Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Chick Corea - 1982 "Touchstone"

Touchstone is an album by Chick Corea, released in 1982 through Stretch Records. The album peaked at number nine on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart.

Chick Corea has made so many good recordings, and the Touchstone is one of his better one's. We have here a fusion of Jazz, Classic, Flamengo, Latin and Rock, and for me at least it is great to hear the old Return To Forever play together on one song (Compadres) it's just as great as the songs and the playing on albums like Romantic Warrior and No Mystery. Another great song is The Yellow Nimbus which features Paco DeLucia and if you want to hear an excellent solo piano version of that song you should check out the video Piano Legends which Corea hosts and is about great jazz pianists. In short, Great Playing, Great Compositions, GREAT FUN. Can we have some More Please Corea.

This is a great fusion album, true to the electric fusion tradition, as founded by Chick Corea, who is continuing in much the same vein. The quality of the compositions, arrangements and production are very high. I'd say that the sound is comparable to Return To Forever, sometimes sweet, sometimes hard-hitting and bombastic, sometimes spacey - it's all there for the fusion fans to savour! 

Although I really like Chick's music over all, it's rare that I find an entire solo album by him that deserves a full 5 stars. But, this album is that rare beautiful exception. I usually prefer the more rocking fusion...which of course means Chick earned 5 stars from me with a few Return to Forever albums like Romantic Warrior and Where Have I Known You Before. But usually, Chick's solo album's are a bit over-produced for me...too much orchestra, horns and vocals. And too often those elements are unnecessary and tend to drag the album down and just make the album lag and sag and fall short. This album has SOME orchestra, horns and vocals, but it's not over-done. It's more sparse. He knows where to use these elements and when to keep them out. He lets his music do the talking, and the compositions on this album are supurb examples of Chick at his best in straight jazz. The opening title tune is the only tune with vocals (done by his wife at the time Gayle Moran, a girl with a beautiful voice) Her voice is used sparingly...just a little in the beginning, then a little at the end of the tune...no lyrics, just oohs and aahs for effect, used very well. Classical guitarist Paco DeLucia is used in the forefront on the first two songs on the album. His playing goes so well with Chick and the compositions, sweet, complex, but not out of range for those who want to be entertained. Chick on various electric keyboards and piano, plays a spectacular set. The third song on the album is heavy on the orchesta, but it is a short, beautiful tune that fits amazingly well with the album. Even I think this song is a great addition to this work. The following song is my favorite on the album: the song where Chick reassembled the "dream team" of Return to Forever, Al DiMeola on electric guitar, Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums, for an updated trip back to the fusion of Return to Forever! Then, he goes back to a jazzy Latin feel (like the earlier songs with Paco had) with a piece that features some electric keyboards, including a Moog, which pops up occasionally on this album. And the last piece is a straight jazz piece including some horns. There's even a trumpet solo and flute solo on the last piece. But it's a great jazz piece, well-written, and the band is amazingly tight. You just can't complain about this album. Although I get turned off by Chick's over-use of orchestration and vocals at times, he used restraint on this album, knowing when to use what elements, great compositions, and of course that little revisit to Return to Forever really pulled the whole thing together! An incredible Chick solo album that I thoroughly enjoy and highly recommend!

Track listing:

    "Touchstone: Procession, Ceremony, Departure" – 10:58
    "The Yellow Nimbus" – 8:51
    "Duende" – 3:11
    "Compadres" – 9:41
    "Estancia" – 6:18
    "Dance of Chance" – 7:14

Personnel:

    Don Alias – bongos, congas, drums, percussion
    Carlos Benavent – bass
    Chick Corea – cymbals, guitar, moog synthesizer, piano, synthesizer
    Laudir DeOliveira – caixa, drums, ganza, percussion, sound effects
    Bill Gottlieb – cello
    Gregg Gottlieb – cello
    Bob Magnusson – bass
    Gayle Moran – speech/speaker/speaking part, vocals, voices
    Carol Shive – violin

Guest artists

    Alex Acuña – cymbals, drums, percussion
    Stanley Clarke – bass
    Al Di Meola – guitar
    Lee Konitz – alto sax
    Steve Kujala – flute, tenor sax
    Paco de Lucía – guitar, hand clapping, percussion
    Allen Vizzutti – trumpet
    Lenny White – drums

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Steve Vai - 1984 "Flex-Able"

Steve Vai is an American guitar player, songwriter and producer. He started his career in 1980 playing with Frank Zappa and has since recorded and toured with Alcatrazz, Whitesnake, David Lee Roth and Public Image Ltd. Since 1983 Vai also released his own studio albums. His discography consists of eight studio albums, two EP's, two special albums, eight live albums, twelve soundtracks, twenty compilation albums and seven videos. Vai has been awarded three Grammy Awards and forty other awards. Vai also appeared as a guest musician on forty-four albums, playing with artists like Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Motorhead and Gregg Bissonette and most recently for the second time with Joe Jackson.

Flex-Able is an album by Steve Vai. This was his first as a solo artist, and was created in Stucco Blue, a shed converted into a studio in Vai's old back garden. It is very different from many of his other albums, and is largely influenced by Frank Zappa. Flex-Able does not rely as much on massive guitar arrangements and shred moments as the rest of his output from the 1990s onwards, with the exception of Leftovers which is a compilation of bonus tracks and remasters from his sessions at 'Stucco Blue'.
The cover of the May 2009 issue of Guitar World features a photograph of Vai in a pose similar to the album's cover, including the bending guitar neck.

Steve Vai recorded his debut album, Flex-able, at home on an eight-track studio and released it himself in 1984. Even though Vai is one of rock's most renowned guitar virtuosos, Flex-able isn't really a typical "shred" album; playing with Frank Zappa for several years rubbed off on Vai, and many of his compositions reflect both Zappa's musical influence and a skewed sense of humor that makes for some whimsically entertaining moments (i.e., "Little Green Men"). Make no mistake, there's still plenty of Joe Satriani-esque technical virtuosity on display, but since Vai has a few other tricks in his bag, Flex-able turns out to be much more enjoyable (and accessible to listeners other than guitar-technique fetishists) than the average '80s guitar shred-fest.

This isn't the kind of album that you can just pop into your cd player and listen to for fun. That said, this is a great album. It's not one that will relax you, or somethign to help you get through the day. It's the kind of album that when you listen to, you listen hard and closely. There are tons of little nuances that'll make you smile, make you wonder if he's sane, or just blow you away. Vai really isn't the kind of guitarist that anyone can like. This also isn't a predominantly guitar album. When you listen to it, you respect Vai more as a composer/arranger than a guitarist. You want a guitar album, get passion and warfare, or alien love secrets. For a more zappa-inflected album, get this. The attitude song is very guitar based though, and call it sleep is just beautiful.

"Flex-Able" was recorded on a Fostex 1/4-inch 8-track machine in guitarist Steve Vai's home studio between April '83 and November '83. Self-financed, this record turned into an underground favorite, in spite of the low budget approach. Many of Vai's compositions reflect mentor and former boss Frank Zappa's musical influence and offbeat sense of humor that makes for some 'Zappa-esque' and entertaining moments ("Little Green Men", "Boy-Girl Song"). "Flex-Able" is so named becasue of its diversity, and includes the oustanding instrumental "The Attitude Song".

Track listing:

01.    Little Green Men    5:37
02.    Viv Woman    3:08
03.    Lovers Are Crazy    5:38
04.    Salamanders In The Sun    2:25
05.    The Boy/Girl Song     4:00
06.    The Attitude Song    3:22
07.    Call It Sleep    5:09
08.    Junkie    7:23
09.    Bill's Private Parts    0:16
10.    Next Stop Earth    0:34
11.    There Is Something Dead In Here    3:55
12.    So Happy (Bonus Track)*    2:44
13.    Bledsoe Bluvd (Bonus Track)*    4:21
14.    Burnin’ Down The Mountain (Bonus Track)*    4:20
15.     Chronic Insomnia (Bonus Track)*    2:03

Personnel:

Steve Vai / synth, bass, guitar, percussion, piano, keys, sitar, vocals, bells, drum programming
Scott Collard / synth, keys
Larry Crane / lyre, xylophone, bells, vibraphone, piccolo xylophone
Greg Degler / clarinet, flute, sax
Laurel FIshman / vocals
Peggy Foster / bass
Chris Frazier / drums
Stuart Hamm / bass, vocals
Bob Harris / trumpet, vocals
Suzannah Harris / vocals
Billy James / percussion, drums
Paul Lemcke / keys
Pai Maiocco / vocals
Tommy Mars / violin, keys, vocals
Chad Wackerman / drums
Pete Zeldman / percussion, drums

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

U.K. - 1978 "U.K."

