Keep Your Shirt On

This is not Herbie Mann.Â

FLYING
MISS FREE SPIRIT

Herbie Mann
Stone Flute
Atlantic/Embryo : 1970

HM, flute; Sonny Sharrock, guitar; Roy Ayers, vibes, keyboards; Miroslav Vitous, bass; Ron Carter, bass;Â Bruno Carr, drums; Selwart Clarke, string arr.

The late Herbie Mann had an ear for new talent and the latest trend. In the mid-1970s this got him in some disco trouble, but at the time of Stone Flute Mann had the good taste to pick up on what Miles Davis’ group was laying down. Sounding something like Mademoiselle Mabry and Madame George meeting cute in L.A. just before Brian Eno moved to town, Mann’s music here finds beauty in stasis and the slightest bit of dissonance.

His masterwork, Stone Flute is completely unlike anything else in Mann’s canon. Potentially a bandwagon-hopping attempt to cop the cool vibes of In a Silent Way, or a crass move to cash in on the psychedelic vogue and capture the attention of consciousness-addled rock fans (“Stone Flute? No, dude, more like stoned flute!”), it might as well be the work of a different artist. Diehard Herbie Mann fans hate it, but for those who usually can’t stand the man’s music, or are simply opposed on principle, it’s his one shining moment.Â

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When we first encountered the album, the idea of Herbie Mann covering the Beatles made our skin crawl. Especially since the instrumental from Magical Mystery Tour is one of our fave Fab Four compositions and one of their very finest slices of psychedelia. It’s a forward-looking, loping tune that anticipates Stereolab, among other things. Mann’s approach is to slow down its pulse. The band plays the song at a glacial pace, real slo-core, stretching the track’s textures to the point of almost pure abstraction. They strip away much of the riff and melody, keeping it just barely recognizable. The approach may seem odd at first, but give it a few spins.

“Flying” is one of the very few excellent (adventurous) jazz covers of a rock song from the era. Actually, we can’t seem to think of any others. Surely we’re missing some? Or maybe the trend of covering rock tunes didn’t reenter the jazz vernacular until folks like Brad Meldhau and the Bad Plus took their stab at it?Â

In addition to snatching Ron Carter after his stint in Miles’ band, Mann had the good sense to employ Sonny Sharrock. Around this time, Herbie also produced Sonny’s debut, the dazzling and strange Black Woman, and can hardly be accused of watering down Sonny’s vision. Another feather in his cap.

Sharrock’s contribution to “Miss Free Spirit” is restrained but rich in detail, and helps point the way out. The tune gets stranger and stranger as it rolls along, and is further evidence that Mann is best served when supplying texture and not moving forward terribly much. Tunesmithery is not his strong suit. Brings to mind, too, author James Ellroy’s comment in the most recent New York Times magazine that “if [he] could abolish one concept from the parlance, it would be closure.” Closure is the last thing Mann needs. Exhibit C would be the strings that come out of nowhere for the last two mintues or so of “Miss Free Spirit,” where, despite a fairly straightforward theme recap, the going gets weird.

Whatever misguided intentions or dreams of trendy sell-out may lurk behind the album’s origins, the results are surprisingly compelling and uncompromising, and still sound strange decades later. In another context, the orchestral flourishes and fuzzed-out bass might sound gimmicky, but here they organically slot into the overall sound. The Mann of Stone Flute is a rare example of someone doing his best artistic work while following the trends of the time. The strange ways of the muse. Something we’ll try to recall the next time we curse the commercial impulse.

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We probably won’t feature too many Billboard Top 200 artists here, nor very many Beatles covers, so enjoy it while you can. Meanwhile, if you’re not curious about one bit of inspiration for the post title, avert your eyes.

Category Herbie Mann

19 Responses to Keep Your Shirt On

  1. You’re right – “Flying” is very reminiscent of Miles’ “Recollections” as far as texture is concerned. Very nice; I was completely unaware of this side of Herbie Mann.

