Charlie Mariano: Avoid the Year of the Monkey


Avoid the Year of the Monkey


Charlie Mariano (saxes, reeds)


Helen 12 Trees (MPS 15483)

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Charlie Mariano (saxes, reeds), Jan Hammer (piano, Moog synthesizer), Jack Bruce (bass),

Zbigniew Seifert (violin), John Marshall (drums), Nippy Noya (percussion)


Composed by Charlie Mariano


Recorded: Munich, Germany, May 1976


Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Had it not been for a mailing snafu, Charlie Mariano's Helen 12 Trees may have been one of the most renowned fusion albums of its day. Unbeknownst to record label MPS, the 200 pressed LPs forwarded to the promoter to send off for reviews were misdirected instead by the pressing plant to the small village of Bauhaus near the East German border. It wasn't until 20 or so years later that this was discovered. In hindsight, it explained why the album received virtually no press when released. According to the liner notes of this MPS reissue, the only review ever found appeared in a small jazz magazine that happened to be located in that accidental town! No wonder virtually no one heard the album at the time. No one knew it existed. What a crime!

American saxophonist Mariano, who first appeared on traditional jazz recordings way back in 1947, put together quite a fusion band for Helen 12 Trees. Joining him were Jan Hammer, fresh off the success of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and his own solo recordings, the great rock/jazz bassist Jack Bruce, best known for Cream, drummer John Marshall and percussionist Nippy Noya. But from a historical viewpoint, the most interesting participant in this recording was Polish violinist Zbigniew Seifert. Although little known because he died tragically early, he is legendary among fusion and violin cognoscenti.

"Avoid the Year of the Monkey" may have a funny title, but it is serious music. Hammer's electric piano introduces Mariano's skittering lines. The main theme, played by Mariano and Seifert in unison, enters a minute or two into the piece. A slight Arabian tilt is heard. Then we listen to Seifert express himself. He was every bit the player Jerry Goodman and Jean Luc Ponty were. Stylistically he leaned to Ponty because of his European roots. But like Goodman before him, he plays call and response with Jan Hammer's Moog as if he were in the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. The Arabian-sounding melody returns over Bruce's insistent bassline. Mariano and Seifert finish this outstanding fusion music in beautiful unison. I can only imagine the accolades and word of mouth this recording would have received if any of us had heard it when new. I must thank MPS for releasing it now on CD. Let's hope this time we can make sure as many fusion fans as possible can dig it. Spread the word. But double-check those mailing addresses.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky

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