Charles Earland – In Concert
(Prestige – 1972/74-2002)
by John Barrett
Charles Earland rose to prominence in the late ‘Sixties as his instrument (the Hammond B-3) was falling from jazz favor. More dance-oriented than his peers, Earland’s music blended funk vamps, Stax horn riffs, and wicked, unstoppable grooves. Here he is at the Lighthouse in 1972, making them shout with Sly Stone’s “Smilin'”.
Earland shimmers with wispy chords, Maynard Parker drizzles some guitar, and the band (including a young Clifford Adams) swaggers in the background. Charles does his climbing-stairs routine, then a little wah-wah … basic yes, but it gets the job done. Parker starts his solo softly, and goes fast within a narrow range – shades of Melvin Sparks, who did this on Charles’ Black Talk! album.
The background riff for Earland’s hit “More Today Than Yesterday” reappears on “We’ve Only Just Begun” (yes, the Carpenters tune) – he hits a two-finger stutter, the horns yawn, and the groove goes on forever. He made the most of any riff: “Black Gun” blends a funky chord structure, a Chicago-style horn chart, and snaky notes, as only The Mighty Burner could play them. Trumpeter Elmer Coles also has his say, with some lovely high screamers. Parker is terrific on “Freedom Jazz Dance” (Adams helps, with a good chewy solo) and Earland romps all over “The Moontrane”, going wild in the best possible way.
Two years later Charles was at Montreux, in a group with Adams, Jon Faddis, and Ron Carter on two tracks. “Joe Brown” puts a “Milestones”-like theme to a 10/8 meter, and lets the soloists run. Dave Hubbard makes like Coltrane, Faddis is good if tentative; Charles has a short, uproarious effort. Jon’s moment comes on “Morgan”, a tribute Earland wrote for the late trumpeter. (Lee played on Charles’ Intensity album, a few days before he died.) Faddis goes high, punctuating the air with fevered staccato blasts. Hubbard is marvelous on tenor; Adams’ solo is his best.
“Suite for Martin Luther King” is a sonic onslaught, where Charles plays synthesizer (sounds like radio static), cowbells run amok, and Hubbard’s soprano cries out, a sound full of passion. A bit on the indulgent side, the Suite has its moments – like the soft interlude during Clifford’s solo. The set closes with the sunny “Kharma”, where Charles starts a montuno and all falls into place. Less intense than some of his albums, this is worth getting for the Lighthouse date, and for the leader’s unstoppable spirit.