Two superb Hammond funk albums produced by Bob Porter who had been responsible for many superb jazz productions for Prestige and Atlantic.
In the early 70s Armen Boladian's Westbound Records had started to prove itself a consistent hit making machine, as the likes of the Detroit Emeralds and Funkadelic started to find their feet. Westbound was the latest in a long series of music business ventures, from song writing and production through to distribution, that Armen had involved himself in since the late 1950s. As the main Westbound label firmly established itself in the R&B/soul world, so Armen's mind moved towards thoughts of an alternative label, one that was initially jazz-based.
During the period of 1970-72, the New Jersey-based Prestige label had a hot period with a succession of young, funky jazz artists, many of whom had been sidemen with the in-demand club acts such as Lou Donaldson and Jack McDuff. Records by the likes of Charles Earland, Rusty Bryant, Funk Inc, Houston Person and Melvin Sparks all sold in copious amounts and, as Prestige's mid-western distributor, Armen was more aware than most how well this music was doing. Prestige was sold to Fantasy Records in 1971 and its operations and many of its artists were transferred to the West Coast. Those that didn't or perhaps couldn't go, including in-house producer Bob Porter, found themselves at a loose end that appears to have been put to an end by the inauguration of Eastbound.
Eastbound would eventually sign such established names as Etta Jones, Melvin Sparks and Houston Person, but its initial signings represented a trio of young musicians who were making their way from their Midwestern hometowns through the important bands of the day. You can check Gary Chandler and Bill Mason, who only released one album each, on their shared 2-on-1 CD (Westbound CDSEWD 127), but Caesar Frazier developed a bit of a career, releasing three albums for the Westbound group of companies. The final album Another Life saw Caesar developing a fine pair of soulful lungs, but his first two albums gathered here show him as a fine Hammond player in the funky groove mode that Porter had been working so well at Prestige.
Although born in New York, Frazier had been discovered in Indianapolis, from where Prestige hit signings Funk Inc and later Eastbound act The Nineteenth Whole also hailed. When he recorded Hail Caesar! he had been playing in Indianapolis whilst waiting to join up with Lou Donaldson's highly successful group-.-a group that, not coincidentally, had been raided for fresh recording talent several times before by Porter.
Both Hail Caesar! and '75 are funky organ albums which stay fairly true to the standard format for this sort of record date-.-a couple of recent hits, some hard-driving originals and some slower numbers to vary the tempo. Any one who sweated on the floor at Dingwalls will immediately recognise the acid jazz classic Mighty Mouse from '75 whilst the versions of Quincy Jones' Hicky Burr and Sly's Running Away from the super rare (¬£125) Hail Caesar! could keep you grooving for weeks if you so desired.
Despite his obvious talent Caesar never recorded with Donaldson - who was in any case moving away from the Hammond sound in the studio at the time. So these two albums are all the recorded evidence of the funky Caesar. Today, according to producer Bob Porter, you may if you are lucky catch him playing near his home in southern California, in between his day job as a radio news broadcaster.
By Dean Rudland