Thursday, November 28, 2013

CD Reissue of the Month - "Miroslav Vitous: Magical Shepherd"

CD Reissue of the Month
Miroslav Vitous: "Magical Shepherd" (Warner Bros.) 1976/2013

Rating: **** (musical performance & sonic quality)

Featuring: Miroslav Vitous (electric bass, electric guitar, 360 guitar synthesizer, MiniMoog synth), Herbie Hancock (Fender Rhodes electric piano, Hohner Clavinet, Arp Odissey and Arp Strings synths), James Gadson & Jack DeJohnette (drums), Airto Moreira (percussion), Cheryl Grainger & Onike Lee (vocals)

Produced by Miroslav Vitous and David Rubinson & Friends
Recorded @ Wally Heider Recording Studios & Funky Features (San Francisco, CA)
Engineers: Fred Catero, David Rubinson, Jack Leahy, Richard Greene
Mixed by David Rubinson
Cover Photo and Art Direction: Herbie Greene
Orion Photo: Lick Observatory

The psychedelic cover says it all. Well, almost. This is truly an one-of-a-kind and peculiar project. Very tasty funky-disco fusion session cut in San Francisco (in 1976) by Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous, a founding member of Weather Report who contributed to the group's first five albums (counting "Live in Tokyo.") The sound is very much in keeping with Herbie Hancock's early 70s funk albums – with lots of nice long electric cosmic grooves, and spare tasty keyboard jams. But in a deeper and wilder way. The album's got some great long tracks that really stretch out nicely, all served up on a host of vintage keyboards from Herbie and Miroslav himself. Not surprisingly, Herbie's producer and manager at that time, David Rubinson, co-produced the date.

There are also string contributions by drummer James Gadson (replaced in two tracks by Jack DeJohnette), Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, and Flora Purim-inspired vocal trips by Cheryl Grainger and Onike Lee (who also wrote most of the lyrics.) Flora's huge influence on the vocal concept is not a surprise either, since Miroslav and Flora had close ties around that time, and the bassist had been a key force on Flora's second album for Milestone, "Stories To Tell." Soon after Flora was arrested, and the only reason she didn't took part of "Magical Shepherd" was because she was still in jail when the album was recorded.

Tracks include "Basic Laws", the proto-disco "New York City," the ferocious title track "Magical Shepherd," "Synthesizers Dance" (the only instrumental track), "Aim Your Eye", and a very spaced-out cosmic ballad, "From Far Away," performed only by Vitous (who plays all the keyboards), Airto and Cheryl Grainger.

"Magical Shepherd" had been previously released on CD in the USA ten years ago, by the independent label Wounded Bird, but remained in-print for only six months and immediately became a much sought-after item. Hopefully, this new reissue, by Warner Music Japan, will open the ears of a younger audience for an adventurous project. 

Like fusion connoisseur Thom Jurek wrote when reviewing the album for the All Music Guide: "There is no soul-jazz here -- this is pedal-to-the-metal, booty-grindin' R&B crossed with edgy monitors bleeding into the red-jamming and dark-angel vocals, sending the whole thing off into the stratosphere. For anyone interested in the wilder, woolier music of the mid-'70s, "Magical Shepherd" holds up exceedingly well." 

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