CANNONBALL ADDERLEY’S “Love, Sex, And The Zodiac” is an odd addition to the saxophonist’s canon. It was released a mere two years after many of the same participants – players, producer and narrator – had recorded the album “Cannonball Adderley presents the Nat Adderley Sextet: Soul Zodiac”, a double vinyl excursion into music influenced by the signs of the Zodiac. Yet both albums offer distinct and complementary takes on the subject, with the latter reflecting a simpler and more concise musical view of the subject with the focus more firmly on the band, although with a much more sexualised lyrical content.
The Adderley brothers were born in Florida; Julian, known as “Cannonball” in 1928 and Nat in 1931. Cannonball became a renowned alto saxophonist, and one of the most important and successful bandleaders of his day. Although he was sometimes criticised for being mainstream, his music was always of the highest standard possible. He made his reputation as a member of the Miles Davis Sextet that recorded Davis’ most enduring album “Kind Of Blue” in 1959. After leaving Davis he signed to the New York independent jazz label Riverside where he recorded a series of albums that made his own group one of the most successful of the era. A key component of the group was his brother Nat, who had played with his brother throughout the 50s at various times as well as having stints with J.J. Johnson and Lionel Hampton. After rejoining Cannonball at Riverside Nat became a permanent member, working until his brother’s death in 1975, his cornet playing the front-line instrumental foil to Cannonball’s alto. Nat was also responsible for some of the most important tunes in the group’s songbook including ‘Work Song’, ‘Jive Samba’ and ‘Tengo Tango’.
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s success led them to be signed to Capitol Records in 1964, as Riverside were experiencing financial problems. Capitol paired them with staff A&R man and producer David Axelrod. Axelrod and Cannonball worked well together, the collaboration pushing the Quintet towards new heights of commercial appeal. That success peaked in sales terms with 1967’s LP “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live At ‘The Club’”. This album contained the Joe Zawinul composition ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’. Edited down and released as a single, it became one of the biggest jazz hits of the decade. This success gained itself through to a level of freedom for the musicians that allowed them to make all sorts of experimental albums. Axelrod made a pair of albums based on the works of William Blake, “Songs Of Innocence” and “Songs Of Experience”, while Cannonball made “Accent On Africa”, and “Country Preacher”, an LP that paid explicit tribute to black rights leader Jesse Jackson. Nat made two themed albums: “Soul Of The Bible” and “Soul Zodiac”. David Axelrod remembers that the latter title worked better of the two because narrator Rick Holmes understood the subject matter better: “Rick was really into astrology … [the LP] was a smash hit”.
“Soul Zodiac” was released in 1972, one of a slew of albums that the Adderley brothers released for Capitol that year, the final one for the label. Cannonball signed to Fantasy Records of Berkeley California in 1973. Fantasy were using the income from the vast success of Creedence Clearwater Revival to create one of the finest jazz catalogues and artist roster of the time. The first Cannonball Adderley album released was called “Inside Straight”, followed by “Love, Sex, And The Zodiac”. Clearly the success of the Capitol Zodiac album had something to do with the return to the subject so quickly, and part of that was down to the presence of Rick Holmes, one of the most influential jazz DJs in the country. As the host of his own show on KBCA, a very big jazz station, Holmes would not only be able to plug the record on his own station but he could rely on favours from other DJs from around the country to play it too.
“Love, Sex, And The Zodiac” was an almost complete reprise of the personnel from the previous Zodiac recording. The Adderley brothers and Holmes were joined by keyboard player George Duke, longstanding bassist Walter Booker and drummer Roy McCurdy, with David Axelrod producing the LP with Cannonball. Only Mike Deasey on guitar was missing, whilst Jimmy Jones was added playing acoustic piano and Hal Galper was brought in to add extra electric piano. The songwriting was spread between all the band members, with Nat Adderley contributing five of the titles on his own and one with his brother. Both albums are very much period pieces and so fell out of fashion quickly. Now the fact that they are so redolent of the era gives them great appeal to collectors and fans of funk-tinged jazz.
For those familiar with Cannonball Adderley’s Capitol sides it’s worth noting that on his Fantasy recordings there is an extra texture to the sound brought to the music by George Duke’s contribution through the Clavinet and the ARP synthesiser. They give the record a flavour common to soul recordings of the same era. The music is well thought through: the voices, tempo and style reflecting the characteristics that are generally considered to belong to the different Zodiac signs: so that there is an aggressiveness to Aries that is entirely missing from, say, Libra. The lyrics have charm, but do seem to reek of parody now, but those involved were taking this entirely seriously, as I think is evident from the playing. It shows the musicians in full flight.
It was to be Cannonball Adderley’s final exercise in stargazing. Over the year and a half that followed the recording of “Love, Sex, And The Zodiac”, he managed to record enough material to fill four more albums, two of which were doubles. But in August 1975 he suffered a stroke which proved to be fatal. He left behind a 20 year legacy of recorded work as strong at the end as it had been at the beginning. It would have been a treat to see where he had taken his music next, but it wasn’t to be.
DEAN RUDLAND / 2011