Charles Bobo Shaw

Streets of St. Louis

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If film director John Carpenter can shoot his Escape From New York in St. Louis, then surely a group of musicians in New York City can get together and approximate the sounds of St. Louis or "Sad Louis," hometown of the nominal bandleader as well as some of his sidekicks. This album was quite a flabby effort, however, and listeners interested in the St. Louis jazz scene of the '70s would be better off finding the recordings produced by the actual Human Arts Ensemble in the city of St. Louis itself, several of which were reissued on the Arista Freedom series after enjoying several runs on vinyl in hand-painted packages. Shaw was one of more than a dozen free jazz players who decided to bite into the Big Apple in the early '70s, and one of his moves in New York was to appropriate the name Human Arts Ensemble from a cooperative group he had been a member of back home, and which had been carrying on without him after he left. Promoting his new Human Arts Ensemble as a collection of hip St. Louis players, the drummer managed to embark on several European tours. There was not exactly a steady lineup for this New York-based Human Arts Ensemble, yet it was a given that certain people would show up, such as trombonist Joseph Bowie. Although released on a German label associated with its own outdoor festival, which booked the Shaw Human Arts Ensemble, this album was recorded at Studio Rivbea in New York, and the instrumental lineup benefits on paper from the availability of some great name players. The results, sadly enough, are an example of what happens when things aren't exactly going in the right direction personally in a given part of the music scene. There are talented players here, but some of them seem to be swept up in a whirlwind of disorienting drug use and arrogant nonchalance toward their musical craft. Bowie himself admits to being too stoned to remember much of this decade, and jazz followers who are aware of this are going to be looking for signs of it in the music he created during this period, and won't have to look very hard before they find it. Shaw gave himself a top report card as an ultra cool funky rocking drummer, yet he completely flunks on these tunes, suggesting that the ability to keep a beat could easily be tied into standard tests for intoxication. The famous players on this record all have lots of other material available; the only one who doesn't is guitarist Dominique Gaumont, who plays the best solos and ironically has absolutely no connection with St. Louis.

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