appearances of both Janis Joplin (with Big Brother and the Holding Company) and Ted Nugent (then with the Amboy Dukes). Somewhere in the midst of all this, he found the time to established yet another record label, Mainstream. It was here that he came full circle, returning to his jazz roots, producing, among others, Dizzy Gillespie, Shelly Manne and Roy Haynes while also reissuing some of the earlier recordings in which he played a hand. And so it was with Mainstream that Shad once again made a name for himself in the increasingly insular world of jazz.
The recordings captured here on Inner Peace: Rare Spiritual Funk and Jazz Gems: The Supreme Sound of Producer Bob Shad, culled from the Mainstream vaults, reflect this renewed interest in the form, albeit one steeped more than a little in the prevailing pop trends of the day. Any early form of crossover jazz, the tracks collected on Inner Peace are neither too far out there for the mainstream nor too square for hipper audiences. Indeed, a track like Charles Williams’ “Iron Jaws", with its heavy funk groove and accessible melodicism, could just as easily serve as as the soundtrack to modernist bachelor pad as background music at an underground, smoke-saturated head party.
Similarly, the title track, performed by Buddy Terry occupies a similar territory. Just this side of smooth, “Inner Peace” plays like proto-yacht rock with a killer, driving bass groove that sounds very much of its time but still manages to thrill. This isn’t hard-driving funk, politically-charged soul or even straight-ahead jazz, rather a distillation of all three that not only appeals to a broad demographic in its innocuousness, but, in the 21st century, manages a type of cultural cache or currency that it may well have lacked at the time. In other words, these are the types of sounds that are driving modern revivalists in their approach to this kind of stylistic hybridization. Sometimes you just want to be able to sit back and listen – groove – to the music rather than intellectualize it.
To be sure, the playing throughout is top-notch, featuring contributions from Harold Land (the righteous, lumbering groove of “In the Back, in the Corner, in the Dark”), Roy Haynes (the smooth “Senyah”), Frank Foster (the almost Mingus-esque larger ensemble “Requiem for a Dusty”) and Shelly Manne (the weirdly avant garde, 45-second “Infinity”). On “Cigar Eddie", Hadley Caliman -- who also graces the collection’s cover -- rides a gentle driving, Latin-tinged groove for all its worth, allowing ample opportunity for the soloists to stretch out well beyond the generally restricting parameters of more commercially-minded music.
Inner Peace grants listeners with a fine offering of Shad’s talents and an overview of the Mainstream sound, circa the early 1970s. Yet because of this, it is also very much a product of its time, featuring a great deal of burbling wah-wah rhythm guitar, cascading Fender Rhodes and a generally laid-back demeanor indicative of the mellower side of the times. Nothing here rewrites history in any way, shape or form, but rather presents a fine collection of lesser-known tracks from the Mainstream Records vault and serves as a fitting showcase for Bob Shad’s talents as a producer.