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Craft Recordings Celebrates November's Record Store Day on Black Friday with Exciting LP Releases!

11-11-2023 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 130

Craft Recordings is offering another exciting line-up of limited-edition LPs for the upcoming November 24th Black Friday celebration of Record Store Day (RSD). Craft's offering of rarities and specialty releases are just a handful among literally hundreds of cool records that will be available online and at your favorite independent record store. For Black Friday, Craft has seven exclusive releases, starting with a rare mono edition of arranger, composer, and pianist Gil Evans' classic Gil Evans & Ten (1957, Prestige Records), offered as a 180 gram black vinyl LP. There's also an equally rare, 50th anniversary, purple-marbled vinyl LP of drummer Chico Hamilton's virtually unknown The Master (1973, Enterprise Records), which features a backing band that includes Lowell George and most of the other members of Little Feat. Written In Their Souls - The Hits: The Stax Songwriter Demos (2023, Stax Records) culls standout tracks from the 13-disc box set released earlier this year on an orange crush-marbled vinyl LP. 

Jazz Dispensary: At the Movies (2023, Jazz Dispensary), features a collection of cult-classic soundtrack cuts from artists including Booker T. & The M.G.'s, Isaac Hayes, and Melvin Van Peebles on a single, purple haze vinyl LP. A pair of movie soundtracks are also being made available, including Alan Silvestri's large-scale symphonic score for the black comedy Death Becomes Her: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1992, Varese Sarabande), offered on an opaque purple vinyl LP. As well as a swirled bloodshot red, first-ever vinyl LP release of Carter Burwell's original score for the Coen Brothers' 1984 film Blood Simple: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2023, Varese Sarabande). Craft's slate of releases is punctuated by the holiday compilation Punk Goes To Christmas (2013, Fearless Records), which features a diverse slate of artists including New Found Glory, Yellowcard, and All Time Low, and is being made available on a pair of 45 rpm, semi-translucent green vinyl LPs. 

I received three of the seven available album titles for review, including Gil Evans' Gil Evans & Ten, Chico Hamilton's funk rock-infused The Master, and the soul/funk/jazz grooves of Jazz Dispensary: At the Movies. With regard to Record Store Day pricing of LPs, Craft Recordings allows a certain amount of latitude in RSD pricing to the independent and online outlets participating in the event, and the actual prices for these albums may differ slightly at the point of sale. MSRP'S weren't provided prior to publication, but the information will be updated once I receive it. 

Gil Evans, Gil Evans & Ten (in Mono), 180 gram Prestige Records LP

Gil Evans & Ten has a somewhat convoluted release history; it premiered in 1957 in mono, but was also sporadically re-released in the first decade or so following its recording under the album title Big Stuff. Regardless of the album's title, a few years after its debut, it was made available as a stereo release, and has never been re-released domestically in its original mono LP format until now. I love vintage mono pressings, and I have a second turntable setup reserved strictly for mono playback that's fitted with an Ortofon mono cartridge. Using a true mono cartridge for playback eliminates any crosstalk, phase errors, and tracking errors, and greatly reduces any groove noise from imperfections that might exist in mono LPs. And surprisingly, mono is capable of presenting a wide and realistic soundstage that simply has to be heard to be believed! Gil Evans & Ten is a classic example of superb vintage mono sound.

Gil Evans was mostly noteworthy as the arranger and conductor for the many classic big-band efforts of Miles Davis, including the albums Birth of the Cool, Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain. Gil Evans & Ten surprisingly represents Evans' debut as a bandleader, and his combo includes some heavy-hitters from that period of classic jazz. Including the likes of Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, bass trombonist Bart Varsalona, trumpeters Louis Mucci and John Carisi, French horn player Willie Ruff, and bassist Paul Chambers, among others. And, of course, all tracks feature Gil Evans' spare but elegant work on the piano. 

The album's seven tracks include Evans' sophisticated takes on classic standards; the opener, George Gershwin's "Remember," features Evans' own superb pianisms setting a languid pace for the nearly otherworldly horns that seem to absolutely float in the background. "Ella Speed" is a clever reworking of the Leadbelly tune, and opens with a superb solo by trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, then leaves plenty of room for solos from all the principals as they're serenaded by a continual chorus of swinging horns. Evans' cover of Lenny Bernstein's "Big Stuff" is one of the album's many highlights, and again, the type of exquisite horn arrangements that he used to such excellent effect throughout his work with Miles Davis are constantly in evidence here. The Evans' original, "Jambangle," steps up the tempo from the otherwise ethereal mood that fills much of the album.   

Gil Evans & Ten was remastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, and was pressed on a single, black 180 gram LP at RTI. Gray created the new lacquers from the original master tapes utilizing all-analog equipment, and a AAA mastering chain; the LP is limited to 7000 copies worldwide. I highly recommend this release not only for the excellent performances, but also for its superb sound quality, and the mono version will obviously have great appeal to collectors.


Chico Hamilton, The Master, 180 gram purple-marbled Enterprise Records LP

Jazz drummer and percussionist Forestorn "Chico" Hamilton played predominantly in a jazz setting his entire career, providing support for the likes of Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan, Count Basie, and Charles Mingus, to name a few. And he released at least four dozen albums as a leader, scattered across sixty years from the mid-fifties up until his death in 2013. This RSD Black Friday release, his 1973 album The Master, is the only obvious non-jazz album in his entire catalog, and was released on the Enterprise label, which was an imprint of Stax Records. So, it probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that it was neglected by his base, because it really wasn't extremely jazzy, or by rock fans, who probably had very little knowledge of Chico Hamilton's body of work. And the rock crowd obviously had no idea The Master featured Lowell George and most of Little Feat backing Chico Hamilton.

