SKY AND DIAMONDS
Gabor Szabo and the California Dreamers
Los Angeles: September 12, 1967
Gabor Szabo, Dennis Budimer, Herb Ellis (g); Carol Kaye (el-b); Jimmy Gordon (d); Mike Melvoin (p,harpsichord); Emil Richards (per); Bill Plummer (sitar); The California Dreamers: Ron Hicklin, Al Capps, Loren Farber, John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ian Freebairn-Smith, Sally Stevens, Sue Allen, Jackie Ward (vcl).
same or similar, Gabor Szabo (g, recitation).
same or similar, Gabor Szabo (g).
Los Angeles: September 13, 1967
Los Angeles: September 14, 1967
same or similar, Gabor Szabo (g, recitation).
A most unusual record, WIND, SKY & DIAMONDS is an intriguing, though not quite successful jazz-rock experiment. Superior West Coast jazz talent is present -- including guitarists Howard Roberts, Dennis Budimer and Herb Ellis, pianist Mike Melvoin and percussionists Victor Feldman and Emil Richards. But there's little in the music that departs from the main, familiar pop-rock melodies. It seems the real intention is to spotlight the vocalists; a group of studio singers, known at the time as the California Dreamers (these familiar voices have since been heard in many TV commercials and as part of the Partridge Family and Quincy Jones productions).
Szabo himself seems like an afterthought. His familiar guitar is hardly noticeable and his ideas seem tacked on to the proceedings. He is subjected to noodling occasionally between vocal lines and only infrequently carries the melody ("White Rabbit," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"). Even less often, unfortunately, he is provided opportunity to pilot a brief, but meaningful solo ("Twelve Thirty," "Guantanamera" "Are You There").
Regardless, WIND, SKY & DIAMONDS remains an important part of Gabor Szabo's discography. It celebrates much of what was important to the guitarist: the new world of rock music, the beauty of California, the hope and inspiration sweeping through the "Summer of Love," the freedom drugs promised and a whole new world that seemed to be shaping before everybody's eyes that year.
Szabo even reiterates the importance of this music by taking two impassioned recitations. The first begins the album in a prologue to the Animal's "San Franciscan Nights":
Szabo's next recitation follows a superb acoustic guitar solo in "Guantanamera," the beautiful Jose Marti poem set to the tune of a popular song from Havana (when it was refitted with English words and performed by American folk singer Pete Seeger in 1961, it became an international hit):
This is an exceptional performance, highlighted by a solo that clearly reflects fellow guitarist Jimmy Stewart's profound and creative impact on Szabo. It seems ultimately surprising that Szabo never performed "Guantanamera" again in his career. He really brings this meaningful rendition to life.
"Are You There" is another highlight. Starting with Szabo's melody for "Fox" (performed on SONGS FOR GENTLE PEOPLE) and adding Steve Allen's interesting lyrics, this song has the album's strongest "rock" feel and benefits from Szabo's meatiest solo on the record.
It's perhaps notable that WIND, SKY & DIAMONDS was the first solo album Gabor Szabo recorded on the West Coast, near his own home. With rare exception (SMALL WORLD, MIZRAB, RAMBLER, NIGHTFLIGHT and BELSTA RIVER), Szabo would perform and record almost exclusively on the West Coast for the rest of his career.
Endnote: An interesting companion to WIND SKY & DIAMONDS is George Bensons 1971 album, WHITE RABBIT (CTI 6015, 8000, CBS Associated ZK40685 [CD]). Much of Bensons playing here is challenging (as he scales basic chord changes with his own original inventions), appealingly mysterious, and often adds something of Szabo's metallic edge to his own pretty style. Benson can be heard performing a similar version of the Jefferson Airplanes "White Rabbit" (with a Don Sebesky arrangement) and a very Szaboesque version of a Mamas and Papas tune ("California Dreaming"), made popular in jazz circles by Wes Montgomery. What's even more interesting is that Leonard Feather played Benson's "Summer of '42" (from WHITE RABBIT) for Szabo during a 1975 Down Beat Blindfold Test. Szabo reacted by saying, "First of all, I do like this music very much; it's very warm, beautifully arranged. I particularly liked [Benson's] control when it came to technique, as well as the emotional message. In a strange way, it sometimes reminded me of myself [and] sometimes it reminded me of Wes Montgomery." Oddly, though, Szabo was able to identify Creed Taylor's production and Don Sebesky's arrangement, but was unable to name the signature playing of George Benson.