Before “fusion” became a dirty jazz word, Down Beat writer Bob Rusch was one of the few who could hear the difference between a commercial extreme and Marc Cohen Copland’s thoroughly original, musical approach.
FRIENDS — Oblivion Records (New Music Distribution) od 3: ⅝ Tune; Black Vibrations; Nursery Rhyme; Loose Tune.
Personnel: Cohen, electric alto sax; Jeff WIlliams, drums; Clint Houston, fretted bass, acoustic bass; John Abercrombie, S4 & 12-string guitars.
***** (5 stars)
It has been my contention for some time that although independent and co-operative record companies account for an absurdly small percentage, in sales, of the total records moved in the jazz market, their musical and historical level of importance is of a far greater percentage.
The “indies” for the most part stand out as enigmas aside the commercially-oriented giants, usually pushing a favorite idiom/era or style of jazzed sounds, with a particular artist as the focal point. Set into this pattern comes the enigma of enigmas, Oblivion Records, which over the past 3 or 4 years has managed to push out a total of 4 LPs and one 45 record. The material has ranged from rural field blues to urban blues to mainstream jazz to electronic jazz/rock. Their one constant quality of music along with the humor and personal approach to production and packaging.
The Marc Cohen Friends album was recorded in Dec. 1972, and apparently has been met, since its release, by a wall of silence from the media. Cohen, a Philadelphian who has worked with Chico Hamilton, does not merely utilize the electric alto sax with octave divider, tape echo, wah-wah and fuzz tone, he innovates with it. It is a direction in which Eddie Harris has been moving, but Cohen is there! Cohen has transformed the electric sax from a gimmick to a concept in instrumentation with its own identity and horizons.
With the exception of Nursery Rhyme (a very lyrical Three Blind Mice), the tempo ranges from uptempo to absurd. Fortunately all the musicians are up to it; Jeff WIlliams’ speed is often electrifying in itself. Cohen and Abercrombie seem particularly inventive and in harmony with and of each other. Clint Houston is left with the most traditional role of pushing out a relatively tame bass line. Very electronic, very stimulating, very inventive and innovative, and very much worth your attention and investment.
—Bob Rusch0 comments Tagged: Friends, Marc Cohen, Marc Copland, John Abercrombie, Clint Houston, Jeff Williams, 1975, review, Down Beat,.
Here are the bonus tracks I’ve been promising to the Marc Cohen Copland’s “Friends” LP. They pre-date the “Friends” sessions by some seven months, but this session was why I wanted to make the record in the first place. No one knew what was in store for us this May night in 1972, but I, for one, heard something I’d never forget. “Fusion” had been in the air for a few years, but Marc was one of the very few that actually merged the harmonic and rhythmic truths and jazz with rock.
For those of us who were jazzically inclined at Columbia in the late 60s, alto saxophonist/composer Marc Cohen Copland was a legend. I’d seen him perform with the Chico Hamilton Quartet, and engineered a recording of his big band at a campus auditorium, but we hadn’t really met until my pal David Reitman had Marc play on his radio show with a trio in the spring of 1972. As usual, I was engineering the live radio shot, and the first tune was a slightly more radical than mainstream outing. But when bassist Glen Moore was playing a long introduction to his Three Step Dance, Marc started fiddling with a guitar amplifier and Echoplex, and things started getting a little wild. If I closed my eyes I would have thought some kind of electric rock guitar had snuck in.
The next medley clinched it. Marc had gone completely out there. Not in the avant-garde jazz way I was starting to like, but somewhere further. It was liked he’d taken Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and The Tony Williams Lifetime, and crossed it over with some of Cream or Hendrix or something. Actually, that’s not accurate. The truth is I didn’t know what the hell I was hearing, but I really liked it. We all did. The set list had some more familiar territory, but when it was all over the only thing remembered was the new sounds. They were certainly seared into my ears.