  2. i say, after listening to all the herbie mann lps from the 60’s, that miles was riding on herbie’s bandwagon. listen and check the dates. Herbie is a true pioneer of the fusion of jazz, free jazz and rock. he did it for years before miles. the Euro guys were fully in swing on that type of fusion too, and how about the great Soft Machine ? i am ALWAYS totally baffled when miles [inches me & my friends call him] gets credit for inventing or pioneering anything. from many years in NYC goin to see and hanging & talking with the free jazz masters, they mostly do not see what is so special about him either. many at the mere mention of his name are brought to angry exclamation. we can all name 50 better trumpeters, and what did he ever write anyway? not much. I love your blog, but Miles? there are thousands of jazz lps to explore, and his are no where near the top. ‘so what’ indeed. i like the comment above about ‘i was unaware’. yep, most are. herbie gets branded as whitey, and really miles borrowed from him. . . … uh.. miles invented jazz rock fusion. oh… ok.. sure, and michael jordan invented sneakers. once again folks: listen, and check the dates. plenty of 60s herbie out there. [also steve marcus lps – a herbie sideman- good luck finding them!] . you have been fooled by magazines. listen to the lyrics for ”late greats” by the rock band Wilco.

  3. “Push Push”–Well, don’t stop with the cover! The real stone flute is pushing away inside the gatefold jacket! (A naked couple is copulating–no kidding.)

    Nice to see the Ellroy quote–I laughed for half an hour at that interview yesterday. I will be linking to that too.

  4. How ’bout Don Ellis’s version of “Hey Jude”?

  5. I’m downloading the tracks at the moment. I love the first paragraph, a lot is said in just two sentences, nice writing. But the post’s very last sentence seems to be backwards. Surely it’s those who aren’t curious (or of a fragile disposition) who should avert their eyes?

  6. The cottage industry in reducing Miles to Inches (or Yards) (may I paraphrase Granpa Simpson and say that the imperial system is the tool of the Devil) is smaller than the one lionising him, but it’s an active one nonetheless. Can we all name 50 trumpeters better than him? In the same way that we could name 50 pianists better than Monk?

  7. Mwanji – You’re right about the last graph and we’ve amended it. Our tired fingers sometimes can’t keep pace with our foggy brains when we post!

    You’ll have to forgive my density on the Miles front (foggy brain, again) but to clarify: Are you joining Lee on the side of those who would reduce the achivements of Mr. Davis? Or is yr point that when it comes to artistic achievements that those who diminish Monk – and Miles – for their supposed limitations are missing the point of their music rather entirely?

    We welcome all viewpoints here and love a friendly debate, so have at it! But also let there be no ambiguity about our deep admiration for just about every note Davis waxed up until, say, 1975. We dig Miles. Loud and proud. Of course Lee is absolutely right to point out that Miles didn’t invent jazz-rock fusion. Far from it. Herbie Mann and others were at the forefront earlier. But who explored that terrain more fully and took the music futher out than Miles? Musicians are still coming to terms with the scope and ramifications of his electric years.

    Miles’ talents may not have lay in the realm of composition, but his skills as bandleader and sound arranger seem pretty unparalleled. Not being a trumpeter, I can’t speak to Miles’ pure technical skills, but his gift for squeezing emotion and drama out of his horn rarely cease to amaze me. Of coure there are many who still say Billy Holliday can’t sing. Maybe it’s just what sound happens to hit ya.

  8. I’m strongly on the pro-Miles side, but I think henceforth mentioning Monk to defend a musician’s chops should be considered the music blog equivalent of breaking Godwin’s Law.

  9. c’mon, Monk is a great, prolific composer. Miles was not. agreed? [what did he ever write?]. they are not in the same boat. Monk was a savant. he could not help it. it was not a hipster front for Monk, but , honestly, Miles was about milking the ”spade hipster” thing. the Euro jazz scene is vastly untapped as far as jazz listeners go. just look at the ‘cadance ‘ catalog, the black saint soul note one, the fmp one, the hathut, the . no one can claim to have heard even half of it. it is a daunting task. THOUSANDS OF LPS. BUT , you can learn about things. things like MILES WAS NEVER AT THE FOREFRONT OF ANYTHING! you should hear , say…, Steve Turre talk about him. and Steve, as a horn player, is of a caliber to KNOW. I ALWAYS COME ACROSS TO miles fans as a troublemaker, but really i am helping you all. if i were just snobby i wouldnt write anything. jazz is a lifetime project of discovery. ALWAYS look for more and you will be surprised at what you find. it will blow the doors off of what you have assumed as history. read ”banjo” by Claude Mckay [1919]. as for ”But who explored that terrain more fully and took the music futher out than Miles?” …: keep looking friend, keep looking, and you will see. there were plenty of them. hmmm… try Centipede’s lp ”septober energy” to start. do you all know about soft machine? you should. hear the BBC sessions. from now on, be REAL jazz fans and eat humble pie and don’t embarrass yourself by saying anyone was the most anything, or the first anything, because you are not really in a position to say. Hendrix and Miles may have been famous, but i imagine an ugly fat guy in the fifties doing crazy stuff on a guitar or trumpet might have had a hard time getting signed to columbia. ya know what i mean? that guy in huntington long island ny that has a music store, and plays out with his blues band, it seems to me has always been the top of his game. flaming genius brilliance. but you have not heard of him. and probly wont. they are in your town. Charles Gayle has been playing out since early 60s [i know him]. when did he get his due? he really hasn’t yet. but every one knows branford. how many people know who Hugh Ragin is? manfred schoof, pino minafra, enrico rava, kenny wheeler, marc charig, melvin lastie, lester bowie [miles took it further….HAH!], STANTON DAVIS, DONALD AYLER, leo smith, bill dixon, booker little, don cherry, i’ll give you 50 if you want. you will miss out if you keep listening to Miles. & i do not want you to miss out. thank you very much for destination out! in closing: Duke Ellington is the innovator of the 20th century. hands down. he showed every1 what tonality is all about.

