OKEH 6850; DECEMBER 1951



For the better part of two years we’ve wondered which direction this unlikely group would ultimately head.

Would it be the mild pop music they’d initially performed on the Philadelphia club scene which got them their first recording contract with Columbia back in 1949 when the stuffy major label was casting about for someone to masquerade as a rock act without going overboard in their attempts at fitting in?

Or would it be the group that once they were exposed to rock music definitely went overboard and briefly did more than just “fit in”, as they helped to define just how wild it could be?

Though they’ve moved to Columbia’s new rock-centric subsidiary, OKeh Records, we’re still no closer to the answer as they continue to tempt us and taunt us with equal delight.

This side is the tempting one and it’s enough to almost let us forgive them for taunting us on the other side.


Right Or Wrong
Okay, okay, just so you stick around long enough to read the whole review before racing off to hear the totally inappropriate flip side we mentioned, let’s just say that if you wanted to steal away to the dark corner of a restaurant in the village to wine and dine someone… or conversely to sit alone and drink yourself into a stupor while overcome with regret about letting that someone slip away… then October Twilight is for you.

It’s a semi-elegant instrumental mood piece, a classy affair from start to finish with a sax solo by Vance Wilson which is just soulful enough – in a upscale, straitlaced and respectable sort of way – to not make you physically ill.

What it’s not however is remotely close to rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s atmospheric jazz-pop, leaning more towards the latter because it’s not really trying to forge a deeper connection with you, but rather just lightly brush those feelings while the buttery sax lines encourage you to fill in all of the emotional blanks on your own.

When Chris Powell And The Five Blue Flames were on the parent label, Columbia, this would be exactly the type of material the head honchos there would think was appropriate, but on OKeh Records this was akin to sabotaging the company’s chances of ever convincing black audiences of their legitimacy as a record label.

So as a rock fan if that was the side you played first you’d be cursing up a storm for these guys treating you this way, taking advantage of your lingering interest from their best sides in the past while giving you absolutely nothing of value to appreciate this time around.

But then you flip the record over and hear That’s Right, another instrumental but one that is decidedly different, something clearly meant for you.

Finally!” you say with exasperated relief, “That’s what I was looking for! Now why don’t they do this ALL the time instead of making me suffer through so much worthless garbage along the way?

The Throwdown
No matter how frustrated we get at times with Chris Powell and company, the one thing we’ve been able to rely on is their propensity for shaking things up at regular intervals.

The first of these came with the addition of sax star Danny Turner back in late 1949 which gave us hope that the group might become a force to be reckoned with in rock, but after he left they settled back into a mediocre band with conflicting ideals.

That certainly would seem to be the case here as well as this starts off with its weakest moments, the horns and piano playing a fairly rudimentary riff with very little muscle behind it… sort of a going-through-the-motions warm up before they hit the stage. It’s not something so bad that it’s putting them behind the eight ball going into this, but it’s also not getting them off to a running start.

But once they DO get in motion things start to coalesce, albeit in ways we don’t expect.

For one thing the lead instrument on That’s Right is a guitar which makes it unusual in the rock instrumental sweepstakes at this stage of the game, but even so it takes awhile before it makes its presence known.

It was faintly audible behind the horns in the intro then largely disappeared when the tenor sax takes the reins to launch into the meat of the song – played quite nicely too even if it’s not really stirring your passions. But as the sax keeps churning you start hearing Eddie Lambert’s guitar rattling its saber more and more, growing restless in the shadows and waiting to strike.

A little over a minute in it hits with a sudden ferocity, jumping out with a rough-edged tone, sawing rather than slicing its victims, veering close to distortion at times without sending the dials into the red. Its aggressiveness – especially compared to anything heard on the genteel flip side – is almost alarming.

The action methodically builds to a fevered pitch, ramping up the intensity until the sax returns to protest against the attempted takeover as the two instruments – the old guard against the new blood – seem to engage in a throwdown for supremacy. It’s essentially a club against a knife and as you can imagine both can do some damage when they find their mark, though neither one succumbs to their injuries.

We however are safely out of reach and thus we can enjoy the barbarism they show without fear of getting hit by any stray blows ourselves.

By the time they both settle back down and ease into the same loping riff that opened things, it all sounds much more cohesive and well planned. A triumph of arranging, a stellar showcase for their playing, but more than anything, a testament to their mindset which still hasn’t given up on rock ‘n’ roll despite some inconsistent returns on their efforts.


Shock To The System
We always say that in the singles era it pays to show two different facets to your musical persona on the record… that’s what A and B sides are for.

But there’s a limit to that when it means showcasing styles that are so far apart that they serve two different masters. The stuffy pop crowd they were trying to appeal to on the one side would have a heart attack at the feral aggressiveness shown on this side and who wouldn’t want to see that happen after the dismissive attitude that crowd has shown any form of music that doesn’t conform to their conservative tastes.

That’s Right, we’re advocating for musical genocide to clear the path for rock to take over, especially due to the fact we’d be absolved in a court of law since none of us laid a hand on them before they expired from shock.

But then again, maybe it’s a good thing bland pop music stuck around… and even was played by Chris Powell And The Five Blue Flames in public without any apparent shame. After all, there always has to be something boring to use as a measuring stick to see just how radical rock ‘n’ roll was compared to the status quo.

This may not be the best rock instrumental of the year but it definitely is the most unexpected coming as it does from these guys who just about had you convinced they could do you no harm.

Think again.


(Visit the Artist page of Chris Powell & The Five Blue Flames for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)