Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Doors - 1967 [1985] "Strange Days"

Strange Days is the second studio album by the American rock band The Doors. Released in September 1967, it was a commercial success, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart and eventually earning a RIAA platinum certification. The album also yielded the Top 30 hit singles "People Are Strange" and "Love Me Two Times".

Strange Days was recorded during tour breaks between May and August 1967 at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood (the same studio as their first LP). In contrast to the 1966 sessions, producer Paul A. Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick employed a cutting-edge 8-track recording machine. The protracted sessions allowed the band to experiment in the studio and further augment their otherworldly sound with unusual instrumentation and sonic manipulation; developed with the assistance of Paul Beaver, the title track constitutes one of the earliest uses of a Moog synthesizer in rock. On the Morrison poem "Horse Latitudes", Botnick took the white noise of a tape recorder and varied the speed by hand-winding it (resulting in a sound akin to wind) as the four band members played a variety of instruments in unusual ways. Further varispeed was then employed to create different timbres and effects.

Much like their debut album, Strange Days features several moody, authentically odd songs, although some critics feel it does not quite match up to its stellar predecessor. In his AllMusic review of the album, Richie Unterberger notes, "Many of the songs on Strange Days had been written around the same time as the ones that appeared on The Doors, and with hindsight one has the sense that the best of the batch had already been cherry picked for the debut album. For that reason, the band's second effort isn't as consistently stunning as their debut, though overall it's a very successful continuation of the themes of their classic album." Two of the album's songs ("My Eyes Have Seen You" and "Moonlight Drive") had been demoed in 1965 at Trans World Pacific Studios before Krieger joined the group; indeed, the latter had been conceived by Morrison prior to his fateful reunion with Manzarek in the summer of 1965. Although the song was attempted twice during the sessions for the band's debut, both versions were deemed unsatisfactory. A conventional blues arrangement, "Moonlight Drive"'s defining features were its slightly off-beat rhythm and Krieger's bottleneck guitar, which create an eerie sound.

The LP's first single, "People Are Strange", was composed in early 1967 after Krieger, drummer John Densmore, and a depressed Morrison had walked to the top of Laurel Canyon. Densmore recalled the song's writing process in his book Riders on the Storm. Densmore and Krieger, who had then been roommates, were visited by a dejected Morrison, who was acting "deeply depressed." At the suggestion of Densmore, they took a walk along Laurel Canyon. Morrison returned from the walk "euphoric" with the early lyrics of "People Are Strange".

Although Morrison was the Doors' primary lyricist, Robby Krieger wrote several of the groups hit singles (the first song the guitarist ever wrote was "Light My Fire"), including the bluesy "Love Me Two Times". According to band members, the song was about a soldier/sailor on his last day with his girlfriend before shipping out, ostensibly to war. Manzarek described the song as "Robby's great blues/rock classic about lust and lost, or multiple orgasms, I'm not sure which." In 1997, Krieger stated to Guitar World's Alan Paul that the musical idea for "Love Me Two Times" came from a lick from a Danny Kalb album. Manzarek played the final version of this song on a harpsichord, not a clavichord. Manzarek described the instrument as "a most elegant instrument that one does not normally associate with rock and roll." It was edited to a 2:37 length and released as the second single (after "People Are Strange") from that album, and reached No. 25 on the charts in the US. "Love Me Two Times" was considered to be somewhat risqué for radio airplay, being banned in New Haven for being "too controversial," much to the dismay of the band.

The album concludes with an 11 minute-long epic, "When the Music's Over."

The album cover of Strange Days, photographed by Joel Brodsky, depicts a group of street performers in New York. The location of the photograph is at Sniffen Court, a residential alley off of East 36th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue in Manhattan. The availability of such performers pictured was low, so Brodsky's assistant stood in as a juggler while a random cab driver was paid $5 to pose playing the trumpet. Twin dwarfs were hired, with one appearing on the front cover and one appearing on the back cover, which is the other half of the same photo on the front cover. However, a group shot of the band does appear on a poster in the background of both covers, bearing captions of the band and album name. (The same photograph previously appeared on the back cover of the band's debut album.) Because of the subtlety of the artist and album title, most record stores put stickers across the cover to help customers identify it more clearly.

Even darker than their purple-hued debut, the Doors' follow-up, Strange Days, closed 1967 with an ominous flourish. Highlighted mostly by short, radio-friendly tunes such as the bluesy "Love Me Two Times" and the cabaret-style "People Are Strange" and featuring a smattering of edgy recitations ("Horse Latitudes") and smoky rockers ("My Eyes Have Seen You"), the album features a centerpiece that was another ambitious extended track, "When the Music's Over." On it, Morrison railed at everything from organized religion to pollution, and his rallying cry--"We want the world, and we want it now!"--became a call to arms for the counterculture rising up around the band.

Track listing:

01 Strange Days 3:05
02 You're Lost Little Girl 3:01
03 Love Me Two Times 3:23
04 Unhappy Girl 2:00
05 Horse Latitudes 1:30
06 Moonlight Drive 3:00
07 People Are Strange 2:10
08 My Eyes Have Seen You 2:22
09 I Can't See Your Face In My Mind 3:18
10 When The Music's Over 11:00

Personnel:

Vocals – Jim Morrison
Guitar – Robby Krieger
Keyboards, Marimba – Ray Manzarek
Drums – John Densmore
Bass [Occasional] – Douglas Lubahn*

Friday, October 13, 2017

Greg Howe - 2008 "Sound Proof"

Sound Proof is the eighth studio album by guitarist Greg Howe, released on June 24, 2008 through Tone Center Records.

Since the late '80s, guitarist Greg Howe has spiraled his way towards the créme de la créme of the progressive-rock/jazz-fusion elite. With his first album since Extraction (Tone Center, 2003), the guitarist spawns more of his melodically shaded, super-speed legato lines while honing in a tad more on the compositional element. This album also features a new band that is afforded ample breathing room to stretch. It's a democratic engagement but firmly rooted in an altogether unified line of attack.

Howe zooms into the cosmos during many passages, yet the program is largely, imprinted with briskly enacted time signatures and off-kilter rhythmic maneuvers as the artists embark upon a sinuous journey amid persuasive group-based interplay. On Stevie Wonder's "Tell Me Something Good," Howe's weeping funk-rock lines consummate matters via breakneck speed-riffing.

The band delves into Latin, fuzoid panoramas while tempering the flow on Howe's jazzy, acoustic guitar-driven ballad, "Sunset In El Paso," while letting it all hang out atop drummer Gianluca Palmierie's ferocious backbeats on "Child's Play," as Howe's climactic and multi-register phrasings makes it all seem like child's play. In other areas and movements, keyboardist David Cook stands as a strong foil for Howe via his dirty Fender Rhodes solos and fluid chord voicings.

Sound Proof is Howe's finest musical statement to date.

Whether you love or hate the genre of music he specializes in, you've got to give the man credit. Even during arguably the all-time low point for "guitar shredders" -- the mid- to late '90s -- Greg Howe stuck to his guns, issuing album after album of technically astounding guitar rock. And with the genre experiencing a resurgence circa the early 21st century, Howe is still all about showing off his six-string gymnastic ability, as evidenced by his 2008 release, Sound Proof. If you're seeking carefully constructed, melodic songs -- move along. But, if you're into all-instrumental prog metal with guitar at the forefront, then Sound Proof should meet your requirements. Look no further than the album-opening "Emergency Exit," which has some very heavy '70s fusion elements (especially due to the Jan Hammer-esque keyboard doodling of David Cook), while other tracks such as the Steve Vai-esque "Morning View" and the funky "Side Note" are also standouts. Musical trends may come and go, but you always know what's in store with a new Greg Howe release, and this veteran shredder certainly doesn't disappoint with Sound Proof.

Jazz-rock fusion, contrary to some reports, did not die. It just splintered off into various sub-cultural cul-de-sacs, appreciated by small, rabid fanbases. One of those is the rock-jazz (vs. jazz-rock), more-is-more school of guitar, lorded over by the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, and a bunch to which Greg Howe aspires. Howe is a nimble-fingered player who has been on the shredder scene for 20 years, when not doing day job duty with the pop likes of Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and NSYNC.

Duly abetted by a trio of powerhouse players, drummer Gianluca Palmieri, bassist Jon Reshard and keyboardist David Cook, the super-charged fret-mongering and tone-tweaking Howe stirs up a lot of nervous energy, from the super-charged opener “Emergency Exit” to the more harmonically intricate and vaguely Jeff Beck-like title cut late in the program. For cover material, Howe lends a distorted sassiness and slink to the great old Stevie Wonder tune made famous by Rufus in the ’70s, “Tell Me Something Good,” in a version both faithful and re-inventive. “Sunset in El Paso” is a rare respite from the onslaught, a cooler, more harmonically informed and acoustic head prevailing for four minutes and change. More, please.

Track listing:
All music composed by Greg Howe, except where noted.

1. "Intro" (interlude) 0:13
2. "Emergency Exit" 7:31
3. "Tell Me Something Good" (Stevie Wonder) 5:37
4. "Connoisseur Part 1" (interlude) 0:29
5. "Reunion" 5:53
6. "Morning View" 4:36
7. "Walkie Talkie" 6:13
8. "Rehearsal Note" (interlude) 0:16
9. "Side Note" 7:14
10. "Sunset in El Paso" 4:15
11. "Write Me a Song" (interlude) 0:30
12. "Child's Play" 4:23
13. "Sound Proof" 6:42
14. "Connoisseur Part 2" 2:29

Total length: 56:21

Personnel:

Greg Howe – guitar, spoken vocals (track 11), production
David Cook – keyboard
Dennis Hamm – keyboard solo (track 9)
Gianluca Palmieri – drums
Jon Reshard – bass

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Greg Howe, Victor Wooten, Dennis Chambers - 2003 "Extraction"

Extraction is a collaborative studio album by guitarist Greg Howe, drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Victor Wooten, released on October 7, 2003 through Tone Center Records. According to Howe, the album went through a very difficult recording process which spanned two years, resulting in disagreements between the three musicians and Shrapnel founder Mike Varney, as well as several delays in the release date.