  10. in response.: Miles as an arranger? when was that, cjc ? if i am not mistaken, Gil Evans seems have been involved . i guess Julius Erving [dr. j ] seems the best if you’ve never seen Michael Jordan. you say: ”Milesâ?? talents may not have lay in the realm of composition, but his skills as bandleader and sound arranger seem pretty unparalleled.” . and i say that that is a sad thing for you. DUKE ELLINGTON is not even on his level? you must be joking. have you seen Duke’s discography? have you seen the complete David Murray catalog? i am sure no one in this forum have , or ever will, hear all of the music of even just those two men. among thousands of people. so what do you know about best or ‘unparalleled’ ? nothing. just like me. if you eat burger king and mcdonalds and wendy’s, you are not a hamburger expert. you’ll never taste all the hamburgers. so.. i am not on the ‘miles side’. i am on your side. and butch morris’ side. oh yeah- miles took the music further out than Cecil Taylor? really? ha ha ha ha. that’s funny.

  11. Great timing on a post that raises the issue of so-called “jazz fusion.” This cheeky little blurb is in the Oct. 30th issue of The New Yorker:

    “Jazz at Lincoln Center: ‘Fusion Revolution.’ And so the barriers come down. With the appearance of The Joe Zawinul Syndicate within the hallowed confines of Jazz at Lincoln Center, fusion enters the pantheon.”

    That made me laugh out loud.

    Lee, granted there’s always more to hear and to discover. Do you have to make it at the exclusion of inarguably great music? As for Davis taking it out, it seems to me CJC was referring specifically to the so-called “fusion” genre. MD from say 1970-1975. It’s a centrally important period in American music and an astonishing body of work. Maybe you need to listen again?

    As for “fusion roots,” the backbeat Blue Note stuff of Blue Mitchell, Stanley Turrentine, Horace Silver etc. as well as soul-inflected Cannonball Adderly with Zawinul definitely predated Davis going to straight eighths. “So what,” as you might say. Soft Machine is great stuff. The European catalogue is a goldmine. These statements are all true alongside the recognition that Davis was a frikkin’ genius. As in everything in cultural history, both/and is far more often true than either/or.

    I regret that you introduce race a few times. Especially ironic given Davis’s early inclination to include musicians regardless of race or ethnicity. Your comments in regard to race are confusing and irrelevant.

    It always interests me when people raise the issue of Davis’s musicianship, his trumpet playing. Because they rarely if ever show any awareness of his several distinct periods, technically and timbrally. Davis didn’t have one single voice over his nearly 50 year career. From a purely technical standpoint, his strongest open horn sound and most athletic playing is definitely from the mid-60s to about 1971 or so. The extended solo on Right Off from Tribute to Jack Johnson is one example of a very many. And restlessly he moved to a completely different timbral and melodic approach very soon after, wrestling with the clunky analog technology of wah-wah and forging something strange and wonderful out of that (check Funky Tonk from Live/Evil, which is actually an edited version of Directions).

    Davis himself would have agreed with every word you say about Duke. So it’s also ironic that you throw Duke into the mix, again in a sort of confusing and strange way.

    Jazz opinion sometimes startles me. It’s as if people feel like there’s some sort of special or arcane knowledge they have that no one else has. I latched onto New York Art Quartet and Ayler’s Bells, for example, when I was 17 because I enjoyed that feeling of secret, “outsider” knowledge. But at 45 I’ve embraced different hobbies, among which is actually listening before I open my mouth.

    peter

  12. well said peter breslin. and thanks to destination out for all the great music.

