Songs Of The Day 11/2/2015: William S. Fischer – “Chains” + “Capsule”

Allegations of Weirdness – William S. Fischer (one of two consecutive Fischers on the MOJO list of the weirdest recordings -- take a wild guess who the other is) was a very versatile arranger who left his imprint on quite a few recordings in the '60s and '70s. Some were classics (Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", Roy Ayers Ubiquity's Red Black & Green, Leon Redbone's Champagne Charlie), many were for important seminal influences (Les McCann, Jimmy Scott, Steve Goodman), and still others were properly released complete with album jackets and protective inner sleeves (Robert Q. Lewis' I'm Just Wild About Vaudeville).

Another of Fischer's clients was jazz flutist Herbie Mann, whose own label Embryo Records was a subsidiary of Atlantic. Besides Mann's own solo recordings, Embryo's roster had a little experimental tincture to it, if not an outright inmates-running-asylum vibe. Brute Force, who God created and loved above all others, was on the list, as were Stevie Wonder's synthesizer collaborators Tonto's Expanding Head Band. Embryo also released the only album under Fischer's own name in 1970.

Possibly but not definitely excluding close family members and concerned representation, nobody expected Fischer to release something like Circles. First, it must be said: It's a great album. It's really, really good. Even if you've completely lost contact with reality, if your album's recording band has bassist Ron Carter, drummer Billy Cobham and guitarists Eric Weissberg and Hugh McCracken, you're not going to come out with something slapdash and unlistenable. And Fischer's compositions are very much connected with reality on Circles -- they're just all over the map. "Saigon" presaged Southern rock, "Green Forever" gave the extended rock jam some professional heft, and "Circle" is one of the most successful prog rock songs I can recall hearing. "Chains" has no genre, but it's a searing and beautiful instrumental.

I guess Circles would have just been a forward-looking jazz-rock album with a few more detours if Fischer had just left it at that, but he was feeling generous and he had a Moog. In his hands the synthesizer took a harsh left turn in two separate electronic explorations, "Electrix" and "Capsule." The reason for including these two disruptions -- each of them the last song on their respective album side -- is a total mystery, unless Fischer was hyper-aware of his own commitment as an artist, which all artists should be aware of anyway. I can't tell whether the bass lines in "Capsule" are synthetic or if Ron Carter somehow found a way to have his own acoustic bass interplay with random keyboards. God, I hope it's the latter.

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