As an aspiring teenage illustrator, I was fascinated by the work of outlaw cartoonist Robert Crumb. His beautifully drawn images offered escape from the redneck southern city where I grew up. I was especially enchanted by Crumb’s caricatures of blues and jazz musicians, which were assembled in his “Heroes of the Blues” and “Early Jazz Greats” trading-card collections.
Crumb is an avid record collector. I envision him as a purist and completist who would’ve jumped at the original releases of short-lived label Candid Records, which was founded in New York City in 1960 with Nat Hentoff in charge of A&R. Today, original Candid LPs may not be as rare as Crumb’s first-edition art for “Fritz the Cat,” which sold at auction in 2017 for $717,000, but they’re not common, either. In good condition, original Candids sell for hundreds of dollars.
Candid Records shut down a year or so after its founding, when parent company Cadence Records (which had recorded the Everly Brothers among other acts) called it quits, selling its assets to Andy Williams, the singer, who later set up Barnaby Records, which reissued some Candid titles during the 1970s. By the time it ceased operations, Candid had issued 20-something LPs and three singles and accrued a substantial library of unreleased recordings.
In April, under the ownership of Exceleration Music, which is headed by longtime Concord Records CEO Glen Barros, a renewed Candid began reissuing recordings on compact disc, streaming, and vinylthe latter cut directly from the master tapes by Bernie Grundman and pressed on 180gm vinyl at RTI. Five stereo titles comprise the first batch of Candids: Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, Max Roach’s We Insist!, Lightnin’ Hopkins’s Lightnin’ in New York, Abbey Lincoln’s Straight Ahead, and Otis Spann Is the Blues.
All five of these records were recorded at either Nola Penthouse Studios or Fine Recording Studios in New York City. The back jackets break down the session’s recording chain, a goldmine for audiophile/collector nerds like me: “This album was recorded monophonically and stereophonically directly to two-track and full-track master tapes on Ampex 300’s using the following microphones: Neumann U-47; EV 667; RCA 44BX; Western Electric 639.” And: “The master lacquers were cut directly from the original master tapes on a Neumann lathe using a Westrex 2B cutter for mono and a Westrex 3C cutter for stereo.” Is such transparency too much to ask of all premium vinyl reissues? All five records are quiet, free from surface residue, pops, or ticks. The jackets and cover art are also beautifully replicated.
“Sam” Lightnin’ Hopkins’s Lightnin’ in New York finds the spirited blues crooner performing all original material including the classic “I’ve Had My Fun Even If I Don’t Get Well No More” and the sexually provocative “Mighty Crazy.” This reissue, like all the records in the new Candid series, sounds clear, dynamic, and punchy.
On the first release, 1961’s Otis Spann Is the Blues the Mississippi-born blues pianist and vocalist was joined by guitarist/vocalist Robert Lockwood in a good times/bad times outing that will have you cutting the rug and sipping from the jug. These two men generate such hard-swinging blues feeling that if you don’t feel it, you must be dead.
“I came up the hard way,” Spann sings on “The Hard Way,” “I just about raised myself.” Spann rocks and rumbles hard; his piano playing seems demon driven, his mojo working hard.
Compared to an original mono copy lent to me by Fred Cohen of Jazz Record Center, the reissued Lightnin’ in New York lacked the original’s larger, warm low end but shared its explosive dynamics, clarity, and recording-studio ambience. The original issue had more immediacy and urgency, but the reissue captured a larger helping of Lightnin’s spunk and energy.
Abbey Lincoln’s searing, growling, poignant vocals drive her mighty 1961 release, Straight Ahead, with music by Mal Waldron and lyrics by Lincoln and Earl Baker. This record’s all-star cast of performers has Roach on drums, Coleman Hawkins on tenor, Eric Dolphy on reeds, and Booker Littlewho would be dead 10 months after the session, age 23on trumpet. Lincoln’s performance is brutal and revelatory. Straight Ahead‘s 1961 jazz seems remarkably current today.
One of the most profound jazz albums to address the Civil Rights movement, Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite is centered by Lincoln’s torrid vocals. “Triptych” couples Lincoln’s soaring shouts and agonized cries (it’s “the cry of an oppressed people,” writes Nat Hentoff in the liner notes) with Roach’s sensitive drumming. Roach delivers a full-on African-percussion blowout in “All Africa.” Lincoln’s serene, wordless vocal brings closure and relief.
Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus is one of the bass player/bandleader/composer/rabble rouser’s finest LPs, performed by his peak early ’60s group with Eric Dolphy, Ted Curson, and Dannie Richmond. Announcing songs and exhorting his group as though it were a live recording (it isn’t) Presents swings jovially from “Folk Forms, No.1” through “Original Faubus Fables”a goading protest against Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, who sicced the National Guard on African-American students in 1957and on to the closer, “All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother.” Every jazz lover should own this, and it’s available now for far less than the $449 an original copy sold for just a few months ago.
By the time this issue hits racks and mailboxes, Candid will have reissued Pee Wee Russell & Coleman Hawkins’s Jazz Reunion; Clark Terry’s Color Changes; The World of Cecil Taylor; Booker Little’s Out Front; and Booker Ervin’s That’s It. Also keep an ear peeled for the renewed label’s new releases.
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