Friday, 13 February 2015

Donny Hathaway-Live

Donny Hathaway Live is a tour de force of sweaty jazz driven soul with some precision funkiness thrown in for good measure. The album was recorded at two concerts in 1971, side one was recorded at the Troubadour in West Hollywood and side two was recorded at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. Hathaway was a unique musical visionary, he had an independent streak and created music on his own terms. His interpretations of other artists work is amazing, giving each song a new context, he allows his stellar band ample room to groove. Talking about stellar musical congregations side one features legendary Chicago musician Phil Upchurch on guitar, the sublime Willie Weeks on bass, future Earth Wind and Fire member Fred White on drums and percussionist Earl De Rouen. On side two the guitar work is provided by former King Curtis sideman Cornell Dupree who also worked with Roberta Flack among many others, a brilliant guitarist.

The set starts off with a poignant cover of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Hathaway gives an impassioned performance and guides his band through a jazzy middle eight. The Ghetto is a dark funky walk through the decaying streets of black America, with Hathaway displaying some prodigious talent at the keys. In the background is the silky bass line of Weeks and the pounding rhythm of De Rouen and White. Hey Girl has a softness that became influential in soul, that hint of jazz that George Benson would embrace in the ensuing years. His interpretation of the Carole King/James Taylor staple You've Got A Friend offers the audience a joyful connection with the spirit of community and friendship that was missing in America at that time.

Side two commences with the stark Little Ghetto Boy which offers a bleak view of a young man options in life, it asks the question,

Little ghetto boy, playing in the ghetto street
What are you going to do when you grow up and have to face responsibility
Will you spend your days and nights in the pool room
Will you sell caps of madness to the neighbourhood

We're Still Friends features some stunning guitar work from Dupree, John Lennon's Jealous Love is given a brilliant stuttering makeover with some more fine picking from Cornell Dupree. The album closes with the shimmering soul of Voices Inside (Everything is Everything) which has one of the finest bass solos you will ever hear from Willie Weeks, just pure blistering funk oozing from his fingers as he prods and bends the strings of his 1962 precision fender.

Hathaway had made his name initially in Chicago working as an in house producer and session musician for Curtis Mayfields Curtom record label. He signed with the Atlantic subsidiary Atco Records and released his debut album Everything is Everything in 1970. The release of Donny Hathaway Live and his duet album with Roberta Flack bought Hathaway to a larger audience but after the release of Extension of a Man in 1973 Hathaway receded from view. Suffering from paranoid schizophrenia Hathaway spent some periods in hospital during the 70's, towards the end of the decade Hathaway began a slow return to the studio. Tragically he took his life after a recording session on January 13th 1979, a soaring voice still lives on.

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