cream of the crate: album review # 124 -gil scott-heron: reflections
cream of the crate: album review # 124 -gil scott-heron: reflections
Album Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

 

"Without doubt one of the most important voices in 20th century music, Gil Scott-Heron has been called a Vietnam-era Langston Hughes, a proto-rap pioneer, and - offensively but not inaccurately - the black Bob Dylan" - (Amazon.com_review) . . . . "He was like an old-line country preacher receiving the correct fervent response to his call." - (The New York Times reporting on a live concert in 1975)

This is album retro-review number 124 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. I have dipped into the early 80’s and pulled out an album that never got the recognition is so deserved.

The artist is Gil Scott-Heron and the album is Reflections. Released in 1981 on the Arista label its code is 204 094. It has only seven tracks, four on Side A and three on Side B.

cream of the crate: album review # 124 -gil scott-heron: reflections
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Born Gil Scott-Heron on April 1st 1949 in Chicago, at first look he seems to have nothing in his background that would suggest a career in music. His father was a professional soccer player and his mother a librarian.

His parents divorced early in his life, and Scott-Heron was sent to live with his grandmother in Lincoln Tennessee.

It was through his grandmother that he was exposed to and learned both music and literary instruction. Living in Tennessee he also learned about prejudice through personal experience.

He tells of being one of three children picked to integrate an elementary school in nearby Jackson. As history showed, the level of abuse and threats to blacks, both the children and their families at that time, was appalling and he was sent to New York to live with his mother.

He lived first in the Bronx and later in the Hispanic neighborhood of Chelsea.

It was these years that taught him about the pressure and the prejudice by the system and authorities, something he would draw on many times.

It was in 1969 when he attended a concert by the Last Poets, that he approached Abiodun Oyewole of that group and asked him after the performance whether it was possible for him to start a similar group.

While cutting his teeth in the music business he managed to undertake and complete a Masters Degree in Creative Writing, completing it in 1972. His recording career began in 1970 and during the following decade of the 70’s, he released nine albums.

By this time he was developing a reputation of a “Revolutionary”, which was not something that sat comfortably with him, and he believed the expectation of audiences was that he would turn up with a wild hair-do, and a wildly angry act.

But words and the emotion behind those words were really what he strove for. However that didn’t stop many claiming that he was in fact, the “God-father” of rap!

I don’t subscribe to that, in fact you only have to listen to the Last Poets to hear the development of rap, but, Gil Scott-Heron most certainly had a powerful set of messages, and delivered them beautifully. As Scott-Heron said, he preferred the moniker of “bluesologist.”

Really it was best put when he was called a “soul-jazz poet”.

cream of the crate: album review # 124 -gil scott-heron: reflections
Rear Cover: Track listing – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Tracks:

A1 Storm Music

Backing Vocals – Clydene Jackson, Julia Waters, Maxine Waters Guitar – Kenny Lazarus Percussion, Timbales – Larry MacDonald Written-By – Gil Scott-Heron
A2 Grandma’s Hands
Tenor Saxophone – Leon Williams Written-By – Bill Withers
A3 Is That Jazz?

Written-By – Gil Scott-Heron
A4 Morning Thoughts

Lyrics By – Gil Scott-Heron Music By – Vernon James

B1 Inner City Blues (Poem: “The Siege Of New Orleans”)
Tenor Saxophone – Leon Williams. Written-By – James Nyx, Marvin Gaye
B2 Gun
Electric Piano, Written-By – Gil Scott-Heron
B3 “B” Movie
– Written-By – Gil Scott-Heron


Credits

  • Bass – Robert Gordon
  • Drums – Kenny Powell
  • Guitar – Ed Brady
  • Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Synthesizer [String], Harmonica – Glen Turner
  • Producer – Malcolm Cecil
  • Producer, Vocals – Gil Scott-Heron
  • Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Flute – Vernon James
  • Tenor Saxophone – Carl Cornwell (tracks: A1, A3, B2, B3)
  • Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Kenny Sheffield


So we come to this album.

Don’t think because you only have seven tracks you are shortchanged. This is an album of quality more than quantity.

You can’t go past track 1 on side 1 Storm Music.

This is a great example of well arranged, well composed and well delivered music.

