Sunday, December 31, 2023

Kush - Presents Snow White ... And The Eight Straights (1974 australia, blazing prog brass jam rock, 2007 digipak remaster and expanded)

Kush came together around late 1971, emerging out of the 20-piece Barry Veith Big Band. Duff was the last to join and he went through the usual audition process, impressing the other musicians with his voice ("I think they liked my voice because I didn't sound like Joe Cocker or someone like that," Duff recalled recently) and his dress sense! So the original line-up was: Duff (Vocals, percussion), John Ellis (Alto & baritone sax, clarinet; band leader/musical director), Roger Pell (Guitar), Ron Anderson (Tenor sax, flute, piano), John Santos (Trumpet, Flugel horn), Colin Chapman (Trumpet, Flugel horn), Rob Matthews (Bass) and Larry Kegn (Drums).

John Ellis recalled recently, "When we were auditioning singers and Jeff came in, we had our wives and girlfriends there listening and a lot of them instantly said 'that's the guy you've gotta have'. I loved Jeff's voice because it reminded me of David Clayton Thomas. The other guys liked some of the other, more commercial singers because at that stage we were doing all covers like 'Proud Mary' and 'River Deep Mountain High'. I'd done most of the arrangements and John Santos had done some arrangements, like for Blood Sweat & Tears' 'Spinning Wheel'. We held out and said Jeff is exactly what this band needs, a singer with a voice a bit different. Seeing it was my band, I'd formed it and John was the other arranger (so) we won and Jeff came in. And then we probably started doing more and more Chicago and BS&T songs because of Jeff's voice."

Duff had an interesting early career; he'd started singing and drum lessons by the time he was 12 years old. His earliest bands (around 1966 and 1967) included Why and Not Only But Also. By late 1969 and into 1970 he was fronting Melbourne pop band The (New) Avengers. The Avengers had been around in one form or another since 1967, but by the time Duff joined there were no original members left in the ranks. The guitarist then was David Briggs who later went on to international fame with the Little River Band. The Avengers had broken up by the end of 1970. Incidentally, at the time Duff was known as Jeff Black.

The singer was also attending Swinburne Art College around this time where he came into contact with future members of Madder Lake. Duff's first vocal appearance (backed by the Madder Lake guys) on record was on the college-produced flexi- disc 'Swinburne Bestiary', which he recalls must have been a performance that was recorded and pressed up by the Student Union as an end-of-year memento.

Snow White... and the Eight Straights vindicated the band's heightened profile by reaching #5 in Melbourne. It was a glorious album, mixing campy jazz pop ('Easy Street'), hard jazz rock ('All Right in the City', 'Satanic Deity', 'Klue', a re-recorded version of 'Wait') with dramatic, highly arranged and immaculately played epics ('Christopher John', 'McArthur Park').

With regards to the album title, the guys recalled a live review by Ian 'Molly' Meldrum in the pages of Go-Set magazine in which he'd referred to the band as "Snow White and the Eight Straights". It was an obvious choice as it encapsulated the band's presence in one simple, straightforward phrase.

While the songs generally kept a tight focus, there was much scope in the arrangements for extended soloing (‘All Right in the City', ‘Satanic Deity', ‘Christopher John'). Alternatively, as a mark of the band's intuitive sense of togetherness, the ensemble playing during the instrumental section of 'McArthur Park', for example, is truly spectacular, in particular the syncopation between drum patterns and the towering horn lines. Also, there was no other singer on the Australian scene who could have carried the song's demanding vocal with such charisma, commanding presence and sheer lung power as the indefatigable Jeff Duff. He'd obviously taken much inspiration from the original Richard Harris sung version, really getting to grips with the actor's great oratorical delivery of the enigmatic lyrics. Duff's phrasing throughout is exceptional. This version of 'McArthur Park' is a classic that still demands the listener's attention.

The album's centrepiece is the emotional 'Christopher John', a multi-part suite written by Herzog that never gets bogged down in over-dramatic indulgence. Each part has a distinct flavour with memorable hooks and seamless arrangements that make for an uninterrupted flow. The denouement comes close to the 10 minute mark, taking the listener back to the opening musical theme and thereby tying the whole thing together with consummate ease. The highlight surely must be Ron Anderson's beautiful flute solo in the dreamy mid-section; simply stunning.
by Ian McFarlane
1. Wait Overture (David Herzog, Jeff Duff) - 2:03
2. Easy Street (Steve Ball) - 3:49
3. All Right in the City (Don Dunn, Tony McCashen) - 2:54
4. McArthur Park (Jim Webb) - 7:34
5. Wait (David Herzog, Jeff Duff) - 4:52
6. Satanic Deity (David Herzog, Jeff Duff) - 8:50
7. Christopher John Suite: Birth/Life/Death/Infinity (David Herzog) - 10:13
8. Klue (David Herzog, Jeff Duff) - 5:23
9. Peter Gun (Henry Mancini) - 2:31
10.Sky Is Falling (Jim Peterik) - 3:00
11.Can't You Hear Me Calling (Ian Mason) - 2:56
12.Wait (David Herzog, Jeff Duff) - 3:52
13.Introduction (Terry Kath) - 4:39
14.Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (Robert Lamm) - 2:54
15.Beginnings (Robert Lamm) - 5:37
16.Interview with Jeff Duff - 2:10
Tracks 1-8 from the LP “Presents Snow White... And The Eight Straights“ recorded at Bill Armstrong Studios, South Melbourne, 1974 
Tracks 9-12 recorded at Bill Armstrong Studios, South Melbourne, 1973 
Tracks 13-15 Live In The Studio, recorded live at Bill Armstrong Studios, South Melbourne, 1973

*Jeff Duff - Percussion, Vocals
*Steve Ball - Keyboards
*Rob Matthews - Bass
*John Ellis - Alto, , Baritone Saxophones
*David Herzog - Guitar (Except Tracks 9,10)
*Nick Lister - Drums (Except Tracks 9,10)
*Bill Harrower - Tenor Saxophone, Flute (Except Track 9)
*John Santos - Trumpet (Tracks 1-10)
*Ian Hellings - Trumpet (Tracks 1-8)
*Colin Chapman - Trumpet (Tracks 9-15)
*Ian Mason - Keyboards, Vocals (Tracks 9-12)
*Roger Pell - Guitar (Tracks 9,10) 
*Graeme McDonald - Drums (Tracks 9,10) 
*John Hughes - Trumpet (Tracks 11-15)
*Ron Anderson - Tenor Saxophone, Flute (Tracks 7,9,10)
*The Cookies - Backing Vocals