U.K. is the self-titled debut album by the progressive rock supergroup U.K., released in May 1978 through E.G. Records and Polydor Records. It features John Wetton, Eddie Jobson, Bill Bruford, and Allan Holdsworth. "In the Dead of Night" and "Mental Medication" were both edited for single release. The album was well received by FM album rock radio and by the public during the summer of 1978. The LP sold just over 250,000 copies by 1 September 1978, with further sales thru the balance of the year.
In 2015 Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the 30th best progressive rock album of all time.

This band represents a vital piece of the wonderfully incestuous history of English progressive rock. As any fan knows, members of the UK prog scene tended to move freely from one band to another, creating all sorts of interesting cross-pollinations to the point that the genre's evolution looks something like a geneaology chart.
Just to mention two examples: John Wetton, formerly of King Crimson et.al., stopped by here before going on to join the prog-veteran supergroup Asia, while Bill Bruford brought credentials of Yes, King Crimson and others to this outing. He also has had many other stops since.
This is an excellent album that does not deserve its relative lack of attention (both today and when it was released). It takes progressive rock in a new, jazz fusion-oriented direction that can be seen to have led to Brand X, among others.
As a teenager, I purchased UK in the 70s on vinyl. It really took me two decades to develop a full appreciation for its complexities, to the point that it now ranks as one of my great progressive albums of all time. If you have any affinity for this type of music (or great music in general), you won't regret adding this album to your collection.

If you're a progressive rock fan, this disc is a treasure. Almost thirty years after it's initial release, this album still sounds fresh and leaves a stunning impact. When I first heard this I was listening to a lot of heavy guitar oriented music and the ethereal layered keyboards of Eddie Jobson made me form the initial opinion that this was mellow. After hundreds of repeated spins this has become one of my favorite discs, and even though there are many quiet passages it's far from mellow. It just takes time to appreciate the depth of this music. Clocking in a little over 46 minutes, this disc is full of smooth as glass segues and matchless music with all band members contributing and/or collaborating in the songwriting duties.

Eddie Jobson's keyboard playing and occasional electric violin work is spot on. John Wetton has a haunting vocal tone that is perfectly suited for this type of music and his bass playing is awesome. Bill Bruford, the master percussion player, pulls off many syncopated, impossible, drumming maneuvers with ease. Allan Holdsworth is one of the most original guitar players ever and his playing throughout this disc is amazing. It's a shame that this lineup of U.K. lasted less than a year, but they created, in my opinion, one of the best prog-rock discs ever.

In 1978 four extraordinary musicians came together to form the outfit known as U.K.. Bill Bruford and John Wetton, from King Crimson, joined Eddie Jobson, of Roxy Music, and fusion guitarist Alan Holdsworth to create this dark, brooding but powerful recording. Progressive rock fans held onto the hope that this could prove to be a new direction for the genre. Unfortunately, it proved to be more of a last gasp as the band split in two following this debut. Only Wetton and Jobson remained and presented two uninspired follow-up recordings. This disc, on the other hand, is exceptional and is well worth adding to one's collection. It presents a creative and innovative marriage of progressive rock to that of jazz-fusion while borrowing greatly from the direction laid out by Wetton, Bruford and Robert Fripp in their last collective efforts with King Crimson. Highly recommended.

In some ways UK represented both the last hurrah of progressive music's golden age, and the standard by which all other supergroups that followed would be judged. The impeccable technical precision, complex yet modern arrangements, and dynamic live performances made them an overnight legend whose reputation has far outlasted their brief existence. No other supergroup, progressive or otherwise, has had such an immediate and lasting impact.

The band was formed in 1978 by bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford, both fresh from the USA tour (and accompanying live album) of KING CRIMSON. Keyboardist & violinist Eddie Jobson had also played on the KC tour and album, but was better known for his brilliant work on a string of ROXY MUSIC albums, as well as their seventies live album, "Viva!". Wetton briefly secured guitar wiz-kid Eric Johnson for the band as well, but Johnson's own project (the "Seven Wonders" solo album) and the legal wranglings that were accompanying it would cause Johnson to quickly withdraw and be replaced by another guitar virtuoso, Allan Holdsworth, who had worked with SOFT MACHINE and GONG, in addition to his solo work before joining UK. This was the first in what would become a series of lineup changes before the band would disband for good less than two years later.

The star-studded lineup had no trouble securing a record deal, and Polydor released their self-titled debut on the E.G. label that same year, which is often credited as the first successful rock supergroup studio release ever. The music is characterized by layered synthesizers, jazz-inspired guitars and bass, and in general by exceptionally high-quality musicianship. The band followed the release with a lengthy promotional tour.

Bruford would release a couple of albums under the BRUFORD BAND name following this tour, and would eventually return to the KING CRIMSON lineup for their "Discipline" release in 1981. Holdsworth also appeared on the BRUFORD BAND releases, and would later issue a series of solo albums in addition to a wide range of session appearances. Terry Bozzio (FRANK ZAPPA, GROUP 87) would replace Bruford, and the trio would release the band's second and final studio album a year later ("Danger Money"). Without a replacement for Holdsworth, this album suffered due to overcompensation on violin and keyboards, and the band disbanded following after the Japanese leg of the promotional tour. A live album of that tour would be released shortly after, but the band was finished. There were rumors of a reunion in the nineties, but despite the fact that most of the members would work together on occasion following the band's demise, no UK collaboration would occur. Wetton would go on to commercial success with ASIA, and Bozzio would likewise strike it rich with MISSING PERSONS.

UK generated a brilliant flash of publicity when they formed at the end of the progressive music decade. But the fickle and rapidly changing tastes of the public, record label pressure to commercialize their sound, and other more lucrative opportunities all combined to bring about a rapid end to a fascinating lineup. GTR, ASIA, and many others would travel down the supergroup path in UK's wake, but none would do it with more style.

UK deserve a place in the Archives for the impressive resumes of its various members, the essentially classic self-titled debut they issued in 1978, and the influence they had over an entire generation of top-notch progressive and rock musicians by piloting the concept of a super group of musicians being brought together for the sole purpose of capitalizing on each other's sounds.  
  Tracks Listing

In The Dead Of Night (Suite):
-1. In The Dead Of Night (5:38)
-2. By The Light Of Day (4:32)
-3. Presto Vivace And Reprise (2:58)
4. Thirty Years (8:05)
5. Alaska (4:45)
6. Time To Kill (4:55)
7. Nevermore (8:09)
8. Mental Medication (7:26)

Total Time: 45:14

Personnel

    Allan Holdsworth – guitar
    Eddie Jobson – keyboards, electric violin, electronics
    John Wetton – bass, lead and backing vocals
    Bill Bruford – drums, percussion

Emerson Lake & Palmer - 1970 "Emerson Lake & Palmer"

Emerson, Lake & Palmer is the debut album by the British progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, released in 1970. The album was intended not as an effort by a unified band, but as a general collaborative recording session, and as such, some of the tracks are essentially solo pieces.
The album peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard 200. "Lucky Man" reached No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100. On the UK charts the album peaked at #4.

With former members of King Crimson, The Nice, and Atomic Rooster, Emerson, Lake & Palmer were a veritable supergroup, and the 1970 release of their debut album, ELP, was the first step for a band that went on to define progressive rock. With capable Keith Emerson at the controls of the Moog synthesizer and the Hammond B3 organ, Greg Lake on guitar and vocals, and talented Carl Palmer on drums, the debut release leaned heavily toward a new technical wizardry that became the band's halmark.