"A Delicacy" is a re-recording of an instrumental previously released on Now Hear This, a 1991 album by Howe II (an earlier band of Greg's). "Proto Cosmos" is a popular jazz fusion composition by pianist Alan Pasqua, originally featured on The New Tony Williams Lifetime's 1975 album Believe It.

Although he's primarily known as a heavy metal shredder, guitarist Greg Howe can pretty much adapt to any style thrown his way -- including jazz fusion. And this is precisely the style that is featured throughout 2003's Extraction, which saw Howe joined by such top-notch instrumentalists as Victor Wooten on bass and Dennis Chambers on drums (as well as David Cook on keys). Longtime fans of Howe who are hoping for at least a glimpse of his hard rock roots are out of luck here, as the tunes often recall the carefree fusion days of the 1970s, when such artists as Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, and Al di Meola were consistently giving a clinic with chops-heavy tunes. As far as modern-day fusion goes, Extraction is pretty darn consistent from front to back, as evidenced by such uptempo ditties as "Extraction" and "Crack It Way Open," as well as more tranquil moments like "Tease" and "Ease Up." Howe, Wooten, and Chambers have certainly succeeded in summoning up a heavy '70s vibe throughout Extraction, and as a result, the album wouldn't sound out of place played between School Days and Where Have I Known You Before.

The pedigrees of these musicians are unquestionably solid. Right off the bat we’re treated to a powerful Chambers drum solo on the title track, which then settles into a 16th-note melody line so typical of modern fusion. “Tease” is exceptionally entertaining, each performer coming up with an endless series of creative ideas. But the next track, “Crack It Way Open,” is pretty much inconsequential filler, the kind of aimless noodling that almost put fusion in its grave a decade ago. The tracks keep alternating thusly between promise and pap.

When Howe picks up the acoustic guitar things get a bit more interesting. Wooten adds some marvelous runs and his fretless playing is as fine as always but he, too, tends to fall into the 16th-note babble pattern. Chambers, for his part, bubbles and swells appropriately on each tune; it’s a shame he doesn’t have more to support. Keyboardist Dave Cook’s pads and lines help to keep things on track, and he is a respectable soloist.

Having recently "discovered" Greg Howe, I really enjoy this album on several different levels. The playing (by all band members) is top-shelf. They are all technically virtuoso. Greg's playing, while very technical, is also very tasteful and jazzy on this album. Even the acoustic numbers are mesmerizing. The tones used on guitars and keyboards are a perfect match for the funky, jazzy, fusionistic melodies here. I honestly can't listen to this CD enough! Worth every cent.

This music exceeds my expectations. I new that the title track was special, but was surprised that each song was special in it's own way. All four musicians are very gifted and contribute to one fine package of music. Kudos to Greg Howe for his compositions. Proto-Cosmos is a wonderful composition written by Alan Pasqua. If you've heard Allan Holdsworth's version of it, make sure to sample this version. It keeps the excitement and raises it several notches. I completely recommend this recording.

Track listing:
All music composed by Greg Howe, except where noted.

No. Title Length
1. "Extraction" 6:13
2. "Tease" 6:07
3. "Crack It Way Open" 5:59
4. "Contigo" 6:30
5. "Proto Cosmos" (Alan Pasqua) 4:15
6. "A Delicacy" 2:24
7. "Lucky 7" 6:02
8. "Ease Up" 6:20
9. "Bird's Eye View" 6:18

Total length: 50:08

Personnel:

Greg Howe – guitar, guitar synthesizer, keyboard, production
Dennis Chambers – drums
Victor Wooten – bass
David Cook – additional keyboard, keyboard solos

Monday, October 9, 2017

Uriah Heep - 1972 [1990] "Demons And Wizards"

Demons and Wizards is the fourth album by British rock band Uriah Heep, released in 1972 by Bronze Records in the UK and Mercury Records in the US. The album helped the band become famous and has sold 3 million copies worldwide.

The original vinyl release was a gatefold sleeve, the front of which was designed by Roger Dean. The inner sleeve had pictures of the band and notes by Ken Hensley, while the liner featured printed lyrics.

The songs "The Wizard" and "Easy Livin'" were released as singles in the UK and North America as well as many other markets. "Easy Livin'" entered the US Top 40 reaching No. 39, making it Heep's first and only American hit. "Easy Livin'" was also a mega-hit in the Netherlands and Germany, countries which were becoming strong markets for the band. It reached a disappointing No. 75 in Australia.[1]

New Zealander Gary Thain, at the time a member of Keef Hartley Band, joined Uriah Heep as a permanent member halfway through another American tour. "Gary just had a style about him, it was incredible because every bass player in the world that I've ever known has always loved his style, with those melodic bass lines," Box commented later. Another addition, of drummer Lee Kerslake (a former bandmate of Hensley's in the Gods and Toe Fat), solidified the rhythm section. Thus the "classic" Uriah Heep lineup was formed and, according to biographer K. Blows, "everything just clicked into place".

The result of Heep's newfound chemistry was the Demons and Wizards album, which in June 1972, reached No. 20 in the UK and No. 23 in the US. In Finland, the album hit No. 1 in May and remained on top of the charts for 14 weeks. While the album title and Dean's cover art both suggested medieval fantasy, Hensley's notes declared the album to be "just a collection of our songs that we had a good time recording".

Hensley recalled: "The band was really focused at that time. We all wanted the same thing, were all willing to make the same sacrifices to achieve it and we were all very committed. It was the first album to feature that lineup and there was a magic in that combination of people that created so much energy and enthusiasm".

Two singles were released from the album: "The Wizard" and "Easy Livin'". The latter, a defiant rocker, according to Blows, was "tailor-made for Byron's extrovert showmanship" and peaked at No. 39 in the Billboard Hot 100.

This is the album that solidified Uriah Heep's reputation as a master of gothic-inflected heavy metal. From short, sharp rock songs to lengthy, musically dense epics, Demons and Wizards finds Uriah Heep covering all the bases with style and power. The album's approach is set with its lead-off track, "The Wizard": it starts as a simple acoustic tune but soon builds into a stately rocker that surges forth on a Wall of Sound built from thick guitar riffs, churchy organ, and operatic vocal harmonies. Other highlights include "Traveller in Time," a fantasy-themed rocker built on thick wah-wah guitar riffs, and "Circle of Hands," a stately power ballad with a gospel-meets-heavy metal feel to it. Demons and Wizards also produced a notable radio hit for the band in "Easy Livin'," a punchy little rocker whose raging blend of fuzz guitar and swirling organ made it feel like a '70s update of classic '60s garage rockers like the Electric Prunes or Paul Revere & the Raiders. However, the top highlight of the album is the closing medley of "Paradise" and "The Spell": the first part of the medley starts in an acoustic folk mode and slowly adds layers of organ and electric guitar until it becomes a forceful, slow-tempo rocker, while the second half is a punchy, organ-led rocker that includes an instrumental midsection where choral-style harmonies fortify a killer, Pink Floyd-style guitar solo from Ken Hensley. All in all, Demons and Wizards works both as a showcase for Uriah Heep's instrumental firepower and an excellent display of their songwriting skills in a variety of hard rock styles. As a result, it is considered by many fans to be their finest hour and is definitely worth a spin for anyone with an interest in 1970s heavy metal.

Uriah Heep's Demons And Wizard's is simply the greatest Heavy Progressive Rock album ever made. At the time of it's release this was a seamless stunning amalgam of Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock. Demons And Wizards can be considered the Grandfather of Progressive Metal and Power Metal. David Byron is at his peak as a Vocalist here and his smooth and powerful voice is a treat on every song. Ken Hensley's amazing organ playing overpowers everything in it's path and Mick Box's Guitar leads are just outstanding. And the songwriting is amazing. This album was a forerunner to, and inspiration for so many things. It was one of the first albums themed around Magic, Sorcery, and ancient British legends (Something many many other bands would do almost to death over the nest two decades) And if all that wasn't enough it is chock full of just great songs. Their isn't anything approaching a weak track here.

Tracks Listing:

1. The Wizard (2:59)
2. Traveller In Time (3:26)
3. Easy Livin' (2:36)
4. Poet's Justice (4:14)
5. Circle Of Hands (6:34)
6. Rainbow demon (4:30)
7. All My Life (2:46)
8. Paradise (5:15)
9. The Spell (7:26)

Personnel:

- David Byron / vocals
- Mick Box / guitars
- Ken Hensley / keyboards, guitars, percussion, vocals (8,9)
- Gary Thain / bass
- Mark Clarke / bass (1,10,11), vocals (1)
- Lee Kerslake / drums, percussion

Sunday, October 8, 2017

John Mclaughlin & Mahavishnu - 1987 "Adventures In Radioland"

Adventures in Radioland is a 1987 album by the John McLaughlin-headed group Mahavishnu, released by the Relativity label which represents McLauglin's interest in electronic technology. It features McLaughlin on Synclavier synthesized guitar.

The album was recorded at Psycho Recording Studios & Sampling in Milan initially by Craigh Milliner then finished by Max Costa and mixed by John McLaughlin and Max Costa. It was released on CD by the Polygram label in 1993.

Yet another revamped Mahavishnu emerged in 1986 and released Adventures In Radioland. McLaughlin was having a hard time in the 1980's obtaining a decent record contract. He eventually found a home at Relativity. Relativity, being a minor label, did not do a good job of distributing Adventures in Radioland. Due to this fact, it is one of the least known albums of McLaughlin’s career. At any rate, although now dated a bit because of the use of electronic drums from time to time, this disc is still a superb piece of work.

