Dorothy Ashby Afro-Harping

Cadet and its sister label Argo were jazz subsidiaries of renowned blues and soul label Chess during the ‘60s and ‘70s. These labels frequently produced high-concept, soul-driven fusion that was distinct both from Jimmy Smith-derived soul jazz, and the rock-based fusion of Miles and descendants. Most titles remain hard to find today. Richard Evans was a frequent producer for this label, creating such confections as the Soulful Strings — a group whose very name explains their modus operandi. While Afro-Harping is credited to harpist Dorothy Ashby, it’s very much Evans’ fancy. The killer opening cut "Soul Vibrations” would still rock any (down-tempo) dance floor, and seems to take a tip from Evans’ brief stint in Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Other tracks deploy Evans’ heady formula of rich orchestration, ersatz Afro/Latin percussion and Ashby’s heavenly leads throughout. Ashby gives it her all, transforming even "Theme From Valley of the Dolls” into easy-grooving classics. Albums like this paved the way for Earth Wind and Fire, with whom many of the musicians on this album, Ashby included, later collaborated. (Verve)