The Family Of Mann – First Light (1974)

R-1823671-1309723862.jpegI’ve never heard this record before. My oldest pal who owns a record shop threw it in with an order for me, since he thinks I’m more of a Tony Levin fan than I am (King Crimson is top ten for me, and the only remotely prog thing I go for anymore). This one is from 1974, the year of my favorite KC, Starless And Bible Black (on the same label no less, at least in the U.S.) so it’s doomed to fall short by mere association. I only know Herbie Mann as the shirtless creep on that one album cover, and fusion is decidedly not my thing, so I’m already a little worried about this. With as open ears as I can muster, starting now…

…with something called “Toot Stick” and given Mann’s heavy flute proclivities, that’s fair enough. Immediately, a 1970s workplace comedy theme is evoked. Just a tad dopey for me, things get more chaotic/interesting with the racket of congas and phased cymbals on the fade out. “Davey Blue” could be another show—about a beat cop maybe? David “Fathead” Newman has a nice tenor tone, but the drippy keyboard a la “Taxi” sinks it (if this is gonna be my sole frame of reference, this could be a problem). I like the lilt of “Daffodil” but overall I think it might just be the instrumentation that ain’t my bag (there’s a credited guitarist but I really had to strain to pick him out on this one). Tony Levin’s bass is the only remotely funky thing on “The Turtle and the Frog” but is little more than a feature for Mann’s breathful flute and the whole thing quickly bails on an underbaked idea. The guitar is prominent on Sam Brown’s “Muh Hoss Knows The Way” with some pretty acoustic playing, and the flute merely textural. Definitely the high point thus far. Levin composed “Music is the Game We Play” which shuffles along again as a vehicle for soloing from Mann and keyboardist Pat Rebillot, whose sound I don’t care for at all. Looking him up, he’s got an album as leader this same year, produced by Mann probably from these same sessions, with a conspicuously similar cover… DSCN0244

At 9 minutes, I wonder if these guys will use the room to take “Sunset Highs” somewhere. Another one from Brown (probably just coincidental that a rock philistine would favor tunes composed by the guitarist) so naturally we begin with unaccompanied guitar, a swipe of chimes and the first time drummer Steve Gadd really makes himself heard. This is the most “jazz” of the batch, and the woodwind theme played by Mann and Newman is easy to imagine as a launching pad for almost any jazz combo. With the least-bad Rebillot solo, and a quite good one from Brown, I wouldn’t mind hearing this over cocktails at sunset, and the album high for sure. What I like most about this one is that Mann’s presence is heard the least (no solo, just in co-stating the theme). “Thank You Mr. Rushing” is an inoffensive ballad, and here too I was just waiting for Mann to come in and ruin it, but again, nary a toot. You probably know what you’re gonna get with something called “Mexicali” from an outfit like this, but nothing to dislike here. If I didn’t flip it myself, I’d almost be convinced this is a different record, and “Lullaby for Mary Elizabeth” sounds like a finish to yet another album entirely. Apart from the gentle flute on top, everything is played in a pluck-y manner a la a music box. If I ever spin this one again and can remember, I’ll stick to the second side, which totally made me forget the lost TV show themes I was convinced were gonna persist.

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