Storm Music is Gil’s interpretation both instrumentally and lyrically of a reggae style track. In many ways it starts starts the album with insight, but this is to be expected as Gil Scott-Heron was a very insightful man.

The strength of his music was in the main, his ability to report on what his insights revealed and to translate them into music.

What´s that music playin´ on the radio?
What´s that music playin´ everywhere I go?
I don´t think I´ve ever heard
a sweeter feelin´ in the whole wide world
than that music playin´ in my heart.

From time to time the darkness comes along
to terrorize the weak and challenge the strong.
The storm is coming, it grows on the waves
from Johannesburg to Montego Bay.
What´s that music playin´ on the radio?
What´s that music playin´ everywhere I go?
I don´t think I´ve ever seen
another music that could make me feel
like that music playin´ in my heart.

Justice is coming on the wings of the storm.
We resist in the present for those yet unborn.
Freedom is spreading like the wings of a bird
and the message it carries has got to be heard.
What´s that music playin´ on the radio?
What´s that music playin´ everywhere I go?
I don´t think I´ve ever heard
a sweeter feelin´ in the whole wide world
than that music playin´ in my heart.

The track continues on his theme of a personal slant on revolution – his revolution with a comin’ metaphor – “Justice is coming on the wings of a storm . . .

This is a theme he explored so well in his track from the seventies, “The revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Yet it is a mistake to think that this track is just revolutionary music with no redeeming musical qualities. Exactly the opposite!

The lyrics are indeed well constructed and the delivery is fantastic but at the same time the music is pretty damn sweet and hits a groove that is impossible to ignore. You just got to love the timing and changes, this is a classy piece of music.

Storm Music

 

Each piece on side one is worth listening to as they vacillate through funk grooves and jazz arrangements. When we turn the album over to track one, we are faced with Inner City Blues – sub titled, The Siege of New Orleans.

Inner City Blues is a song written by Marvin Gaye which was on his 1971 landmark album, What’s Going On.

Incidentally, the track was co-written James Nyx Jr. It’s a great composition and it’s all about the the ghettos of inner-city America and presents the position of how the bleak economic situation would lead to someone wanting to holler and throw their hands up.

Now this track really does groove quite convincingly and it’s easy to get into. Scott-Heron uses it as a platform to launch into a lengthy diatribe which is quite a powerful discourse in itself.

However if you are familiar with Marvin Gaye’s version you can be forgiven for thinking that Gil may have gone over the top a bit, and for all that, he still doesn’t quite get the message over as well as Marvin Gaye.

Mind you Scott-Heron was quite passionate about this track and in an interview he did in 1982, he had this to say about the track.

It seemed very appropriate at the time that we did the poem – back in 72-73, during the Nixon administration – it seemed to be a comment on what was happening to our veterans since most veterans were out at that time.

A lot of confusion, a lot of questions about what this society was turning our young folks into.”

Inner City Blues

 

I almost tripped over myself getting to the final track on side 2track number three, B” Movie.

This is a Tour de Force of the tracks on this album, and rates as one of his top three tracks on all his many albums in my opinion.

During the 1980s, producer Nile Rodgers of the disco group Chic, also helped on production as the Reagan era provided Scott-Heron with new targets to attack.

“B” Movie is nothing less than a thunderous, twelve-minute critique of Reaganomics.

It certainly stands out as the most representative track of this period. To quote Heron in the track, “I remember what I said about Reagan… meant it.

Acted like an actor… Hollyweird. Acted like a liberal. Acted like General Franco when he acted like governor of California, then he acted like a Republican.

Then he acted like somebody was going to vote for him for president. And now we act like 26% of the registered voters is actually a mandate.”

It is a piece of verse, a poem, a discourse, it is all of these things and, it is of the highest quality. In essence it is a “poem” that warns that there are people, powerful people, whose agenda it is to take away your freedom! [It actually made me think of Australia 2015!]

cream of the crate: album review # 124 -gil scott-heron: reflections
Gil – early 1980’s – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The piece of music has three distinct phases.

The first commences with a line that is possibly one of the greatest opening statements ever made in a piece of music, by anyone!

The first thing I want to say is, mandate my ass.”

As all well constructed jazz pieces have, there is a theme that is repeated over and over, except Scott-Heron does it in many ways and each of them is clever and, effective.

