The Stark Reality

Acting, Thinking, Feeling: The Complete Works 1968-1978

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In 2003, both the Stones Throw and Now-Again labels issued two slightly overlapping anthologies of work by the Stark Reality (Now and 1969 (the latter is now titled Roller Coaster Ride). Both drew from their landmark AJP (as in "Ahmad Jamal Productions") album, The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop -- recorded with the legendary songwriter's full agreement and participation, as well as previously unreleased material. Thankfully, it didn't stop there. Porter Records' owner Luke Mosling unearthed three more Stark Reality offerings from 1968 and 1969. Now-Again has compiled the complete recorded works of the band in Acting, Thinking, Feeling, which is presented in deluxe box-set form on compact disc and on LP. This includes the full, three-part performance of the title track, as well as the unissued "On Being Black," a large band version of "Big Red Yellow Moonbeams," and "New World Generation." For those unfamiliar with the group, the Stark Reality were formed in Boston by vibraphonist, composer, and visionary Monty Stark who attended the Berklee School of Music, but was largely self taught. He had little use for genre distinctions. The wild, wacky distorted music of the Stark Reality has been sampled by everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to J Dilla to the Black Eyed Peas.

The best-known incarnation of the group included a young John Abercrombie on guitar, bassist Phil Morrison, and drummer Vinnie Johnson. Their timeless sound may have come out of the psychedelic '60s, but it's still, for all of its musical innovation, ahead of its time. Stark embraced bop and swing jazz, R&B, free improvisation, country, blues, folk, classical, and even carnival music, often simultaneously. (Perhaps this is why Carmichael loved the group and gave them free rein of his kids' songs.) This collection is indispensable. It not only includes all the known recordings of the band, but the booklet features rare photos, extensive liners that include recollections by bandmembers -- including Stark and Johnson, who are no longer with us -- as well as Hoagy "Bix" Carmichael -- the composer's son who brought the Stark Reality and Carmichael together -- and Now-Again label boss/curator Eothen Alapatt. Packaged in heavy cardboard sleeves inside a boss slipcase, this is one of the early contenders for box set of the year.

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