[Sprawl of Sound] Unearthed Gems by David Axelrod, Bill Cosby, New Nuggets From Leviathan Brothers

All That Soul Jazz
Unearthed gems by David Axelrod and Bill Cosby, new nuggets from the Leviathan Brothers

In the first half of the '70s, Los Angeles studios spawned literally tons of classic recordings. Many of them somehow eluded popularity and instead became holy grails among collectors, hip-hop producers and crate-digging DJs seeking to out-geek their competitors with obscure sonic treasures.

The Chicago-based Dusty Groove label (also an excellent online and brick-and-mortar shop) recently reissued two such beauties: David Axelrod's Seriously Deep (1975) and Bill Cosby's Badfoot Brown N the Bunions Bradford Funeral N Marching Band (1971). (While you're at it, check out Dusty Groove's re-release of Gal Costa's humid 1969 Tropicalia classic Gal.) Both albums reflect the richness of LA's session-musician pool, as well as their auteurs' dazzling creativity.

These works were recorded during a fleeting golden age, when major labels' deep pockets often funded innovative ensembles with little concern for commercial prospects. Additionally, analog recording technology was at its zenith, and drugs were incredibly potent and plentiful. Combine all that, and you get warehouses full of rock, jazz, Latin, funk and soul wax for which heads are still spending mad loot.

Axelrod's Seriously Deep mystifyingly had been out of print for decades. Ax (born 1936) is one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop, and Seriously Deep is one of his funkiest and greatest creations. How many hundreds of producers are now going to sample the drums on this album's “Miles Away,” “1000 Rads” and “Go for It”?

A white man hired by Capitol Records to head its black music department, Ax established himself as a bold composer, producer and arranger for Lou Rawls, Cannonball Adderley, South African vocalist Letta Mbulu and others. He also helmed psych-rock projects by the Electric Prunes, as well as issuing several seminal orch-rock efforts under his own name, with sterling accompaniment from bassist Carol Kaye, drummer Earl Palmer and guitarist Howard Roberts.

By the time he cut Seriously Deep, Ax had a different crew behind him, including keyboardist Joe Sample and drummer Ndugu Chancler (a Miles Davis sideman). Oddly, Ax handed production duties to Jimmy Bowen and Adderley (though Ax did compose, arrange and conduct all six tracks). Disc opener “Miles Away” reveals a more stripped-down style of jazz-funk that prevails throughout Seriously Deep.

Ax mutes his trademark grandiose orchestral flourishes for a harder-hitting rhythmic attack. This is big-city/big-band funk of exquisite complexity and thrilling dynamics, masterfully arranged to let all the instruments shine, without sounding cluttered. Sample's florid Arp, Rhodes and clavinet riffs, Mailto Correa's perky conga patter, Jim Hughart's serpentine bass and the opalescent vibes of Gary Coleman (not the actor) particularly stand out. Seriously Deep is one of Ax's pinnacles, and, mercifully, you don't have to pay outrageous sums for it.

Now, what if I told you that Bill Cosby was responsible for one of the most out-there, jazzadelic sides from the '70s? You'd think it was a joke. But no. In 1971, the future able huckster/Dr. Huxtable guided a superb group through the revelatory Badfoot Brown N the Bunions Bradford Funeral N Marching Band.

Consisting of two long tracks, Badfoot Brown starts with the 15-minute “Martin's Funeral,” which eulogizes in exceptionally soulful fashion assassinated civil-rights leader Dr. King. Cosby leads the way on keyboards; his uncredited bandmates are spirited ringers who could've graced stages with any of the era's major fusion figures. Passages of exquisite tension and suspense (thanks to the massively rumbling bass drums) alternate with those of building exultation as these excellent musicians try to come to terms with tragedy and rise above it through collective energy and inventiveness.

The 20-minute “Hybish Shybish” delves deeply into malarial groove science; it's not exaggeration to rank this with the best compositions by Miles' sprawling '70s groups and Herbie Hancock's mystical Mwandishi outfit. This is jazz-funk fusion with an explosive sense of purpose. It's powerful and intense enough to make one forgive Cosby for his misguidedly sweeping condemnations of hip-hop—and those dubious sweaters.

For more information, visit www.dustygroove.com.

LA's Leviathan Brothers—keyboardist Sean O'Connell and drummer Miles Senzaki—have just finished recording their Short Stories EP (tentatively due in September, with art by South Park animator Ryan Quincy, who also directed a video for LB's gorgeous “Hoboken Promises,” which will be included on the CD; YouTube it). Another tune from it, “Desperate Futures,” links churchy organ dirge with athletically stumbling funk. (J.P. Maramba plays bass on the EP, but live, the Brothers remain a duo.) Short Stories, recorded in one afternoon at Pasadena's Hot Pie Studios, will also include idiosyncratic covers of the Cold War Kids' “Pass the Hat” and the Beatles' “The Inner Light.”

Why should you care? Leviathan Brothers are one of the few SoCal units who could give jammy jazzbos Medeski Martin N Wood a run with their brilliant interpretations of pop/rock classics and their own elegantly edgy compositions. Plus, they have some of the wittiest stage banter going.

Leviathan Brothers perform two extended sets at the District Lounge, 223 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-7777; www.thedistrictlounge.com. Tues., 9 p.m. Free. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/leviathanbrothers.


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