Thursday, 16 July 2009

Moe Koffman - Things Are Looking Up



Things Are Looking Up

256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from GRT 9230-1078

Yeesh. Listening to this LP is almost physically painful for me. It's not just the fact it's a textbook smooth-jazz snoozer, although that does have quite a bit to do with it. The aversion I have to this album is mostly related to its (and my) time and place in history more than anything else. You see, I was 8 years old when this was released and, for me, it's the sound of sitting in doctor/dentist waiting rooms and getting dragged to the supermarket in the late 70s and early 80s.

Heck, this album - especially the production techniques - pretty much sums up everything I wrongfully associated with post-bop jazz (exceptions being the soundtracks of Spider-Man, Space Ghost and Johnny Quest) until I started listening to soul-jazz and proper fusion in
junior high. Whaddaya expect? I was a white kid without older siblings growing up in a mid-west medium-market city where the radio choices were Top 40, C&W or AOR and my parents listened to Babs Streisand, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson and Roger Whittaker. I think I overcame that handicap pretty well, thanks very much, but sounds like these still tend to make me cringe reflexively.

The epitome of poor format in both musical and technological terms

Of course, with the team involved here there are a few enjoyable (and eminently samplable) moments, regardless of the childhood-trauma-induced baggage I've saddled on this old grey mare. And an old grey mare it is, since Moe's sound, she ain't what she used to be. I can get past most of those memories but this is still a paint-by-numbers, overproduced piece of pap that's so watered-down, "smooth" is a misnomer. It would be better described as "thin and runny." Even then it's a crime against nature, defying the laws of fluid dynamics by having an exceptionally low viscosity yet it somehow still manages to completely hamper flow and restrict movement.

If the two preview tracks don't do it for you at all, you probably shouldn't bother grabbing the full release since those are a cut above the rest. I find myself enjoying Lighthouse quite a bit since it's the odd-man-out and its cinematic feel is the closest thing to what I would call real jazz. Stanloo is a bit more representative of the other tracks, although it's funkier than the rest by at least a furlong - yikes!

It's fairly obvious the fleeting moment of Moe's funky(ish) flute fusion had finished and he really should have put that filly out to pasture prior to this. Thankfully, like most artists of the era, he returned to straight-ahead jazz by the early 80s and regained the critical acclaim that had steadily eroded as the 70s wore on. This helps explains the "black hole" effect of the 70s jazz era in Canada that was briefly touched on in the comments for Dr. Music's Bedtime Story.

As far as the roster is concerned, we've already covered most of the players in some detail. Ed Bickert is a massive star in the Canadian jazz constellation and extremely influential on canuck guitarists from the 60s to the 90s but his popularity and reach extend much further as a precursory search on the google will quickly reveal. His relationship with Moe goes all the way back to the 50s as well, appearing on Moe's debut Cool and Hot Sax in '56 which included Moe's smash hit "Swingin' Shepherd Blues".

As wonderful as Bickert's works book-ending this session were - Down Beat spoke of his stint with Paul Desmond two years prior as having an "understated eloquence matched only by such masters as Jim Hall" and the year following he was touring the world with Milt Jackson to great acclaim and forming his relationship with Concord Jazz as Rosemary Clooney's guitar player - he's pretty much restricted by the "smooth jazz lite" format here. Sure his tone is excellent as always and he plays superbly but he is sometimes (and unfairly) pegged as more of an adept technician than soulful artist and this set does more to exacerbate that perception than it does to dispel it.

Ed, Moe & James (Jimmie) Dale in 1965 backing Guido Basso from The Boss Brass

Marty Morell's biggest claim to fame is definitely as part of the Bill Evans Trio from 1968 to 1974 - the longest any drummer stayed with Evans. You can hear some of his work with the trio at Soundological's post of Evan's From The 70s or on a slew of his albums covered by master Simon at never enough rhodes. His web page seems to have died out since we last checked in but thanks to the wayback machine at, you can still read up on his activities with Evans, The Boss Brass and on the Broadway circuit. Personally, my favourite work with his presence on percussion is probably Gabor Szabo's classic The Sorcerer. For some reason, his participation on this particular Koffman piece doesn't make his "selected" discography. Go figure.

Not much info on Rick Homme out there besides assorted credits on dozens of Canadian albums. As far as Moe's 70s output is concerned, he played on the ones with the most appeal to jazz purists: Solar Explorations, Live at George's and Museum Pieces. He remains active in the Canadian jazz scene, still doing some recording and a good deal of gigging across the country but especially in the Greater Toronto Area.

Moe Koffman - Flute, Bass Flute
Don Thompson - Keyboards
Rick Homme - Electric Bass
Marty Morrell - Drums, Percussion
Ed Bickert - Guitar
Bob Mann - Guitar (5)
Doug Riley - Keyboards (1,4)
James Dale - Keyboards (5)

1 Things Are Looking Up
2 Freefall
3 Sempre Con Tigo
4 Minstrel's Hymn
5 Stanloo
6 If You Ever Went Away
7 Lighthouse
8 Some Moe Bossa

Look up, look waaay up, with Soundological HERE or HERE.


E-mile said...

GASP! (Go Another Safe Path?)
this I say WITHOUT even having a lissen :-) Your elevator-story at age 8 scares the hell out of me :-)
peace, E-mile
BTW: ofcourse this HAS to be done, for the Canadian Herbie Mann-story!

cheeba said...

Yes, E-mile, you are absolutely correct. This post was more in the interest of archiving and telling the story of the "Canadian Herbie Mann" as you say :)

I must admit that I have a hard time with smooth jazz itself, so folks who do like that strain of music might enjoy this quite a bit. Even if it's not for me, I wouldn't want to deny them their pleasure!

E-mile said...

Cheeba, I could (would I?) do a similar effort for the Dutch flautist Chris Hinze... thinking of it, he has made some REALLY crappy stuff over the years, I even sold all of the man's LP's I had, some 15 or 20 years ago :-)
Come to think of it, part 2, I even won't do it for the Focus-Flute of Tijs Van Leer either[:-)
Come to think of it, part 3, I WILL do another flirtin flutes-post soon :-)
peace, E-mile

moha said...

I feel better staying at the 60's world of Koffmann. In some cases sadly the roads lead to wrong directions.

cheeba said...

Hi moha! I can completely understand your comment! With some artists, their 80s retreat back into trad was disappointing but with Moe, it was actually a wise move.