Lively, ambitious, almost entirely successful debut album, made up of keyboard-dominated instrumentals ("The Barbarian," "Three Fates") and romantic ballads ("Lucky Man") showcasing all three members' very daunting talents. This album, which reached the Top 20 in America and got to number four in England, showcased the group at its least pretentious and most musicianly -- with the exception of a few moments on "Three Fates" and perhaps "Take a Pebble," there isn't much excess, and there is a lot of impressive musicianship here. "Take a Pebble" might have passed for a Moody Blues track of the era but for the fact that none of the Moody Blues' keyboard men could solo like Keith Emerson. Even here, in a relatively balanced collection of material, the album shows the beginnings of a dark, savage, imposingly gothic edge that had scarcely been seen before in so-called "art rock," mostly courtesy of Emerson's larger-than-life organ and synthesizer attacks. Greg Lake's beautifully sung, deliberately archaic "Lucky Man" had a brush with success on FM radio, and Carl Palmer became the idol of many thousands of would-be drummers based on this one album (especially for "Three Fates" and "Tank"), but Emerson emerged as the overpowering talent here for much of the public.

From the booming bass that kicks off "The Barbarian" through the final Moog synth squiggle of the "Lucky Man" outro,"Emerson Lake & Palmer" is the powerful opening salvo of ELP's mixture of classical,jazz and hard rock-best known to the world as "progressive rock"-that presented such obscure classical pieces as Bela Bartok's 'Allegro Barbaro'("The Barbarian") and Janacek's 'Sinfonietta'("Knife-Edge")in fresh contexts.Other highlights-on an album featuring nothing BUT highlights- include Greg Lake's 12 minute-plus epic "Take A Pebble" and Carl Palmer's fusion-esqe drum piece "Tank".This record has been remastered on CD a few times,first on the dismal-sounding Atlantic one from the 80's,and again on the Victory and Rhino in the 90's which,while an improvement from the first one,were pretty below the standards of most remasters from that period.This Shout! remaster(done by Andy Pearce at Masterpiece London)is right in the class of the Yes Rhino remasters and the Genesis CD/SACD/DVD hybrid's,with Lake's bass guitar sounding big and beefy,Palmer's drum work crisp,and Keith Emerson's keyboards as clear as pure mountain water.Despite the lack of bonus tracks,ELP and prog-rock fans should not hesitaite in picking up-or upgrading with-this reasonably-priced remastered jewel.

The cover art painting is by the British artist Nic Dartnell. Although it has been said to be originally intended for the American group Spirit, and that the bald-headed man on the left of the cover is Spirit's drummer, Ed Cassidy, the artist denied this in an interview with Mike Goldstein of RockPoP: "I'd like to take a moment and dispel a rumor that, according to Wikipedia, the image is somehow linked to the LA band Spirit. The fact is that, at the time I painted the ELP "Bird", I also painted a portrait of Spirit which I sent to them in LA. A very similar bird was featured in the corner of that painting. I got a message from Spirit to say that if they had received their painting in time they would have put it on the back of Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. I became friendly with Randy California over the years and I took the photograph that is on his 1982 12" EP All Along the Watchtower. The bald image in "Bird" has no connection to Ed Cassidy of Spirit and doesn't look anything like him. Ed still has the Spirit portrait – so I'm told."

Tracks Listing

1. The Barbarian (4:33)
2. Take A Pebble (12:34)
3. Knife-Edge (5:08)
4. The Three Fates (7:45)
- a. Clotho (Royal Festival Hall Organ)
- b. Lachesis (Piano Solo)
- c. Atropos (Piano Trio)
5. Tank (6:52)
6. Lucky Man (4:36)

Total Time: 41:30

Musicians

- Greg Lake / vocals, bass, electric & acoustic guitars, producer
- Keith Emerson / Hammond organ, piano, clavinet, Royal Festival Hall pipe organ (4), modular Moog
- Carl Palmer / drums, percussion

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Frank Zappa - 1967 [1988] "Absolutlely Free"

Absolutely Free is the second album by The Mothers of Invention, led by Frank Zappa. Absolutely Free is, again, a display of complex musical composition with political and social satire. The band had been augmented since Freak Out! by the addition of woodwinds player Bunk Gardner, keyboardist Don Preston, rhythm guitarist Jim Fielder and drummer Billy Mundi. Fielder quit the group before the album was released and his name was removed from the album credits.
This album's emphasis is on interconnected movements, as each side of the original vinyl LP comprises a mini-suite. It also features one of the most famous songs of Zappa's early career, "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," a track which has been described as a "condensed two-hour musical".
In the book Necessity Is..., former Mothers of Invention band member Ray Collins said that Absolutely Free is probably his favorite of the classic Mothers albums. This is Official Release #2.

The title of "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" was inspired by an event covered by Time reporter Hugh Sidey in 1966. The reporter correctly guessed something was up when the fastidiously dressed President Lyndon B. Johnson made the fashion faux pas of wearing brown shoes with a gray suit. LBJ flew to Vietnam for a surprise public relations visit later that day.
In the songs "America Drinks and Goes Home" and "America Drinks", Zappa combines a silly tune with nightclub sound effects to parody his experiences playing with drunken bar bands during the early 1960s. Other songs recorded soon after that used the same kinds of ideas include "On with the Show" by The Rolling Stones (released in 1967), "My Friend" by Jimi Hendrix (recorded in 1968, released in 1971) and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" by The Beatles (recorded in 1967 and 1969, released in 1970).
"Plastic People" begins with a mock introduction of the President of the United States, who (along with his wife) can only recite the opening notes to "Louie, Louie". "Louie, Louie" is often interpolated in Zappa's compositions (other examples appear in the Uncle Meat and Yellow Shark albums, among others), and when Zappa first began performing "Plastic People" around 1965, the words were set to the tune of "Louie, Louie".

It is not unusual to find melodies or scores from other composers within the music of Frank Zappa. Absolutely Free is full of musical references to other compositions and artists, including Igor Stravinsky.
For example, "Amnesia Vivace" begins with a collage of quotations from Stravinsky ballets: first, the band plays the "Ritual Action of the Ancestors" from The Rite of Spring, Part II; then harpsichord and chattering voices evoke the pounding Dance of the Adolescents in Part I, over which sax and Zappa's voice start quoting the bassoon melody at the very opening of the Rite and continue into the lyrical Berceuse (also for bassoon) at the end of Stravinsky's The Firebird. The opening sequence of Petrouchka is quoted in the middle section of "Status Back Baby". "Soft-Sell Conclusion" ends with a version of the trombone melody that opens Stravinsky's "Marche Royale" from A Soldier's Tale.
The "Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin", in the beginning of the saxophone solo (first cadence) quotes the trio directly from the fourth movement of Gustav Holst's The Planets, Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.
The melody to "The Duke of Prunes" is the love theme from Zappa's own film score to Run Home Slow.

Frank Zappa's liner notes for Freak Out! name-checked an enormous breadth of musical and intellectual influences, and he seemingly attempts to cover them all on the second Mothers of Invention album, Absolutely Free. Leaping from style to style without warning, the album has a freewheeling, almost schizophrenic quality, encompassing everything from complex mutations of "Louie, Louie" to jazz improvisations and quotes from Stravinsky's Petrushka. It's made possible not only by expanded instrumentation, but also Zappa's experiments with tape manipulation and abrupt editing, culminating in an orchestrated mini-rock opera ("Brown Shoes Don't Make It") whose musical style shifts every few lines, often in accordance with the lyrical content. In general, the lyrics here are more given over to absurdity and non sequiturs, with the sense that they're often part of some private framework of satirical symbols. But elsewhere, Zappa's satire also grows more explicitly social, ranting against commercial consumer culture and related themes of artificiality and conformity. By turns hilarious, inscrutable, and virtuosically complex, Absolutely Free is more difficult to make sense of than Freak Out!, partly because it lacks that album's careful pacing and conceptual focus. But even if it isn't quite fully realized, Absolutely Free is still a fabulously inventive record, bursting at the seams with ideas that would coalesce into a masterpiece with Zappa's next project.

When following up a great debut, a band has to take in consideration to not make a rehash of the previous album. They also need to make a record that is capable of bettering the debut, which for most groups, is a difficult feat. For The Mothers of Invention, the latter was not a problem at all. In 1967, the magnificent follow-up to “Freak Out!” was released. Known as “Absolutely Free”, this record takes all the elements from “Freak Out!” and expands on it, but in a more condensed form.

