Even before Cab Calloway first asked "Have You Ever Met That Funny Reefer Man," cannabis has been inextricably linked with jazz. The effects of THC on inhibition, imagination and the perception of time has allowed both musicians and aficionados to immerse themselves in a genre based on the willingness to experiment.
This fall, VMP is partnering with the label imprint Jazz Dispensary to reissue a series of often-overlooked LPs from artists that have inspired generations of boom bap rappers, lofi beatmakers and acid jazz producers. Remastered from the original tapes and pressed at world-class record plating and pressing plant Record Technology Incorporated, these five AAA records illustrate the influence of R&B, rock, funk and soul on jazz as a genre.
Lorena Cupcake, a music journalist and award-winning budtender based in Chicago, seemed like the perfect person to weigh in on the best weed strains to pair with the hot licks and spaced-out grooves of each album. Below, they use their years of cannabis industry experience to explore how different phenotypes of the cannabis sativa plant can alter the listening experience.
Released in 1974 on Fantasy Records, Heavy Axe shares genetics with some of the greatest music of the past, present and future. In his role as a producer and arranger for Capitol Records, David Axelrod assembled a cadre of loyal session musicians, jazz icons with their own long discographies who could easily fulfill his most florid aural fantasies. Long after his heyday, his productions and solo recordings have maintained their relevance as a favored playground for crate diggers, providing samples that power tracks from hip-hop artists like A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla and Earl Sweatshirt.
Following the success of a series of concept albums focused on high-minded subjects like environmentalism and the poetry of William Blake, Heavy Axe turns Axelrod’s knack for rich, complex arrangements towards a mixed bag of covers and original songs. Stephanie Spruill ramps up the soul of Carly Simon’s “You’re so Vain” with throaty, emotive vocals. Julian "Cannonball” Adderley, a frequent collaborator featured on iconic jazz albums like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, contributes both composition and a triumphant, transportive alto saxophone solo to the gospel-influenced opening track “Get up off Your Knees.”
The atmosphere shifts like the weather, with the clear, solemn tones of horns and mournful strings sweeping in like cloud cover on a stormy day. Try pairing the album with a sedative strain that provides complete physical relaxation, allowing the mind to explore the limits of creativity and expression. An indica like 9lb hammer allows your spirit to soar with the shimmering vocals and heavenly flutes while your body thrills to the earth-bound vibrations of the MOOG, electric piano and congas. Heavy Axe may be less heady than Axelrod’s psychedelic magnum opus Song of Innocence, but it is no less sublime.
After smoking a joint of Orange Herijuana, a euphoric daytime strain with golden pistils and high levels of CBD, I often find myself contemplating the endless wonders of existence; finding magic in the fact that, given endless amounts of a few elemental building blocks, the universe was able to create everything from a child’s laughter to the endless stars in the sky. There’s a sort of sorcery, too, in how jazz musicians use a handful of instruments to create infinite combinations of sounds. It’s a concept that Jack DeJohnette, who once described his mindset while drumming as an “altered headspace” where he draws from “the cosmic library of ideas,” explores with free expression on this expansive, yet brief LP.
While revered for his work alongside Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, Alice Coltrane and more, solo albums like the trippy 1974 Sorcery allowed the natural-born bandleader the freedom to run wild within the realm of jazz improvisation. DeJohnette supplies bluesy Hendrix-flavored funk as a backdrop for Bennie Maupin’s wailing bass clarinet on the aptly named “The Rock Thing.” “Four Levels of Joy” is a switched-on classical meditation on keyboard. More abstract compositions, like the six-part “The Reverend King Suite,” wander through sonic textures, building to a cacophony where overblown trombones bray like elephants and meters slide and collide.
“Jack DeJohnette could play drums like a mother,” Miles Davis once wrote. Despite his off-the-charts technical skill, it isn’t DeJohnette’s knack for playing multiple instruments that sets him apart — it’s his ability to tap into an altered headspace and commune with the infinity of the cosmos.
