May 29, 2024

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Quincy Jones’s walking in space: Video, Photos

My aunt and uncle had a few crucial LPs and tapes, including Quincy Jones’s 1969 A&M offering Walking in Space. I copied the album to my reel-to-reel tape player and listened to it over and over and over and over. I suppose I was 11 or 12.

Although there is a hint of backbeat and a few soulful vocals (notably Valerie Simpson singing the sexy lyric “My body” on the title track), another somewhat odd thing about the LP is how “jazz” it is. It’s 1969, when they were still closer to Basie than fusion. The soloists have a lot of space and Grady Tate and Ray Brown are mostly swinging out. To confuse the narrative further, at least three of the jazz soloists would go on to have bigger careers in smooth jazz or fusion: Bob James, Hubert Laws, and Eric Gale. They all sound good in this context, holding their own next to Freddie Hubbard, Roland Kirk, Jerome Richardson, and Jimmy Cleveland. Bob James in particular is heavily featured on Rhodes; James also contributes an arrangement of Johnny Mandel’s “I Never Told You.”

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I loved the cover and the way the album sounded. Only later did I understand that photographer Pete Turner and engineer Rudy Van Gelder were famous, and at that moment they were under the direction of a man with a particular vision: Creed Taylor, perhaps the ultimate producer of “bachelor pad” jazz. Taylor cut an important swath through Impulse!, Verve, A&M, and finally ended up with his own imprint, CTI.

While Quincy Jones only did one more album with Creed Taylor (Gula Matari), this was the first time Bob James and Creed Taylor were in a studio together, a pairing that would power several bestselling ‘70s CTI releases.

James recalled: Quincy introduced me to Creed Taylor when he had me write a couple of arrangements for his album, Walking in Space (A&M, 1969). Working with Quincy on the album proved to be my audition, of sorts, with Creed Taylor. It gave Creed a chance to see my arrangements, and that ultimately led to my working with CTI.

Quincy Jones himself said the album was a chance to get off the Hollywood studio grind for a moment: So Creed Taylor and A&M came up and they just said, “How about doing a record?” And at that time I said, “Record -great!” And I didn’t care about it. Wasn’t even thinking about it. And we came in here and we did Walking In Space. I just wanted to see, get off on hearing the rhythm section groove with my favorite musicians. So it was just like a breath of fresh air to do that record.

Walking in Space rarely turns up in the annals of big band discussion, probably because the arrangements are basic and to the point. There’s plenty of relaxed focus on feeling groovy, but not a whole lot of nerdy detail. Van Gelder applies far more reverb than he did for Blue Note under Alfred Lion, and the brass and flute flow smokily out of the hi-fi. The trombones are especially gorgeous. (It surely doesn’t hurt that J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding are in the section.)

The first side is a mood — full of serious improvised solos it may be, but still, a moodHair seen by the jazz cats. The second side offers four diverse character sketches.

Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” gets a wonderful treatment. Ray Brown himself said this was one of his best tracks, for his walking bass line on the rather restrictive chord progression is wildly creative. Freddie Hubbard blows like an angel and the vocal chorus is perfect.

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Toots Thielemans plays magical harmonica for Mandel’s “I Never Told You.” Dramatic and powerful. Again, this was arranged by Bob James, and it is the only piece on the album with conventional “flashy” big band harmony.

Most of the album has elegant Grady Tate, but Bernard Purdie steps in to power two superb gospel numbers, “Love and Peace” (originally by the Crusaders) and “Oh Happy Day” (originally by the Edwin Hawkins Singers). On “Oh Happy Day” Chuck Rainey supplies utterly fabulous electric bass. That’s two for two: Brown on “Killer Joe” and Rainey on “Oh Happy Day.”

The preaching tenor sax on “Love and Peace” is a good blindfold test: it’s Hubert Laws. This piece has Eric Gale at his best as well.

I started another paragraph of superlatives, but probably enough is enough. It’s impossible for me to be objective about this album, for it is just too important to my very being. Very happy to have had this perfect introduction to some of the folkways and mores at such a young age. Oh Happy Day to Quincy Jones on his 90th birthday!

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