Recorded in the early 1970s, this collection of instrumentals is a crystal clear glimpse into a forgotten period of Portland’s music history. Fostered by the Albina Art Center, a hangout spot for creatively-inclined Black youth, The Gangsters were led by trumpeter Thara Memory who produced the sessions heard on this release. After gigging around the city for a few years, the group—who were almost all in their late teens—laid down some tracks at Ripcord Studios, but they disbanded soon thereafter and the tapes sat in a closet, unheard for over 40 years.
Rescued from obscurity, the tracks on this album have all the punch and hip-swinging joy of fellow jazz/funk artists like The Crusaders, Weather Report, and Pleasure. But with Thara Memory leading the charge, the music has a rich complexity, best exemplified by the nine-minute “Suite for Funk Band,” which runs through a series of movements that touch on Latin grooves and post-bop before culminating in an almost-psychedelic breakdown capped off by a devastating guitar solo.
For many members of The Gangsters, their careers would continue to flourish. The late Thara Memory became a renowned educator and won a Grammy for his work with Esperanza Spalding on her 2013 album Radio Music Society. Jimmy and Johnny Sanders toured in B.B. King’s band throughout his final decade of performance. Bassist Lester McFarland would go on to play with jazz icons The Crusaders, The Jeff Lorber Fusion, and Tom Grant. But what this record captures is lightning in a bottle, a period when these young men crossed paths and created a burst of energy and light.