Various Artists: Head Jazz

Various Artists
Head Jazz
Label M

I am so not in a good head space to review this compilation right now. You see, as I write this, it’s just after three o’clock in the morning, September 12, 2001. Which makes yesterday the day of the terrible attacks. So, on this dark day, you can understand if maybe I wasn’t able to give this collection my full attention. Nevertheless, I want to move forward. I want to do something completely the same, as if to combat the statements of those who have been saying “The world will never be the same again.” They may very likely be right, but somehow I don’t want to give those behind this the satisfaction of — but I ramble. Forgive me. As you well know, it’s been that kind of day.

The album is an experimental collection, mixing the traditional pop/jazz sound of artists like (Little) Jimmy Scott with more avant-garde performers like Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Suggested for listening with headphones, it starts with the echoey “Silver Cycles”, by saxophonist Eddie Harris, followed by the soul-jazz of David “Fathead” Newman’s take on the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and the brief, trance-like “Let’s Gather” by pianist Les McCann. After this bright start, I have to say that the compilation loses me for a while. But it recovers me a few tracks later when I listen to how much better Hank Crawford’s “Lorelei’s Lament” sounds here than on the Low Flame High Heat Crawford collection Label M released (and I reviewed) last year. Which makes me think about the often overlooked art of sequencing. Coming after Crawford’s own “But On The Other Hand” on that compilation, “Lorelei” sounded harsh, and hard to find a groove on. Here, after the Mitchell/Ruff Trio’s “Catbird Seat”, I embraced it like a lover. Which is all the more apropos when McCann returns with the night music of “The Lovers”. The album finishes up with Yusef Lateef’s “In a Little Spanish Town”, which incorporates a vocal quartet with Lateef’s hard-bop sax; the juxtaposition is like an early version of sampling or a scratch mix. M is producer Joel Dorn’s project, and it could be seen as a vanity label were it nor for the fact that that the compilations and albums are so good (I haven’t heard one yet that wasn’t worthwhile to some degree) and that Dorn actually is a pretty big name in jazz. Like all Label M releases, this is largely based around reissues of Dorn’s productions from the Atlantic catalog, and as such it acts as kind of a combination mix tape and calling card for the label. Like all good compilations it leaves you curious to hear more from the featured artists.