Prog 57: Steve Davis' Interesting Alternative

So there I was at the turn of the 70s, happily listening to my Magma, Gentle Giant, Caravan and Soft Machine LPs, when life took a musically unexpected turn.

On route to the M1 from South East London (pre-M25 days), I stumbled upon Mole Jazz Records near King’s Cross Station. In the blink of a semiquaver, my horizons switched from British jazz rock to American jazz-funk. A few years’ worth of visits later and the knowledgeable staff had unwittingly highlighted (via a nod to the Robbie Vincent Radio 1 Show) the hitherto unknown (to me) amazing world of soul music. It was a wonderful journey, that on occasions I still revisit, even though my head and heart have now returned to the avant-progressive world (for want of a better defining genre) that I now revel in.

During this transition I was switched onto many artists (especially keyboardists) and tracks that, while I wouldn’t exactly file them under ‘avant-prog’, are among my all-time favorites. 1983 saw millions of jazz-funk fans distraught, as the ground breaking video Rockit hit our screens and another great artist ‘popped out’. I cared not a jot as I had just been introduced to arguably the best jazz-funk album ever. Herbie Hancock’s 1974 album Thrust and the incredible Palm Grease became superglued to my Linn Sondek. It’s a monstrous, instrumental slab of brilliance and I defy anyone not to play desk drums using selected pencils and coffee cups after even just one audition.

Never being one to read the back of LP covers, I wasn’t really aware of George Duke’s ‘Zappa’ pedigree. I was introduced to him via his highly acclaimed, best-selling album A Brazilian Love Affair, but once I’d developed a flavour for the now sadly departed pianist, I stumbled upon the shining jewels in his crown. His ’75/’76 albums The Aura Will Prevail and Liberated Fantasies contain much brilliance, including Echidna’s Arf, Liberated Fantasies and I C’n Hear That.

By the early 80s, Chick Corea had defunked to a more straight-ahead jazz path. A decade earlier he had led the fusion band Return To Forever (introducing Stanley Clarke along the way) to a series of excellent releases. Two of my – better late than never – discoveries were, the 1973 Album Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy and the 1974 release Where Have I Known You Before: check out (among others) The Game Maker and Song To The Pharoah Kings.

One of my favourite jazzier discoveries was the band Steps Ahead, led by vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. Highlights from their first two albums are Pools and Safari, worthy of investigation if only for the leader’s beautiful vibes solo.