Herb Alpert was covered superbly by my friend Henrique eight months ago on his blog Riquespeaks. In his case he covered the 1987 duet with Janet Jackson entitled “Diamonds”. As someone who began his career as bandleader of the hugely popular band The Tijuana Brass and a record label owner with his and Jerry Moss’s A&M Records in the early 60’s, Alpert was continuing to evolve.As the 70’s came in,the sound of this band began to take on elements of Brazilian jazz in their radio friendly pop. He finally went solo in 1976-his debut followed by a couple duet albums (one studio and one live) with fellow trumpeter Hugh Masekela over the next couple of years.
The nucleus of Alpert’s next albums came through a conversation with his nephew Randy about updating Tijuana Brass hits for the disco era. The results sounded very corny to Alpert,so he and Randy engaged on another musical course. In writing a big keyboard oriented number for the upcoming Olympics in Mexico City entitled “1980”,the duo bought in a group of musicians to do an an album entitled Rise. It’s funky title song became the theme song of his solo career,and he did a version of the Crusaders “Street Life” on the album as well. The other song that caught my ear was it’s second,lesser known hit. The song is called “Rotation”.
Randy’s percussion starts out the groove deeply in the Afro-Latin clave. After an echoed whisper of the title song,a brittle Clavinet from the song’s co-writer Andy Armer launches into Alpert’s sustained trumpet solo. Randy backs him up with a pulsing synth bass. Armer’s Clavinet continues playing the counter melody to Alpert’s Spanish inspired trumpet soloing. Each chorus and refrain is punctuated by Julius Wechter’s ringing marimba. As Alpert’s solos becomes more and more jazzy and improvises over the melody-including a solo for Randy’s synth bass,the rhythmic keyboards grow in thickness until the song simply fades out on the percussion from where it begun.
The sound of this song is unique and distinctive on several different levels. For one,it brings the stripped down groove so common in the coming 80’s new wave sound into the Latin jazz idiom. For another, it uses both a Clavinet and synth bass as the main rhythmic body besides the drum. And most important perhaps of all,it finds Herb Alpert understanding what another fellow trumpet Miles Davis realized a decade earlier. And that was that an instrumental soloist could totally alter the rhythmic sound of their music and still play with their classic approach. In a lot of ways,this song is a fine example of uniquely produced Afro-Latin jazz/funk as defining Herb Alpert’s solo career.