Much like David Axelrod, the music of Idris Muhammad has achieved everlasting immorality through sample-based hip-hop. The thudding bass, snapping snare and relentless energy of the NOLA-born drummer, who cut his teeth recording Fats Domino’s hit “Blueberry Hill” at just sixteen, are too impossible to resist, surfacing on production for Drake, Beastie Boys and many more.
The only possible cannabis cultivar that could stand up to Muhammad’s crashing, tinkling, rolling and rollicking onslaught of percussion is GMO. The nickname doesn’t stand for genetically modified organism; instead, it’s sometimes called Garlic Mushrooms Onion or GMO Cookies. It’s perhaps the most sought-after savory strain, providing pungent funky aromas that outshine cousins like LA Cheese and Garlic Cookies.
Break your GMO buds up, maybe right there on the sturdy board stock of the tip-on record sleeve — what do you think they used as rolling trays in the 1970s? Roll a thick, sticky blunt tighter than the connection between bass player Jimmy Lewis and pianist Harold Mabern on “Super Bad,” the album’s requisite James Brown cover. Sit back, smoke, and put yourself in the right mind for the album’s B-side, two lengthy original compositions that bring the twilight ambiance and technical flamboyance of live jazz clubs to the studio.
Helmed by Leon Spencer, the holy Hammond takes center stage on Where I’m Coming From. Originally designed as a space-saving alternative to the expensive pipe organ, the Hammond B-3 electric organ was more common in the revival tent than the nightclub until Jimmy Smith used it to bring an element of sixties soul into jazz. After seeing Smith in concert, Spencer was inspired to develop his signature organ style that appeared across an array of albums between 1968 to 1976.
For a cannabis pairing, I wanted to reach for something familiar, yet funkier than you’re used to: Sour Dubb. A cultivar that gets its tastebud-tingling flavor from Sour Diesel and sweet candy scent from Sour Bubble, this hybrid may lean more sativa or indica depending where you source it. It’s the Superfly of strains: so fragrant that you need to keep an airtight container, so loud it might drown out the music.
On his fourth and final album, recorded for Prestige in 1973, Spencer takes on familiar tunes with an expansive bass range that sets him apart from other organists. He tackles both the funky bassline and Stevie Wonder’s vocal melody from Superstition, digging deep into his improvisation as the horns fall away. Stripped-back covers of Curtis Mayfield, Martin Gaye and more help fill out the tracklist, but the standout original composition is the title track: over five minutes of tight grooves featuring “The Mod Squad” of Spencer on organ, Melvin Sparks on guitar and Idris Muhammed on drums.
Bernard Lee “Pretty” Purdie has spent most of his life behind a drum set, racking up over 3,000 album credits during his long career. The outspoken storyteller even claims, somewhat controversially, to have punched up Ringo’s lackluster rhythm on some early Beatles tracks. Less in dispute is his long-lasting influence on acid jazz and other genres that build upon his wide R&B, rock and pop repertoire.
Released in 1971, during a five-year period when Purdie toured with Aretha Franklin as her live drummer and musical director, Purdie Good! showcases the bandleader’s precise grooves and innovative shuffles across a trim six tracks. “Montego Bay” is a wonderful introduction to the tightly tuned group, with Harold Wheeler’s tinkling electric piano keys and Tippy Larkin’s bright trumpet tone taking brilliant turns in the spotlight.
Purdie claims his only weakness during the drug-dazed sixties and seventies was a penchant for women. There’s no time to indulge when you’re recording up to twenty sessions a week, a cocksure sign reading “You done hired the hit-maker” propped up on a music stand as a bit of simultaneous branding and braggadocio. For those of us at home, though, the only pot that can begin to match the relentless energy of Purdie’s playing is Jack Herer.
Since being created in the Netherlands in the mid-nineties, Jack Herer — a sativa-leaning hybrid named after a famed cannabis advocate and author — has been sought after for it’s energizing and elevating properties. It provides a creative mindset, as well as the clarity and calmness to stay functional without getting sidetracked by the anxiety and circular thinking other sativas may inspire. Like Purdie, you’ll be able to handle any beat life throws at you, without ever falling out of time.
Lorena Cupcake is a writer who covers all facets of culture and cannabis. Thanks to their work with a local dispensary, they were voted Best Budtender in Chicago in 2019.