Under Heavy Manners


Cheese is often the result of deep talent and a forward vision. David Axelrod was to studio funk what Joe Meek was to Merseybeat: a mad-scientist insider who twisted further and further toward the margins until all that was left was twist. For this he was saddled as the original jazz fusionist—a title only recently vindicated. Working as a house producer for Capitol during the ’60s, Axelrod jump-roped the lines between soul, jazz, and the supper club, and was embraced by all three camps, particularly on Cannonball Adderly’s 1967 “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” The recent Lou Rawls Anthology showcases many tracks that could be considered an apotheosis of this approach; though pleasant, one wouldn’t call it serious stuff. But in typical ’60s manner, as Axelrod became more ponderous, he became ponderously wiggy, à la Rod McKuen. He recorded albums based on William Blake poems. He put the Electric Prunes to use on a psychedelic mass, recently reissued on Collectors’ Choice. He’s still making soul requiems about the Holocaust.

And fortunately, he still does it with a groovy backbeat. Which is why DJ Shadow started sampling him, leading to a mini-revival (and an excellent British compilation on Solesides) and now Chronicles, a straight reissue of 1974’s Heavy Axe LP plus sundry other failed fusion sellouts he oversaw for Gene Ammons and Hampton Hawes and the like. Chronicles is an album where a John Henry jazz opera and an elevator version of “You’re So Vain” share similar roots—the beatfreaks may have been the ones to legitimize this stuff, but Mantovani no doubt wanted to be Mahler, and Tom Scott wails like Albert Ayler when he wishes to. One may create a pecking order ranking the alleged seriousness of every genre, but in the end it’s just clouds in your coffee.