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Herbie Mann & Fire Island

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Album Review

Whenever a jazz artist embraces more commercial music, he/she is bound to be lambasted by purists in the jazz press. Herbie Mann was no exception — when he tried to sell more records by embracing commercial funk, soul and disco in the mid- to late 1970s, the flutist was denounced as a sellout by many jazz critics and received one scathing review after another from them. One of the albums that was attacked the most was Herbie Mann and Fire Island, an overtly commercial, club-minded disco/soul LP. Because this release has nothing to do with jazz, it's silly to judge it by jazz standards — although many jazz critics of the late 1970s did exactly that. Instead, one must judge Herbie Mann and Fire Island by disco/soul standards, and when those standards are applied, it's clear that the album is generally likable, if unspectacular and uneven. Although Mann produced the LP, most of the writing was done by the vocal trio Fire Island (which consists of Carmine Calabro, Jr. Googie Coppola, and Arnold McCuller). The best track is the dreamy yet funky "Welcome Sunrise," which brings to mind the R&B that Roy Ayers was providing at the time. Lush disco numbers like "Summer Strut" and "Rhythmatism" are fairly catchy, although not breathtaking. Herbie Mann and Fire Island isn't the atrocity that many jazz critics described it as being — however, it isn't one of Mann's more memorable commercial projects either.


Born: 16 April 1930 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Herbie Mann played a wide variety of music throughout his career. He became quite popular in the 1960s, but in the '70s became so immersed in pop and various types of world music that he seemed lost to jazz. However, Mann never lost his ability to improvise creatively as his later recordings attest. Herbie Mann began on clarinet when he was nine but was soon also playing flute and tenor. After serving in the Army, he was with Mat Mathews' Quintet (1953-1954) and then started working and recording...
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