  13. A couple of quick personal stories: The first time I heard Herbie Mann’s backbeat stuff, I was at the apartment of the musical director for the pit orchestra of a local college theater production of Oklahoma. I was 15 and the percussionist in said pit orchestra. The musical director put Live at the Whiskey A Go Go on the turntable, all the while plying me with 7 and 7’s in the far-fetched hope of getting busy with me.

    Listening to Cecil Taylor talk for 5 straight hours after his show in Albuquerque two Aprils ago, a couple of Davis references come to mind. First, Mr. Taylor told of how he was listening to an NPR station in NYC and was getting ready to donate money to their fund drive but they faded out “So What” just as Davis’s solo started. “That was just horrible, just horrible…it’s the Mean Devil’s solos we listen for, after all.” A few hours later (in a monologue that included everything from Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson to epic tales of George Wein, Betty Carter (The Beast), Duke, Dennis Charles, Jimmy Carter, Tool, David Byrne, Lou Reed, ‘Ornettey-poo’, Braxton (The Professor), Hiram Bullock, you name it) someone made a disparaging comment about Davis. It may have even been Jackson Krall, I’m not sure. Taylor said: “well, if you know a few things about the Mean Devil all is revealed. It has taken me a long while to understand Mr. Davis.” Man, I wanted to hear more but that’s just not how holding court with Taylor works.

    peter

  14. cjc,

    No, I was asking on what criteria lee was basing his “50 better trumpeters” assertion.

    I’ve just erased a rather long reply to lee because it was even more ridiculous than what he’s said.

  15. Re: the commercial impulse: excellent point. Sonny Rollins’ recording debut? With Babs Gonzales popularizing (?) bebop on Capitol. What was John Coltrane doing in 1949, you ask? Singing the chorus to “You Stole My Wife, You Horse Thief” in the horn section of Dizzy’s band. Miles around the same time? Playing to sold out crowds at the Apollo Theater, backing Sarah Vaughan. Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro and Art Blakey in 1945? On the road with Billy Eckstine in a band that grossed $100,000 in ten weeks.

    Luminaries such as Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman too have always had the commercial impulse. They and others have used different strategies ( as CT once said about his brownstone: “Europe provided the downpayment for this house.”) but the idea (Romantic and heroic as it may be) of true artists laboring in obscurity and poverty is of course an upper middle class capitalist fantasy of what it means to be a “real artist” as opposed to a popular one.