With the improvements present on “Absolutely Free”, it would be incorporated into two suites, “Absolutely Free” and “The M.O.I. American Pageant”, both movements in “Underground Oratorios”. The first side, a zany suite consisting of songs dealing with the “Duke of Prunes”, showcasing Zappa’s composing skills, makes for an entertaining listen, and from the first listen, is highly accessible. Side two is practically The Mothers playing in a bar, which from the start you can see a visual of sitting in a dimly-lit bar, fogged up with cigarette smoke while watching the bar band play their music for a few bucks.

The use of nightclub sound effects in the suite would be highly influential and would be used over the years by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles. Also in the suite is one of Zappa’s well-known tunes, “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It”. The track begins with an attack on the media and American society, later transitioning to a bizarre tale of a city official fantasizing about sexual intercourse with a minor. “America Drinks & Goes Home” ends the album perfectly: in absolute chaos. And for posterity, “Big Leg Emma” and “Why Don’tcha Do Me Right?”, both extras on the reissue and originally a single, are both decent, but have no place on “Absolutely Free”. It’s unfortunate they were never released on an official album despite it called “a dumb attempt to make dumb music to appeal to dumb teenagers”.

So, when searching for a first Zappa/Mothers record to listen to, check out “Absolutely Free”, it’ll be sure to get a laugh or two out of you and keep you entertained for the next forty minutes. It’s Absolutely Perfect.

Tracks Listing

01. Plastic People (3:40)
02. The Duke Of Prunes (2:12)
03. Amnesia Vivace (1:01)
04. The Duke Regains His Chops (1:45)
05. Call Any Vegetable (2:19)
06. Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin (6:57)
07. Soft-Sell Conclusion & Ending Of Side #1 (1:40)
08. Big Leg Emma (2:32)
09. Why Don'tcha Do Me Right? (2:37)
10. America Drinks (1:52)
11. Status Back Baby (2:52)
12. Uncle Bernie's Farm (2:09)
13. Son Of Suzy Creamcheese (1:33)
14. Brown Shoes Don't Make It (7:26)
15. America Drinks & Goes Home (2:43)

Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / guitar, vocals, conductor, arranger & co-producer
- Ray Collins / vocals, tambourine
- Roy Estrada / bass, vocals
- Don Preston / keyboards
- Jim Fielder / guitar, piano
- Bunk Gardner / saxophone
- Jim Black / drums, vocals
- Bill Mundi / drums, percussion

With:
- Suzy Creamcheese (Lisa Cohen) / vocals (14)
- John Balkin / bass (6,10)
- Jim Getzoff / violin (14)
- Marshall Sosson / violin (14)
- Alvin Dinkin / viola (14)
- Armand Kaproff / cello (14)
- Don Ellis / trumpet (14)
- John Rotella / contrabass clarinet (14)
- Herb Cohen / cash register machine sounds (15)
- Terry Gilliam, girlfriend and others / voices (15)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Scott Henderson - 2002 "Well To The Bone"

Well To The Bone is a 2002 album by fusion / jazz guitarist Scott Henderson. It's his third solo-album, again returning to his blues-roots. It features a re-recording of the Tribal Tech-song "Rituals".

Well to the Bone is Scott Henderson's third outing as a leader apart from his group, Tribal Tech, the band he co-founded with electric bassist Gary Willis in the mid-'80s. As one of the finest fusion guitarists of his generation, Scott Henderson returns to his blues roots with a program of ten songs that feature multi-layered tracks of guitar and a few that pay tribute to the blues-rock of the '60s and the '70s. Henderson's six-string virtuosity is accompanied by Kirk Covington on drums and John Humphrey on bass. Special guest vocalist Wade Durham pours on the bluesy gusto sauce on "Lady P," adds a few of Jimi Hendrix's phrasing techniques on "Devil Boy," and creates a new funky blues direction on "Dat's da Way It Go." Vocalist Thelma Houston puts her diva stamp on "Lola Fay," a sludgy blues shuffle, and on the title track. These songs mark her return engagement with Henderson, who featured her on his 1997 Tore Down House. Overall Scott Henderson's playing is awesome on all tracks and his experimentation with tones from several guitars, amps, and mic-ing only adds more musical adventures for his listeners to enjoy. He especially flaunts his blues/rock virtuosity on the title track and on the power ballad "That Hurts." This song rocks you right to your tone center. Well to the Bone is Henderson's best blues/rock outing since his 1994 release, titled Dog Party

Scott Henderson is nothing if not unpredictable. In Tribal Tech and Vital Tech Tones he has distinguished himself as an endlessly creative performer with impeccable musicianship. Well to the Bone also bears a heavy dose of creativity, to be sure, yet many of the selections come off as oddly disconcerting. Despite its label, the disc has been filed away here at AAJ under Fusion instead of Blues because even adamant blues non-purists might shake their heads in confusion.

“Lady P” typifies the experimental side of Henderson’s mutant blues, its constant rhythmic shifts making it nearly impossible to pin down the meter from one bar to the next. Wade Durham’s vocals recall Corey Glover of Living Colour as much as anyone else, and the vocal reverb on “Devil Boy” seems a misguided attempt to pass him off as Jimi Hendrix. Durham sounds like he takes himself too seriously. Thelma Houston fares much better on the straightforward title blues and “Lola Fay.”
Not everything is hot and heavy. “Ashes” is pretty in an off-kilter way, and “Rituals” ends the album on a pleasant note. Of course, there is a good deal of humor involved as well, never more so than on the fun-paced “Hillbilly in the Band,” where the sound of a barking dog keeps interrupting Henderson’s solo. Kicked off by a chant sample, “Sultan’s Boogie” is just about what you’d expect, a hard groove laid over a Middle Eastern mode.

The big problem here might be the sameness of tempo and Henderson’s guitar timbre, which makes much of the disc sound like it’s all cut from the same cloth. It’s the same sort of problem that John Scofield used to have before he expanded his horizons. Odd for Henderson to seem stuck in a rut since he doesn’t evince that problem within his other bands, but it certainly holds him back here. Not a bad album by any means, but not as rich in variety as we’ve grown to expect from him.

Scott Henderson is one of those guitar players that makes you want to skip practice because, what's the point? You'll never be that damn good on the guitar. His latest CD "Well to the Bone," is the evolutionary follow up to 1997's "Tore Down House." While "Tore Down House" was a marriage of Blues and Fusion, "Well to the Bone" is Fusion-Blues. Imagine Stevie Ray Vaughn jamming with Weather Report.

Blues purists look elsewhere. This recording is flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet right over their heads. It's Incendiary! Earthy blues concepts. Rubbery whammy bar phrasing. Playing inside, outside, over a cerebral hot bed of progressions that take you on a journey. Twisted, soulful, sometimes dreamy songs full of humor, longing, and even incest. Maximum strength liquid Strat tones caress as well as scream throughout.

One song in particular "Ashes," a somber ballad that erupts into a psychotropic gospel dirge at a wake, blends Hendrix/Mayfield style rhythms with the kind of soloing that could only come from a supreme being.

The divine and utterly soulful Thelma Houston returns along with new comer Wade Durham to more than deliver the vocal goods. Kirk Covington on drums, John Humphrey on bass, and Scott Kinsey on percussion, swing with soul and precision without ever sounding metronomic. For those with an open mind who like a lot of adventure and unpredictability in their blues, this CD is a must own. 

Track listing

    "Lady P" – 7:14
    "Hillbilly in the Band" – 5:06
    "Devil Boy" – 6:41
    "Lola Fay" – 6:24
    "Well to the Bone" – 4:50
    "Ashes" – 6:53
    "Sultan's Boogie" – 6:30
    "Dat's Da Way It Go" – 6:54
    "That Hurts" – 6:16
    "Rituals" – 8:01

Personnel

    Scott Henderson - Guitars
    Kirk Covington - Drums and vocals
    John Humphrey - Bass
    Thelma Houston - Vocals on "Lola Fay", "Well To The Bone", "Dat's Da Way It Go"
    Wade Durham - Vocals on "Lady P", "Devil Boy", "Dat's Da Way It Go"
    Scott Kinsey - Electronic Percussion

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pat Metheny - 1987 "Still Life (Talking)"

Still Life (Talking) is an album by Pat Metheny Group, released in 1987 on Geffen Records. It was the group's first album to be released by the label. It features jazz fusion and crossover jazz, combining Brazilian jazz-influenced harmonies with jazz, folk and pop elements and, along with the previous First Circle and the following Letter from Home, is considered part of the so-called "Brazilian Trilogy".
The song "Last Train Home" was used in a Christmas commercial by the Florida-based supermarket chain Publix, featuring relatives traveling to Florida by train for Christmas. Metheny jokingly refers to the piece as "The Publix Song" when performing in Florida, as the commercial aired every holiday season from 1987 to 1996. The NPR radio show "Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli" uses the tune as its closing theme. In 2015, the song served as the end theme of the anime adaptation JoJo's Bizarre Adventure during the second half of the show's Stardust Crusaders arc, and subsequently became the focus of Essential Collection Last Train Home, a JoJo-themed compilation album for Pat Metheny Group. The composition has also been featured during The Weather Channel's "Local on the 8s" playlist since roughly the late 1980s. "(It's Just) Talk" has also been featured on the local forecasts on The Weather Channel since about the same time. The retail bedding manufacturer Sleep Train Inc which operates primarily in California uses the track for their television commercials.

