In the beginning, Stash Records specialized in songs from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s that dealt with drugs and sex. The first Stash compilation of old recordings, in 1976, was called Reefer Songs. Another of the label’s big sellers was Copulatin’ Blues. Eventually, founder Bernie Brightman, began making original recordings by jazz artists, including singer Chris Connor and pianist Hilton Ruiz. To his eternal credit (he died in 2003), Brightman also recorded two albums by Anita Gravine, an artist whose talent justifies wide fame but who has remained an insiders’ favorite. Here is my mini-review of one of her Stash LPs, from the July, 1986 issue of Texas Monthly.
Anita Gravine, I Always Knew (Stash ST 255). An experienced but little-known singer whose second album is even better than her first, Gravine handles both ballad and up-tempo songs with ease of voice production and rhythmic assurance. Mike Abene‘s arrangements are stimulatingly unclichéd. The album is further graced by the trumpet solos of Tom Harrell. All of the above outdo themselves on a wonderful fugitive from the forties, “The Coffee Song.”
Before you listen to “The Coffee Song,” you should know that the all-star rhythm section is Abene, piano; George Mraz, bass; and Billy Hart, drums. The strings are led by the amazing Harry Lookofsky. Harrell solos majestically over Abene’s rich carpet of dissonance. The arrangement led composer and arranger Bill Kirchner to call this “Bartók Goes to Brazil.” If you’re trying to stay awake, this is better than caffeine.
My research indicates that Stash Records no longer exists. Neither of Gravine’s Stash albums made it to CD, although two of her later albums have. Her Stash LPs are around but hard to find. If you’re interested in I Always Knew, you might try this website or this one.