David Axelrod

The Axelrod Chronicles

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The first half of this 16-track compilation is comprised of Axelrod's 1974 album Heavy Axe (which he arranged and conducted without playing any instruments); the final eight tracks are cuts from 1973-1974 that Axelrod produced and/or arranged on albums by Gene Ammons, Nat Adderley, Hampton Hawes, and Funk, Inc.. Axelrod's reputation underwent an extraordinary reassessment in the late '90s, with his instrumental albums and work as an arranger coming to be considered innovative and au courant by some tastemakers. Even taking into account that Heavy Axe is just one of many records bearing the Axelrod imprint, one has to wonder if the rehabilitation is in fact unwarranted inflation. It's run-of-the-mill, largely instrumental soul-jazz-funk, split between Axelrod originals and covers of tunes by Stevie Wonder, Carly Simon, Vince Guaraldi, and Cannonball Adderley. It would be eminently suitable for background soundtrack music for 1970s films and made-for-TV movies, and while some such efforts can be good, in this context, that is not meant as praise. Do you really want to hear a watery fusion cover of "You're So Vain," with Stephanie Spruill's straining soul vocals? You're welcome to it. Although about a couple of dozen musicians (including Adderley and Gene Ammons) take part in the string- and horn-drenched arrangements, really these aren't that creative. They sound more like quickly assembled, made-to-order filler music for video productions, the horns sometimes sounding rather like those of school marching bands, with touches of early-'70s-style electric keyboards and wah-wahing funk-rock guitars. There's an orgiastic, wordless female vocal on "Mucho Chupar," if that's your bag. As for the bonus cuts with assorted other artists, these are mostly pretty blah fusion, bearing the stamp of bloated, too-slick circa 1973-1974 pop-jazz-rock production. Nat Adderley gets into moodily suave pop-soul vocals on "Quit It," which is about the best of the extras.

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