While Brazilian music had captured Pat Metheny's attention since the '70s, he placed an especially strong emphasis on Brazilian elements in the late '80s. A master of uniting seemingly disparate elements as a cohesive whole, the imaginative guitarist effectively combines Brazilian-influenced harmonies and rhythm with jazz, folk, and pop elements on "So May It Secretly Begin," "Third Wind," "Minuano (Six Eight)," and other celebrated gems included on Still Life (Talking). The Brazilian leanings are put aside on one of Metheny's most unique offerings ever, "Last Train Home," which boasts a charming Western theme that brings to mind a peaceful journey across the Arizona desert. That may not sound like the description of a jazz piece, but then, making the unlikely a reality is among Metheny's many admirable qualities. 

Still Life (Talking) was the first Pat Metheny Group album for Geffen, following its 1984 swan song for ECM, First Circle, and it remains one of the group's finest efforts nearly twenty years down the road. The fact that five of the seven tracks have shown up regularly in Metheny Group live shows since that time—more than any other single Metheny Group album—suggests that the group also feels that way about the record, with the overt Brazilian overtones of "Minuano (six eight) and "Third Wind," as well as the anthemic "Last Train Home" being particularly popular choices and fan favourites.

By this point the core group had settled to include keyboardist Lyle Mays—who'd been with Metheny since the earliest days of the group—bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Paul Wertico—both recruits from the early 1980s. Still Life (Talking) saw the departure of singer/multi-instrumentalist Pedro Aznar from First Circle and the expansion of the group to a septet with the addition of singer/percussionist Armando Marçal and singers David Blamires and the recently-deceased Mark Ledford. Freed from the somewhat confining restrictions of ECM label owner Manfred Eicher's approach to recording, Metheny was not only able to take more time with the recording, but create a multi-layered approach to production that had more precedents in pop music than jazz.

Which isn't to imply that Metheny Group records don't fit within the jazz arena. But more than his side projects, Metheny Group records are always as much about composition as they are solo prowess, and in that regard Still Life (Talking) is a significant advancement over First Circle. Fans consider it to be the second part of the group's "Brazilian Trilogy" which began with First Circle and concluded with the follow-up Letter From Home. And in many ways it's the most successful of the three in terms of its overall strength of writing and playing. With Metheny and Mays the primary soloists, there are some seminal moments on Still Life (Talking) —notably Metheny's staggering solo on the burning "Third Wind" and Mays' ever-lyrical, ever-harmonically distinctive solo on the funkier Brazilian inflection of "(It's Just) Talk." The group also had the ability to weave contrapuntal wordless vocals with three singers in the band, creating a potential for greater orchestration both on record and, ultimately, in performance.

One of the overlooked aspects to Metheny's writing, as well as his longstanding collaborative work with Mays, is just how successful he's always been at creating music that sounds completely effortless, despite being considerably more detailed under the sheets. Sure, the bridge section that leads into the final restatement of the theme to "Minuano" is undeniably challenging; but more often than not the complexities are only there if you're paying attention. A double-edged sword that has sometimes rendered the jazz intelligentsia to accuse Metheny Group albums of being "jazz lite," these critics might be more respectful if they'd take the time to examine what actually goes on in these tunes. 

I own over 18k albums and c.d.'s. This recording has been a favorite of mine seen its release as an album. I already had a mild enjoyment of Pats music, but this was that placed him on a higher level of musical respect in my music appreciation!!

Track listing

All music composed by Pat Metheny, except where noted.

1.     "Minuano (Six Eight)" (Metheny, Lyle Mays)     9:28
2.     "So May It Secretly Begin"       6:25
3.     "Last Train Home"       5:41
4.     "(It's Just) Talk"       6:17
5.     "Third Wind" (Metheny, Mays)     8:37
6.     "Distance" (Mays)     2:45
7.     "In Her Family"       3:17

Personnel

    Pat Metheny - guitar, synth guitar, acoustic guitars, electric guitars
    Lyle Mays - piano, keyboards
    Steve Rodby - acoustic bass, electric bass
    Paul Wertico - drums
    Armando Marçal - percussion, background vocals
    Mark Ledford, David Blamires - vocals

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Genesis - 1973 [1987] "Selling England By The Pound"

Selling England by the Pound is the fifth studio album from the English progressive rock band Genesis, released in October 1973 on Charisma Records. It reached number 3 in the UK and number 70 in the U.S. A single from the album, "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" was released in February 1974 and became the band's first top 30 hit in the UK; November 1973 in the U.S..
The album was recorded in August 1973 following the tour supporting the previous album, Foxtrot (1972). The group set aside a short period of time to write new material, which covered a number of themes, including the loss of English folk culture and an increased American influence, which was reflected in the title. Following the album's release, the group set out on tour, where they drew an enthusiastic reception from fans.
Critics and the band have given mixed opinions of the album, though guitarist Steve Hackett has said it is his favourite Genesis record. The album has continued to sell and has reached Gold certification by the British Phonographic Industry and the Recording Industry Association of America. It was remastered for CD in 1994 and 2007. Several of the album tracks became fan favourites and featured as a regular part of the band's live setlist into the 1980s.

By late 1972, Genesis had stabilised around Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Phil Collins. The group had been regularly touring, achieved commercial success with their previous album Foxtrot, and were starting to gig in the U.S., particularly in New York City, where they had a positive response. However, journalists were still criticising the band and comparing them to other progressive rock bands such as ELP, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd. The group were too busy touring to write new material, so after coming off the road in spring 1973 they set aside time to create new songs. The group's record company, Charisma Records insisted they had three months to come up with a new album, which Rutherford considered "the kiss of death". Collins formed a pick up band with former Yes guitarist Peter Banks for a few gigs, and Rutherford revealed in an interview to Sounds in 1976 that "there had been worries that Phil might want to leave the group".
Gabriel chose the album title, a slogan adopted by the UK Labour Party manifesto, to ensure that the British press would not accuse them of "selling out" to America. Overall, it represented a decay of English folk culture and an increase in Americanisation.

Genesis proved that they could rock on Foxtrot but on its follow-up Selling England by the Pound they didn't follow this route, they returned to the English eccentricity of their first records, which wasn't so much a retreat as a consolidation of powers. For even if this eight-track album has no one song that hits as hard as "Watcher of the Skies," Genesis hasn't sacrificed the newfound immediacy of Foxtrot: they've married it to their eccentricity, finding ways to infuse it into the delicate whimsy that's been their calling card since the beginning. This, combined with many overt literary allusions -- the Tolkeinisms of the title of "The Battle of Epping Forest" only being the most apparent -- gives this album a storybook quality. It plays as a collection of short stories, fables, and fairy tales, and it is also a rock record, which naturally makes it quite extraordinary as a collection, but also as a set of individual songs. Genesis has never been as direct as they've been on the fanciful yet hook-driven "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" -- apart from the fluttering flutes in the fade-out, it could easily be mistaken for a glam single -- or as achingly fragile as on "More Fool Me," sung by Phil Collins. It's this delicate balance and how the album showcases the band's narrative force on a small scale as well as large that makes this their arguable high-water mark. 

Selling England by the Pound is to Genesis as Hamlet is to Shakespeare. It is a timeless masterpiece of musical ability and performance combined with themes of classical literature and poetry. After 42 years some of the techniques do sound dated but it's true brilliance is in the performance. It is an album performed without shame or excuse for it's near perfect execution. It is the pinnacle of this version of Genesis in both creativity, songwriting and musical ability. Never before or after would Genesis work so well together to produce music of this caliber.. It is a brilliant star in the firmament of progressive music.