It is rhythmic and it is abstract. He throws up into our faces images that we can relate to, because many of us we were bought up in the era of “B” grade movies, especially westerns, where someone always came to save the day, and it the case of “B” Movie, it’s Ronald Raygun.

The track is pithy, it’s cutting, it’s original and it’s bloody good. By now there is an utterly compelling rhythm and then without warning it breaks into “the poem” – phase two!

Come with us back to those inglorious days before heroes were zeros. Before fair was square. Where the calvary came straight-away and all American men were like Hemingway, to the wondrous ‘B’ movie.”

No one who was responsible in any way for those terrible years of reaganomics is spared. They are all identified!

There is Casper Weinberger, Defense Secretary who becomes “The defensive” Secretary of State.

Then there is the infamous Alexander Haig who is “Atilla the Haig“!

George Bush, Vice President is “‘Papa” Doc’ Bush and, there are more named!

The music pumps us on, yet it isn’t driven with any insistent drive, it’s more seductive and hypnotic. It sits, both supporting Gil’s relentless delivery as well as providing a totally appropriate musical platform on which we can rest our weary bodies.

It is satire at its very, very best and just as we think we have hit a groove that will not change, he very cleverly moves into the 3rd and final phase – the freeform phase.

This is jazz a la Gil Scott-Heron at its best.

The track is a twisting turning, almost a musical roundel. The chorus turns in on itself, the chant becomes a choral harmony that takes us to the edge, but never tips us over.

This ain’t really life . . . this ain’t nothing but a movie . . .” he chants as a perpetual echo.

cream of the crate: album review # 124 -gil scott-heron: reflections
1998

 

Despite its radio unfriendly twelve plus minutes, it was played relentlessly on black radio, with white radio either not game enough to play it, or just not getting it.

Although the Washington Post did report at the time that legendary New York D.J Frankie Crocker once played the epic piece four times in a row.

So here it is in the full 12 minutes and 4 seconds!

“B” Movie



Sadly this really was in many ways the beginning of the end for Gil Scott-Heron.

He only delivered a total of four albums in the 1980’s which was some reflection of the personal angst that he suffered from, not to mention a growing drug habit which led to him being jailed for a time.

It was even worse in some ways in the 1990’s with only one studio album released and two live albums.

All up he recorded a total of seventeen studio albums from Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970) through to Nothing New (2014).

He also released nine live albums between 1976 and 2008.

Scott-Heron died on the afternoon of May 27, 2011 aged sixty two at St. Luke’s Hospital, New York City, after becoming ill upon returning from a European trip.

The cause of death was never announced.

cream of the crate: album review # 124 -gil scott-heron: reflections
The amazing Gil Scott Heron

 

He was influential in several ways!

Firstly, along with The Last Poets, it was his use of “street poetry of poetry” as a spoken form in music that stood him above his contemporaries.

He was very influential in the development of hip-hop, and left an indelible mark in the cross-over Jazz/R ‘n B field.

You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word, Chuck D, the leader of Public Enemy, told The New Yorker in 2010.

He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else”; Richard Russell, a British Producer who worked with Scott-Heron said.

Reviews for the album inevitably called Mr. Scott-Heron the ‘godfather of rap’, but he made it clear he had different tastes.

It’s something that’s aimed at the kids,” Scott-Heron once said. “I have kids, so I listen to it. But I would not say it’s aimed at me. I listen to the jazz station.”

Gil Scott-Heron did not invent “Cool Music”, but he certainly gave it his personal “cool” edge.

cream of the crate: album review # 124 -gil scott-heron: reflections

This is a wonderful album.

Without “B” Movie it would be a good album, but that one track really kicks the album up into another level.

The whole album is a well mixed, well balanced and is a well presented album. Yet “B” Movie is a track that will forever so represent the frustrations of the period when Ronald Reagan and his policies took the US to the brink of disaster.

I would have to highly recommend Reflections to any collector.

Discogs have vinyl copies going for reasonable prices, around $15.00, which is an unbelievable price for vinyl, but for one’s in excellent condition expect to pay a little more.

Ebay has CD copies for around $20.00. Don’t wait another minute – this album is a must!


VIDEOS:

Once again turning to Youtube reveals the following clips. The “B” Movie clip is a shortened version of that on the record.

 

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

 

Gun

 

“B” Movie