The new Mahavishnu was a powerhouse of a fusion band and featured, along with McLaughlin, the overly talented keyboardist Mitchel Forman, former Miles' sideman saxophonist Bill Evans, former Metheny drummer Danny Gottlieb and the amazing bassist, Jonas Hellborg. This album cooks. McLaughlin plays guitar synth, less so than on the previous comeback release of Mahavishnu (recently re-released on Wounded Bird Records). He also employs electric and acoustic guitars and burns through the upbeat, elevating tunes. McLaughlin, Forman and Evans all contribute compositions to the mix. This allows for a variety that is more than welcome.

Highlights include “Florianapolis,” “The Wall Will Fall,” and “Mitch Match.” The interplay between McLaughlin and Forman is a particular pleasing affair. Forman is a near genius. Every effort should be made to obtain his solo recordings, especially his earlier releases. But, all the players are strong and confident. This album proved that FUSION could be good music again!

Though it always served as a forum for his blazing electric guitar, the Mahavishnu Orchestra also represented John McLaughlin's interest in electronic technology and high-intensity group interaction as well. Those features are all present on this 1986 session, with Bill Evans (another alumnus of Miles Davis's OAelectric bands) on soprano and tenor saxophones, Mitchel Forman on keyboards, Swedish musician Jonas Hellborg on bass, and Danny Gottlieb on drums. This version of the group had been together for a couple of years when it recorded Adventures in Radioland, and it achieves a remarkable mating of instrumental virtuosity and sheer hardware. Guitar synth, drum sequencing, and sampling update the Mahavishnu sound of the 1970s, and the fusion genre as well, while the flying runs of a very gifted band continue the tradition. Electronic highlights include McLaughin's "Jozy," a funky tribute to Joe Zawinul, and "Florianapolis" shows the guitarist's lyrical, acoustic side.

I've been listening to this for 24 years, since it came out.
It haunts me to this day. Modern fusion at it's best, years ahead of it's time, or the pinnacle of the fusion era, I can't decide..
I love that John and crew were always searching, for the new and the vast within. There are many styles of music here to pick out in the mix, traditional guitar sounds, modern synths, bop, swing, funk, rock, it's all here. Keyboard player really helps fill out the sound. It's a studio album but has LIVE intensity, to the point I'd say it does better in that regard than most artists do. I've heard all the greats play and they were always better live than the studio album, because they had been touring and really working the tunes for a while, but also it was looser because nobody was afraid of bad notes. Just let go. And John to me, always sounded that way in the studio too! Rare for a musician to just go for it the way he does.

"The Wait" is so amazingly intense, and Bill Evans (!) on sax, tearing it up , Jonas is just RAGING on the bass. This is as good as John ever sounded to my ears, and far more contemporary sounding than the 70's recordings to my ears. Recording quaility is vastly superior to prior Mahavishnu recordings, and the musicianship is obviously more mature and refined. Polished and much more dynamic range than the previous recordings from the 70's. To me the earlier recordings just can't compete with this sonic quality, at all. Night and day.

Anybody complaining about drum sounds is not listening to the the music. The intensity, the depth of the exploration and the unleashed raw power that is John McLaughlin with the best sidemen available. Listen to Jonas Hellborg kill on track 6, he's funky to the max. The saxes are doubled up, and sounds like a section but probably just Bill. So lots of cool new kinds of recording effects mixed with even traditional Flaminco sounds on track 6.

And as well, this recording is minimum, 10 years ahead of it's time, so it still sounds fresh to me, in 2010. Timeless virtuosity and great synth sounds, back when analog synths were still available. Holds up well against anybody you can name in the genre including: Alan Holdsworth (Secrets), Scott Henderson (Tribal Tech), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (checkout Giraldilla 1990!!).

There are techno experimental jazz in some respects, as there are pretty heavy synth parts, very musical in the extreme though. However, like any musical undertaking, there are standouts and near misses in some regards. Not all these tunes hold up as well as others, so be it, all a great effort.
World class in fact, and the playing even on my less favorite tracks has amazing musicians with excellent recording quality.

Track 7 has a very ballzy slow laboring bounce to start, then morphs into almost a bop ride along, light and airy. Sounds like some overdubs on the saxes there, or maybe doubled by the keyboards too. I love these old synth sounds; they don't sound dated, they sound rare and rich to me. Nothing sounds like analog filters and multiple oscillators layered on top of each other. FAT.
Don't believe it, I'll put up a Minimoog or Oberhiem Expander against any keyboard sound in the business. THICK and unprocessed sounding, real. By the end of this track, everybody is just wailing.

The title aptly describes the music on this CD. More often than not, in the world of jazz, these two adjectives are rather like two poles. This is a great jazz/fusion album, with all the chopsy soloing, complex compositions and arrangements you would expect from a top fusion recording by a major artist in the genre. Some people are offended by the dated technology on this recording, firmly placing it in the 80s, but I think that one needs to look beyond appearances into the heart of the music itself - this is without doubt music with heart. Its lightness and joyousness should not be mistaken for shallowness - though nothing like the probing, hungry, searching music of Mahavishnu Orchestra of the '70s, it's as if the searching is over, and whatever John was looking for has been found. I like to think of this album as fusion brought up to date with the current developments in technology and musical ideas, and whose course has been slightly corrected away from rock and toward jazz.

Dance like nobody's watching, Sing like nobody's listening.

Track listing:

1. The Wait (5:35)
2. Just Ideas (2:00)
3. Jozy (For Joe Zawinul) (5:25)
4. Half Man, Half Cookie (2:56)
5. Florianapolis (5:21)
6. Gotta Dance (4:18)
7. That Wall Will Fall (6:00)
8. Reincarnation (2:57)
9. Mitch Match (3:58)
10. 20th Century Ltd (2:31)

Personnel:

- John McLaughlin / electric & synth (Synclavier II) guitars, producer
- Mitchel Forman / keyboards
- Bill Evans / saxophones, keyboards (4)
- Jonas Hellborg / Wal double-neck bass
- Danny Gottlieb / drums, cymbals, Simmons SDS7 electronic drums, Sycologic PSP drum interface

John McLaughlin / Al Di Meola / Paco De Lucia - 1981 "Friday Night In San Francisco"

John McLaughlin / Al Di Meola / Paco De Lucia

Friday Night in San Francisco is a 1981 live album by Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía. It was described by jazz author and critic Walter Kolosky as "a musical event that could be compared to the Benny Goodman Band's performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 ... [it] may be considered the most influential of all live acoustic guitar albums".

All the tracks except "Guardian Angel" were recorded live at The Warfield Theatre on 5 December 1980, in San Francisco; "Guardian Angel" was recorded at Minot Sound, in White Plains, New York.

John McLaughlin is an English guitarist, bandleader and composer. His music includes many genres of jazz and rock, which he coupled with an interest in Indian classical music to become one of the pioneering figures in fusion. In 2010, guitarist Jeff Beck called him "the best guitarist alive." In 2003, McLaughlin was ranked 49th in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." After contributing to several key British groups of the early sixties and making his first solo record, he moved to the US where he played with Tony Williams' group Lifetime and then with Miles Davis on his landmark electric-jazz fusion albums: In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, A Tribute To Jack Johnson and On The Corner.

Paco de Lucia was a Spanish flamenco guitarist, composer and producer. A leading proponent of the New Flamenco style, he helped legitimize flamenco among the establishment in Spain, and was one of the first flamenco guitarists to have successfully crossed over into other genres of music such as classical and jazz. De Lucia was noted for his fast and fluent fingerstyle runs. His collaborations with guitarists John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola saw him gain wider popularity outside his native Spain.

Al Di Meola is an acclaimed jazz fusion and Latin jazz guitarist, composer, and record producer. With a musical career that has spanned more than three decades, he has become respected as one of the most influential guitarists in jazz to date. Albums such as Friday Night In San Francisco have earned him both artistic and commercial success with a solid fan base throughout the world. A prolific composer and prodigious six-string talent, Di Meola has amassed over 20 albums as a leader while collaborating on a dozen or so others.

It was a historic occasion. The appearance of John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, and Paco DeLucia at San Francisco's Warfield Theatre one Friday night in 1981 was a musical event that could be compared to the Benny Goodman Band's performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938. The Guitar Trio did for the acoustic guitar what Goodman had done for jazz. The acoustic guitar had gone commercial.

In 1979 and 1980, McLaughlin and de Lucia had actually toured Europe with Larry Coryell. McLaughlin tried to release a recording of this group but Columbia would have none of it, claiming Coryell was not a big enough name. Coryell had some personal problems at the time that did not help either. (The video Meeting of the Spirits features this version of the Trio, and it also appears on one cut on DeLucia's album Castro Marin ). When the time came to tour America, DiMeola stepped in. His presence suddenly made the Trio commercial. At any rate, Friday Night in San Francisco was the result.

FNSF truly caught these players' energy, amazing technique and humor to a generous degree. There is no doubt that McLaughlin is the leader (center channel gives that away), but DiMeola and DeLucia more than hold their own. DiMeola, though one of the world's greatest guitar players, lacks the emotional intensity and overall musicality to match McLaughlin or DeLucia. But the Latin influenced music of the Trio allows him to excel in a genre in which he had long dabbled. Not being a jazz player, DeLucia's improvisational work is understandably weaker than the other two. However, the music is as much in DeLucia's bag as anyone’s. The concert is full of call and response, unison playing, heavy chords (courtesy of McLaughlin), and audience screams.

The album's highlight is McLaughlin's duet with DeLucia on an Egberto Gismonti piece, "Frevo Rasgado". The beautiful melody and stunning improvisation leads to an absolutely hair-raising finale duel. (Gismonti has recorded a beautiful version of his tune on piano.) The recording's lightest moments occur during a hilarious duet version of Chick Corea’s “Short Tales of the Black Forest,” featuring McLaughin and DiMeola in which the two masters quote back and forth from various sources including Mancini’s “Pink Panther.” All three players finish the event with a studio version of McLaughlin’s “Guardian Angel.”

