Into the Vinyl Vault: Vol. 1- Herbie Mann's London Underground
Once through the doorway of our state of the art security system, to the right will be a large wooden shelving unit brimming with vinyl records. It is an overwhelmingly large amount of records, even for an amateur audiophile like myself. Only the classic's covers, like John Coltrane's Love Supreme, face outward with an air of solidified historical importance, while the majority of them remain packed together like nameless patrons on a Japanese subway car. Upon seeing this I wondered what gems were dormant, lost amidst the rubble of wax, just waiting to be explored again. Thus today marks the first of what will be a weekly installment, where I randomly select a record, take it home, listen to it, research it and present it to you in all it's glory (or terribleness). We at 88.9 Radio Milwaukee are pleased to present you with an ongoing look into our Vinyl Vault.
While I stood before the aforementioned musical monstrosity and realized that I was to randomly select the all important first record, my fingers trembled and a single bead of sweat trickled down my brow. I took a deep breathe and prayed that Yanni wasn't going to pop out at me and curse the project before it had even begun. When my eyes met the cover of flutist Herbie Mann's 1974 album London Underground there was a sudden pang of dread and the realization that moving forward I should be a little more specific in my prayers. Despite the realization that this record was a jazz flutist’s attempt at classic rock songs, like a nauseating rendition of Eric Clapton's “Layla”, I held onto a semblance of hope, remembering the countless times I'd been mistaken about a record before.
Unfortunately my initial inclination was correct, Herbie Mann's London Underground is an atrocity, likely rooted in contractual obligations to his label and a misguided attempt to remain relevant. Sadly the best track on the whole ordeal is a cover of the Rolling Stones' “B****”, which features then Stone Mick Taylor displaying his chops on the guitar. It's a decent cover all in all, but ultimately it is a Stones song reinterpreted for the flute, which is inherently an awful idea. From there it all goes down hill, the 8 minute long take on “Layla” nearly brought me to the breaking point; no literally I almost broke the station's record in half. The remainder of the record consists of uninspired musicians relying solely on their technical prowess to get them by, resulting in song after song consisting of regurgitated ideas and cliché solos. Truthfully, I will plead with the rest of the staff to burn this record.
As desperately as I wanted this first installment to feature a forgotten artifact of unparalleled beauty, I was slapped in the face by the music gods, who seem to be philosophically opposed to my mission. But we shall prevail, because as with all things in life that disappoint there is a silver lining that reveals itself by merely adjusting perspective. Thus we have Herbie Mann's back catalogue. Herbie Mann's work as a jazz flutist was so prolific that it easily squashes the aberration that was London Underground. His 1965 record entitled Herbie Mann & Joao Gilberto With Antonio Carlos Jobim is an essential bit of pre-Tropicalia Bossa Nova that is perfect for a sunny day in the park. Also worthy of note is 1969's Memphis Underground , an awesome synthesis of jazz, soul and funk. Mann was arguably the greatest jazz flutist of his time, playing legendary sets at the Newport Jazz Festival and briefly rising to the top of the radio charts with the 1974 hit “Hijack”. Mann died in 2003 but should always be remembered as one of the most important purveyors of Brazilian music in the United States.