Cochemea Gastelum – The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow

January 01, 1970




Gastelum’s saxophone has been heard with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings,
though he has also played in the Broadway musical Fela! and with a diverse group that includes Paul Simon, Amy
Winehouse and the New Pornographers. His debut as a leader focuses almost
exclusively on creating a party vibe, in particular a vibe that travels back to
the early ’70s when the soul-jazz grooves were heavy, horn solos were brief but
concise and the music focused on the dancefloor. With musician and mix master
Adam “Mocean Worker” Dorn co-producing and occasional handling bass duties, The
Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow has a lot of muscle adding to its heaviness.


“electric sound” of the title is represented in the use of the electric
saxophone, which Eddie Harris made popular during the decade mentioned above.
On five of the 10 tracks, Gastelum whips it out, using the horn’s distorted
tone and wah-wah effect not as novelty so much as a way to grab your ear and
add to the already diverse mix of sounds. In addition to regular alto, tenor
and baritone saxes, Gastelum also handles a battery of keyboards (organ, Fender
Rhodes, ARP, clavinet), flute, bass clarinet and percussion throughout the
album. The mood of the songs encompasses everything from slinky ballads and Headhunters-style vamps to melodies that
touch on the Fela influence or, to dig deeper, the spirit of Osibisa. Most of
the time, the horns work together in unison for texture, but Gastelum cuts
loose with a sizeable solo here and there.


only setback of Johnny Arrow, aside
from the annoying vocal loop on “Carlito,” is that the music doesn’t sound
live. Each track boasts at least three people, usually more, playing the music,
yet a lot of it sounds like it was built around samples.


trying describe what gives music a ’70s-centric feeling, it could be said that this
period combined the unadorned sound of a band playing live in a room with
burgeoning recording technology that had not yet risen to a level where it
could sanitize the soul of the music. (The latter problem reached full bloom
about a decade later.) Instead of going ahead and trying to capture that feeling
directly, Johnny Arrow falters because it sounds like Gastelum and Dorn filter
it through a self-conscious “retro” perspective, and doesn’t let the band breathe
as much as it should. Nevertheless, there are some great horn shouts and funky
grooves lurking in these mixes.


DOWNLOAD: “Arrow’s Theme,” Fathom



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