Category Archives: LPs

My favourite jazz album covers from the 1970s – the Marmite Jazz years

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The silver Airstream mobile homes, under a lovely blue sky and glistening in the autumn sun, look like aliens from a 1950s sci-fi flick. An iconic image. This is the second album from guitarist Pat Metheny, whose fusion of jazz and rock split many into lovers and haters. As the blog’s title says – Marmite jazz. (Okay, so the majority of people couldn’t give a hoot either way, let’s not spoil a well-worn cliché).

In the 1970s jazz was fusing faster than an electrical system installed by cowboy sparks. Rock, funk, classical, Latin – jazz musicians were being influenced by them all, and in turn influencing them.

American Garage was released on the German ECM label. A label which in itself can divide a jazz gathering into those who adore its classical stylings and those who see it as muzak. But hey, I’m just looking at the covers here. And in any case, when the ‘but is it jazz?’ wars were being fought, I was just moving from T. Rex to the Sex Pistols. To me, ‘All that Jazz’ merely referred to an Echo and the Bunnymen track.

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Another Metheny album (his first) and another ECM record. There are a few here because I genuinely find the covers attractive (as indeed do many others, who collect them as works of art). The design team for the label was Barbara and Burkhart Wojirsch. After Burkhart’s untimely death, Barbara would, along with photographer Dieter Rehm, create, a recognisable style for the label. Similar to Blue Note in the fifties and sixties, you could tell the label from the design. It was a type of branding. Although the designs from the two labels are very different, both share a playful approach using different fonts, photography and art. Both looked very cool.

Here, the photograph of an isolated house in the country reminds me of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings of an almost mythical American landscape. The bright light from the house compliments the title. Then there’s that large white margin, keeping it clean and focussed.

cherry

From Germany to Sweden. The Swedish Caprice label released this 1972 album featuring a painting by the artist Moki Cherry. The blaze of colour all but jumps out at you, and has a marvellously naive, almost childlike quality about it. Moki incidentally, as well as being a fine artist, also happened to be married to the trumpeter.

winter

Gil Scot Heron and Brian Jackson’s great 1974 album was originally called Supernatural Corner, after the collage featured on the sleeve. Created by artist Eugene Cole it refers to a house which Heron lived in and was reputed to be haunted. Heron though, found the title rather too obtuse, so chose Winter in America instead, a far more appropriate one, considering the themes of songs such The Bottle. The four by eight foot painting is Cole’s sense of confusion and anger following the murder of Martin Luther King.

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A simple but effective photograph of a lone figure standing tall, proud and dignified in front of the African landscape. With apartheid South Africa provoking world-wide outrage and the movement against it growing, the image spoke volumes.

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This masterpiece has the seventies written all over it. Just look at the design, the clothes and the garish typography. For the central image, the Galician-American artist, Victe Moscoso uses a modern image (a tape head demagnetiser, which was a recording tool at a time. And no I have no idea what they do), and creates an African mask out of it. So it’s a jazz-funk cousin of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon then. Moscoso had become well known in the late nineteen sixties counter-culture for his psychedelic posters and illustrations in Zap Comix.

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This is the wonderful Alice Coltrane’s third album and features the equally wonderful Pharoah Sanders. The cover art is by Jim Evans, an artist who, like Victe Moscoso made is his name in underground comics. The album sleeve design reflects the ancient Egyptian mythology which inspires much of the album’s music. (I’m guessing that Pharoah Sanders was chosen because he is one of the finest sax players in the world and not because his name fits the concept. And yes, I know the oa is reversed, it was a joke).

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The 1971 album is another superb example of how to contrast a title with an image. In this case, the billowing flames from an industrial chimney has little in the way of a blue horizon. I think it is that thing called irony. It could have easily been used by Gil Scot Heron.

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Yet another ECM cover. I have a fondness for minimalist art because, without sounding pretentious (or at least any more pretentious than I usually do), I find the purity relaxing. I think the sleeve reflects the space present in Bley’s piano playing.

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The album’s title is a reference to the Attica prison riots which occurred when the prisoners rose up demanding better conditions, following the shooting of Black Panther George Jackson in San Quentin jail (on the album one track is called Blues for George Jackson). The sleeve shows Archie Shepp working at a piano, his sax slung across it like a rife. He is flanked by books and images of black heroes, including a poster with the iconic image of the African American Olympic athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 games giving the Black Power salute on the medal rostrum. Great cover – great album.