Bob Thiele And His New Happy Times Orchestra/Gabor Szabo
Los Angeles: August 11, 1967
Oliver Mitchell, Ray Triscari, Jimmy Zito (tp); Lew McCreary, Mike Barone (tb); Bud Shank, Buddy Collette, Bob Hardaway, Tom Scott (as,ts,f); Lincoln Mayorga (p,harpsichord); Gabor Szabo, Dennis Budimer, Louis Morell (g); Bill Plummer (sitar); Max Bennet (el-b); Howard Johnson (tu); Jimmy Gordon (d); Gary Coleman (perc); Sid Feller (arr).
Los Angeles: September 14, 1967
Los Angeles: September 14, 1967
"LIGHT MY FIRE was something special," recalls Bob Thiele. "Because I believe it was the first time that we took some contemporary songs like the Doors' "Light My Fire" and recorded with a large orchestra." By 1967, however, such an event was not uncommon. Leading big bands, such as Count Basie's and Duke Ellington's, had already recorded Top 40 pop tunes in a big-band context. But as critic John F. Szwed points out, Thiele's innovation here was "the smaller group that has been set within the larger." In other words the success that Szwed attributes to this recording is Thiele's rock-and-roll rhythm section in a traditional jazz big-band.
With this recording, Thiele seemed to marry his divergent musical tastes. Unfortunately, Sid Feller's unimaginative arrangements highlight the robotic quarter-note cadenzas of the most pedestrian rock music. Without Szabo's incisive solos throughout, LIGHT MY FIRE would surely have many of the qualities associated with the anonymous Hollywood rock soundtracks of the period. It is certainly Szabo, and his performance alone, which draws the listener back to this recording. His blues riffing on "Rainy Day Woman," astounding finger dynamics in "Fakin' It" and typically inventive soloing in his own "Krishna" offer the listener ample pleasure. Szabo seems isolated from the proceedings though. The most interaction he has with the orchestra is in Feller's harmonically-rich arrangement of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" where, briefly, he even spars with Tom Scott's workmanlike tenor.
Critic Frank Kovsky aptly intuited the album was "designed to demonstrate to followers of jazz and rock the virtues of 'the other' music." Only Szabo, who's ears were already tuned toward the emerging innovations of the new fusion guitars of Eric Clapton and George Harrison, brings Kovsky's insight to the target. The voice of his guitar peels through a session like this; a charismatic ability to blend light and shadow, and float effortlessly between narrowly defined concepts of rock or jazz. Even Thiele recalled, "I'll never forget one part of the project. "Sid Feller was the arranger and of course I was in the control room. He actually started to get confused because I was picking up on what Coltrane probably would have done where I signaled with my hands to just keep going or just keep repeating and let the guy [Szabo] play for almost as long as he wanted. Sid later told me, ' I didn't know what the hell to do or when to stop so all I could do was keep looking at you'." One can well imagine Thiele many times over entranced at the helm of a developing John Coltrane pattern and likewise sense a powerful sorcery directing Szabo during these sessions.