Half Czech-in, part 2: Zulu Stomp
Steve Grossman - Zulu Stomp [sample]
from album "Some Shapes To Come", 1974, P.M. Records PMR-002
produced by Gene Perla
original LP sleeve
The second entry in my Half Czech-In sub-series introduces the first solo album by the U.S. saxophonist Steve Grossman (1951) who was at this young age already an ex-Miles Davis soloist. The Czech part belongs to his pianist Jan Hammer jr. (1948), probably the commercially most successful Czech musician of the late 20th century worldwide. Two words: Miami Vice. (I can't add much more to that topic anyway. I disliked the series 20 years ago and I'm pretty sure they didn't become any better over the years. Let alone the horrible soundtrack. Now pardon me while I'm off to the bathroom...)
Hammer jr. was already considered a huge talent in the 1960s Czechoslovakia. His father Jan Hammer sr. was a well known jazz musicians and his mother Vlasta Průchová was an even better known singer, in fact she was the grande dame of Czechoslovak jazz. Junior's first record appearance was on a 1964 Supraphon jazz compilation, a live recording from 1962 (!) with the Junior Trio, his bandmates were then the teenage brothers Miroslav and Alan Vitouš on double bass and drums respectively. In 1967 he composed the soundtrack for the "pop fairy-tale" Šíleně smutná princezna (The Princess Sad Like Crazy) with singers Helena Vondráčková and Václav Neckář in the main roles. In 1968 Hammer jr. emigrated to West Germany, released his first solo album Maliny Maliny on MPS and soon thereafter he headed over to the U.S. where he studied on the Berklee College of Music. In the early seventies he began to work as a sideman, for example for drummer Elvin Jones where he met Grossman, Gene Perla and Don Alias. In 1971 he joined the famous Mahavishnu Orchestra led by John McLaughlin, later he played on Billy Cobham's classic Spectrum, he also recorded with Jeff Beck, Stanley Clarke, Carlos Santana and many others. The ex-Jones rhythm section continued to work together through the seventies as well, they played e.g. with the flutist Jeremy Steig on Energy (a.k.a. Fusion). To make a long story short, Hammer jr. became a busy guy.
Some Shapes To Come is a fine little fusion album on the edge between funk, jazz-rock and free-jazz. The recordings were made on three days in September 1973, their spirit is pretty raw and dirty. Zulu Stomp, the third track of the album, kicks off with a nasty and funky drum groove. No wonder, the tune was composed by the drummer and percussionist Don Alias. In comes Hammer's Moog and Perla's bass playing a catchy unisono riff, followed by a straight and simple saxophon theme. Hammer then takes off with a spaced out Moog solo. Yeah, that's the classic modal funk jazz mood of the early seventies. Gettin' down with the Zulu stomp... baby!
Some Shapes To Come is for sale in my record store right now; for my personal taste there's just a little too much free-jazz on the album. I'm also selling other Jan Hammer albums: one from 1979 called simply Hammer which is a straight pop-rock record (audio samples); once someone gave it to me and unlike the Grossman LP you can have it really cheap. Then there are also Lenny White and Joni Mitchell LPs with Hammer's participation. Czech them out, just search for "hammer" (you may ignore Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer popping up along).