Friday Night in San Francisco may be considered the most influential of all live acoustic guitar albums. Though some have criticized it for its muscular tendencies, the recording certainly captures the excitement of the event itself. In a world of electric guitars, it was quite unusual to hear a crowd go absolutely ballistic over acoustic strumming. It is not so unusual today, and this record is one major reason for that.

Loose and spontaneous, this (mainly) live album is a meeting of three of the greatest guitarists in the world for an acoustic summit the likes of which the guitar-playing community rarely sees. Broken up into three duo and two trio performances, Friday Night in San Francisco catches all three players at the peaks of their quite formidable powers. The first track features Al di Meola and Paco de Lucía teaming up for a medley of di Meola's "Mediterranean Sundance" (first recorded by the duo on di Meola's classic 1976 album Elegant Gypsy) and de Lucía's own "Rio Ancho." It is a delightful performance, full of the fire and inhuman chops that one expects from two players of this caliber. However, the two guitarists obviously have big ears, and they complement each other's solos with percussive, driving rhythm parts. There is a laid-back, humorous element to Friday Night in San Francisco as well, best witnessed in di Meola and John McLaughlin's performance of Chick Corea's "Short Tales of the Black Forest." Rapid-fire licks from the pair soon give way to atonal striking of the body of the guitar, running picks along the strings, etc. Before the farce is completed, they have played a blues and quoted the Pink Panther theme. It is funny stuff, and it serves to dispel the image of the trio, especially di Meola, as super-serious clinicians more concerned with technique than music. The other great piece of evidence against such a narrow-minded claim can be found in both the quality of the compositions featured on Friday Night in San Francisco as well as the sensitivity and dynamic variation brought to the performances. A perfect example of this is the sole studio track, a McLaughlin composition entitled "Guardian Angel" (the opening theme of which is taken straight from "Guardian Angels," a song that appears on McLaughlin's 1978 Electric Dreams album). It is a fine piece, and one that features a haunting melody as well as some of the best solos on the record. All in all, Friday Night in San Francisco is a fantastic album and one of the best entries in all of these guitarists' fine discographies.

Track listing:

1. Mediterranean Sundance / Rio Ancho 11:31
2. Short Tales Of The Black Forest 8:41
3. Frevo Rasgado 7:55
4. Fantasia Suite 8:50
5. Guardian Angel 4:00

Personnel:

John McLaughlin – acoustic guitar
Paco de Lucía – acoustic guitar
Al Di Meola – acoustic guitar

Friday, October 6, 2017

Larry Coryell - 2004 "Tricycles"

Jazz über-guitarist Larry Coryell has been hinting at a studio set like this for a long time now: a solid, top-to-bottom six-string jazz date with a crack rhythm section. Drummer Paul Wertico was on board for the dates that produced the Power Trio album, but the addition of bassist Mark Egan in the studio balances this equation perfectly. Interestingly, Wertico and Egan are both former sidemen from the Pat Metheny Group (albeit at different times). One thing both players have in common, and makes them so integral here, is their love of lyricism. Coryell, who has an astonishing variety of styles at his ready disposal, concentrates on it here in spades. Whether the tune is a smoking, bluesy swinger like the opener "Immer Geradeaus," the ultramodern "Good Citizen Swallow," that graces the edge of soft jazz-rock but never goes there, or the edgy arpeggiattic workout in "Spaces Revisited," the deeply haunting read of Monk's "Round Midnight," Coryell is virtually singing through his instrument. His focus on sonority and lush harmonic extrapolations is given weight by his rhythm section, who dance and weave around one another as a unit. The balance of Tricycles is its most startling aspect. These cats sound like they've been playing together for decades. Nuance, impression, and subtle suggestion are all incorporated in the mix for a wonderful melodic approach to modern creative jazz. The other Monk tune here, "Well You Needn't," is given an entirely new dimension by this approach because Coryell can concentrate on Monk's extrapolated harmonic ideas in his solo, yet roots the entire thing in a deft, gritty, bluesy frame. This is a straight-ahead date that is full of fresh ideas and compositions, as well exciting playing that points toward a new era for Coryell, and it numbers among his finest recordings.

Why guitarist Larry Coryell isn’t a bigger name is a mystery. Emerging in the ‘60s around the same time as John McLaughlin, Coryell’s forays into fusion actually predate McLaughlin’s, first fusing jazz with rock and country sensibilities in Gary Burton’s quartet, most notably on ‘67’s Duster and Lofty Fake Anagram. McLaughlin and Coryell even duked it out on Coryell’s Spaces , considered by many to be a classic fusion record. But Coryell’s career has strangely existed just below the radar, enough of a name to develop a rich body of recorded work, but never quite able to make the leap into broader exposure.
Maybe it’s because at the heart of things Coryell is really a jazzer. As eclectic as he can get, his roots are never far from the forefront. He has a clean but edgy approach that suits a broad range of styles, but harmonically and rhythmically it owes more to the tradition. And while he has straddled the fence on a variety of contexts over the years, there is no doubt on Tricycles , his latest release, where he’d fall if he lost his balance.

Accompanying Coryell are bassist Marc Egan and drummer Paul Wertico, both alumni, from different periods, of the Pat Metheny Group. Some artists are born to be leaders, others are best heard in support of others. While both Wertico and Egan have forged modestly successful careers as leaders, they are inconsistent at best—but in support of Coryell, who has a more focused conception, they clearly shine. Wertico demonstrates a sheer sense of power that he never had the chance to show with Metheny. His solo on “Spaces Revisited” gives Billy Cobham, who played on the original ’97 recording of the same name, a real run for his money. And Egan contributes some of his loosest playing in years, witness the group improvisation, “Three Way Split,” where he manages to emerge from a free-style intro into a fast swing with Wertico that gives Coryell all the room he needs.

In a programme that liberally mixes Monk standards with Coryell originals past and present, Coryell demonstrates a biting and compellingly distinctive style. On “Good Citizen Swallow,” originally from Burton’s Lofty Fake Anagram , he plays with a slight country flavour; on the blues-based “Immer Geredeaus” Coryell combines his roots in Wes Montgomery with a more angular approach. “Spaces Revisited” and “Dragon Gate” were originally recorded as quartet pieces, but both benefit from the more harmonic freedom of the trio setting. “Stable Fantasy,” another new composition, blurs the bar line, and features a lyrical melody from Egan.

Tricycles may not do anything to bring Coryell to the broader audience he deserves, but it should. With a personal style that is clearly as identifiable in its combination of energy and elegance, concept and commitment, as those of his more popular contemporaries, Coryell belongs in the spotlight that has eluded him for nearly forty years.

Anyone remember when Larry Coryell was one of the youngbloods of jazz guitar? Sheesh, I must be getting a bit “advanced” in age, eh? Through the years, there’s never been a doubt in my mind that Larry’s chops were as strong as anyone’s. There were times when I couldn’t follow, though, usually because the tunes weren’t that strong. Well, here the songs, the band, and Larry’s playing are as strong as can be.

There are six Coryell originals, and every one of them is interesting with fine changes and themes running through them. There are nice covers, too. Thelonius Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” has a great feel, with wonderful playing all the way around. The oddest piece, and the one that at first seems out of place, is the Lennon and McCartney chestnut, “She’s Leaving Home.” Larry’s acoustic work shines on the familiar melody, and the soloing is created from that melody. His electric playing is slightly chorused, not unlike some players who came up right after him, like Metheny and Scofield. The solos, though, are pure Coryell. Listen to him navigate the changes of “Immer Geradeaus,” where he solos around them wonderfully, and then lets loose with an impeccable chord solo.

And we should mention the band; on bass is Mark Egan and Paul Wertico mans the drums. The trio setting is perfect, whether it’s bop heaven like “Dragon Gate” or a beautiful, light, ballad like the title cut. The interplay between Egan and Coryell is real fun to listen to. They double each other on occasion, and all three lock in on pretty much every cut to create great music.

This is one of the best jazz guitar albums of the year so far. Great songs, great band, and great soloing.

Track listing:

1 Immer Geradeaus 6:38
2 Dragon Gate 8:31
3 Good Citizen Swallow 6:11
4 Tricycles 6:23
5 Stable Fantasy 4:31
6 Spaces Revisited 8:55
7 Round Midnight 8:38
8 Three Way Srlit 3:43
9 Well You Needn't 5:30
10 She's Leaving Home 3:02

Personnel:

Guitar – Larry Coryell
Bass – Mark Egan
Drums – Paul Wertico

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tony Williams - 1979 [2014] "The Joy Of Flying"

The Joy Of Flying is a Jazz fusion album by Tony Williams. Although it was recorded at the end of the The Tony Williams Lifetime years, it is considered a solo album. It includes three duets, two with Jan Hammer and one with Cecil Taylor, and three different quartets. The first quartet features Jan Hammer again along with George Benson and Paul Jackson on two songs. The second quartet has veterans Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke and Tom Scott also for two songs.
The third quartet presents the "Tony Williams All Stars" for one song, "Open Fire". In July 1978, Tony welcomed rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose, who had recently finished touring to promote his jazz fusion influenced Open Fire album. The group was rounded out with Brian Auger and Mario Cipollina as they toured Japan. The concert at Japan's Denen Coliseum was recorded and other songs on the set list included "Rocky Road" and "Heads Up" from Open Fire, "Red Alert" and "Wildlife" from Believe It, "There Comes a Time" from Ego, "Dragon Song" from Brian Auger's Oblivion Express and "Capricorn" with special guest Billy Cobham.

It would be an understatement to say that there was a fair amount of variety on this set. Drummer Tony Williams is heard in two duets with keyboardist Jan Hammer, with a quartet also including keyboardist Herbie Hancock, Tom Scott (who unfortunately sticks to lyricon) and bassist Stanley Clarke, and he welcomes rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose, keyboardist Brian Auger, guitarist George Benson, Hammer and tenorman Michael Brecker on other tracks. Much of this music is closer to R&B than to jazz, although there are many strong moments. But the most interesting selection is certainly "Morgan's Motion" which matches Williams with pianist Cecil Taylor in a powerful (and completely atonal) collaboration.

