Journey to Obscurity

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363315.jpgEven though almost everyone has probably heard him play at some point, Emil Richards is still one of the more obscure musicians in jazz history. In fact, Richards contributed to some of the best-known TV soundtracks. The xylophone in The Simpsons theme, the finger snaps in the Addams Family theme, the bongos on the original Mission Impossible theme -- all of them were played by Richards, who, incidentally, is also the person who played the bells on Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair". Despite his extensive involvement in over 2000 movie and TV soundtracks, Richards' career as a jazz musicians never really took off. After a stint in Don Ellis' Hindustani Jazz Sextet, Ed Michel, then both a record producer and A&R man at Impulse! Records signed Richards for a 2-record deal. Both albums flopped.

481832.jpgThe story goes that massive amounts of marijuana were consumed at Impulse! sessions at the time, both by the musicians and the staff, and that the surprisingly large number of psychedelic jazz records released by the label and signing of obscure artists in the late 1960s is largely due to everybody's drug intake. That would, however, be an unfair judgement.

Even though Richards was one of these obscure artists, his catalogue of recorded work qualified him well enough as a session leader, and even though side B of Journey to Bliss, his first Impulse! release, is full of weird sounds and esoteric chanting, side A is bona fide marimba madness in the best jazz tradition.

His second album for Impulse!, Spirit of 1976 (released in 1969) is a recording of a live performance consisting of original compositions as well as jazz standards, and there is nothing remotely psychedelic or esoteric about them. Quite on the contrary, it's a record full of infectious music with an incredible groove. A version of Miles Davis' "All Blues" also shows remarkable atmospheric density.

Emil Richards recorded with Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, The Beach Boys, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Marvin Gaye, George Harrison and many others and owns a collection of more than 770 percussion instruments.

Richards' two Impulse! albums were never reissued on CD.

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