Plugged-In To The Past: Hampton Hawes - "Northern Windows"

Hampton Hawes • Northern Windows • 1974 • Prestige Records
Recorded July 18 &19 at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA

The Selection:

The Tracks:

A1. Sierra Morena
A2. Go Down Moses
A3. Bach
B1. Web
B2. Tune Axle Grease
B3. C & H Sugar

The Players:

Hampton Hawes - Acoustic & Electric Piano
Carol Kaye - Electric Bass
George Bohanon - Trombone
Allen DeRienzo - Trumpet
Snooky Young - Trumpet
Jackie Kelso - Saxes & Flutes
William Green - Saxes & Flutes
Jay Migliori - Saxes & Flutes
Spider Webb - Drums

The Record:

Hampton HAwes In The Moment 

Northern Windows would mark the end of Hampton Hawes short stint at Prestige Records, a period from 1972 to 1974 that found the piano master exploring the possibilities that electronic keyboards could provide in a jazz setting. Following the albums UniverseBlues For Walls (which I write about here) and the live set Playin' In The Yard, this album serves as an excellent coda to this unique and exciting period in Hawes career. David Axelrod serves as the arranger on Northern Windows, which means in addition to jazz fans, the LP will also appeal to deejays and beat-heads, both of whom have a great appreciation of Axelrod's unique set of funky skills as an arranger and producer. This was a fortuitous find for me, as now I only need Universe to complete my mini-collection of Hawes' Prestige LPs.

Hawes was one of the most important figures in developing the sound and style of the piano in modern jazz music, primarily on his run of albums for Contemporary in the mid-to-late 1950. Of those, I'm personally a huge fan of the All Night Session! albums (which features a fiery Jim Hall on the guitar) and Four! (with Shelly Manne, Barney Kessel and the underrated Red Mitchell) and would highly recommend them (and all of his albums from that time, really) to anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of hearing them yet. Hawes work on Prestige supposedly upset his many fans, apparently they weren't ready for his switch to the world of plugged-in keyboards. I suppose, then, that Northern Windows is probably the least offensive of his work from that time, as while there are the very-1970s sounding funky tracks with the Fender Rhodes prominently on display, there are also some fantastic tracks with Hawes doing his thing on the acoustic piano. I think the whole album is great, with the tracks flowing together nicely regardless of the keys on display, but I can certainly see how those clinging to the '50s and 60's world of jazz would not open their ears to it's charms. 

The two players - Carol Kaye and Spider Webb - that receive top-billing alongside Hawes are most definitely not household names in the jazz world. I had to research a bit on both of them, if only to satisfy my curiosity that there really was a jazz drummer named Spider Webb, which there was, and as it turns out he was married to Carol Kaye for a period. Kaye, on the other hand, was quite the busy musician. As Wikipedia puts it, she was "one of the most prolific and widely heard bass guitarists, playing on an estimated 10,000 recordings in a career spanning over 50 years." Most notably she played guitar on Richie Valens "La Bamba", bass on Ike & Tina's (Phil Spector-produced) "River Deep - Mountain High" and was part of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds sessions as part of the famous "Wrecking Crew" studio band. Not a bad resume at all, especially for someone operating almost completely under the radar as far as the listening public was concerned. 

There are six other musicians, who only merit a "Thanks To" at the bottom of the back cover, playing various horns to add texture to the complex Axelrod arrangements. Not sure why they weren't given more credit, but this was Los Angeles at a time when studio bands were all the rage. They add immensely to the enjoyment of the record, and contribute greatly to the catchiness of the tunes (especially the more soul-jazz and funk oriented ones), all of which seem to stick around in the back of your mind for quite some time after the album ends. 

My copy is in great shape, with only some minor wear to the cover and vinyl. I scored it for $20 at a local shop, which seeing as it is a white-label promo copy seems more than fair (the last white label copy went for $46 on Ebay). Pretty skimpy early-'70s vinyl, but it has a nice full sound with a good separation of instruments upon playback. This one isn't about the collectibility of the wax, but actually about the music (imagine that!).

It is a mighty short record, clocking in at less than 35 minutes, which is not always a bad thing for some of these 1970's jazz excursions, but on here it leaves the listener wishing there was more room on the shorter tracks to let everyone stretch out a bit. Nonetheless, Northern Windows has a perfect blend of acoustic and electric keyboards as it explores the adventurous new sounds of jazz that emerged as the 1960s came to an end, and it very much shows a master at work bridging the gap between the jazz worlds old and new.