The Fabulous Three, The Best of the Fabulous Three, Truth & Soul
Truth & Soul
"The Fabulous 3 recorded everything from reggae to spiritual jazz to psychedelic soul." —Truth & Soul press notes
Listening to an album of the Fabulous Three is like listening to one long, lysergic blaxploitation score (think a miniseries rather than a single film*). This Truth & Soul collection brings 13 instrumental tracks together, filled with flute excursions, playful organ lines, indelible bass pulses, and sample-ready drum breaks. I can only assume they also exerted a powerful influence on the Heliocentrics as you'd have one hell of a time distinguishing between the two in a blind sound-test.
The playfulness of Leon Michels' keyboard work extends to the rest of the enterprise. On "Whitesands, Pt. I," for instance, they don't just conjure up the perfect summer jam; they add a few subtle seagull-and-wave effects (these sample-ready cats were already on the sample tip). No, it isn't cheesy. And yes, the LP includes Pt. II. The opening track, "Answer Me Softy," is also split in two.
Listen closely, and you can almost hear the ghost of Suicide.
Then, on "Django's Soul," they give Ennio Morricone a funk infusion. Since Quentin Tarantino is currently in the process of transforming Sergio Corbucci's 1966 spaghetti western Django into Django Unchained, much as he transformed Inglorious Bastards into Inglourious Basterds, I hope he includes this cut (his Django, which stars Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson, opens on Christmas Day).
There's also a lot of inventiveness on display. My use of the word "funk" intends merely to establish a framework, even though some selections cross the line into jazz—and not just any kind, but the avant garde variant in particular. This is best exemplified by "Odyssey Revised," which emerges from out of a bed of musique concrète before giving into a spiraling bass figure and curlicues of brass.
After spinning this 13-track set a few times, I did a little reading up on the outfit. To my surprise, they were active in the late-1990s and early-'00s, rather than the '70s. The ruffled and patterned shirts on the cover only reinforce the impression.
Though billed as the Fabulous Three, six players actually receive credit, which helps to explain how they could anticipate a sprawling ensemble like the Heliocentrics. The other multi-instrumentalists include Quincy Bright (drums, bass, guitar, percussion) and Jeff Dynamite (Arp Odyssey). Two of the other players, Homer Steinweiss and Soul Fire's Phillip Lehman would go on to work with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Mark Ronson, and the Wu-Tang Clan.
In its combination of head-nodding beats and out-there elements, The Best of the Fabulous Three is definitely one of my favorite reissues of the year.
*Message to HBO: the world could use an all-black, Nixon-era series, like yesterday. As actors and directors, I suggest Melvin Van Peebles, Mario Van Peebles, Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier, Sam Jackson, The Wire's Michael K. Williams, and Michael Jai White, star of Black Dynamite.