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Craig Peyton's Overflight Ep. 1
The Fusion Years 1975-1981
Craig Peyton is a vibraphonist; a pop producer; the Flight Ambassador to the Bahamas, whose innovative aerial cinematography has been used in Beyoncé videos; and a cancer survivor (by the skin on his teeth!). Active in the NYC scene right at the time disco was mutating into house and hip-hop, he’s written, produced, and programmed for the likes of James Brown, Levon Helms, and The World’s Famous Supreme Team. He scored jingles and underscores aplenty for TV, including PBS’s ‘Nature’ and NBC’s own cult wildlife series ‘Friends’. In ’94 he was the special guest on BET’s ‘Jazz Central’ (he later hosted the program for a week) with Lou Rawls and flutist Sherry Winston. He flew himself to D.C. for the BET appearance in the middle of a fairly serious snowstorm and was greeted on the tarmac by a stretch limousine. He is, by all accounts, a True American Wildass™, though he would surely demur from such a title.
Selections spanning his vast and winding career — some never before released — are collected for the first time on ‘Overflight.’ The collection is a two-years-in-the-making project for ULYSSA but it truly contains an entire lifetime’s worth of mid-70s Soul-inspired fusion; amphetamine-fueled prog; pop-n-lock R&B; house-adjacent smooth jazz; and echoes of trip-hop and baggy. We are conjuring a more just world where his contributions to these scenes are held in higher regard.
Today, we start with his years playing jazz fusion and prog with his groups Band X, Craig Peyton Group and Craig Peyton Project.
In 1977, Peyton’s fusion project Band X opened for Pat Metheny in Boston. In the greenroom, surely gakk’d to the gills, they asked Pat if perhaps he’d like to come record with them sometime. Pat sorta weaseled his way out of an answer for these wild-eyed fusion newbs. Over this last decade-plus, Band X’s 1976 self-released LP Best of Band X has become a grail title for record collectors, original copies going for as much as $400 (That’s about $350 more than any one of Pat’s early albums. Sometimes it’s okay to be a little petty as a treat!). The Best of Band X is rife with improvisational arrangements that almost call to mind Ralph Towner and his group Oregon if not for Band X’s unhinged exuberance and pluck. The funk and R&B of the 60s and 70s also sets Band X apart. Case in point: Penultimate track “Home” is a stoner R&B triumph, nodding to William DeVaughn’s 1973 classic “Be Thankful For What You Go,” which Peyton would cover in the next decade (more on that in future posts). Queue that shit up right after Donnie & Joe's "Baby" or that DeVaughn tune and keep lounging. “But staying high can be so damn exhausting, I wonder why,” Peyton croons on the tune.
In our many Zooms with Peyton — and one very special day’s flight he made to Bloomington International Airport just to meet us! — we uncovered a lost Band X session, made between their 1976 debut and the 1977 album ‘Pyramid Love’ when Band X reconstructed as Craig Peyton Group. From that lost session, we’ve included “Free Man,” a cowbell-rich funk joyride complete with call-and-response vocal/guitar scatting.
In 1981, Peyton switched the game again and released another cult classic as Craig Peyton Project. Electric Vibes, the cover of which features a painting by his artist mother, just-so-ever hints at the compositional leaps in earwormery Peyton would make later in the 80s with another project called Latitude — particularly “Innocence Lost” and “Awareness,” both in included on Overflight. Don’t worry we’ll get to Latitude and all that soon enough. For now, enjoy these cuts from Electric Vibes streaming for the first time ever on DSPs (we think).
Thus begins ULYSSA’s journey into the horizon with legend Craig Peyton. Overflight attendants, prepare for takeoff. There’s so much more to hear and see once we get to cruising altitude. And we’ve got our writers room working overtime on aeronautical metaphors and puns.