Tarika Blue on Apple Music

Tarika Blue

Led by New York session player Phil Clendeninn, Tarika Blue was a lyrical, highly melodic fusion/jazz-funk outfit that had a small following (mostly on the East Coast) in the '70s. Clendeninn's combo wasn't as well known as Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes, but there are definite parallels between those two East Coast bands. Like the Cosmic Echoes, Tarika Blue favored a very spiritual, mystical approach that owed something to acoustic post-bop as well as soul, funk, pop, and rock. Tarika Blue shared the Cosmic Echoes' appreciation of modal post-bop heavyweights like John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Charles Lloyd, and Yusef Lateef -- in fact, Smith and Clendeninn are both pianist/keyboardists who were influenced by Tyner's playing. But Clendeninn wasn't a jazz purist any more than Smith and his Cosmic Echoes were; both of them used electric instruments and were well aware of what was going on in the R&B and rock worlds. Tarika Blue and the Cosmic Echoes both provided accessible instrumentals as well as vocal offerings, but while Smith often featured his brother Donald Smith, Clendeninn preferred to use female vocalists.

Clendeninn, a native New Yorker, formed Tarika Blue around 1973, when he was a student at Syracuse University in Upstate New York and was doing a lot of commuting to and from the Big Apple. Clendeninn, bassist Barry Coleman, and drummer Kevin Atkins were the core of the group, and other musicians who played with Tarika Blue included Marvin Blackman (tenor sax), Justo Almario (soprano sax), James Mason (electric guitar), and Japanese immigrant Ryo Kawasaki (electric guitar). The band's various female singers included Tequila (who had worked with drummer Tony Williams' Lifetime), Lisa Fisher, Irene Datcher, and Dolores Smith. It was in 1974 that Clendeninn met Hank O'Neal, president of the independent, New York-based Chiaroscuro Records. O'Neal's company is best known for hard bop and swing, but he made an exception in Tarika Blue's case and ended up co-producing their self-titled debut album in 1976 and their second album, The Blue Path, in 1977. While Tarika Blue's first LP was totally instrumental, The Blue Path featured Irene Datcher and Dolores Smith on vocals. It should be noted that around 1974 and 1975, Clendeninn was also a member of a disco/soul/funk outfit called the Big Apple Band, whose other members included guitarist Nile Rodgers and the late bassist Bernard Edwards -- a few years later, Rodgers and Edwards founded the seminal disco-funk powerhouse Chic and became superstar producer/songwriters.

Tarika Blue never recorded a third album, but their recordings continued to interest people long after their breakup. In 2001, urban contemporary/neo-soul star Erykah Badu sampled Tarika Blue's "Dreamflower" on her smash hit "Didn't Cha Know." "Dreamflower" has also been sampled by the Underwolves, a British jungle/drum'n'bass/electronica act. In 2002, Chiaroscuro reissued both of Tarika Blue's '70s LPs on a self-titled CD, which came out on the company's Downtown Sound label. ~ Alex Henderson

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