Dave Pike has been a consistently active percussionist over the past
40-plus years, specializing in vibraphone and marimba, and has built quite an impressive
resume to stand on. Yet, because the meat of his career was spent recording for a European
label at a time when jazz music was losing steam in mainstream America, he has been among
the countless musicians to have taken his place amongst the more obscure and only recently
sought after jazz musicians of the mid-Twentieth Century.
Naturally, it could be argued that had a label like Blue Note or Verve picked up Pike,
his creativity could have been fostered at home while his place in jazz history become
more important to the masses. However, Riverside, Prestige, Carnival and Epic couldn't,
and we can only work with what did happen. Pike's history reads more or less like this....
Born in Detroit MI in 1938, Pike began playing drums and used that percussive
background to learn instruments like the marimba and vibraphone. When his family moved to
Los Angeles in 1954 it wasnt long before Pike established himself as a sideman,
playing with the likes of Dexter Gordon, Harold Land, Carl Perkins, Paul Bley and Curtis
Counce. After establishing himself in California, Pike felt the pull to a larger jazz
market and took up shop in New York in 1960.
Once in New York, Pike began building a larger name
for himself, mainly by joining Herbie Manns group. This served as an important step
for different reasons. First, Pikes experience with Mann drew him further into the
Latin Jazz scene. In 1964, Pike recorded his first full Latin jazz album on Decca called
"Manhattan Latin". This album has since become a highly sought after album in
Latin jazz communities, and some would argue that heavy interest in this album in the late
1980s directly led to the discovery of a song called "Mathar", recorded in
Germany some four years later. Thats getting slightly ahead though....
Pikes time in New York and services with Herbie Mann also led to a recording
contract with Atlantic Records, for whom Pike would record two albums.
A 1965 session featuring the unusual talents of Herbie Hancock (still firmly on Blue
Note), Billy Butler (who was
at the time a new member of the Prestige roster) and other big names such as Clark
Terry and Grady Tate, became Pikes first album on Atlantic, "Jazz for the Jet
Set" (Atlantic 1457). Pike played marimba exclusively on this album, while Hancock
played Hammond, rather than his usual piano.
The commercial highlight of "Jazz for the Jet
Set" was certainly a bright reading of Hancocks "Blind Man, Blind
Man" which starts off the album. Somewhat uneven throughout, "Jazz for the Jet
Set" also does manage bright moments in "Sweet Tater Pie", "Jet
Set" and "When Im Gone". Another shrewd commercial move was the cover
art, featuring an attractive model adorned in the 1966 Pan-Am stewardess uniform (complete
with space helmet!), designed by the elite Italian fashion mogul, Emilio Pucci.
Regrettably, such a fashionable addition to the album didnt seem to have aided its
This album marks the move from Pikes earlier straight ahead style to what became
his most imaginative period delving into soul music - which Atlantic Records was a key
player at the time - more commercial pop arrangements, as well as taking a step
"outside", seemingly searching out a more experimental style.
These influences were more matured for a 1966 recording session which became the album
"The Doors of Perception", notably with Lee Konitz on saxophone. "The Doors
of Perception" was released by the Atlantic subsidiary Vortex, but not until 1970.
One cut in particular from this album, "The Drifter", foreshadowed Pikes
next few years, which were spent in Germany.
Also worth noting is a tape of live material recorded at the Village Gate in New York
on September 28, 1966 which has apparently been floating around circles of Lee Konitz fans
and features a handful of tracks that appeared on "The Doors of Perception". The
line up is, Dave Pike (vibes), Lee Konitz (as), Eddie Daniels (ts,cl), Don Friedman (p),
Chuck Israel (b,el-b), Arnie Wise (dr).
One can speculate that Atlantics initial shelving of "The Doors of
Perception" hastened Pikes decision to leave New York for Germany, though it
cant be denied that Europe offered musicians far greater artistic freedom than the
majority of American
recording houses. By this time, most major labels were becoming more and more aware of
the financial bottom line and wielding a heavy hand on both their recording roster and
their marketable outlets such as radio and television.
By the late 1960s, MPS was well established as the German jazz label of
choice. Already having secured the services of Oscar Peterson and Jean-Luc Ponty, Pike
joined the MPS label in 1968 and teamed up with a visionary guitarist named Volker
Kriegel. Kriegel is the likely introduction of Indian ragas to Pikes repertoire.
This influence showed up immediately on "Four Reasons", Pikes first album
for MPS. The albums opening track is a a blazing jazz raga number penned by Kriegel,
"Greater Kalesh No. 48". This album features a solid line up of Pike on vibes,
Kriegel on guitar, sitar and electric bass, J.A. Rettenbacher on bass, cello and electric
bass, and Peter Baumeister on drums. Collectively known as The Dave Pike Set, this lineup
would record at least another three albums together.
The Sets next album for MPS, "Noisy
Silence - Gentle Noise", released in 1969 (MPS 15215), was a further exploration into
funky jazz with brilliant guitar work and Indian influences, the stand out track being one
called "Mathar", which more attention will be given to in just a bit However,
the entire album is a treat.