The all-instrumental recording features Chico Hamilton on drums and percussion, along with Lowell George on lead and slide guitars, Billy Payne on piano and keyboards, Paul Barrere on guitar, Sam Clayton on drums and congas, Stu Gardner on organ, and Kenny Gradney on bass. It's literally a Little Feat date, sans vocals, that's a bit more jazzily funkified than their typically refried funk-rock record—with Chico Hamilton occupying the spot behind the drum kit. It's an unbelievably enjoyable record, from the very first note!

The sprawling, densely orchestrated opener, "One Day Five Months Ago," greets you with Lowell George's trademark slide guitar work that interplays perfectly with Billy Payne's superb pianisms and Stu Gardner's organ fills. Along with Paul Barrere's excellent guitar work, Kenny Gradney's bass firmly anchors the rhythm section in tandem with drums and congas from Sam Clayton and, of course, Chico Hamilton; as great as this tune is, I really couldn't believe I'd never heard it, much less never even heard of it! "Feels Good" continues the groove, and again showcases what an exceptional guitar player Lowell George was. "Fancy" alternates tempos and moods between funky and laid-back; the band handles the sophisticated time changes effortlessly. "Stu" again features excellent interplay between Lowell George and Bill Payne, with a nicely funky backbeat from the rhythm section. "Gengis" is probably the jazziest tune on the album; Bill Payne switches to Fender Rhodes for the track, and Kenny Gradney lays down a delicious bass line that's punctuated by George's untypically restrained slide. The closer, "I Can Hear The Grass Grow," has a percussion-heavy vibe, with dual congas and Chico Hamilton's excellent drumming; Payne is again on electric piano, and Lowell George supplies the funky slide fills. 

The really cool, purple-marbled vinyl LP was beautiful, perfectly centered, and razor-flat; my playback experience was noise-free and flawless. This RSD exclusive LP is limited to 4000 copies worldwide. The lacquers for this pressing were mastered from the original tapes, and were part of an all-analog, AAA mastering chain utilized by Jeff Powell at Take Out Vinyl. Jeff cuts his albums at Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis; knowing that gives this album an even more authentic vibe! This RSD Black Friday release of The Master will be a welcome addition to anyone's collection; it's a cool pressing, and the sound quality is beyond reproach. Very highly recommended!

Jazz Dispensary: At The Movies, 140 gram purple haze Jazz Dispensary LP

Jazz Dispensary: At The Movies is the latest installment from Craft Recordings funk/groove/psych boutique label, Jazz Dispensary. Their compilation albums are mix-ups of classic grooves that Jazz Dispensary mines from the riches of Concord Music's jazz, funk, soul, and fusion recordings from their Prestige, Fantasy, Milestone, and Stax imprints from the mid-sixties through the mid-seventies. The backbone of these albums tend to be rarities and obscure tracks from even more obscure groups, and a somewhat lo-fi approach is often taken in mixing the albums. Jazz Dispensary has generated a string of celebrated LP compilations that are danceable, cerebral, and enjoyably listenable. 

An album of many highlights, Jazz Dispensary: At The Movies brings the funk with tunes from a selection of mostly seventies blaxploitation, or "blaxplo" film soundtracks, track after track. Melvin Van Peebles' "Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song" from the movie of the same name (1971) features backing from a then unknown Earth, Wind & Fire. Isaac Hayes delivers his trademark blast of guitar-infused funk on two numbers, "Joe Bell" from 1975's Tough Guys, and "Pursuit of the Pimpmobile" from Truck Turner (1974). Ed Bogas and Ray Shanklin offer a literally riotous "The Riot" from 1972's cult animated classic Fritz The Cat, as well as the soulful "B.J.'s Step" from 1973's Black Girl. It's an irresistible listen that begs you to flip the album and keep going!

Jazz Dispensary: At The Movies is pressed on exotic looking, purple haze vinyl; it's a nearly opaque light purple LP that's psychedelically swirled with hues of darker purple, red, and white, and its nearly tie-dye-like appearance is impressively cool, to say the least! My review copy was perfectly centered and flat, and exhibited no appreciable surface or groove noise. Toronto artist Tiffany Chin created the album jacket's wild cover and label illustrations, and they add significantly to the seriously vintage seventies psychedelia of the package. The hip inner sleeve art presents a montage of images from movie posters and promo materials from the films represented by the album's impressive selection of tunes. Jazz Dispensary compilations are a definite departure from the ordinary, and this excellent album is well worth seeking out; don't delay, because this RSD exclusive pressing is limited to 5400 copies worldwide. The superbly entertaining music choices were the icing on a very visually and aurally outstanding audiophile experience. Very highly recommended!

Record Store Day on Black Friday is Just Around the Corner!

In addition to the LPs available on Record Store Day, many of these albums will also soon be available for digital streaming on most major services. Craft Recordings has again outdone themselves with this group of releases—you should definitely try and grab as many of these as you can get your hands on! And not simply for the collectable aspect of the LPs—they also provide a superb musical experience. I can't recommend these cool new LPs highly enough, and will definitely head out on Black Friday myself to take a deep dive into all things RSD!

Craft Recordings


All images courtesy of Craft Recordings.