There’s quite a few labels that get to dip into the vaults of The Major Record Labels and reissue stuff from as far back as the 50s and as recent as the 90s, albums that don’t have enough "profit margin" or somesuch to warrant the Majors reissuing these out-of-print records on CD. Collectables is one such label, and they’ve been restoring much of 60s & 70s Atlantic catalog of jazz flutist Herbie Mann.
Herbie Mann has been maligned by the jazz press over the years, many because Mann has been unafraid to "go (very) commercial" from time to time. True, his discography is spotty, but Mann doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being a great bandleader - just look at but a few graduates of Mann College: Roy Ayers, Sonny Sharrock, Miroslav Vitous, Patato Valdes, Steve Marcus and Larry Coryell; special guest lecturers have included Bill Evans, Duane Allman and David "Fathead" Newman. Mann has been unafraid to experiment, while he’s often (sometimes rightly) accused of jumping on trends, he’s also often been a little ahead of the curve, spreading the word about music from off the beaten path. Japanese gagaku, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Middle Eastern and rock/funk/reggae fusion sounds have all graced the Mann palette. (Plus, he produced Sonny Sharrock’s mind-boggling free jazz album "Black Woman."!) The disc at hand re-presents two very different Mann albums from 1958, Windows Opened and The Inspiration I Feel - the former, a straight-ahead hard-swinging hard-bop session with free undertones; the latter, a tribute to Ray Charles.
Windows surges with swing and forward motion - while not being "Avant-garde," Mann was aware of the changes in jazz going on at the time, and absorbed influences from it at a time when most other mainstream jazz players held it in low regard. Roy Ayers plays his vibes in a powerfully percussive manner, but can also lay down a shimmering texture for the melody of "By The Time I get To Phoenix." Miroslav Vitous (bass) and the late great Sonny Sharrock (guitar) contribute some of the more advanced sounds heard here. Sharrock’s approach, in particular, is passionate and very horn-like - no surprise, since his goal, in part, was to do on guitar what John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders were doing on the saxophone. Bruno Carr isn’t the subtlest of drummers, but it’s nice to hear a jazz guy play with a real R&B/soul WALLOP. Mann’s sound, too, is not exactly subtle - it’s very fast, full and hearty - again, more of saxophonist’s approach than that of a flutist. There’s none of the "delicateness" many folks associate with the flute, and that’s a definite plus. Alas, the second album reissued here would be better left to history, as it’s a rather heavy-handed, awkward piece of schlock. Inspiration consists of Mann and an anonymous battery of horns, strings and background singers (the latter littering the landscape with wordless "ba-ba-dahp" and "dee-da-deddle-da" sounds) doing Charles’ hits like "Lonely Avenue" and "I Got A Woman" in a corny, painfully earnest manner. Much of this sounds like the ersatz "groovy music" you might hear in the soundtrack of a mediocre 1960s film. It could’ve been good, if it was Mann and his regular band (like the cats on Windows, maybe?), but as it is, it’s a well-intended laff riot. BUT, having said that, let me make clear that this platter IS worth acquiring just for Windows Opened - while not exactly a lost classic, it’s some damn fine jazz nonetheless. (And for fans of the amazing Sonny Sharrock, it’s a must! No, it's not as wild as his solo stuff, but so what...)