The last of Tony Williams’ fusion albums, The Joy of Flying was the drummer’s first since the mid-’60s without some form of the Lifetime name attached to his band. It’s a far-flung effort with a large cast of collaborators, including George Benson, the Brecker Brothers and Stanley Clarke. Much of it falls between bombastic electro-rock and sickly sweet funk grooves, but there are moments of delight. “Morgan’s Motion,” a volatile duet between Williams and Cecil Taylor, soars in from left field to close the album. At the end of Williams’ time as a jazz-rock fusioneer, the track is an invigorating, full-circle return to his roots in adventurous acoustic jazz, and a sign that no matter where he would go in the years ahead, he would not stop morphing and inspiring.

Remarkable Recording... Astonishing veteran talents of top-notched jazz fusion legends such as Herbie Hancock, Brian Auger, George Benson, Tom Scott, Stanley Clarke, and Michael Becker, and rock icon guitarist Ronnie Montrose, all of who contributed to the precision performance and brilliant compositions of this recording. Simply amazing jazz fusion at its best!

Track listing and Personnel

1. "Going Far" (Jan Hammer) - 4:13 Keyboards, Synthesizers - Jan Hammer
2. "Hip Skip" (George Benson) - 8:03 Guitar - George Benson, Keyboards, Synthesizers - Hammer, Electric bass - Paul Jackson, Saxophone - Michael       Brecker, Percussion - Ralph MacDonald
3. "Hittin' on 6" (Tom Scott) - 6:16 Lyricon - Tom Scott, Keyboards, Synthesizers - Herbie Hancock, Electric bass - Stanley Clarke
4. "Open Fire" (Ronnie Montrose, Edgar Winter) - 6:18 Electric guitar - Ronnie Montrose, Keyboards, Synthesizers - Brian Auger, Electric bass -      Mario Cipollina
5. "Tony" (Stanley Clarke) - 6:50 Lyricon - Scott, Keyboards, Synthesizers - Hancock, Electric bass - Clarke
6. "Eris" (Hammer) - 3:33 Keyboards, Synthesizers - Hammer
7. "Coming Back Home" (Hammer) - 6:06 Guitar - Benson, Keyboards, Synthesizers - Hammer, Electric bass - Jackson
8. "Morgan's Motion" (Cecil Taylor) - 8:18 Concert grand piano - Cecil Taylor

Drums on all tracks - Tony Williams

Additional horns on "Hip Skip"

David Sanborn - Alto saxophone
Ronnie Cuber - Baritone saxophone
Barry Rogers - Trombone
Randy Brecker - Trumpet
Jon Faddis - Trumpet

Thursday, September 28, 2017

McCoy Tyner - 1967 [1999] "The Real McCoy"

The Real McCoy is the seventh album by jazz pianist McCoy Tyner and his first released on the Blue Note label. It was recorded on April 21, 1967 following Tyner's departure from the John Coltrane Quartet and features performances by Tyner with Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. Producer Alfred Lion recalls the recording session as a "pure jazz session. There is absolutely no concession to commercialism, and there's a deep, passionate love for the music embedded in each of the selections".

In the liner notes, Tyner talks about the pieces selected for this album. The titles for "Passion Dance" and "Contemplation" came to the pianist only after he'd written the pieces. Whilst the former sounds like "a kind of American Indian dance, evoking trance-like states", the latter has "the sound of a man alone. A man reflecting on what religion means to him, reflecting on the meaning of life." Tyner titled the fourth piece "Search for Peace" because of its tranquil feeling; it "has to do with a man's submission to God" and the "giving over of the self to the universe". The album closes with an upbeat, merry piece called "Blues on the Corner", a reminiscent musical portrait of Tyner's childhood: "When I was growing up in Philadelphia, some of the kids I knew liked to hang out on the corner [...] youngsters talking, kidding around, jiving.

Two and a half years after his last recording as a leader for Impulse, pianist McCoy Tyner emerged to start a period on Blue Note that would result in seven albums. Having left John Coltrane's Quartet in late 1965, Tyner was entering a period of struggle, although artistically his playing grew quite a bit in the late '60s. For this release, the pianist is teamed with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Elvin Jones for five of his originals. Highlights of the easily recommended album include "Passion Dance," "Four by Five," and "Blues on the Corner."

When someone uses the word “idyllic” to describe a scene, we think of Monet’s Water Lillies or another classic of impressionism – a work in summery shades that pretty much demands a daydream. But there are different kinds of idylls – as “Search For Peace,” one of five McCoy Tyner originals here, suggests. The tempo is slow, stately, deliberate. The harmony, outlined first by piano trills and broken chords, has purpose behind it: The title implies an ongoing and perhaps unattainable quest, not some easily abandoned momentary pursuit. The theme, when it arrives, enhances this sense – it’s at once solemn like a hymn, and contemplative, and also floatingly free. It puts forth an idealistic vision of what “peace” might feel like, and in the same breath holds the full awareness of possible (likely) futility. Crucially, it’s not the jingoistic sloganeering of a peace rally; it’s a meditation on the potentiality of peace, and what it means to pursue it.

Of course “peace” as a concept meant something different on April 22, 1967 than it does today. When Tyner and his group gathered at Rudy Van Gelder’s place to record this landmark, war was raging in Vietnam and the social upheavals over civil rights, race and the fast-emerging hippie culture were simmering throughout America. The jazz community responded to this heady time in all kinds of ways – song titles became commentary, and inevitably the “heat” of the cultural moment informed recordings and performances. Tyner, who departed from the Coltrane group in 1965, evidently felt that there was a need for music that looked inward and invited reflection. In Nat Hentoff’s original liner notes, the pianist explains that when he wrote the piece, he perceived it as outlining a spiritual mission, “the giving over of the self to the universe.”

The Real McCoy is Tyner’s Blue Note debut, and though it starts in a frenzied mood with “Passion Dance,” much of it finds the pianist and composer creating zones of reflection, offering musical refuge from the tumult of the times. Tyner has said that he left the Coltrane group because of its increasingly chaotic dissonance; his compositions here utilize the open block-chord harmonies Coltrane loved, channeled into tightly focused rhapsodies. There is a vibe of serenity in the writing, not just in the ascending theme of “Search for Peace,” but also the gentle, affirmative modal journey entitled “Contemplation” – this album contains five tunes, and two of them are riveting downtempo ballads. The other three are equally poised and thoughtful, and each is defined by its own internal logic. “Passion Dance” is an essay in rhythmic upheaval: Tyner’s spikes and Elvin Jones’ jabs establish an obstacle course, and the challenge for tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson is to navigate the shifting patterns while creating a cogent ad-libbed testimony. (Of the many Blue Note sessions featuring strong work by Henderson, this might be his shining hour, in part because of his patient impossible-to-notate inventions on “Passion Dance” and “Contemplation.”) “Four By Five” offers polyrhythmic daring in a different hue, while the entrancingly settled “Blues on the Corner,” the session’s lone blues, suggests that even this formidable group understood the importance of kicking back once in a while.

The peak statement of Tyner’s solo career, The Real McCoy is also one of a handful of recordings that define hard bop. Lots of records from this genre have interesting tunes and blazing solo performances, but few attain such an interconnected synergy. Listening to these these rich, beautifully realized atmospheres, and how they inspire deep, passionate, strikingly collective improvisations, you realize we are far removed from the anxieties – and the idealistic quests for peace – that governed 1967. That’s a mixed blessing.

Tyner first appeared on the scene in 1960 with the Golson/ Farmer Jazztet, moving to the John Coltrane Quartet for most of the early sixties up to 1965, when Coltrane  was becoming more atonal and free. Tyner is said to have been unhappy about that change in direction: “I didn’t see myself making any contribution to that music… All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn’t have any feeling for the music, and when I don’t have feelings, I don’t play.” (So, I guess that is him and me both)

Tyner released six of his own titles whilst under contract to Impulse up to 1964 , and after leaving Coltrane, recorded for Blue Note with many bop greats in their second wind, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson and Bobby Hutcherson. In 1967, he recorded this, his first title for Liberty/ Blue Note, The Real McCoy, followed by a string of albums: Tender Moments, Time for Tyner, Expansions, Extensions,  and Cosmos, you can tell by the meditative album titles where this was heading: Enlightenment.

Track listing:

"Passion Dance" – 8:47
"Contemplation" – 9:12
"Four by Five" – 6:37
"Search for Peace" – 6:32
"Blues on the Corner" – 5:58

Personnel:

McCoy Tyner - piano
Joe Henderson - tenor saxophone
Ron Carter - bass
Elvin Jones - drums

Brand X - 1982 [1996] "Is There Anything About"

Is There Anything About? is the seventh album by British jazz fusion group Brand X. It is the last album to feature longstanding members Robin Lumley and Phil Collins. It was assembled from outtakes from the "Product" sessions. These sessions produced around twenty tracks which became Product, Do They Hurt and Is There Anything about."Modern, Noisy, and Effective" is the backing track to "Soho" with a new keyboard line overdubbed over the top of it.A Longer April is just an extended version of April from Product with a bit of synth noise added in the middle."TMIUATG" is taken from an old cassette tape running in the studio when the band were improvising.

Brand X was another one of those bands who were beloved of other musicians and the more discerning of critics but which despite everything, never had the commercial success that it deserved.
They were a jazz fusion band active 1975–1980. Noted members included Phil Collins (drums), Percy Jones (bass), John Goodsall (guitar) and Robin Lumley (keyboards). Not long after jazz/rock fusion greats Brand X put out their 1980 album, Do They Hurt?, the band members went their separate ways (until their comeback in 1992, which only featured Goodsall and Jones).
However, they still owed their record label one more album. The solution? Release a rarities album! The problem, though, was that Brand X hardly had any unreleased material in the vaults at all; about three or four tracks at the most. But with a little doctoring & remixing of tapes, keyboardist Robin Lumley extended that number to six tracks (still scant, but better than four), and released Brand X's appropriately-titled collection, Is There Anything About?, in 1982.