Tracks Listing

1. Dancing With The Moonlit Knight (8:01)
2. I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) (4:06)
3. Firth Of Fifth (9:34)
4. More Fool Me (3:09)
5. The Battle Of Epping Forest(11:43)
6. After The Ordeal (4:12)
7. The Cinema Show (11:06)
8. Aisle Of Plenty (1:31)

Total Time: 53:22

Line-up / Musicians

- Peter Gabriel / lead vocals, percussion, flute, oboe
- Steve Hackett / electric guitar, nylon acoustic guitar
- Tony Banks / keyboards (piano, Hammond, Mellotron, ARP Pro Soloist synth), 12-string guitar
- Mike Rutherford / bass, 12-string guitar, electric sitar
- Phil Collins / drums, percussion, lead (4) & backing vocals

Ray Barretto - 1995 "My Summertime"

Ray Barretto (a master of the congas) has effectively fused together bop-oriented jazz with Latin rhythms to form a particularly viable version of Afro-Cuban jazz; he hates the term "Latin jazz." Rather than sounding like two forms of music, Barretto's group New World Spirit shows that Latin rhythms can uplift all types of jazz songs, even ballads such as "When You Wish Upon A Star." Barretto's sextet is quite strong with Michael Philip Mossman's trumpet recalling Freddie Hubbard at times, Adam Kolker showing versatility and hard-driving swing during his tenor and soprano solos and the leader constantly cooking in the rhythm section. Whether it be Duke Jordan's "No Problem," "While My Lady Sleeps" or "Summertime" (which has Barretto partly talking his way through a vocal), the music is both creative and easily accessible. Recommended.

"My Summertime" is one of the finest achievements of a career that spanned half a century and encompassed both the Salsa and Jazz Worlds. When it was released in France in 1995, it made Ray Barretto a star in that nation. It's not difficult to see why. Barretto took several well-known standards, beloved songs such as Autumn Leaves and When You Wish Upon a Star, and made them new, in a Latin jazz vein. Some would say in an Instrumental Salsa vein, because of the danceability of these versions and their adherence to the clave. But categories don't matter here. What's really important is that this is soulful, swinging, heartfelt music played by a great edition of Barretto's New World Spirit ensemble, which included Hector Martignon on piano, Michael Phillip Mossman on trumpet and Adam Kolker on sax. The jewel of the crown, however, is the track titled "Summertime (Guajira)", in which Barretto -who in his younger years played congas for jazz luminaries such as Red Garland, Gene Ammons, Wes Montgomery, Lou Donaldson and others- actually SINGS the lyrics to that tune, and then adds a few of his own, emphasizing the "strong common bond" of guajira and the blues, "the two worlds that I love". It's a beautiful, unique performance that grabs your heart and mind.
To most fans, Ray Barretto is known as one of the Fania All Stars, one of the brightest Salsa leaders whose Fania albums are now classics. But he also loved jazz, and when "hard salsa" went into a steep decline at the 1980s, he decided to pursue his jazz interests full-time. "My Summertime" was recorded after a couple of albums for Concord Picante and showcases New World Spirit at a very high musical point. Barretto made several good albums after this one (Contact, Portraits in Jazz and Clave, Trancedance, Homage to Art Blakey, Time Was Time Is and Standards Rican-Ditioned) all of which merit close inspection. But "My Summertime" was the album that inaugurated the last purple patch of this beloved musician's life. It deserves a place on every Latin- or Latin jazz-lover's record collection.

I have known about Ray Barretto since I was a kid. Title cut 'My Summertime' is a very rhytmic Guajida that wraps around a spoken dialogue about the musical form... 'from the people', and makes a comparison of field workers cutting sugar cane in South America, and the cotton workers in the Southern US, with very tasty punctuation and support from piano and percussions. Then the rest of the musicians are introduced for the real thing! 

Track Listings

  1. No Hay Problema (No Problem)
  2. In Your Own Sweet Way
  3. Brother Ray
  4. When You Wish Upon A Star
  5. Autumn Leaves
  6. While My Lady Sleeps
  7. Off Minor
  8. Fait Accompli
  9. Summertime-(Guajira)
  10. Worlds I Love

Personnel:

    Percussion - Ray Barretto
    Acoustic Bass, Electric Bass – Jairo Moreno (2)
    Congas, Mixed By, Edited By, Mastered By, Sequenced By – Ray Barretto
    Drums – Vince Cherico
    Guiro – Alfredo «Tito» Gonzalez* (tracks: 3, 9)
    Piano – Hector Martignon
    Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Adam Kolker
    Trumpet, Trombone, Flugelhorn – Michael Philip Mossman
    Vocals – Ray Barretto (tracks: 9)

Jean-Luc Ponty - 1978 "Cosmic Messenger"

Cosmic Messenger is an album by French jazz fusion artist Jean-Luc Ponty, released in 1978.

Cosmic Messenger is more elegant, European-flavored jazz-rock from the French virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty, and pretty much in the same mold as his previous Atlantic albums but with gradually tightening control over every parameter of performance. Ponty's analog-delay special effects on the title track are spectacular, and the album is loaded more than ever with revolving electronic arpeggios as Ponty's own involvement with the ARP synthesizer grows. But there is still plenty of his fluid, slippery electric violin soloing to be heard within the tight structures of these pieces, and the tunes themselves are often pretty good. In addition, this fusion express finds its way into the funk on "The Art of Happiness," and there are some tricky rhythmic experiments on some tunes. 

"Cosmic Messenger" was the folow up to "Enigmatic Ocean". On it Jean-Luc has a collection of songs but there isn't a suite/concerto like on "Imaginary Voyage" or "Enigmatic Ocean". This doesn't mean that the disc was bad because it still is very good. Jean-Luc,once again, surrounds himself with world class musicians and does create some incredible music. "Cosmic Messenger" is a Ponty showcase piece. It is ethereal in nature and Ponty does show a different side to his writing than on his previous discs. "Egocentric Molecules" is a hyperdrive tune that has guitar, bass, and violin solos in it and is incredible. If you can find the live version of this or see Jean-Luc play this you will be stunned. The bass line and soloing by Ralphe Armstrong is unbelievable. The rest of the songs on the disc are more examples of Ponty's ability to write and imrovise in his own brilliant style. If you are a Jean-L:uc fan or want to discover the world of Ponty "Cosmic Messenger" is a disc for you.

This CD has spellbinding rhythms in the more ethereal tracks - the kind of relatively slow-paced tracks that artfully establish early on that 'moment of connection to the music' that somehow liberates the listeners's soul as the artist's vision behind the musical track comes to life and we are transported to another place. On the whole it's a unique blend of the familiar and the exotic - the ethereally exotic rhythms wedded to the lucidly logical melodic lines. This often-tried experiment is, here, quite successful. Other tracks are high energy - very inspired, and all are infused with a brilliant, pleasingly-structured, readily-identifiable sense of jazz fusion. Stylistically this may be Ponty's singularly most cohesive work. Given his output, that spans well beyond his most prolific stint during the 1970's and '80's, that may well be saying something. I haven't heard everything by him, but, if your looking for something else that, IMHO, gives "Cosmic Messenger" a run for it's money, may I suggest "Mystical Adventures" - another knockout of his. If you look at it like I do, an unresolved toss-up of this magnitude is nothing but a blessing for music fans in general, fans of Jazz fusion in particular or anyone curious to know just what a five string electrified violin can do. I also enjoy "A Taste For Passion", "Civilized Evil" and "Enigmatic Ocean". In any case, Ponty is arguably THE world champion of the five string electrified violin. Not that this instrument is the only feature of merit on the album. Ponty, in this time frame, surrounds himself with truly comparable talent on percussion, an incredible electric bassist and, here, two superb lead guitarists. I don't truly know for myself yet if this is Jean-Luc Ponty's best album, but, so far, I can say it's my favorite. Highly, highly recommended. 

Track listing

All songs by Jean-Luc Ponty.

