Charles Earland

Live at the Lighthouse

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There were a number of different sides to Charles Earland's musical personality, all of them capable of representing him fully in any given moment. This date from 1971 at the legendary Lighthouse club offers a stunning vision of Earland the soul organist, not the jazzman. Certainly there is plenty of improvisation here and many unexpected twists and turns in the arrangements, with decisions made and reacted to on the spot. But that's not what makes this date so special. This is Earland digging so deeply into a groove emotionally that he's unconcerned with anything but feeling. No, dammit, it's doesn't mean that the playing is sloppy. Raw, yeah. Sloppy? If you've heard the cat's music, you should've known better. If you haven't, you're forgiven this time. In any case, beginning with Sly Stone's "Smiling," Earland is hooked into something. He's got the essence of the tune in his hands, but something about it just won't give; he's digging deep within these huge chords, trying to get it to crack, but it won't -- until Maynard Parker's guitar solo comes from out of chordville with huge, gritty voicings and single-note runs that give Earland a harmony read on the feel. As for the horns, played by trombonist Clifford Adams and saxophonist Jimmy Vass, it's a soul jam and they play in classic J.B.'s style. And just as the band begins to wind it out and move into the darkness, Earland finds what he's looking for and shifts the emotional context into bright, black light. This is evidenced further by the most swinging version ever of "We've Only Just Begun." Who ever thought that a puff piece of a pop tune could groove? Obviously Earland, because he takes the band through a funky, sprightly version where soul-jazz harmonics meet funky sweetness in a melodic romp guaranteed to put a smile on the most committed pessimist's face. But Earland isn't content to stay in the sunshine too long; he's got to get back to the underground where all of the real sounds happen first, and he accomplishes this with this acid-test funked-up version of "Black Gun." The trumpet playing of Elmer Cole here is astonishing, as it holds together the different sonorities of Vass and Adams; he steps out and pushes the front line into the stratosphere harmonically. While there isn't a weak second here, the finish of "Freedom jazz Dance," which moves directly into "Moonframe," deserves mention for its sheer over-the-top raucousness bordering on chaos that never, ever leaves the heart of the groove. This is a demanding gig -- it demands that you stay on your feet for its entirety. Make sure no one at your next throwdown has heart disease before you spin it.

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