It is the last album to feature Phil Collins on drums and includes some absolutely gorgeous slices of Brand X at their very best. This is a peculiar album; at the time many critics panned it, often because it didn't sound anything like the anodyne pop music that Phil Collins was making elsewhere in his career. However, in my opinion and that of thousands of fans worldwide, it acts as a satisfying coda to a body of work that has very few paralells in the world of Jazz fusion.

Is it a masterpiece? No. But is it bad? Absolutely not. "Is There Anything About?" DOES contain some very cool Brand X nuggets. Even the "filler" tracks, in my opinion, are enjoyable. Let's check out the material, shall we?:

"Ipanemia": written by guitarist John Goodsall, this piece is an excellent jazz/rock popper. Very cool and breezy."A Longer April": this track is exactly what it says it is---a longer version of "April," from 1979's "Product." Either this is how Brand X originally recorded the tune before having to edit it down for the "Product" album, or Robin Lumley extended the track by doing some re-mixing on it. Either way it's a very dreamy, pleasant piece, and I like it. I also like the spacey little bridge section that's been added to it. "TMIU-ATGA": as the liner notes say, the title stands for "They're Making It Up As They Go Along." Lumley, fellow keyboardist Peter Robinson and bassist John Giblin improvised this short piece in one take, and Lumley stuck it onto the album. Filler? Perhaps. Instrumental noodling? Perhaps. But it's interesting."Swan Song": a fun, poppy, keyboard-heavy instrumental, with a big "Ohh-ohh" chorus at the finale. Some fans reacted to this track with, "Oh my God, they've gone pop!" Chill out, you guys. I think there's always been an oh-so-subtle pop influence to a *little bit* of Brand X's music (just a little bit, mind you), so I don't mind if the band go whole hog and do a rare, full-on pop-music piece. And "Swan Song" IS a very good pop-music piece."Is There Anything About?": Now here is a Brand X instrumental no one should have any complaints about. I can't tell when the band actually recorded it, but it is a smokin' hot, jammin' piece, just as great & funky as anything Brand X have recorded in the past. Brilliant."Modern, Noisy, And Effective": Brand X go pop again (gasp!) with a re-mixed, pop-flavored instrumental rendering of the song "Soho," originally from "Product." Extra keyboards and handclaps are tossed into the mix. Again, I don't have a problem with it. It's a fun piece with a good groove.And, to top off the album, the band's performances are juuuust fine, thank you very much, with Lumley, Giblin, Goodsall and ace drummer Phil Collins all getting in some tasty licks (as well as bassist Percy Jones on the outstanding title track).

 I'm happy to have it sitting alongside classic Brand X albums like "Unorthodox Behaviour," "Moroccan Roll," and their excellent comeback release from 1992, "X-Communication." I give "Is There Anything About?" 3 1/2 stars, thus, 4 stars on the average curve. I know it's a pretty darn difficult CD to get a hold of these days, but do seek it out. If you are a Brand X fan, PLEASE have an open mind with "Is There Anything About?", and I hope you like it. I do!

Notes

    This album is outtakes from the Product (1979) sessions.
    TMIU-ATGA means "they're making it up as they go along".
    "A Longer April" is a re-engineered version of "April" from the Product (1979) sessions.
    "Modern, Noisy, and Effective" is a recycling of the backing track of "Soho" from the "Product" album; that track had been engineered by Collins, who was described as "modern, noisy, and effective." This phrase, in fact, first appears in the film "Three Dates with Genesis" (1978); the narrator describes the scene in which the stage has been torn down and all the equipment loaded into trucks thus: "Like the rock band they service, the trucks are noisy, modern, and effective; at 2:30 on a Friday morning, they leave Mannheim to drive halfway across Europe to the Dutch border."

Tracks Listing

1. Ipanaemia (4:30)
2. A Longer April (7:00)
3. Tmiu-Atga (5:07)
4. Swan Song (5:30)
5. Is There Anything About? (7:52)
6. Modern, Noisy, and Effective (3:56)

Total Time: 33:55

Line-up / Musicians

- Phil Collins / drums and concussion (1-3)
- Percy Jones / bass (5)
- John Giblin / bass, Whitbread, vocal (1-4,6)
- Robin Lumley / keyboards and vocal
- Peter Robinson / keyboards (6)
- John Goodsall / guitar
- Raf Ravenscroft / saxophone (2)
- Stephen Short / syndrums and vocal (4)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Robert Cray - 1986 "Strong Persuader"

Strong Persuader is the fifth studio album by American blues singer and guitarist Robert Cray. It was recorded by Cray at the Los Angeles studios Sage & Sound and Haywood's with producers Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker, before being released on November 17, 1986, by Mercury Records and Hightone Records. Strong Persuader became his mainstream breakthrough and by 1995 it had sold over two million copies. The record was later ranked #42 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 80's.

Strong Persuader received rave reviews from contemporary critics. In a review for Rolling Stone, Jon Pareles said Cray delivered intriguing stories about sex and infidelity with disciplined singing, songwriting, and "a version of blues and soul that doesn't come from any one region, building an idiom for songs that tell with conversational directness the stories of ordinary folks". Robert Christgau from The Village Voice praised Cray's sophisticated blues aesthetic and the songwriting of his supporting studio team, hailing Strong Persuader as "the best blues record in many, many years, so fervently crafted that it may even get what it deserves and become the first album to break out of the genre's sales ghetto since B.B. King was a hot item."

The set that made Cray a pop star, despite its enduring blues base. Cray's smoldering stance on "Smoking Gun" and "Right Next Door" rendered him the first sex symbol to emerge from the blues field in decades, but it was his innovative expansion of the genre itself that makes this album a genuine 1980s classic. "Nothing but a Woman" boasts an irresistible groove pushed by the Memphis Horns and some metaphorically inspired lyrics, while "I Wonder" and "Guess I Showed Her" sizzle with sensuality.

The 1980’s music scene is best remembered by most people as a time when synthesized sounds ruled the radio waves and the glitzy MTV videos of hair bands and rap and hip hop artists were all the rage. In this unlikely era of technology driven pop, Robert Cray helped rein in the appreciation of a new generation for the blues. Some have criticized his blend of blues, soul and rock as a homogenization of the blues but his contemporary style was easily accessible and entertaining to a wide audience. His Gammy winning 1986 release Strong Persuader is credited with helping the Blues find new life as it spawned a top-five hit with “Smoking Gun”, with a video also shared frequent MTV screen time with the likes of A-ha and The Pet Shop Boys.

Perhaps Robert Cray’s brand of electric blues might be the result of his diverse background. Though he was born in Columbus, GA, he was an “army brat” and was raised all over the country. He started playing guitar in his early teens while living in Newport News, VA and cites blues legend Albert Collins as a major influence. Later, he would collaborate with Collins on his album Showdown!, which won a Grammy itself in 1987. Cray also lists guitar greats George Harrison, Eric Clapton and B.B. King as some of his early influences.

His third major label release, Strong Persuader remains one of his best albums to date. The songs all revolve around a common blues theme of love gone wrong. While he may not possess a technically perfect voice, Cray is a superb vocalist, delivering precisely the right emotion whether it be specific levels of sincerity, sarcasm, or cynicism. The sound of the album is simple, crisp, and clean and never muddled. It is modern electric blues featuring Memphis horns, steady bass and drums, and Cray’s signature, attack-heavy guitar style with no wasted notes.

For how sanitized the may album sound, at its core Strong Persuader is really quite racy. This dichotomy is best portrayed on the song “Fantasized”, which contains some rather risque lyrics above an nonthreatening basic, soft-rock music track. If fact, “Strong Persuader” became a nickname for Cray himself due his skills at convincing young women as portrayed in the popular song “Right Next Door (Because of Me)” where he brags about his conquest being “just another notch on my guitar”.

The album’s opener, “Smoking Gun”, is perhaps Cray’s most popular song ever, accented by Peter Boe’s signature piano riff and a fine, “slow hand” guitar solo. The following song “I Guess I Showed Her” takes another musical direction, with a nice blend of cool jazz and funk, highlighted by the brass of Wayne Jackson with some ironic/comedic lyrics. Later in the album, Cray settles in to more traditional, guitar-driven blues and nearly-crooning vocals on songs like “I Wonder” and “New Blood”.

Throughout the rest of album, the songs vary with different combinations of these three styles, all held together by the consistent production of Bruce Bromberg & Dennis Walker. some of the highlights include the catchy and melodic “More Than I Can Stand” and the excellent “I Wonder”, with its totally unique solo technique which at one point seems to use alternate tuning and at another almost sounds like a banjo, and the cool lyric – “…Is this a dream or has Bob gone crazy?”

Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame just last month (May 2011), Robert Cray gave us an interesting and entertaining album a quarter of a century ago, which remains one of his most popular. Since Strong Persuader, Cray has released 11 studio albums but none have been as popular as this 1986 tour-de-force.

"I think that my band was part of a blues-roots movement that included people like the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who were coming along at that particular time," says bandleader Robert Cray. While Cray's sense of what was happening on the American rock scene in late 1986 is accurate, it modestly downplays the accomplishments of the singer-guitarist and his backing trio.

In February of that year, Strong Persuader — Cray's fourth album — hit Number Thirteen on the Billboard pop-albums chart, making it the highest-charting blues album since Bobby "Blue" Bland's Call on Me/That's the Way Love Is, which reached Number Eleven some twenty-three years earlier. Strong Persuader, in effect, introduced a new generation of mainstream rock fans to the language and form of the blues.