    "Cosmic Messenger" – 4:38
    "The Art of Happiness" – 4:33
    "Don't Let the World Pass You By" – 6:23
    "I Only Feel Good With You" – 3:05
    "Puppets' Dance" – 3:40
    "Fake Paradise" – 5:41
    "Ethereal Mood" – 4:03
    "Egocentric Molecules" – 5:44

Personnel

    Jean-Luc Ponty – Five-string electric violin, electric violin, organ, lead synthesizer, orchestron, acoustic violin.
    Ralphe Armstrong – Electric bass, fretless electric bass.
    Joaquin Lievano – Electric guitar, acoustic guitar.
    Peter Maunu – Electric guitar,acoustic guitar, guitar synthesizer.
    Casey Scheuerell – Drums, percussion.
    Allan Zavod – Electric piano, polyphonic synthesizer, lead synthesizer, grand piano, organ.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

GRP All-Star Big Band - 1993 "Live!"

Dave Grusin Presents GRP All-Star Big Band Live! is a jazz live album by the GRP All-Star Big Band.

What a gathering of heavyweights, doing tasteful interpretations of some of the best that jazz has to offer! I saw the video of this performance in Japan (1992) before youtube took it down on a copyright beef, and what comes through is the sheer joy and respect that these players demonstrated in performing this bad boy together. Very nicely edited and remastered for CD.

As I said when I reviewed another GRP All-Star Big Band recording, the whole idea was to do big band arrangements of the greatest bebop tunes ever written. The only difference is that this one was performed live.
The musicians are among the finest jazzmen in the world, the arrangements magnificent.......The only tune that wasn't especially for bop is "Sing, Sing Sing" but it's not the way Benny Goodman would have played it. "Oleo" is one of my favorites. They do a few tunes which were on the other one, like "Blue Train"; "Manteca"; "Sister Sadie" but it doesn't take away from the CD itself. If you like big band music, bebop & listening to the world's best jazz musicians, add it to your collection.
  
This recording puts together the best soloist and bandsmen nxt to each other. Sandoval, Marienthal, Brecker, Finley, Rangell, Scott, Mintzer, Pattituci, Grusin, just to name a few. Some of the best solo work I have ever heard.  

One of the best modern big band executions to date. Plenty of energy and lots of brief and exciting solos. Will get you jumping with the complex rythms and improvisations. World class collection of musicians make this one of my very favorite CDs in any category.  

This is my favorite big band album. Awesome performances all around. Highlight for me was Manteca with Arturo Sandoval notes that are off the charts!
  
For big band lovers, this is it ! A very beautiful collection of professional musicians at the peak of their art with Gary Burton as a bonus. Excellent atmosphere, excellent choice of material and excellent sound. A must. Enjoy !

Track listing
  1. "Oleo" (Sonny Rollins) - 7:39
  2. "My Man's Gone Now" - 7:05
  3. "Sing, Sing, Sing" (Louis Prima) - 6:58
  4. "Manteca" (Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo) - 7:33
  5. "Blues for Howard" - 8:31
  6. "Cherokee" (Ray Noble) - 5:10
  7. "Blue Train" (John Coltrane) - 4:43
  8. "'S Wonderful" (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) - 6:31
  9. "Sister Sadie" - 7:00
  10. "GRP Band Introduction/Dave Grusin" - 2:41
Personnel

Sunday, June 5, 2016

RUSH - 2011 "Sector 1" [5 CD Box]

Limited six disc (five CDs + DVD) box set from the Canadian Rock trio. Contains the albums Rush, Fly By Night, Caress Of Steel, 2112 and All The World's A Stage plus the DVD-Audio mix of Fly By Night. Each Sector contains five of their 15 Mercury albums in chronological order, all transferred to high resolution 96kHz/24-bit and digitally pre-mastered for optimal quality. In addition, each volume includes an exclusive booklet packed with unpublished photos, original album lyrics and credits, and features one album specifically remixed on DVD in high resolution 96 kHz/24-bit, 5.1 surround sound and stereo, compatible with both DVD Audio players and DVD-Video players. Each album is packaged in a replica vinyl mini-jacket of the original album release with all 3 sets forming a Rush CD road case.

Rush has long been my favorite band, and I have more or less owned every iteration of these albums that Rush has released: cassettes, then vinyl, then the initial Mercury CD pressings, and the 1997 remasters. But even my "fanboy-ness" knows its limits, so when these box sets were first announced, I was a bit sceptical. Was this another desperate Mercury cash-grab, as has been alleged on so many Rush fan sites?

My reservations disappeared as soon as I held this set. First, the packaging is very nice. Each album is done as a replica of the original vinyl release. Having spent hours upon hours in high school looking at the gatefolds for the vinyl versions, this was like coming home to an old friend. A booklet is also included with printed lyrics, rare photos, album credits, etc (apparently just in case the album replica writing was too small.....)

But I was most pleased with the sound. In a side-by-side with the '97 releases (which as a whole I thought were very well done), these new remasters do present a very clear, if subtle improvement. This batch of albums especially have always suffered from murky sound. These remasters FINALLY fix that problem -- it's as if a layer of murk has been removed from the sound. The effect is most noticable in the crispness of the drums, but there are sonic improvements to be noticed across the board. And it's not just a matter of louder mastering either. In fact, the volume here is nearly identical to that of the 1997 remasters. These versions really do sound better.

Well, not a newbie, really. I always liked them, I saw them once back in the 70s, and I had a copy of 2112, but other than that I'm really only familiar with what's gotten radio airplay. When these box sets came out, it seemed like it was time to catch up. I've been reading that some of these discs had problems, so I figured I'd just sit down and play the box to make sure it's ok, and hear a lot of new-to-me Rush.

Disc 1 - Rush - I think the last time I heard this all the way through in one sitting, it was a 8-track... The remaster sounds great to my ears. Very clear sound, and really, quite a bit better music than I thought it would be. Good stuff.

Disc 2/3 - Fly By Night - WOW! The 5.1 channel DVD audio disc is amazing. Channel separation is very good, and Lee's vocals sound just like he's in the room. "Fly By Night" "In The End" and "Rivendell" especially stand out... Still getting used to music mixed in 5.1 rather than two channel stereo. I'm accustomed to crowd noise and building echo from the rear channels, if anything. Wickedly cool to hear a guitar come tearing out of the back corner of the room. I think with this DVD, the CD won't get played much :)

Disc 4 - Caress of Steel - "Bastille Day" is a familiar tune, and sounds great, and "The Necromancer" is appropriately spooky. I'm really impressed with the clarity of the sound on this set so far, but then I'm not familiar with the previous issues to compare them to...

Disc 5 - 2112 - The 2112 overture makes me smile every time I hear it. This is the first Rush album I remember listening to, and probably still my favorite one.

Disc 6 - All The World's a Stage - The live release from 1976. Very good performance, with live versions of songs selected from the above releases.

I guess I got a glitch free copy. I have no complaints, and will definitely be picking up the other two "Sector" sets. A word about the packaging. I like this trend toward a plastic sleeve in an old-school LP type cover. They take up less space, and they won't arrive damaged as often as jewel cases do. Overall, I don't have any complaints here. Great!

1974 [2011] RUSH 

RUSH is the eponymous debut studio album by Canadian rock band Rush, released on March 1, 1974 and later remastered in 1997. Their first release shows much of the hard rock sound typical of many of the popular rock bands emerging earlier in the decade, and it is the only album to not have Neil Peart as drummer. Rush were fans of such bands as Led Zeppelin and Cream, and these influences can be heard in most of the songs on this album. Original drummer John Rutsey performed all drum parts on the album, but was unable to go on extended tours because of complications with his diabetes and was let go by the band after the album was released. Rutsey contributed to the album's lyrics, but never submitted the work to the other members of the band. The lyrics were instead entirely composed by Lee and Lifeson. Rutsey was soon replaced by Peart, who has remained the band's drummer.
 

 Tracks Listing

1. Finding My Way (5:05)
2. Need Some Love (2:19)
3. Take A Friend (4:24)
4. Here Again (7:34)
5. What You're Doing (4:22)
6. In The Mood (3:33)
7. Before And After (5:34)
8. Working Man (7:10)

Total Time: 40:01

Musicians

- Alex Lifeson - Guitar
- Geddy Lee - Bass guitar, vocals
- John Rusty - Drums, percussion


1975 [2011] Fly By Night 
  
Fly by Night is the second studio album by Canadian rock band Rush, released in February 1975. Contrary to their previous album, which featured a much more hard rock sound, this album was the first to showcase the progressive rock sound that the band has become renowned for. This release was also the first to feature long-time drummer Neil Peart.

