TERRY CALLIER / “Love Theme From ‘Spartacus'”
"People everywhere are searching, searching for a spiritual base to stand on, reach out from and react to. The way I understand it, I'm supposed to put the message out there as clearly as I can. The rest has to take care of itself." —Terry CallierThis is just plain beautiful. A childhood friend of Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler, born in 1945, Terry Callier came up out of Chicago during that Sixties/Seventies period when all kinds of wonderful music flowed forward fueled by the Windy City’s adventurous spirit. Terry started as an ultra-hip, Coltrane-influenced (if you can get to that!) folk singer and then became a major songwriter. For a minute he pursued a career as a singer-songwriter but eventually hung up his guitar in 1983. He had gained custody of his only child, Sundiata, and he wanted to devote his time and energy to raising her, so he became a computer programmer at Chicago State. Terry says: “When I got custody of my daughter I had to give up music to raise her properly, she needed me and the music business just didn’t seem like a viable option at that point.” Indeed, Terry was content to give up the music business forever. Besides, Terry never was going to be a 'pop' star. There was too much truth-telling he wanted to do. Too many relationship songs that did not focus on sex. Too many topical investigations that weren’t about the bling-bling of his era. His songs tried to make sense, rather than dollars, out of the complexities of life. Plus, he wasn’t a flashy dresser. His style just wasn’t happening as far as the charts were concerned. "I didn't touch a guitar from 1983 until 1988 because I was just too busy. Then in 1991 I got a call from a guy in London called Eddie Pillar, who ran a label called Acid Jazz. He told me that he had been playing my records in clubs and he wanted to re-release them and get me playing in England again. So for the next few years, I came over to do gigs in London in my vacation time from my day job." All of that in turn led to a one-off recording contract. Initially released in England and then later in the USA on Verve Records, Time Peace was a critically acclaimed and popular reemergence for Terry Callier. Indeed, Time Peace won the prestigious 1998 United Nations Time For Peace award for outstanding artistic achievement contributing to world peace. The album had a little bit of everything and a whole lot of wonderful singing and songwriting: one could go on for days talking about the different tracks, but for now, I’ll concentrate on the only track not written or co-written by Callier: "Love Theme From 'Spartacus.'" "Love Theme From 'Spartacus'" was initially well known because of the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas. Over the years, many, many renditions have been recorded, but I believe Terry Callier's version is the definitive one. Callier’s baritone is supported by John Molder’s acoustic guitar, a few choice acoustic bass notes from long-time bassist Eric Hochberg (he recorded with Terry in 1982 just before Terry retired), and sensitive percussion from Alfredo Alias who contributed shimmering sound washes by using mallets on a cymbal. That’s it. And that’s more than enough. With the exception of his childhood buddy Jerry Butler, I don’t think there is any other male vocalist in popular music that can match the handsome sensitivity of Callier’s burnished baritone. Callier's voice can ring clear in the falsetto regions and nearly choke on the overflow of heartfelt emotions when he descends to the bottom reaches of his instrument, down there where the bitter often threatens to overwhelm the sweet, but where the pain is purged by the strength of this man’s spirit. Even when he’s moaning, we are buoyed by the 'phoenixishness' of Callier's resplendent spirituality. He is so resilient, the man’s innards must be equal parts flesh and equal parts rubber. You can hear all of that in Callier’s quietly determined, utterly convincing reading of the Spartacus lyrics. Need anyone be reminded, Spartacus was a slave. Spartacus led a revolt. Spartacus.... “Can it be? / Do you hear? / A new freedom song is ringing.” Welcome back, Terry Callier. —Kalamu ya Salaam P.S. I think we should include one of Terry Callier's original compositions that mines a similar vein. This is "What Color Is Love," which speaks for itself. Be sure to catch Terry's quoting of "The Look Of Love" at the end of his song. Also note that this is from a 2001 live recording and even with a boisterious audience he is able to deliver a recital of aching intimacy. Terry Callier. One of the absolute masters of contemporary music. Click here to purchase TimePeace Sonic perfection Terry Callier's "Love Theme From 'Spartacus'" is one of those four minutes of sonic perfection that only comes along every so often. One listen to this record and you realize there's nothing more that could've been added and there's absolutely nothing that should be taken away. The first time I heard this, Terry got all of two words out before I had my cellphone in hand, dialing up KCRW to find out what I was listening to. It's as near to perfect as four-minute pop tunes get. Not that folks haven't tried to improve on perfection. Both 4Hero and Zero 7 did popular remixes of Terry's take on "Spartacus" and while I like both attempts, the majestic dignity of the original remains the way to go.
* * *And, I just realized that I forgot something. I've never heard the original version of "Love Theme From 'Spartacus'"—whatever it might be: instrumental? orchestral? vocal?—but there's another version of this tune that I like. Yusef Lateef released his version of "Spartacus" in 1961, a year after John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things." Anyone familiar with the Trane's take on the pop tune—and if you're reading this and aren't familiar with it then shame on you—will recognize the wistful beauty of the main melody and the 3/4 time-signature (both tunes are waltzes). Also, Lateef, like Trane, is playing soprano sax. —Mtume ya Salaam Click here to purchase Yusef Lateef Anthology You ever hear of an oboe? Mtume, you ever hear of an oboe? Of course you have, because that double-reed, orchestral instrument is what Yusef was playing rather than a soprano sax. But don't feel bad about mistaking the oboe for a soprano; at first I thought the same thing you did, but after the first four bars I reconsidered. I thought maybe Yusef was switching instruments during the course of the song. Then I went to the liner notes to check out whether my ears were playing tricks on me. They were. Yusef had been playing oboe for the entire time, it was just that he was so adept with that devilishly difficult instrument (controlling the intonation of the oboe is no task for amateurs), I had thought, yeah, it might be a soprano. The lyrical piano comping is by Barry Harris, with Ernie Farrow on bass and Lex Humphries using a brush on the snare and a light stick on the ride cymbal. For most of his career, Yusef has been known for playing a broad, broad array of woodwind instruments (including basson and a plethora of flutes from around the world). In that regard the man is an absolute wonder, which is natural when you consider he is from Motown (born William Evans in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when he was five his family moved to Detroit via a short Ohio stopover). Anyway, Yusef frequently recorded on oboe and here is another sterling example recorded at a nightclub performance. Imagine, using an oboe to play "See See Rider," and Yusef plays the hell of it, getting dirty tones and everything. The group members on "See See Rider" are Richard Williams on trumpet (with that bright and beautiful, clarion tone of his), Mike Nock on piano, Ernie Farrow on bass, and the ever inventive James Black on drums. —Kalamu ya Salaam Oops! Oboe, you say? No, never heard of it. —Mtume ya Salaam
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