The Dave Pike Set was now well established in European jazz circles and was becoming
quite popular, though this popularity still didnt seem to make much of a ripple in
America. To capitalize on this popularity, "Live at the Philharmonie" (MPS
20705) was released. While not their most outstanding album, it is a well recorded
document of the groups ability to take their studio magic out on stage with them,
with the sitar being notably absent. Quickly after the live recording, a studio followup
was released, titled "Infra-Red". A remarkably solid album,
"Infra-Red" features a number of amazing Indian-fused numbers, not the least of
which being "Raga Jeeva Swara" and "Soul Eggs". All four members of
the set contributed songs to the album, which is a tad unusual, as Peter Baumeister was
not nearly as proficient as the other
three at writing in preceding outings, but did emphasize
the Set as a unified group rather than a series of recording sessions with Pike at the
1971 didnt seem to slow Pike down, but
information on recordings of this year has been difficult to come by. Ive found
references to three MPS catalogue numbers from this year (10.21688-8, 21.20881 and
21.21541) but Ive only been able to verify one, titled "Album" which can
be found as a Japanese CD reissue. "Album" features tracks such as "Big
Schlepp", and "Country Shit", and is representative of Pike's other MPS
works, but aside from some great guitar work from Volker Kriegel, is more of a proper jazz
album than the funk jazz styles the Set had recorded on earlier efforts.
In 1972 MPS repackaged "Four Reasons" and "Live at the
Philharmonie" together as "Riff For Rent" (MPS 25112). Essentially, was the
end of the MPS era for Dave Pike, but he would bow out after one more album, as the New
Dave Pike Set.
"Salomao" was released in 1973 with the
"New" Dave Pike Set, featuring Volker Kriegel on guitar, Eberhard Weber on bass
and Marc Hellman on drums. "Salomao" was recorded in Brazil in 1972 with a group
of Brazilian percussionists called Grupo Baiafro. Volker Kriegel was still lending his
prolific pen to the majority of the songwriting, but the album heavily explored
progressive Brazilian rhythms with quite an experimental edge. While fairly mellow in
general, the experimental nature of this album does not make it among Pike's easiest to
By the mid-1970s Pike found himself back in
America and recorded four albums for Muse through 1981, none of which were very
successful. Still active though, Pike recorded two more albums in the 1980s before
seemingly dropping out of active recording.
Of course, by this time the acid jazz craze was beginning to rear its head and along
with it, a whole new community of record collectors and DJs actively searching out
"rare grooves" and new club hits. While the "Manhattan Latin" album
was picking up steam again in Latin circles, the funk jazz crowds were just about to find
their hidden gem, presumably due to the efforts of English DJ Giles Peterson, who was
behind the Talking Jazz compilations.
"Mathar" became (and remains) a huge club
hit, and was recorded by Paul Weller under the guise of Indian Vibes for a now insanely
rare French single on Yellow Productions (YP001M) in 1994. The Weller single was reissued
in the UK on Virgin as a 12", and Pikes original was released as a 12"
(complete with techno remixes, no less) on Outcaste (Out9x) and on a Tommy Boy 12" EP
with Ananda Shankars "Streets of Calcutta" in 1997. "Mathar"
also appears on The Mojo Clubs Dancefloor Jazz Vol. 3, and UK label Talkin
Louds "Talkin Jazz Vol 2". Clearly, this songs rediscovery in the
late 1980s, and its subsequent fervor among rare groove and funk jazz fans has
been instrumental in revitalizing Pikes career. Still, the majority of the
aforementioned reissues arent readily available to the masses.
Dave Pike's introduction to a new, younger and more ravenous audience which has
recently lifted Pike to his newly found cult status - at least on a larger scale - was the
1998 issue of the "Got the Feelin" album, which was released on Wagram Records.
Wagram Records is the independent work of Phil Lehman, one of the co-owners of Desco
Records, the premier new funk label in America. The reissue of this album has insured the
continued interest in Dave Pikes work, particularly in America, where Pikes
material has been even more difficult to locate than in Europe.
"Got the Feelin" was recorded in Holland,
1968, for release on a rock label, Relax Records (also housed Dutch beat legends, The
Outsiders), with Rob Franken on organ, Joop Schotten on guitar, Ruud Jacobs on electric
bass and Louis de By behind the drums. Joop Schotten contributed five original
compositions to the album, while Pike co-wrote the album's best tracks, "Bacon
Fat" and "Middle Earth Herd", with Raoul Dohmen. Additionally, this version
of the Dave Pike Set recorded covers of Sam & Dave's "You Got It Made", Burt
Bacharach's "Do You Know the Way To San Jose", The Classics IV's
"Spooky" and the title track, James Brown's "Got the Feelin".
Simultaneously, the Ubiquity label in San Francisco made contact with Pike, now living
in Los Angeles, and in 1998 released an albums worth of all new material called "Bop
Head", which finds Pike working out fluidly in a straight-ahead style.
Under Ubiquitys wing, Pike also recorded with
Johnny Blas, a brilliant young Afro-Cuban traditionalist, on Blass "Skin &
Bones" album, released on Ubiquitys sister label, Cubop.
Ubiquity also has Pike recording another album, this time teamed up with another Latin
giant, Bobby Matos. "Peligroso" is set for an August 2000 release with the
promise of Pikes first Latin jazz album since "Manhattan Latin", according
to Ubiquitys publicity on Pike. Obviously, Pikes time with Herbie Mann had a
deeper affect on him than at first glance and luckily for todays jazz fans, Pike
shows no signs of letting up now. It certainly is something worth looking forward to from
this long under-rated percussionist.
*Thanks to Andrew Jervis at Ubiquity, and the All Music Guide for pieces of
information found in this article.
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