An army brat who grew up on bases in West Germany and the Pacific Northwest, Cray was introduced to popular black music at home, but he discovered blues artists on his own as a teenager. "I still have a lot of the same influences today," Cray says. "People like Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, O.V. Wright and Sam Cooke."
In his lyric themes, Cray often veers away from the hard-luck road trod by most bluesmen. But his trebly, razor-sharp guitar playing is straight out of the electric blues tradition, and it provides Strong Persuader with a distinctive edge.

Signed to the small High Tone label when work on Strong Persuader began, Cray was hoping to hook up with a larger company. "The production on the first records was too low-budget," he says, "and we were looking for a major label because we want to make a better record every time."
Cray and his band eventually cut a deal with PolyGram, but they continued to work with producers Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker, who had produced their High Tone albums. As a result, Strong Persuader was released with a combined High Tone/Mercury imprint. In addition to coproducing the album, Walker contributed "Right Next Door (Because of Me)," a tale of infidelity played out in a motel room. The song, which became the album's centerpiece, also includes the lyrics from which Strong Persuader derived its title.

The song that really drove Strong Persuader up the charts, however, was "Smoking Gun," a smoldering tale of jealousy and murder. Although released two months after the album hit the streets — late for a first single — it became a Top Forty hit, and the video became a staple on MTV.
Strong Persuader ultimately went gold, a feat virtually unheard-of for a blues album. Yet Cray maintains that the album was less a departure from his blues path than a natural evolution. "The recording sessions have been pretty much the same for each of our albums," he says. "I just thought the quality of the music we were making was getting better. It was about the whole band being together."

Track listing:

01 "Smoking Gun" (David Amy, Richard Cousins, Robert Cray) – 4:07
02 "I Guess I Showed Her" (Dennis Walker) – 3:39
03 "Right Next Door (Because of Me)" (Dennis Walker) – 4:19
04 "Nothin' But a Woman" (David Amy, Cousins, Cray, Peter Boe, David Olson) – 3:58
05 "Still Around" (Peter Boe) – 3:42
06 "More Than I Can Stand" (Cray) – 2:57
07 "Foul Play" (Dennis Walker) – 4:07
08 "I Wonder" (Cray) – 3:57
09 "Fantasized" (Dennis Walker) – 4:04
10 "New Blood" (David Amy, Peter Boe, Cray, Ozall Washington) – 4:21

Personnel:

Robert Cray – main performer, guitar, vocals
Peter Boe – keyboards
Richard Cousins – bass
David Olson – drums
Lee Spath – percussion
Andrew Love – tenor saxophone
Wayne Jackson – trumpet, trombone

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Miles Davis - 1960 [1997] "Sketches Of Spain"

Sketches of Spain is an album by Miles Davis, recorded between November 1959 and March 1960 at the Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York City. An extended version of the second movement of Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) is included, as well as a piece called "Will o' the Wisp", from Manuel de Falla's ballet El amor brujo (1914–1915). Sketches of Spain is regarded as an exemplary recording of Third Stream, a musical fusion of jazz, European classical, and styles from world music.

The album pairs Davis with arranger and composer Gil Evans, with whom he had collaborated on several other projects, on a program of compositions largely derived from the Spanish folk tradition. Evans explained:

[We] hadn't intended to make a Spanish album. We were just going to do the Concierto de Aranjuez. A friend of Miles gave him the only album in existence with that piece. He brought it back to New York and I copied the music off the record because there was no score. By the time we did that, we began to listen to other folk music, music played in clubs in Spain... So we learned a lot from that and it ended up being a Spanish album. The Rodrigo, the melody is so beautiful. It's such a strong song. I was so thrilled with that.

The opening piece, taking up almost half the record, is an arrangement by Evans and Davis of the adagio movement of Concierto de Aranjuez, a concerto for guitar by the contemporary Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. Following the faithful introduction of the concerto's guitar melody on flugelhorn, Evans' arrangement turns into a "quasi-symphonic, quasi-jazz world of sound", according to his biographer. The middle of the piece contains a "chorus" by Evans unrelated to the concerto but "echoed" in the other pieces on the album. The original melody then reappears in a darker mode.

Davis plays flugelhorn and later trumpet, attempting to connect the various settings musically. Davis commented at rehearsal, "The thing I have to do now is make things connect, make them mean something in what I play around it". Davis thought the concerto's adagio melody was "so strong" that "the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets", and Evans concurred.

According to Davis' biographer Chambers, the contemporary critical response to the arrangement was not surprising, especially given the scarcity of anything resembling a jazz rhythm in most of the piece. Martin Williams wrote that "the recording is something of a curiosity and a failure, as I think a comparison with any good performance of the movement by a classical guitarist would confirm". The composer Rodrigo was also not impressed, but royalties from the arrangement brought him "a lot of money", according to Evans.

In a contemporary review for Down Beat, Bill Mathieu hailed Sketches of Spain as one of the 20th century's most important musical works so far and a highly intellectual yet passionate record. He found Evans' compositions extremely well-crafted and Davis' playing intelligently devised, concluding in his review, "if there is to be a new jazz, a shape of things to come, then this is the beginning." Replying to suggestions that Sketches of Spain was something other than jazz, Davis said "it's music, and I like it". In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), J. D. Considine called it "a work of unparalleled grace and lyricism", while Q magazine said it "took orchestral jazz in a new direction". Robert Christgau was less enthusiastic about the record and recalled being a young listener when it was released: "In 1960 [it] catapulted Davis into the favor of the kind of man who reads Playboy and initiated in me one phase of the disillusionment with jazz that resulted in my return to rock and roll".

For Sketches of Spain, Evans and Davis won the 1961 Grammy Award for Best Original Jazz Composition. In 2003, the album was ranked number 358 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. According to Acclaimed Music, it is the 419th most frequently ranked record on critics' all-time lists.

Along with Kind of Blue, In a Silent Way, and Round About Midnight, Sketches of Spain is one of Miles Davis' most enduring and innovative achievements. Recorded between November 1959 and March 1960 -- after Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley had left the band -- Davis teamed with Canadian arranger Gil Evans for the third time. Davis brought Evans the album's signature piece, "Concierto de Aranjuez," after hearing a classical version of it at bassist Joe Mondragon's house. Evans was as taken with it as Davis was, and set about to create an entire album of material around it. The result is a masterpiece of modern art. On the "Concierto," Evans' arrangement provided an orchestra and jazz band -- Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and Elvin Jones -- the opportunity to record a classical work as it was. The piece, with its stunning colors and intricate yet transcendent adagio, played by Davis on a flügelhorn with a Harmon mute, is one of the most memorable works to come from popular culture in the 20th century. Davis' control over his instrument is singular, and Evans' conducting is flawless. Also notable are "Saeta," with one of the most amazing technical solos of Davis' career, and the album's closer, "Solea," which is conceptually a narrative piece, based on an Andalusian folk song, about a woman who encounters the procession taking Christ to Calvary. She sings the narrative of his passion and the procession -- or parade -- with full brass accompaniment moving along. Cobb and Jones, with flamenco-flavored percussion, are particularly wonderful here, as they allow the orchestra to indulge in the lushly passionate arrangement Evans provided to accompany Davis, who was clearly at his most challenged here, though he delivers with grace and verve. Sketches of Spain is the most luxuriant and stridently romantic recording Davis ever made. To listen to it in the 21st century is still a spine-tingling experience, as one encounters a multitude of timbres, tonalities, and harmonic structures seldom found in the music called jazz.

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Sketches of Spain wasn't the first jazz adaptation of a classical composition. A.B. Spellman, you know that Duke Ellington did it a few times. Art Tatum and Fats Waller loved playing the classics in the jazz style, as did many stride pianists and other jazz musicians over the years. But Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis and Gil Evans is different.

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: I agree, Murray. Sketches of Spain holds a unique place in the pantheon of jazz classics. On the opening cut, Gil Evans maintains a true fidelity to the original composition, which is "Concierto De Aranjuez." The mood that he establishes makes us feel like we're on a hill in Andalusia, watching the goings-on's of a gypsy camp. At the same time, there's this cool-bop lyricism that's all Miles Davis with its tone bubbles blasting around the place and all.

Track Listing:

  1. Concierto de Aranjuez: Adagio
  2. Will O' the Wisp
  3. The Pan Piper
  4. Saeta
  5. Solea
  6. Song of Our Country
  7. Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)
  8. Concierto de Aranjuez

Personnel:

Arranged By, Conductor [Orchestra] – Gil Evans
Bass – Paul Chambers (3)
Bass Clarinet – Danny Bank
Bassoon – Jack Knitzer
Clarinet, Oboe – Harold Feldman (tracks: 1, 8)
Drums – Jimmy Cobb
Flugelhorn – Miles Davis (tracks: 1, 8)
Flute – Al Block, Eddie Caine (tracks: 1, 8), Harold Feldman (tracks: 2 to 7)
French Horn – Earl Chapin (tracks: 1, 8), Jimmy Buffington*, John Barrows (tracks: 1, 8), Joe Singer* (tracks: 2 to 7), Tony Miranda (tracks: 2 to 7)
Harp – Janet Putnam
Oboe – Romeo Penque
Percussion – Elvin Jones, Jose Mangual
Trombone – Frank Rehak, Dick Hixon*
Trumpet – Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Johnny Coles (tracks: 2 to 7), Louis Mucci*, Miles Davis, Taft Jordan (tracks: 1, 8)
Tuba – Bill Barber (tracks: 2 to 7), Jimmy McAllister* (tracks: 1, 8)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Yes - 2015 "Progeny: Highlights From Seventy-Two"

Yes was firing on all cylinders in the fall of 1972. The prog-rock pioneers’ fifth studio album Close To The Edge was a smash success as audiences around the world packed arenas to see the legendary group perform. The band captured the magic of that tour on its first live album, Yessongs. Released in 1973, the triple-LP sold over a million copies and blew minds with Roger Dean’s iconic artwork.