    PB

  16. its funny, my friends try to trick me by putting on a miles album. i can tell in a few seconds or less who it is. i never put him down; only in his rightful place , which happens to be far from the top. i have not ‘reduced ‘ him. he was what he was. as for the race issue, i am responding to the assertion made by several ‘luminaries’ regarding the music’s ‘invention’, and i think it was miles, not me, who brought up the race issue ; who said he would like to shoot a white man? does this smack of ”milking the ‘hipster spade’ thing” as i said ? was Herbie accepted by all jazz fans without any regard for color? we are talking about the 60s. lets not pretend about the real social situation of that time period. and lets not pretend that , by far, most jazz literature credits one race over another. i am challenging assumptions that were made and asserted before i was born. like it or not , race is part of the jazz discussion. and i feel that Miles, if he was white, would have been looked at differently. if he were white, and turned his back on an Afro crowd, or said he wanted to ”shoot a black man”, would he be the hero of his present stature? would he really? i do not think so. if a muslim jazz musician said he wanted to ”shoot a jew” that would be a little bit different , huh? he may not have been promoted by Columbia. i think that maybe he would have been dropped by the label.
    so … do you think that miles gets the mainstream credit for inventing fusion because of his looks? compared to herbie mann? or the many Europeans who took it further out before he even tried it? yes the ”european catalog is a goldmine” and NONE OF US HAVE HEARD IT ALL!! i dont see any references to them in responses. ? . what happened in sea ports for thousands of years before recording was invented? improv, and rhythm. from all kinds of places, blended. no rules. what style is that? far too much importance is placed on who is popular, and recorded. my trombone teacher in the seventies was/is a true master in every way. you will probably never hear him. does he suddenly not exist because of that? Lester Bowie’s son Larry told me that Lester’s dad was the true master. and we have never heard him, have we? if an ugly fat guy with no celebrity came to Columbia in 1969 with a ripping fusion album. they would have turned him down. regardless of race. is this scenario possible? did it happen? oh….. did sun ra learn how to go out from miles? surely miles brought the music further out than boring old copycat Sun RA. Mr Ra would never have known what to do without miles. all he did was try to copy miles at the forefront. and the Art Ensemble of Chicago? and their LPs from 1969 alone? [how many were there from that year? and have you actually heard them?] they didn’t know anything till they heard miles. ok you win…. every jazz LP from 1962 to 1975 , all 10,000+ albums , have been heard by all of us. so we are all in a position to say definitively that Miles is the greatest. Booker Little? he copied miles. nothing more. Don Cherry? copycat. the orchestre instabile? imitators. derek bailey? a mclaughlin wannabe. alexander von schlippenbach? a cheap herbie hancock knockoff. roy eldridge? good thing miles came along to show him what to do. Muhal Richard Abrahms? a good thing miles came along or he would have had nothing to aspire to. Django Reinhardt? nothing to do with jazz. at least for the Ken Burns crowd. he wasn’t even in the film. at all. terje rypdal? he never would have done anything if he hadn’t heard bitches brew. the ganelin trio? mild and unexperimental. copycats. cuz… uh.. you know that Miles was the coooooooolest maaaaahn. he went further out than anybody. there couldn’t possibly be a better band leader [la la la la i can’t hear you]. and i know cuz i’ve heard it all. every jazz recording AND performance in history. heard it all. all there is left to do is relisten to the miles recordings with horse blinders. recordings that were pasted together by editing the best parts together [lame]. do the research to verify such. . Miles did all of his own arrangements, wrote all the tunes he played, and made all of the decisions in recording and band member hiring. all by himself. full credit goes to him alone. at least that is what we are led to believe. you want me to relisten to the miles stuff? how about you listening to all the European stuff you’ve never heard? all i see here in responses are references to american musicians. i’m starting to think that hardly any euro jazz has been heard by most of you . or you would have referenced some. far too much assumption folks. like i did in an earlier post: please admit that you have not even heard half of the ‘jazz’ recordings of any time period. Saying that anyone is the most anything is a great dis-service to our favorite art form. you haven’t heard enough to say, and neither have I. you can relisten to miles all you want. you can eat mcdonalds every day. if you dont keep looking, you will not see. my main objection in jazz writing is the assertion that anyone was first, best, or the most out, or most inventive, etcetera. my friends and i agree that if you have not heard many many hours of bootleg Bob Dylan concerts, then you have NO IDEA AT ALL what he is capable of. and the vast majority will never hear that much, if any. there is a whole hidden world out there. and you have only seen /heard a little tiny bit. just like me. if you sit around listening to miles and hendrix all the time, well then, …. YOU ARE MISSING OUT! and it’s of no consequence to me if you do. i rightfully mentioned Duke in response to ”miles is the greatest arranger and band leader”[ unparalleled] . oh… Miles had different sounds huh? from different periods huh? i do not think you have heard much of Lester Bowie. he had countless sounds. Make sure you hear the A.E.C. catalog in full from the 60’s / 70s , i.e. ”actually listening before opening your mouth”. i’ve heard the Miles stuff. have you heard all the FMP catalog from that time period? have you heard the Malfetti stuff? Minafra? Gebbia? the list goes on and on. but you think i should relisten to miles? i’m too busy checking out real artists. they are usually the ones the media has not recognized. ”all music is folk music. i ain’t never heard no horse sing a tune’ -Louis Armstrong Gospel music gets pretty out there as well, btu most remains unheard by jazz fans. the wildest, most out there stuff , is probably the hardest to find. just like in jazz or any other kind of music. finding the best of aby artform is a chore. you can not trust the opinions of known writers or any other media. they are often looking to make a buck, or some other self service. they are often paid off. History, when researched fully, does not resemble popularly assumed history. they are often quite at odds with each other. and the defenders of common assumptions are difficult to sway. they often won’t even listen.

  17. Thanks for that, Lee. I am going to respectfully request that you:
    (a) get yourself a blog—you’re built for it; and
    (b) keep your shirt on, as advised at the tippy top.

    As for the rest, I’ll get back to you once I’ve listened to every jazz album ever released; every bootleg ever unofficially put to tape; and the collected field recordings of every naturalist since the advent of recorded sound.

  18. Hello Lee- I think we completely agree on everything. Isn’t that odd?

    PB

  19. hey Peter, glad you agree. i actually do not think it odd. i was always amazed to see the same faces in nyc 1980s/90s at the top notch shows. me and my buddy thought we would be attending a sparsely attended show and the same crowd would be there. Irving Stone the writer [Lust for LIfe] was always in the front row at whatever freejazz must see came to town. and i mean always. that was the sign that you were at the right show. there are plenty of us . donna on wfmu has a good show. have fun!