By 1972 Ntu Troop was an official working band comprising Bartz, Andy Bey on electric piano and vocals, Stafford James on bass and Howard King on drums. They signed to Prestige and recorded their debut “Juju Street Songs” in October 1972, along with enough material to almost fill up their next album “Follow The Medicine Man”. The spiritual and political were to the fore, but with new elements of commerciality in covers of Syreeta’s ‘Black Maybe’ and the Stylistics’ ‘Betcha By Golly, Wow’. Keyboardist Hubert Eaves replaced Bey for two tracks recorded for their second album, giving the band a new edge. It was this line-up that recorded the “I’ve Known Rivers And Other Bodies” LP at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival which was a pretty free representation of the group’s sound, although the amazing title track based around a Langston Hughes poem was instantly accessible.
This line-up’s first full studio album “Singerella: A Ghetto Fairy Tale” was recorded later that year and saw the sound augmented by guitarists Hector Centeno and Maynard Parker and percussionist Kenneth Nash, with vocals handled solely by Bartz. Although the LP purports to have a narrative, it isn’t essential to the listening experience. Songs such as ‘Dozens (The Sounding Song)’, ‘Blind Man’ and ‘Nation Time’ speak of the black ghetto experience, while ‘I Don’t Care’ shouts out of alienation. The music and its execution are astounding. The opener ‘St Felix Street’ is built on a funk rhythm, but not one that James Brown would recognise, with Eaves’ complex yet fluid solo outshining even Bartz’s own. Throughout the album Bartz plays twisting improvisational lines that build from short phrases into something far more profound and Eaves shines by turning 70s funk clichés into something fresh and exciting. The overall sound has a dense sense of rhythm that overcomes moments such as on ‘Lady Love’ that veer towards incidental TV music. It’s worth noting that the title track and ‘Nation Time’ have a certain smoothness about them that suggests Bartz’s Mizell Brothers-produced jazz funk masterpieces from later in the decade. It is probably no coincidence that “Singerella” was mixed by Larry Mizell, who was also involved in Bartz’s final Prestige album “The Shadow Do!”.
By Dean Rudland