Ronnie Foster – The Two-Headed Freap (1972)

I have no idea what a freap is, and a two-headed specimen is something I can’t begin to imagine. Regardless, this sparkling slice of funked out soul jazz is a pure document of the times from which it emerged. Many jazz purists were dismayed that Blue Note would dare release anything so unashamedly contemporary, but these people were in total denial that the golden age of jazz was done and dusted and that the once mighty roster of Blue Note artistes had evolved. The days of swinging Hank Mobley sides were over, Grant Green was by now releasing commercial funk albums, even the usually dependable Horace Silver who had released so many great Blue Notes in the fifties and sixties had gone cosmic and lost his way. Alfred Lion had sold the label to Liberty in 1966 who themselves were bought out by the financial conglomerate Transamerica in ’68, retaining the Blue Note name purely for marketing purposes. Effectively, the party was over; organist Ronnie Foster was given a chance to record his debut and the purists had to suck it up.

Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, The Two-Headed Freap has a shimmering widescreen fidelity that is soaked in early ’70s essence. Sonically it is closer to the 21st century than anything Hammond maestro Jimmy Smith ever released during his long association with Blue Note, and way groovier. Foster might not have the command of his instrument like Smith did, but he takes chances and devises risky convolutions. The effervescent ‘Chunky’ opens with an overdriven electric guitar that lets you know we’re not in Kansas anymore. This is probably the point where critics tuned out, but the organ soon takes over and the jazz component comes into view. There is a debt to the Chicano rhythms of Santana on the stand-out title track and to a lesser degree elsewhere on the album. With its gently caressing guitar, ‘Summer Song’ has an ocean haze all around it, the frenetic organ solo glinting off the slow sea-swell, similarly the magical ‘Mystic Brew’ celebrates a stoned/sleepy tropical morning in all its recumbent glory with a dappled fade-out solo replicating the infinite fractals of a multicoloured Mandelbrot Set. The covers ‘Drowning In The Sea Of Love’ (strong) and ‘Let’s Stay Together’ (less strong) are out-shone by the originals offered here, but are not out of place. The album is closed by the near-psychedelic ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ which is the funkiest thing here, with shades of Dr. Lonnie Smith in weird mode.

Disconcerting at the time for those wanting more Dexter Gordon LPs, The Two-Headed Freap (whatever that means) is much fresher sounding today than much of the Blue Note output of the time and, happily, did not represent the end of jazz forever.

 

 

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