|FILE UNDER: RARE SOUL JAZZ||BARCODE: N/B|
|TARIKA BLUE - THE BLUE PATH(LP)||label: CHIAROSCURO / AARTRUD (CR-141)|
The first half of the 1970s saw funk and jazz develop into a myriad of styles and sub genres that ranged from popular arena filling acts like the acid fuelled space funk psychedelia of Parliament-Funkadelic to the elemental, hard driving funk of James Brown; from the afrocentric funky jazz of Earth Wind and Fire, to the electric-funk-jazz fusion of Miles, Return to Forever and the Headhunters. The experimentation with rock, funk and jazz even extended to hugely popular British acts like Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express and the Average White Band, who scored significant success in the USA.
By 1975, jazz funk fusion was massively popular, varied and rapidly evolving. But for every chart topping and arena filling act, there were hundreds of regional and local bands that - if they were lucky - managed to record a single or two, or even an album. Many, if not most, never recorded at all but played to local bars, venues and maybe just a few college friends. And, between the superstars and the footnotes, are the bands that did record, achieved a respectable following and left some kind of mark. They never sold large numbers, or made it rich but they did produce some seriously top drawer music that, over the years, has grown in stature and myth. Tarika Blue is in that category and ‘The Blue Path’ was their declaration of intent.
Tarika Blue was formed in 1973 by Phil Clendenin while he was a student at Syracuse University. Clendenin was a sometime keyboard session player and studio engineer who surrounded himself with rising players and talent to create a formidable unit centred around the core line-up of Clendenin, drummer Kevin Atkins and bassist Barry Coleman. This triumvirate rhythm section was augmented by various passing members that included sax player Marvin Blackman (who also worked with Rashied Ali) as well as some stellar guitarists who would go on the assume cult status on the jazz/funk scene: Ryo Kawasaki and James Mason (Clendenin would go on to engineer Mason’s ‘Rhythm of Life’ album featuring that all-time rare groove calssic ‘Sweet Power, Your Embrace’). Also worth noting is that fact that sometime around 74-75, Clendenin was also a member of another act called the Big Apple Band, featuring a bassist Nile Rodgers and guitarist Bernard Edwards…
In 1974 Tarika Blue were signed to New York jazz label, Chiaroscuro Records, founded by producer Hank O’Neal. Their first album, ‘The Blue Path’ was all instrumental of soaring jazz funk, a finely crafted weapon in the armoury of any self-respecting DJ or collector of jazz and funk.
The opening track, ‘Blue Neptune’, has always reminded me of the sound of a rainforest at the dawn chorus (not that I have experienced one, sadly); the forest slowly awakening as the sun rises and splinters of light enter the dank gloom beneath the jungle canopy. The bubbling bass and splashes of percussion play and bounce like a stream gurgling and percolating through rocks and the interlayers and textures of horns and keyboards echo the calls and screams of the birds and other denizens that share their arboreal habitat.
Tarika Blue’s keen ear and feel for dynamics within a track is shown clearly on ‘Sunshower’; from opening on a tight bossa, then to a head nodding beat, the track suddenly injects nitro into the tempo and the band get cooking. There is some excellent guitar from Japanese jazz icon Ryo Kawasaki and the band motor along delivering some heavyweight jazz funk before cooling out with a final change down in gear.
Playing at speed yet keeping it tight and fluid really can test many musicians. On ‘Revelation’, Tarika Blue deliver a jazz dance killer with a dervish like horn line, exultant guitar solo and colouration from Phil Clendenin’s dripping electric piano, all backed with a driving bass and red-hot drumming holding it together nicely.
As an opening side of an album, Side A of ‘The Blue Path’ doesn’t have a weak moment: the pacing, arrangement and length of the tracks work just right; the finely considered balance of funk with jazz illustrate why it is no wonder the album became a DJ favourite and a highly sought after prize among jazz/funk aficionados.
Side B continues to maintain the quality at 24 carat purity. The playing on the breezy and gleeful ‘Downtown Sound’ is a showcase for the saxophone of Marvin Blackman but there’s enough to satisfy jazz guitar fans and devotees of funky synth and keys.
‘The Sun Through Winter’ would not be out of place on a Strata East or Tribe album, its deep rolling sonorities carry the message of a band playing at the peak of their power. The repeated horn motif punctuates the track before a tearing solo rises above the rich textures of the boiling rhythmic foundation; Kawasaki’s deft guitar comes in and adds colour and light, his runs on the fret board dancing and weaving like a tiny bid flitting between the trees. All the while, Kevin Atkins’ drums power on, cymbals fizzing and snare snapping away - he wrote the piece.
The closing track ‘Out of This World’ is aptly titled. Beginning with a blast of free jazz, the band settle into a hard groove, riding on Atkins’ Latin beat and Marvin Blackman’s confident sax, breaking into some hight hard bop that will challenge the most hardened jazz dancer. Brodie Speller’s percussion adds spice to mix and the band show off their chops - and why not? This is a band who understand each other, as only the best bands can; that indefinable ingredient that makes truly great bands stand out from the rest.
‘The Blue Path’ is regarded as one of the best jazz funk albums and it’s not hard to hear why. The bravura and muscular dexterity found in the best jazz artists, balanced with the groove and funk of the finest gritty bands from across the tracks, this album is a stone cold killer from the opening note to the closing fade out.Do yourself a favour, take walk up ‘The Blue Path’.