Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Thursday, 8 March 2012

MONTEGO JOE - ARRIBA! AND WILD AND WARM

Look - its another budget-busting record cover!
Its a record by Montego Joe, a percussionist from Jamaica - hence his name. So where better for him to pose for the cover of his first album than on a beach? But perhaps it was difficult to find a proper beach as he's standing on what looks like a quarry with a lake behind him. It certainly doesn't make me think of a West Indian paradise! Just in case you don't know what to expect Joe (or Roger Sanders as he was christened) is standing behind an array of percussion instruments including a high hat!
Cover art aside, this is a lovely record. By the time it was released in 1964 on Prestige (my copy is a later Stateside UK pressing), Montego Joe had already played on records by Willis Gator Jackson, Art Blakey (read about it here) Roland Kirk and Solomon Ilori and was clearly 'in' with the New York drumming crowd.
He obviously learnt from his experiences as Arriba has elements of hard bop, funky danceability, afro-percussion as well as adding dashes of almost everything else to the mix - Latin, Brazilian folk music and apparently the last track is based on a Voodoo incantation.
There are two ways of looking at this eclectic choice of sources. The first is that Joe was widely influenced by musics from around the globe, that he could hear the essential links between the music of Africa and musics made by the descendants of African-slaves in the Caribbean and Latin and North American and was trying to bring them together in a kind of world-jazz fusion. The other, less charitable, is that anything 'foreign' or 'exotic' went into the mix to produce new sounds and sensations for the US record buying public.



The Latin feel is helped in no small way by the inclusion of Chick Corea (only 24 at the time) and Eddie Gomez (read about when Eddie met Phil here) in the studio band. The band is completed by Leonard Goines on trumpet, Al Gibbons on tenor, Milford Graves taking time off from his more advanced and avant-garde music to play drums here and Robert Crowder on 'miscellaneous percussion' (perhaps the high hat on the cover!).
I like this album very much. When it grooves it really hits the spot. Everyone swings nicely and the accent is clearly on the more dance-friendly jazz-listener. Its not quite boogaloo, not quite hard-bop, and not quite latin-jazz although the influences are clearly there. They even cover Horace Silver's Too Much Saki.


However, if I have one slight criticism of Arriba its not that it veers into 'exotica' territory - although it does slightly - its that there is not enough conga action from Montego Joe. Goines' trumpet, particularly in Too Much Saki, is great and Gomez' bass is masterful throughout. Chick Corea shows his latin chops and at times threatens to take over proceeding. It would, however, be great to have more unbridled Ray Barretto-esque 'Hard Hands'.
Things do improve somewhat on the second side but Joe's attempt to "make it as commercial as possible" just makes Maracatu a little dull.




Listen out for Eddie Gomez' bass solo on Dakar together with Graves' drumming - rhythm section heaven. Again its just a shame that there isn't more of Joe's congas.


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Later in the same year Prestige released another Montego Joe record, Wild & Warm (as you can see my copy is the UK Transatlantic issue).
I'd guess that the first LP was successful enough to persuade Bob Weinstock to have another crack at it.
This time around, however, Corea and Gomez were not involved and were replaced by Arthur Jenkins and Ed Thompson respectively. Otherwise its the same team of Gibbons, Goines and Graves behind our man Joe.
As the sleeve notes explicitly say, this is a record for dancing. I'd guess that's why the tracks are so short. Each one could easily fit onto a 45 and so be played on a juke box.
The linears go on to say: "The music presented here is rhythmically akin to the rock and roll and rhythm 'n blues of the discotheques and teen hops - but with a difference. The 'big beat' with which almost everyone is familiar, has been seasoned generously with a variety of rhythmic twists and turns from African tribal musical traditions and from Afro-American music of Latin America and the Caribbean." Sounds very like a description of an exotica record to me! It could almost be a description of a Les Baxter record or a West Coast jazz/latin/rock cash in.
The music is, as with its predecessor rooted in Latin rhythms although it suffers somewhat without Corea and Gomez. And, similarly to Arriba there could be more up-front Conga action from Joe. He just seems too far back in the mix and isn't given enough time to solo. A, perhaps unfair, comparison, would be with Candido's earlier records which are conga-fests, or with Guy Warren or Olatunji who both brought some genuine African influences to their music. If I'm being really critical I would also say that I'd like to hear some more obvious West Indian influence - perhaps some calypso?
Having said all of that, its still a great record, and worth picking up if you come across it for cheap.

Here are some of my favourites - although I could just as easily have incuded the whole record!








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