Stark Reality were a brilliant Boston-bred ensemble led by vibraphonist Monty Stark who gained crate-digger infamy thanks to a 1970 double-LP set entitled The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop
. That album saw the band rearrange children's music originally written in 1958 by famed songwriter and pianist Hoagy Carmichael into a funky, fuzzed-up psychedelic stew that hipped up the sound palette while losing none of the sweet, playful sincerity of the educational message -- the album was weird, but it sure was fun. Imagine Hendrix, Bitches Brew
-era Miles Davis, and Milt Jackson forming a supergroup that grooves heavily into the Canterbury acid rock/jazz funk of Soft Machine, and you'll have a good idea of the magic being made here by Stark, guitarist John Abercrombie, drummer Vinnie Johnson, and bassist Phil Morrison. Stones Throw Records first reissued some of this wonderful music ten years ago via a pair of compilations, and former Stones Throw label manager Egon has finally fulfilled their original ambitions to put out the group's entire recorded output in this deluxe boxed set on his Now-Again label.
The box contains, for the first time since its original 1970 release, the complete four sides of music from the Hoagy Carmichael
album spread across two CDs (Stones Throw's initial reissue was comprised of select tracks from the LP), newly remastered here from the original tapes and never having sounded better. The third disc in this set compiles the group's 1969 recordings, once simply called 1969
and now titled Roller Coaster Ride
, both sides of the group's 1968 7" Say Brother
, and a bunch of previously unreleased cuts recently unearthed by Luke Mosling at Porter Records. This material holds onto the same sonic template of the Carmichael
material, but augmented with saxophone and flute, as lyrically the band moves into a different kind of socially conscious positivity akin at times to Curtis Mayfield producing the Free Design. This is easily one of the most important and enjoyable releases in the Now-Again catalogue, and easily sits firm in the shortlist of what will be the best archival releases of 2013. This music has massive appeal to a wide range of listeners; jazz heads, crate diggers and sample hounds (don't be like the Black Eyed Peas, though -- if you sample it, pay for it!!), psych fans, funk soldiers, and those who dig the esoteric strands of exotica music will all find something here into which they can sink their teeth. The set also includes a massive booklet with notes by Egon detailing the history of this music getting reissued, bios and interviews with the band and the Carmichael family, and Egon's touching tribute to Stark, who sadly passed away in 2009 from cancer. This is a prime example of how reissues should be produced -- filled with the passion, sweat, and knowledge of a true fan who simply wants to spread the love.
-Mikey IQ Jones (February 6, 2013)
"Red Yellow Moonbeams"
"Roller Coaster Ride"