I played this album for a friend recently without telling him who or what it was. As the instruments began appearing on the first track, it didn’t quite make sense: it seemed like an orchestrated warm-up. Then the drums kick into gear. The bass and electric piano join in, giving the song a pulse, but not tipping their cards just yet. And then, finally, the horns come crashing in with that famous “Dawn" line from Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (better known as the theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddyssey
). My friend bursts out laughing, conducting the majestic horn motif with the drama and bravado of wizard Mickey in Fantasia
. Suddenly everything dissolves into an unaccompanied bass salvo; my friend looks at me as if to ask what the hell just happened, but I just nod at the speakers invitingly. On cue, miles-deep groove rides back in on yet another horn hit. What ensues combines the seasoned chops of Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters with the bouncy silliness of George Clinton’s Parliament to create one of the greatest funk instrumentals of all time, never mind the fact it ranks as one of the most innovative covers of all time. And this is just the first track.
Eumir Deodato’s Prelude
is one of the most overlooked albums of the 1970s. One can understand why – jazz has since fallen into the backdrop of the modern musical scene, and even then fusion is often shunned by the traditional blowers (with the notable exceptions of albums in the vein of Miles Davis’s Bitches’ Brew
). However, in this, his major-label debut, the Brazilian combines his ability as virtuoso keyboardist, his creativity as a songwriter, but most prominently his vision and genius as an arranger. A common theme throughout his career has been extrapolating a single motif or movement of a particular song into a full blown composition itself, as evidenced here by the use of Strauss’s “Dawn" theme in the opening number and also in the lyrical “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," a slightly more straightforward adaptation of a classical composition (originally by Claude Debussy).
Deodato’s own compositions, however, tend to be a bit stale. “Spirit of Summer" and “Carly & Carole," musically and melodically pleasing as they may be, are more background music than anything. The former has an elevator-music quality to it, one which Jay Berliner’s fluttering classical guitar solo can’t quite save, while “Carly" seems to be a cursory platform for Deodato to noodle a bit on the electric piano. Even “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," masterfully arranged as it may be, is a bit too lofty and abstract a concept for anything but the actively attentive listener.
Even if the work on those songs is a bit boorish, though, John Tropea’s guitar work on three of the songs makes up for it. On the opening tune, you can’t keep your ear off of his choppy-yet-smooth guitar lines. It ends up being a bit of a noodle, but the inventiveness of the licks and the texture with which they’re played draws the attention way away from the fact. Similarly, on “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads" and “September 13," he makes equally interesting contributions. Like a lot of the great jazz soloists (Django Reinhardt comes to mind), its easy for you to not notice him at first but the second you do, you’re convinced. Also, on the topic of individual musicians, it is also worth noting that Ron Carter of Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet handled bass duties for this album. If you listen to this album from the bottom up, you’ll understand why he’s arguably the most in-demand session bassist of all time.
It’s easy to say that the latter part of the album is overshadowed by “Also Sprach Zarathustra." That’s because it is. That isn’t to say that the rest of the album isn’t sublime work – it’s just that the opening number was such a groundbreaking track (it sold well over 5 million copies as a single, went to #2 on the pop charts, and won the 1974 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental) that you can’t really pay attention to much else. And now, a fun fact: the version of “Zarathustra" that was sent to the final press by producer Creed Taylor was a rehearsal take. All of the spontaneity, freshness, and freedom you feel when you listen to it? It’s all real. George Clinton once proclaimed (on a song coincidentally called “Prelude") that “funk is its own reward," and this album is a perfect example.