On prior columns I've made no bones about my affinity for early Chicago songs. Danny Seraphine's comeback album is a triumph because the band's founding drummer brought back the spirit of his old band. And singer/keyboardist/songwriter Robert Lamm's openness for melding complex jazz with straightforward blues and rock made for some of the more simultaneously catchy and challenging rock of the early seventies.
Less than three years past his soul-jazz blockbuster Black Talk!, organist Charles Earland was evidently digging vintage Chicago, too. When he went into the studio in February of 1972 to record what would be known as Intensity, he adapted two tracks from the Chicago III long player released about a year earlier. The one that leads off Intensity is a worthy interpretation of one of my favorite Chicago songs of all time: "Happy 'Cause I'm Goin' Home."
"Happy" isn't one of Lamm's more intricate compositions by a long shot, but it's probably his "grooviest." It's a Latin groove that Seraphine and the rest of the band were so good at exploiting; that percussion interlude in "I'm A Man" is all the testimony you need to understand that. But this tune has a sunny disposition, an attitude underscored by Terry Kath's acoustic guitar rhythm-ing and the cheery wordless vocals that practically entice you to sing along. The simple melody is mostly two chords (except for descending chords at the bridge) which provided plenty of space for extended soloing. In the original the improvising chore was nicely taken care of by Walt Paradizer's flute.
Believe me, it was mighty tempting to devote this OTM to the original version, but covering Charles Earland's rendition gives me an excuse me to rave on about the talents of Earland and a sideman in that session: a phenomenal trumpeter named Lee Morgan.
Earland had pulled off the seemingly impossible in 1969 when he was able to wring a greasy groove out the Spiral Starecase hit "More Today Than Yesterday," so getting a good one out of "Happy" was going to be no problem for him. Indeed, the rhythms are locked down tight by then-Mahavishnu drummer Billy Cobham and percussionist Sonny Morgan.
Kath's acoustic six string is replaced by Johnny Fourie's fuzz guitar, making this song more rock-oriented than Chicago's. Earland states the wordless vocal theme on his B-3 organ and the orchestral horn section (which included a teenaged Jon Faddis) sounds a little too cheesy at times to compare favorably against Chicago's vaunted horn line. But once the bridge is out of the way and we get into the extended soloing part, things get much better from that point on.
Like the original, there's a flute solo, this time performed by Hubert Laws. It's a near tossup whose solo is better because there's hard to find fault with either. But even though Laws is probably a better flute player overall, I give the nod to Paradizer for being a tad more aggressive on his.
After Laws, it's Lee Morgan's turn. Even though contemporary fusion was something he was just beginning to get into, he was totally at ease with it. As one of the best soul-jazz artists of the sixties, he well should have been. His horn gives us a lot in his two minute allotment: blues notes, rapidly repetitions, rides on top of and into the groove. It's exactly what you'd expect from the progenitor of "The Sidewinder."
Earland allots himself the most solo space, which allows him to ebb and flow his intensity, although most of the time he's just smokin'. They didn't call him The Burner for nothing.
Morgan appears elsewhere on Intensity and even his own "Speedball" was covered in these sessions. This trumpet wunderkind deserves more coverage in this space but whatever Morgan recording is covered here will be older than this one, because this one was his last. Just two days later, Lee Morgan was shot to death by his girlfriend. He was just 33 years old.
Earland himself was able to go on to record a lot more great funky soul-jazz until his own untimely death in 1999 from heart failure at the age of 58. Fortunately, we have a document of two jazz greats teaming up to tackle a tune from a songwriting great before their passings. Just barely.
"One Track Mind" is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.