97. Harvey Mandel – Cristo Redentor (1969)
On the surface (OK, the cover is pretty intriguing) this doesn’t seem too promising: Cristo Redentor is ostensibly an instrumental blues-rock album by a virtuoso guitarist who went on to join Canned Heat and even record with the Stones after they’d got a bit shit. However, part of what makes Mandel an admired maestro is his ability to draw from and deftly utilise different styles. Most of his late sixties/early seventies albums have worthwhile moments that surpass the usual white boy blues wankery so prevalent at the time, and this first – and best – one covers a lot of good ground, from pretty full-on psychedelia to jazz and a touch of country.
The story of my relationship to this record starts with my good friend Martin, who’s something of a blues expert (he won a harmonica playing competition at a blues festival, which may or may not have been judged by Charlie Musselwhite who appears on this LP, when he was about 12). In the nineties I used to go to the dilapidated house he shared with a couple of friends, where we’d smoke, listen to early Wu-Tang and delve through Martin’s impressive vinyl collection. This was where I first heard Beefheart and other artists I’d go on to love and obsess about, but late one night I pulled out Cristo Redentor, by an artist I’d never previously heard about, and asked to put it on. The title track, a cover of a gospel-y jazz tune by Duke Pearson, opens side 1 with a wordless soprano, harp and big strings, Mandel just adding subtle reverbed licks over the top. Gorgeous, atmospheric and a pretty ego-free opener for a solo guitar album, it took me in immediately and has gone on to feature on many a mixtape.
Not so long after my first exposure, the album became mine when Martin sold off his entire collection. I got a few other great records* off him, but this one has remained the firm favourite. I immediately started playing side 2’s incredible version of the gospel standard ‘Wade In The Water’, as well as the following ‘Lights Out’, in DJ sets alongside funk and hip-hop. The former has since been sampled and compiled several times: an open drum break, strings, and guitar that pans across the stereo field, veering between a jazzy bright-toned bounce and psychedelic backwards fuzz – it’s got everything for diggers and dancers. The latter track which piles on more slow funk, more strings and more winding backwards guitar really deserves more of a look-in though. A great one for anyone into David Axelrod. And if you want weird, wait for the multitracked guitar drone to appear amidst the uptempo rhumba-style groove of ‘Before Six’.
I now own three different issues of this album (none of which are in terribly good condition, to be honest), including the dodgy computer graphic-adorned 1989 version on the Editions EG label, who put out/reissued a lot of Eno’s stuff. So, avant-rock/prog progenitor, blues rock journeyman or halfway mod, as the back cover of the original might have it? I’ve seen this and other Mandel albums filed under rock, jazz, fusion, and that favourite crate-digger-cum-curator-invented genre ‘funky rock’. And the fact it’s so hard to place is admittedly part of its charm.
*I didn’t take those daft Groundhogs albums that seem to be so fashionable these days.