Prior to one of Rush's first U.S. tours, original drummer John Rutsey split from the band, since he wasn't prepared to commit to the band's rigorous touring schedule. And it proved to be a blessing in disguise, since his replacement was to become one of the most respected rock drummers of all time, Neil Peart, who would also steer the band towards success with more challenging material -- starting with Fly by Night. While the title track and the album-closing ballad, "In the End," still had Zeppelin roots, the album isn't as straightforward as the debut. Rush's first bona-fide classic, "Anthem," is included, while the over eight-minute "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" helped pave the way for the group's future epics ("2112," "Cygnus X-1," etc.), and introduced the fans to Peart's imaginative lyric writing, often tinged with science-fiction themes. The reflective and melodic "Making Memories" is an underrated early composition, while "Beneath, Between, & Behind" is a furious heavy rocker. Fly by Night may not be one of Rush's finest albums, but it is one of their most important -- it showed that the young band was leaving their Zep-isms behind in favor of a more challenging and original direction.
 

Tracks Listing

1. Anthem (4:21)
2. Best I Can (3:24)
3. Beneath, Between And Behind (3:00)
4. By-Tor And The Snow Dog (8:57)
I) At The Tobes Of Hades
II) Across The Styx
III) Of The Battle
IV) Epilogue
5. Fly By Night (3:20)
6. Making Memories (2:56)
7. Rivendell (5:00)
8. In The End (6:51)

Total Time: 37:18

Musicians

- Alex Lifeson - Guitar
- Geddy Lee - Bass guitar, vocals
- Neil Peart - Drums, percussion


 1975 [2011] Caress Of Steel

Caress Of Steel is the third studio album by Canadian rock band Rush, released in 1975. The album shows more of Rush's adherence to hard progressive rock, as opposed to the blues-based hard rock style of the band's first album.
  When Rush finished their third album, Caress of Steel, the trio was assured that they had created their breakthrough masterpiece. But when the album dropped off the charts soon after its release, it proved otherwise. While it was Rush's first release that fully explored their prog rock side, it did not contain the catchy and more traditional elements of their future popular work -- it's quite often too indulgent and pretentious for a mainstream rock audience to latch onto. And while Rush would eventually excel in composing lengthy songs, the album's two extended tracks -- the 12½-minute "The Necromancer" and the nearly 20-minute "The Fountain of Lamneth" -- show that the band was still far from mastering the format. The first side contains two strong and more succinct tracks, the raging opener, "Bastille Day," and the more laid-back "Lakeside Park," both of which would become standards for their live show in the '70s. But the ill-advised "I Think I'm Going Bald" (which lyrically deals with growing old) borders on the ridiculous, which confirms that Caress of Steel is one of Rush's more unfocused albums.

Tracks Listing

1. Bastille Day (4:36)
2. I think I'm Going Bald (3:35)
3. Lakeside Park (4:07)
4. The Necromancer: 12:30
I) Into The Darkness (4:20)
II) Under The Shadow (4:25)
III) Return Of The Prince (3:51)
5. The Fountain Of Lamneth: 19:50
I) In The Valley (4:17)
II) Didacts And Narpets (1:00)
III) No One At The Bridge (4:15)
IV) Panacea (3:12)
V) Bacchus Plateau (3:12)
VI) The Fountain (3:48)

Total Time: 44:38

Musicians

- Alex Lifeson - Guitar
- Geddy Lee - Bass guitar, vocals
- Neil Peart - Drums, percussion

1976 [2011] 2112

2112 (pronounced "twenty-one twelve") is the fourth studio album by Canadian rock band Rush. Released on 1 April 1976, it features the seven-part title suite composed by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, with lyrics written by Neil Peart telling a dystopian story set in the year 2112. It is sometimes described as a concept album although the songs on the second side are unrelated to the suite. Rush repeated this arrangement on the 1978 album Hemispheres.
2112 is one of two Rush albums listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (the other being Moving Pictures). In 2006, a poll of Planet Rock listeners picked 2112 as the definitive Rush album. In 2012, it was ranked second on Rolling Stone's list of 'Your Favorite Prog Rock Albums of All Time', as voted for in a reader's poll, one of three Rush albums included (the others being Moving Pictures and Hemispheres).
A deluxe edition was released in 2012 as both a CD/DVD and a CD/Blu-ray. The CD featured the entire album remastered, as well as three live bonus tracks from their 1981 concert at Northlands Coliseum. The DVD and Blu-ray included the album in three different HD formats, as well as on-screen lyrics, liner notes, and a digital comic book depicting the story of the title track

Whereas Rush's first two releases, their self-titled debut and Fly by Night, helped create a buzz among hard rock fans worldwide, the more progressive third release, Caress of Steel, confused many of their supporters. Rush knew it was now or never with their fourth release, and they delivered just in time -- 1976's 2112 proved to be their much sought-after commercial breakthrough and remains one of their most popular albums. Instead of choosing between prog rock and heavy rock, both styles are merged together to create an interesting and original approach. The entire first side is comprised of the classic title track, which paints a chilling picture of a future world where technology is in control (Peart's lyrics for the piece being influenced by Ayn Rand). Comprised of seven "sections," the track proved that the trio members were fast becoming rock's most accomplished instrumentalists. The second side contains shorter selections, such as the Middle Eastern-flavored "A Passage to Bangkok" and the album-closing rocker "Something for Nothing." 2112 is widely considered by Rush fans as their first true "classic" album, the first in a string of similarly high-quality albums.

Tracks Listing

Side 1
1. 2112: 20:34
I) Overture (4:32)
II) The Temples Of Syrinx (2:13)
III) Discovery (3:29)
IV) Presentation (3:42)
V) Oracle:The Dream (2:00)
VI) Soliloquy (2:21)
VII) The Grand Finale (2:14)
2. A Passage To Bangkok (3:34)
3. The Twilight Zone (3:18)
4. Lessons (3:51)
5. Tears (3:32)
6. Something For Nothing (3:59)

Total Time: 38:48

Musicians

- Alex Lifeson - Guitar
- Geddy Lee - Bass guitar, vocals
- Neil Peart - Drums, percussion

1977 [2011] All The World's A Stage

All the World's a Stage is a double live album by Canadian rock band Rush, released in 1976. The album was recorded at Massey Hall in Toronto on June 11, 12, and 13 during their 2112 tour. The title of the album alludes to William Shakespeare's play As You Like It, which would again be referenced by Rush in their 1981 song "Limelight".

The '70s may forever be remembered as the decade of the "live album," where many rock artists (Kiss, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick, etc.) used the format for their commercial breakthrough. While Rush's All the World's a Stage is not as renowned as the aforementioned bands' live albums, it is still one of the better in-concert rock releases of the decade, and helped solidify the trio's stature as one of rock's fastest rising stars. Eventually, Rush would polish their live sound to sound almost like a studio record, but in the mid-'70s, they were still a raw and raging hard rock band, captured perfectly on All the World's a Stage Comprised almost entirely of their heavier material, the album packs quite a punch -- "Bastille Day" and "Anthem" prove to be a killer opening combination, while over-the-top renditions of their extended epics "2112" and "By-Tor & the Snow Dog" prove to be standouts. Even their more tranquil studio material proves more explosive in concert ("Fly by Night," "Something for Nothing," "Lakeside Park," "In the End"). All the World's a Stage was a fitting way of closing the first chapter of Rush, as the liner notes state.

Tracks Listing

1. Bastille Day (4:59)
2. Anthem (4:57)
3. Fly By Night / In The Mood (5:05)
4. Something For Nothing (4:03)
5. Lakeside Park (5:05)
6. 2112: 15:51
I) Overture (4:17)
II) The Temples Of Syrinx (2:13)
III) Presentation (4:29)
IV) Soliloquy (2:25)
V) Grand Finale (2:27)
7. By-Tor And The Snow Dog (12:01)
8. In The End (7:14)
9. Working Man/ Finding My Way (14:20)
10. What You're Doing (5:38)

Total Time: 79:13

Musicians

- Alex Lifeson - Guitar
- Geddy Lee - Bass guitar, vocals
- Neil Peart - Drums, percussion