Almost 40 years later, I can’t tell you whether I approached Marc about releasing the tapes that same night, or whether it was in the days afterwards. Tom and I had just started Oblivion, but our releases were Tom’s blues passions and I was itching to document my side of the quarry. I figured it would be on the avant tip, but this session was incendiary to me and unlike anything in the world. We’d be the first with something, a real break for a tiny indie label. We’d call it “electronic jazz” (fusion was a term that came with the inevitable popularity), and it wasn’t until a couple of years later that it turned into music that we’d never listen to again.
Downer! Marc didn’t like the sessions, for reasons he never explained to me, but he was willing to come back later in the year with a quartet (adding his friend, electric guitarist John Abercrombie). We agreed, and made the date in December.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that turned on by the master sessions, certainly not like on these takes. But, I didn’t have enough confidence to listen to the original sessions again and demand the better performances. (Just compare this “5/8 Tune” with the one on the released album. Or “Loose Tune”, May and December.)
I always thought the lack of absolute magic might have something to do with the final reaction to the album. A lot of progressive reviewers liked it, but the public never warmed. Some thought it was my choice for the cover, others thought it was ahead of its time. But, as I listen to these “demos” again for the first time in four decades, I think it was really the ‘X’ factor, that thing that separates the unique and different from the special.0 comments Tagged: Friends, Jeff Williams, Marc Cohen, OD-3, recording,.
Oblivion Records #OD-3
I was the go-to guy for engineering live music sessions at Columbia University’s WKCR between 1970 and 1973. So when David Reitman made the call for a May 1972 trio session featuring Chico Hamilton sideman (and Columbia graduate) Marc Cohen (with Glenn Moore on bass and Jeff Williams on drums) I was there. The shocker is that Marc had electricfied his saxophone and the result sounded less like Paul Desmond and more like Eric Clapton. In the aftermath of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and The Tony Williams Lifetime the fusion (no one was calling it that yet, thank goodness) of rock and jazz was being invented in front of our ears.
I was immediately enthralled and approached Marc to allow us to release the results on Oblivion Records. Intrigued, Marc asked to come back with another group for a session he could think about a little more; the trio was more of an experiment and he was dissatisfied with his playing. When he came back in December it was with a quartet, with John Abercrombie on guitar (not yet a star, his first solo album would come out in 1974) and Clint Houston on bass. The sessions didn’t have the manic energy I so enjoyed with the trio, but it had richness, harmony and structure lacking in the original date.
Marc was uncomfortable being named the leader given the collective nature of the improvisations even though he composed three quarters of the date and put the group together. He named the record and the group “Friends.”
The reviews were ecstatic: “A promising indication of things to come [in] New Electronic Music,” said Crawdaddy! Magazine.
Click here to listen to the entire album in CD quality MP3s, and read the liner notes and credits.
‘Anonymous’ commented on the first ‘complete Friends’ post: “…my god this should be rereleased on cd, it’s simply incredible!”
So, I decided to re-post the tracks in “Total O! (for Oblivion) Quality” —CD quality— sound with the highest MP3 rip rate, 320kbps. Effectively, you’d have to take the post as the actual “Friends” LP reissue. Enjoy, and at some point I’ll go into why I’ve done it this way rather than a traditional release (Update @ January 1, 2012: Well, now there’s a “traditional” release, digital though it is. If you’re so inclined, Friends is available at your favorite digital store at streaming site.)0 comments Tagged: Friends, Clint Houston, complete, fusion, Jeff Williams, John Abercrombie, Marc Cohen, MP3s,.
I finally got a chance to post the complete original “Friends” LP, one of the first albums to mash up jazz improvisation with a rock sensibility. With the rise of The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever the music unfortunately became known as “fusion.”
“Friends” was actually alto saxophonist’s Marc Cohen’s project*, but at the last minute he added in his friend, guitarist John Abercrombie, to the mix and insisted it be credited as a collective album.
Check out session photos, album graphics, and reviews. There are some really interesting bonus tracks and outtakes coming as I can get them digitized.
*Marc now performs on piano as Marc Copeland.0 comments Tagged: Friends, Clint Houston, complete, fusion, Jeff Williams, John Abercrombie, Marc Cohen, Marc Copeland, OD-3,.