In a career now in its seventh decade, there’s little that Lalo Schifrin hasn’t accomplished. The four-time Grammy-winning Argentinean composer-arranger-conductor created one of the most memorable television themes of all time with his “Mission: Impossible,” worked with Count Basie, Cannonball Adderley and Sarah Vaughan, scored innumerable films (racking up six Oscar nominations in the process) and released a variety of solo albums for labels including Verve, Tabu and CTI. Two of his LPs for the latter label have been reissued on one CD by Cherry Red’s Robinsongs imprint: 1976’s Black Widow and 1977’s Towering Toccata.
Both instrumental albums are very much in the pop/jazz crossover fusion vein championed by CTI’s founder/producer Creed Taylor, and follow a similar blueprint of Schifrin material blended with his arrangements of melodies by other composers. Black Widow marked a reunion for composer and producer, as it was Taylor who had signed Schifrin to Verve in the 1960s. For Schifrin’s first album since 1971’s Rock Requiem, Taylor surrounded the artist with an A-list roster of musicians including bassist Anthony Jackson, drummer Andy Newmark, guitarist Eric Gale, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, and CTI headliners Hubert Laws on flute and Joe Farrell on alto saxophone. Another CTI artist, Patti Austin, provided background vocals. Somewhat surprisingly, Black Widow only featured three Schifrin originals: the disco-infused title track, drivingly funky and string-laden “Turning Point” and cinematic “Dragonfly.” But the artist brought his widescreen sensibilities to the cover tracks. The breezy jazz standard “Flamingo” is rendered in a style reminiscent of a 1970s television theme, and Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village” gets a heavy jazz-funk treatment. A medley of “Moonglow” and “Theme from ‘Picnic'” (originally recorded by Morris Stoloff in 1956) is aimed at the dancefloor. He also gave John Williams’ famously menacing Jaws theme a sleek jazz-disco makeover.
Towering Toccata, released in 1977, proved to be Schifrin’s final CTI long-player. Much of the same personnel returned for another disco-jazz-funk outing, although Steve Gadd replaced Andy Newmark on drums, and Jeremy Steig took Hubert Laws’ role on flute. Bassist Will Lee, percussionist Ralph MacDonald, and tenor saxophonist/flautist Lou Marini all joined in, as well. Toccata was heavier on film themes this time, including selections from Schifrin’s scores to The Day of the Animals, The Eagle Has Landed and Rollercoaster plus an actual TV theme, Most Wanted. The title track was inspired by Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” (famously included in Walt Disney’s Fantasia). The melding of classical and jazz was nothing new for CTI; Hubert Laws and Bob James had already scored with their contemporary adaptations of classical compositions. John Barry’s theme to King Kong (already rendered in a disco style by Andy Williams at Columbia as “Are You in There,” with lyrics by David Pomeranz) was also featured on Schifrin’s towering album. Robinsongs’ reissue has been remastered by Alan Wilson, and the 12-page color booklet features new liner notes by Charles Waring.
Robinsongs also has the first two albums from funk-jazz band Brick as a new 2-CD set. In the early 1970s, bassist Raymond Ranson, pianist Donald Nevins, and guitarist Regi Hargis of the group Hellaphanalia joined with horn player Jimmy Brown of Dawn’s Early Light and drummer Eddie Irons to form Brick. The Atlanta, Georgia band of singer-musicians coined the term “dazz” for its style of danceable jazz, immortalizing the term on the 1976 debut album Good High. “Dazz,” arriving at just the right moment for disco-jazz fusion (see the above!), earned Brick a No. 1 R&B hit. Good High wasn’t all about “Dazz,” however. The release – on Bang Records, the label formed by Bert Berns – also featured funk (“Can’t Wait (Tick Tock)”, featuring an expansive string arrangement), balladry (“That’s What It’s All About”) and atmospheric, mellow instrumentals (“Southern Sunset”). Produced by Jim Healy, Johnny Duncan, Robert E. Lee and the band, Good High made it to No. 1 R&B and No. 19 on the Billboard 200.
Brick’s good high continued on its self-titled sophomore LP. This time, the band was joined by producer Phil Benton, a Bang veteran for his work with pop singer Paul Davis. Benton’s production on Brick downplayed the strings that had been an essential part of Good High, but otherwise let Brick continue doing what it did best: laying down funky grooves with a jazzman’s musicianship and prominent brass. The most obvious throwback to the first album was “Dusic,” so titled for “dance” and “music.” The public didn’t mind the repetition, however; “Dusic” went all the way to No. 2 on the R&B chart. Brick topped the R&B albums chart, like its predecessor, and also made No. 15 on the Billboard 200.
Though Brick went on to record five more albums through 1988, the band’s most lasting legacy can be found on these two records. Robinsongs has added bonus tracks to both albums: the Disco Mix of “Dazz” and the single version of “That’s What It’s All About” on Good High, and the single versions of “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody” and “Dusic” on Brick. Ralph Tee has penned the liner notes in the 12-page color booklet, and Alan Wilson has again remastered.
Both Lalo Schifrin’s Black Widow/Towering Toccata and Brick’s Good High/Brick are available now from Robinsongs and Cherry Red!
- Black Widow
- Quiet Village (Cha-Cha-Cha)
- Moonglow/Theme from “Picnic”
- Turning Point
- Towering Toccata
- Frances’ Theme (from “The Day of the Animals”)
- Eagles in Love
- Theme from “King Kong”
- “Most Wanted” Theme
- Midnight Woman
- Roller Coaster
Tracks 1-8 from Black Widow, CTI LP 5000, 1976
Tracks 9-16 from Towering Toccata, CTI LP 7-5003, 1977
CD 1: Good High (Bang LP BLP-408, 1976)
- Here We Come
- Music Matic
- Can’t Wait
- Southern Sunset
- Good High
- Brick City
- Sister Twister
- That’s What It’s All About
- Dazz (Dazz Disco Mix)
- That’s What It’s All About (Single Version)
CD 2: Brick (Bang LP BLP-409, 1977)
- Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody
- Living from the Mind
- We Don’t Wanna Sit Down, We Wanna Get Down
- Honey Chile
- Good Morning Sunshine
- Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody (Single Version)
- Dusic (Single Version)