MUSiC: Gabor Szabo, Faces, 1977

Tell it like it is, it ain’t nothin’ but The Biz, a little more, Gabor!’

I’ve been really diggin’ Gabor Szabo recently. And it was when I was reading Doug Payne’s excellent online biography of the Hungarian guitarist that I noticed something startling. Amongst the personnel credits for 1977’s Faces, was Marlon McLain, of Pleasure.

I love Pleasure! And I love Gabor! So I looked again, a bit harder, and, lo and behold, also credited: bassist Nathaniel Phillips, drummer Bruce Carter, and Wayne Henderson, of Crusaders fame. ‘Twas Henderson who was acting as avuncular to Pleasure, discovering, signing and producing them. So in essence we have a Pleasure rhythm section (guitar, bass, drums) + Szabo! All produced – and with horns arranged by – Wayne Henderson. What’s not to love!?

I can see how some of the ‘moldy [sic] figs’ – those self appointed champions of jazz ‘purity’ (surely a massively mistaken and oxymoronic idea?) – might react against such a combo’. Not me! Two artists I love combining forces? Bring it on!

And, unsurprisingly, for me at any rate, I do indeed love the result. And this despite the inherent danger of disappointment when one’s much loved stars align; will it work? I mean, they are quite different; Szabo the oddball jazzer, and Pleasure the funky soulful groove merchants. I guess it dosa have to be conceded this isn’t my favourite Szabo, nor the best of Pleasure.

Anyway, to the music. It has a delicious mid to late ‘70s vibe, with echoes of everything from CTI to Steely Dan in the mix. And obviously a Crusaders/Pleasure vibe. Szabo is, of course, Szabo, as always! But for the most part his sound sits, comfortably enough, atop the rather silky smooth even quite lush musical Henderson/Pleasure style settings.

I must admit I am a less less enthused with the smattering of female vocals, which are most evident at the outset. They’re not awful, by a long shot. But I can see the moldy figs visibly rotting in reaction! The album opens with The Biz, in which the ladies croon ‘It’s a whiz, do The Biz… a little more, Gabor’! Kinda corny, I guess? But actually, the music’s great. And, in essence, the words are saying something I can totally get behind.

Track six, Alicia (I have a niece named Alicia, so that’s a nice resonance for me!), is incredibly Dan-esque in places, sounding very Deacon Blues-ish at times*. This is also one of two tracks that are repeated in slightly different form as ‘bonus tracks’ on some editions of this album.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, the most beautiful track on this album, Estate, is the most Szabo and the least Pleasure, very literally; it’s either a solo piece, or just two guitars. Perhaps Szabo duetting with his frequent collaborator James Stewart?

Not the best album in Szabo’s catalogue, nor Henderson’s or Pleasure’s, but a solid meeting of some very talented musicians, that’s still well worth having.

* As a massive fan of steam-powered dildos, I find this to be no bad thing.

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