This article is the second part of a feature on the album covers of artist Mati Klarwein.
The first part is entitled More Than Abraxas.
The life of a peripatetic artist is one of change and blending influences. Mati was a great traveller and enthusiastically soaked up images of culture and mythology from the many countries he visited. His lifestyle was exuberant but by no means opulent. Album covers, portraits and other commissions paid the bills, more or less.
Here our focus is the album covers. As you look at the beautiful reproductions in the book Mati and the Music, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that many of Mati’s works were diminished by being confined to a 12” square holding a vinyl disc. Yet something of the vibrancy, humour and lust for life of this visionary artist reaches out from the albums. They remain a legacy that continues to resonate through popular culture and, I hope, bring delight.
Osibisa – Heads [MCA 1972]
When Teddy Osei from Ghana recruited a couple of other musicians from his homeland and added a couple more from the Caribbean, Osibisa were formed. They were one of the first ‘world music’ bands, long before the term was coined.
Afro-Caribbean highlife-rock-jazz hybrid.
Lively, Life-full, Jazzy, Infectiously upbeat.
Having sported vibrant Roger Dean fantasies on their first two album covers, this Mati painting for Heads is a different pachyderm altogether. I’ve always found the embedded faces disturbing. Would I want to be portrayed as a pimple on an elephant’s bonce? Well, better that than the poor blighter either being sucked into or expelled from the trunk. And those elephant eyes: reptilian and a bit evil, don’t you think? The lady-redhead on the left seems to be beaming some cosmic droplets towards the elephantoband but the little bloke at the bottom doesn’t seem well pleased with his share. Not an altogether complementary match with the music.
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew [Columbia, 1970]
A titan of jazz, Miles Dewey Davis III was active in every decade from the 40s to the 90s. Think about it: a span of six decades. From his youthful connection with bebop legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and ‘cool’ jazz through the creative ferment of the 60s to the ground-breaking jazz-rock fusions of the 70s, the Miles Davis catalogue of well over 60 albums is an extraordinary body of work. The fact that the Allmusic Guide gives no less than 17 of them the full five stars tells you all you need to know. Read more about one of my many favourites here.
Wanton and wistful, discordant dreaming, soaring and serrated.
A truly epoch-making album.
At the dawn of the 70s, Mati was in New York. According to Serge Bramly, the artist had two girlfriends at the time, one moving in fashion and the other around music.
“One day they brought Jimi Hendrix along to Mati’s studio on 17th Street and not long after introduced him to Miles Davis, the Allman Brothers, Buddy Miles and many others. In the end he owed 25 record covers to this fashionable duo. Gossips called them touting groupies. Miles went even further, “They’re all bitches!” Even though he loved the brocades and beads they sold on the Lower East Side.” [page 182]
It was this scene that gave rise to the commission and cover for Bitches Brew.
While the overall tone of the cover is psychedelic pop-art Africa, the double-sided white-black face and interlaced hands suggest a commitment to – or at least a hope for – connection and acceptance.
Miles Davis – Live-Evil [Columbia, 1971]
Miles restless commitment to musical exploration operated alongside a hunger for success. From the late 60s he actively courted rock audiences, scandalising jazz critics and bemusing many rock fans. In a way, both those reactions are somehow embodied in this double album as live material is combined with studio recordings from some time earlier.
“By now I was using the wah-wah on my trumpet all the time so I could get closer to that voice Jimi (Hendrix) had when he used a wah-wah on his guitar. I had always played trumpet like a guitar.” [page 319]
It’s driving churning rocking grooving stuff. Maybe not the best place to enter the jazz-funk-rock Miles era, but a vivid document nonetheless.
Funky Frenetic Flowing
Fragmented Frightening Fecund.
The light-dark motif on Bitches Brew takes an altogether more disturbing turn on Live-Evil. Miles had asked Mati for a painting for the double album cover; the artist already had the first part, inspired by a Peter Beard photo of a pregnant African woman. The musician’s command for the other half was for something grotesque, some supreme ugliness. Bramly:
“Mati found his inspiration on the front page of a newspaper one day in the shape of Edgar J Hoover (sic). And that’s how the head of the FBI found himself on the back of the record as a hideous creature with webbed hands and feet and a big blonde wig on his head.” [page 182]
In his book So What: The Life of Miles Davis, John Szwed quotes Mati Klarwein thus:
“I was doing the picture of the pregnant woman for the cover and the day I finished, Miles called me up and said, ‘I want a picture of life on one side and evil on the other.’ And all he mentioned was a toad. Then next to me was a copy of Time magazine which had J. Edgar Hoover on the cover, and he just looked like a toad. I told Miles I found the toad.” [page 319]
Jackie McLean – Demon’s Dance [Rec. 1967, Rel. Blue Note 1970]
Saxophonist Jackie McLean made his debut with Miles Davis in 1951. But it is his string of albums for the Blue Note label that jazz fans revere. This was the last of that series and shows his intense, passionate attack brilliantly.
Angular, swinging, often muscular modal avant bop.
Exciting, if you can dance the demon steps.
Painted in 1965, “Time” was used in its entirety for a 1994 Buddy Miles album. But a muted edit from the larger work became the cover for the McLean album. Klarwein’s themes of Africa, animal totems, fecundity and er, mammaries are all vibrantly present, though less so in this edited version than the original.
Tempest – Tempest [Bronze/Castle,1973]
This was the first album by a quartet formed by Colosseum drummer Jon Hiseman. It included semi-legendary guitarist Alan Holdsworth and has rumblings of heavy prog, flashes of jazz-rock fusion and occasional salvos of British proto-metal mortar fire.
Swaggering 70s heavy rock lifted by Hiseman’s drums and Holdsworth’s missile guitar lines.
The original here is fascinating piece of art. Entitled ‘Air, Earth, Fire, Water’ it was created between 1968 and 1969 and consists of two circular boards, each 78 cm diameter. It’s like you are looking through a porthole at a surreal Dali-esque world. The section visible on the CD (I wish I had the LP!) is ‘Water’.
14 Greatest Hits – Various Artistes [CBS LP, Year unknown]
THE ARTISTES / MUSIC
An odd rag-bag of B-list CBS artists ranging from Chicory Tip to Ray Conniff. Hard to see any unifying concept here, despite the world encompassing cover art. There’s the utterly revolting “Sylvia’s Mother” by Doctor Hook, the uneventful ballad “Brandy (You’re a fine girl)” from Looking Glass alongside Argent’s stomping “Hold your head up” and the mournfully catchy “Mammy Blue” by the totally forgotten Watch Pocket. Still, great cover.
This extraordinary painting, “Grain of sand” (1963 – 1965) was used for another LP, the Chambers Brothers “New Generation”. It is an amazing four-panel extravaganza (2m square in total) of curves and culture, hips and hipness, breasts and bustle. Life infused with multi-coloured energy.
Davis, Miles with Quincy Troupe (1989) Miles: The Autobiography. Simon & Schuster, NY.
Bramly, Serge (2012) Mati & the Music: 52 Record Covers 1955 / 2005: A book about Mati Klarwein. RM Editions, Librairie213, Paris.
Mati Klarwein (1932 – 2001) Web site here