The Galactic Empire, and all its personnel, get the dive-bar treatment in this junk induced, vodka-and-coke-spilling, dank, eye-burning, smoke-filled classic for the casual 1980 Contemporary Jazz fan in all of us. The very phrase “Contemporary Jazz” still freaks me out.
While listening to this record, I imagine myself sitting at Croce’s restaurant in San Diego, drinking a blue milk cocktail (a DOUBLE, why not?) while trying to make casual conversation with the person next to me, who is too busy scanning the room for someone more interesting to talk with. Very put together, and a bit too structured for my taste, Ron Carter and his (at that time) modern version of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes use this album more as a vehicle to display their various talents (of which this album has many), rather than a stage in which to proclaim their love for Star Wars themed music. 90% straight-edge Contemporary Jazz and 10% Star Wars, Empire Jazz lacks the campy, not-taking-itself-too-seriously, classic lounge vibe that the Evil Genius Orchestra delivered in 1999’s Cocktails in the Cantina (AllMusic.com Review). It’s Contemporary Jazz all right, but this album misses the mark set by Meco in his 1977 classic, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk; An album I misguidedly attributed Empire Jazz to mirror.
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RSO (Robert Stigwood Organisation) released this album in an attempt to appeal to the adult Star Wars fan, or so I gather. Empire Jazz, also known as RS-1-3085 is “also available in 8 track 8T-1-3085 and cassette CT-1-3085.” Too bad they couldn’t have worked TK-421 into their cataloging system, which would have been fun… a bit more fun than this album, I’m afraid.
The cover is, quite simply put, absolutely hilarious. It depicts Chewbacca doing his Thelonious Monk impersonation on the keys; C-3P0 working his well oiled, droid digits on the upright; R2-D2 using his electronic tentacles on the skins, which I buy, by the way; (I imagine R2 could rival Buddy Rich, if he’d ever lower himself to a challenge… R2, that is). And okay, I understand the idea of incorporating the “Empire” on the cover of an album called Empire Jazz, but on sax is a Stormtrooper… not too outlandish a notion, but I’d imagine it to be difficult playing a reed instrument WHILE WEARING A HELMET! And if that isn’t enough, the Sith Lord himself, Darth freakin’ Vader sits at an otherwise empty table with hands crossed, seemingly enthralled that a Wookiee had the patience to learn to play the piano.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Ronald Levin Carter has got talent. I mean, the man played with Miles Davis for crying out loud. It’s a finely executed album, just not exactly as kitschy as the cover suggests.
Current market value (as I type this) ranges from $2.94 in VG condition to $10.00 in NM condition (For Sale Here).
If you dig the Contemporary Jazz thing, consider this album. If you’re looking for Meco 2.0, you’re going to be disappointed.
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