Walking In Space
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/21/2007
“Dead End,” the opening cut on Walking In Space, kicks off with a finger-snapping little electric piano-bass figure that feels like late-night roadhouse boogie. Then a sassy muted trumpet comes in, lending an air of bebop sophistication. And then the full horn section blasts you with a one-two punch that leaves you feeling like the guy in the chair in the old Maxell tape ads, getting his hair blown back by the music pumping out of his speakers. Just as suddenly, everything but the bass and piano drops out and the electric guitar arrives to layer nimble fusion-esque solos on top.
Yes indeed, it’s finger-snapping, floppy-hatted, narrow-tied, cooler-than-Shaft orchestral-gospel-soul-funk-jazz-fusion. Or something like that.
By 1969, musical renaissance man Jones had already played for Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton, arranged for Count Basie and Ray Charles, led a series of jazz big bands of his own, become the first African American to be named a senior executive of an American record label (Mercury), scored movie soundtracks and been recruited to work with Frank Sinatra. Walking In Space gave Jones the opportunity to fold all of these experiences into a single, expansive musical vision embracing big-band jazz, fusion, r&b, film scores and even pop influences.
The cast of players, as one might expect for a bandleader with
This disc’s twelve-minute title track -- like “Dead End,” taken from the contemporary musical Hair -- is the most experimental piece here, wandering through cinematic string-and-horn backdrops decorated with soaring background vocals, interspersed with extended solos on flute, trumpet, electric piano, muted trumpet, electric guitar, and probably a few I missed.
“Killer Joe,” like the title track, has a sweeping cinematic feel and features chorused female background vocals vamping “Killer Joe / Don’t you go / Hurt me slow / Please Joe” off and on through the track. The track once again builds off a steady, sturdy jazz bassline and throws the kitchen sink at it -- flute solos, trumpet solos, subtle little electric guitar riffing, a catchy chorus of “cool Joe, mean Joe” over a snappy trumpet line -- you name it. Just keep those toes tapping…
“Love And Peace” is a kind of orchestral blues, featuring a fat horn section over a slumbering rhythm section, segueing into a tasty, rather B.B. King-like guitar solo. Bigger and badder yet is the closing “Oh Happy Day,” a giddy, heart-full-of-soul take on Edwin Hawkins’ contemporary gospel hit that would make anyone with a pulse want to shake your hands in the air and sing along.
This frothy hybrid manages to be all over the map and yet cohesive for one simple reason: every track sounds like the players were having the time of their lives. There is genuine joy in these grooves, and it shows. Jones’ tastes as an artist and a producer would range farther and farther afield from jazz in the years that followed, but as a milestone along the path of a musical icon, Walking In Space is a major statement, and a memorable one.