Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Roberta Flack - Go Up Moses (Atlantic 2851)

Go Up Moses


I was saddened to learn that all around hip cat and total original Joel Dorn passed away after suffering a massive heart attack yesterday in New York. I'm going to do something I don't usually do here, and repost this supremely excellent song that I put up when Arif Mardin died back in July of 2006... I think it's one of the best things Dorn ever produced. Here's some of what I had to say back then:

"Joel Dorn was a disk jockey on Philadelphia's legendary jazz station, WHAT FM. Atlantic Records honcho Nesuhi Ertegun, a big "jazz man", heard him and offered him a chance to produce an album for the company. When The Laws Of Jazz, the first record to feature Hubert Laws as band leader, became a breakthrough success in 1964, Ertegun hired Dorn full-time. He went on to essentially head the jazz division of the label, and soon became a vice-president.

One of his favorite artists at Atlantic was Les McCann, a great piano player and vocalist whose ground-breaking work with his trio came to be known as "soul-jazz". It was Dorn and Ertegun who paired them with sax giant Eddie Harris at the Montreux Jazz Festival and recorded the hip classic Swiss Movement in 1969. When they released Compared To What, the incredible tell-it-like-it-is proto-rap message song that still rings true today ("...have one doubt, they call it treason!") as a single from the record in early 1970, it broke the R&B top 40 and became somewhat of a cult classic. The tune was written by Gene McDaniels, who would go on to create hip-hop underground favorite, Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse, the following year...

When Les McCann heard Roberta Flack singing at The Bohemian Caverns in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1968, he flipped. "Her voice touched, tapped, trapped and kicked over every emotion I've ever known", he said, and brought her down to Joel Dorn at Atlantic. He agreed, and the album they recorded in early 1969, First Take, is simply amazing. Produced by Dorn, it blurs the lines between jazz, soul, and folk (yup!) and comes up with some truly powerful stuff. An all-star jazz line-up featuring John Pizzarelli on guitar and Ron Carter on bass complemented Flack and her piano. In addition to Compared To What, it features two songs written by a friend from her days at Howard University, one Donny Hathaway... Her next album, Chapter Two, continued in the same vein, with Dorn using his jazz chops to bring in folks like Hubert Laws and Chuck Rainey. Donny Hathaway contributes another song, and actually plays keyboards on a few tracks. Although the album lists King Curtis as co-producer, he doesn't seem to be playing on it...

When Joel Dorn began production on Roberta Flack's third album, Quiet Fire, in 1971, he brought in Mardin as an arranger. The album features more jazz session heavyweights like Hugh McCracken, Bernard Purdie and Grady Tate. Today's B side (the flip of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow) was co-written by Flack, Dorn and Jesse Jackson(!), and is an answer to the traditional spiritual Go Down Moses. It exhorts Black America to quit begging off Pharoah and just let HIM go. Powerful stuff, delivered in this kind of spooky 'night-tripper' groove that just keeps building... I love it! In one of those little known places that Arif Mardin turns up in, that's him and Dorn joining in the background vocals on here. WAY cool, man..."

Yes, way cool, indeed, and just the sort of thing that Dorn did best, defying all genres and classifications to cut the best record he knew how. In a recent interview in Jazzitude, Dorn rails against the 'Pigeonhole Patrol' and the state of 'the industry' in general. Everything he had to say was right on the money...

"The days of the Alfred Lion, Norman Granz, Leonard Chess, Berry Gordy…all these one of a kind guys who ran labels according to their passion, or their own taste…that’s over. They can come up with all the bullshit in the world about, you know, piracy and MP3 and downloading and the economy…let me tell you something. You make a record tomorrow that makes you feel like a Marvin Gaye record did thirty years ago, I don’t give a f*#k how bad the economy is, people will be in there. They’ll buy that record.”

A realist who refused to play the game, he was a breath of fresh air in this stuffy world.

I'm gonna miss him.


Blogger Funky16Corners said...

Actually, 'Compared to What' was first recorded by Les McCann in 1966. I included his version is my 3rd Anniversary mix. I had it for years and had no idea because it's the final trackon an album filled with pop covers like 'Pretty Flamingo'. I've never been able to find an earlier version than this (even by McDaniels).

12:37 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...


Thanks Larry... I had no clue, man. Thanks for setting the record straight!

2:41 PM  
Blogger Funky16Corners said...

No problem Red. I had researched the crap out of this a while ago and was unable to find anything earlier than Roberta Flack's take (I love that album too, esp the Leonard Cohen cover). That I had it sitting on a shelf for years waiting for me to find it was something of an embarassment.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Almost as embarrassing as the fact that I've had your third anniversary mix unzipped into my iTunes since before Thanksgiving, and haven't had a chance o actually listen to it yet...



5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much much later now, I must take note of how difficult it can be to find the lyrics to 'Go Up Moses,' anywhere on the web.

8:46 PM  

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