"Is It Really the Same?" / Georgie Fame
I'm in my usual post-Christmas CD-buying mode--ordering all the records other people didn't buy for me, despite the fact that I put them VERY CLEARLY on my Amazon wish list. Granted, most of the CDs on that wish list were wacky, all with some secret Nick Lowe connection (like the Mumford soundtrack, an anthology of Cajun music called Evangeline Made, and an old Starbucks Valentine's Day anthology of love songs, each of which seemed worth buying in order to get one obscure Nick track). But shopping through my Nick Lowe obsession, I discovered--eureka!--a new Georgie Fame anthology, called Somebody Stole My Thunder: Jazz-Soul Grooves 1967-1971. It's jam-packed with tracks I have on vinyl and have never been able to find on CD, and I'm thrilled to death.
If all you know of Georgie is manufactured pop hits like "Yeh Yeh" and "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde," you do not know Georgie Fame. He may have started out as part of the Larry Parnes 1960s machine, the cute blond organist renamed George Fame (he's really Clive Powell), but en route to plastic pop success he spent his evenings blowing his fellow musicians' minds with brilliant blues-jazz gigs at London's Flamingo night club. He eventually screwed up the pop-star bit and soon was gigging with the Count Basie Orchestra and Van Morrison and just generally following his jazz muse. He's still at it, and still wonderful.
I can't remember how I got hold of Georgie's 1969 LP Seventh Son--I must have dug it out of some bargain bin in some record store, somewhere in the mid-70s--but it's the record that hooked me permanently on Georgie Fame. Only now do I realize that it was produced by Alan Price [insert here the usual loop of explanation about my Alan Price obsession]. Several of those Seventh Son tracks are on this anthology, and currently I'm grooving on "Is It Really the Same," truly one of the most copasetic tracks on the planet.
The base of it all is a loose-jointed organ riff, repeated to the point of hypnosis, picked up by the bass when the organ has to go mess around in some other register--as it quite frequently does. Somehow that syncopated riff manages to be lazy and jumpy at the same time, which is quite a feat. This song's about meeting an old lover unexpectedly, and having that whole welter of feelings roar back into action; you don't know yet whether you intend to do anything about it, but you're discombobulated for sure. That's where that nagging repeated riff is sheer genius. "Tell me / When I call your name / Is it / Really the same?" Georgie's vocals start out out like a trumpet improv, scatting the lyrics, playing with the rhythms, until he falls back into his husky lower register, pulsing like a trombone on the lines "What's it like / When you meet an old flame / Like me?" (An "old flame" -- like in Georgie's original back-up group, the blue Flames?)
When I first listened to Seventh Son, I knew all the rock conventions and none of the jazz ones; this improv stuff was all new to me--and I dug it. I know this track by heart now, so it's hard for me to judge whether it stands up to other jazz recordings I've gotten to know since. Frankly, I don't care. What I get from this record is a musician finally doing the music he wanted to do; he's intoxicated with it. At one point in the song he sings to the girl: "I got a feeling / When I saw you / My head was reeling / I wondered if you --/ But, then again / This kind of feeling / Could make me blue." I love that fitful break in the sentence; he's still feeling his way forward. We've got him in the moment, surfing on sheer emotion. And that's how jazz always works for me, when it's got no agenda, no diagram--let's just see where it goes.
I'm sorry I can't offer you a download; Georgie Fame's not the kind of artist whose music gets uploaded as MP3s. But I adore the fact that he's still working, not stuck in some oldies rut, and he's all about the music, not his own image (believe me, he could have done--he was that cute back in the day). He hasn't got that great a voice, though it's plenty expressive; he's no innovator on the keyboards, either. But he knows where the groove is, and he gets such sheer joy out of it, you can't help but groove with him.