The band recently discovered recordings of seven complete concerts from the weeks leading up to the shows heard on Yessongs. The latest audio technology was used to restore the reel-to-reel recordings and bring out incredible sonic detail, creating an open, immediate sound that drops listeners right into the front row.

Progeny: Highlights From Seventy Two consists of ninety minutes of live recordings exhumed from Yes' 1972 tour, some of which were released as Yessongs (Atlantic, 1973). Culled from seven previously unreleased recordings of complete concerts, and sequenced to approximate a setlist of the time, this two package comes adorned in vintage Roger Dean artwork that, vivid as it is, cannot compare to the vibrancy of the music inside.

Cognoscenti may or may not agree this material constitutes Yes' holy grail as the group became ever-so-slightly more structured with the departure of original drummer Bill Bruford (to join King Crimson)and the subsequent enlistment of Alan White to fulfill that role. But the somewhat rigidified presentations of these shows belies how the vocal and instrumental expertise is catalyzed by the extraordinary self-discipline evident on "I've Seen All Good People."

There's no denying the enthralling and uplifting sensation of the latter and that force is even greater later in the show during the greater complexity of "Roundabout;" the intricacy of Steve Howe's electric guitar as it interweaves with Rick Wakeman's keyboards and Chris Squire's bass mirror the shifting textures even more graphically, all the while maintaining, and even elevating the visceral impact of the musicianship. White's comparatively simpler approach to his kit actually keeps Yes from sound too busy for the own good. In contrast, while some of the lyrics of "Siberian Khatru, " for instance, sound esoteric to a fault, the pastoral images can lend to the rapture Yes aims to create.

Still, workouts like "Heart of the Sunrise" (and even more Howe's solo "Clap"/Mood for a Day" and Wakeman's spotlight "Excerpts from The Six Wives of Henry VIII") lend themselves to the criticism of technical braggadocio, unless they're taken as pure sonic expression, but the latter the acoustic-based number adds markedly to the dynamic flow of the concert , particularly as it sets up "And You and I" where the deceptively frail sound of Jon Anderson's voice comes to the for as a major asset of the Yes sound even more so as part of the billowing group harmonies when Howe and Squire join in.

Further such nuance below the surface of the most prominent components of the arrangements is worthy of selective scrutiny here, all the more remarkable given the age of the recordings (notwithstanding Yes long-standing devotion to audio quality). The unadorned mix reveals the exertion expended by the group as they play, the antithesis of antiseptic, especially played at high-volume (headphone listening doesn't offer the same insight). "Close to the Edge, " for instance, moves at a breathless pace.

A highly-distinctive 'greatest hits' set for the novice, Highlights From Seventy-Two is also available for nostalgists in the form of a of a three-LP set of vinyl, while for the completists, there's a fourteen-disc box titled Seven Shows From Seventy- Two comprising the fruits of this archiving project in their entirety. All these various configurations are but a further reflection of the multi-colored density of this music.

Progeny: Highlights, It's like Yessongs, but with each instrument in crisp, well-separated detail. Wakeman's keyboard wizardry (Mellotron!!), White's frantic drumming, Howe's speed-riffing, Anderson's free-associating, and of course Squire's Rickenbacker bass (the heartbeat of Yes, always and forever) - they're all here, and are all easy to pick out individually in the mix. Or, listen to it a few more times and just enjoy how they blend.

I didn't bother with the 7-CD set - seems overkill to me. But this one? Just right. And after almost 45 years, this material sounds like it was recorded yesterday. Best restoration job from original tapes that I've ever heard, period.

It's hard to be objective when I'm a hardcore die-hard almost-lifelong Yes freak, but I give this album six stars. At least.

Tracks Listing:

CD 1
1. Opening (Excerpt From Firebird Suite) - Siberian Khatru
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York, November 20, 1972

2. I've Seen All Good People
    a. Your Move
    b. All Good People
20 Nov 1972: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, New York, USA

3. Heart Of The Sunrise
15 Nov 1972: Knoxville Civic Coliseum, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

4. Clap/Mood For A Day
12 Nov 1972: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

5. And You And I
    i. Cord Of Life
    ii. Eclipse
    iii. The Preacher The Teacher
    iv. Apocalypse
11 Nov 1972: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA

CD 2
1. Close To The Edge
    i. The Solid Time Of Change
    ii. Total Mass Retain
    iii. I Get Up I Get Down
    iv. Seasons Of Man
11 Nov 1972: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA

2. Excerpts From "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII"
12 Nov 1972: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

3. Roundabout
31 Oct 1972: Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

4. Yours Is No Disgrace
12 Nov 1972: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

Personnel:

Bass, Vocals – Chris Squire
Drums – Alan White
Guitar, Vocals – Steve Howe
Keyboards – Rick Wakeman
Vocals, Percussion – Jon Anderson

Painting, Artwork By – Roger Dean

Tony Williams - 1964 [1999] "Life Time"

Life Time is the debut album by American drummer Tony Williams recorded in 1964 and released on the Blue Note label.

Tony Williams was just 18 years old when he recorded this, his 1964 debut as a leader, but he was already a prodigious drummer who could maintain a rapid-fire flow of subtle accents that prodded a soloist into fresh directions. His effect on a band was electric, and he had rapidly moved to the front ranks of jazz musicians, working with Jackie McLean, Eric Dolphy, and Miles Davis. More than a fine drummer, Williams was a musical visionary, and with Life Time he recorded one of the most forward-looking of the Blue Note albums of the '60s. It shows in the choice of radical sidemen like Sam Rivers, the explosive tenor saxophonist who had been Williams's early mentor in Boston, and bassist Gary Peacock, then a regular associate of Albert Ayler, as well as the more innovative members of the Blue Note stable, like Herbie Hancock and Bobby Hutcherson. It also shows in Williams's liberating approach to instrumentation, using two basses on some tracks and none on another, and even omitting his own drums from the flamenco-tinged "Barb's Song to the Wizard." The trio of Williams, Rivers, and Peacock create a masterpiece on "Tomorrow Afternoon," with its heady mix of calm and passion, but every track is well-crafted, challenging music.

Drummer Tony Williams' first recording as a leader (made when he was 18 and still billed as Anthony Williams) gave him an opportunity to utilize an advanced group of musicians: tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, pianist Herbie Hancock, and both Richard Davis and Gary Peacock on bass. Williams wrote all four of the pieces and has a different combination of players on each song. The freely improvised "Memory" features Hutcherson, Hancock, and Williams in some colorful and at times spacy interplay; "Barb's Song to the Wizard" is a Hancock-Ron Carter duet; "Tomorrow Afternoon" has Rivers, Peacock and Williams in a trio; and all of the musicians (except Hutcherson) are on the sidelong "2 Pieces of One." The unpredictable music holds one's interest; a very strong debut for the masterful drummer.

By now, it's an irrefutable fact that drummer Tony Williams was the youngest preeminent figure within the avant-garde movement of the mid-'60s. Every jazz fan seems to know the events that led to his international fame: after intriguing trumpeter Miles Davis with his cutting-edge approach to drumming, he was hired and added to the groundbreaking "Second Great Quintet" at the ripe age of 17. During this significant stint, Williams altered the trajectory of Davis' music, solidified himself as a drum wunderkind, and broadened his skill set to successfully branch out from jazz into rock-oriented genres such as fusion.

The details above have already been fossilized in jazz history, but what about his lesser-known early years, before breaking tradition with Miles Davis?

After a partnership with Sam Rivers at age 13, Williams was hired by Jackie McLean at age 16 and eventually recorded on his 1963 album One Step Beyond (Blue Note, 1963)—an adventurous effort that firmly established Williams as a sought-after session drummer for Blue Note Records. As word of his virtuosity spread, Williams eventually landed sessions with some of the leading musicians in post-bop and the avant-garde whose albums have since reached legendary status. Williams left an indelible mark on Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964), Andrew Hill's Point of Departure (Blue Note, 1964), and Sam Rivers' Fuchsia Swing Song (Blue Note, 1964) to name a few.

As Williams continued to reinvent what the drummer's role was in jazz, Blue Note founder Alfred Lion—a champion for documenting new and innovative music, even if it didn't sell—offered him his own recording dates, which were then collected for the release of his 1964 debut studio album, Life Time. To fully comprehend the grasp that Williams had over jazz at the time, he was only 18 and managed to conjure a lineup that included Sam Rivers (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes, marimba), and three bassists: Ron Carter, Richard Davis, and Gary Peacock. Along with leading a post-bop dream team, all of the compositions on the album were penned by Williams himself.

To state the truth, Williams' second effort for Blue Note, Spring (Blue Note, 1965), often overshadows Life Time in part due to its accessibility and firm roots in structured post-bop. That's not to say that Life Time lacks musical vision, in fact, the album itself is an overlooked classic that boasts a sense of adventure and space that's absent on Spring. The music on Life Time is always moving, surveying every facet of each composition, extracting colors, emotions, and vibrations; it's unfettered from the claws of tradition and, when played from start to end, galvanizes the listener's imagination.

The album begins with the side-long, two-part composition "Two Pieces of One." The first part, "Red," begins with a tenor saxophone and bowed bass intertwining to produce a somber melody on top of Williams' spastically brushed snare. Launching off of an extended bass solo, Rivers and Williams wallow in compelling interplay with no particular direction before letting Davis and Peacock duet for the rest of the song. "Green" picks back up with brisk, vibrant runs by Rivers over Williams' dynamic ride cymbal patterns. Increasing in energy, Rivers flirts with overblown notes before easing up to let Williams illustrate his expressive, unpredictable approach to the skins.

Williams, Rivers, and Peacock combine for "Tomorrow Afternoon" which echoes the imaginative improvisation found on the previous, but becomes looser and more uninhibited as it progresses. Perhaps the most notable detail of this song is the interaction between Peacock and Rivers. Peacock, who harbors a lyrical approach to the bass, bounces angular sets of notes off of Rivers who then repeats them, contributing to a constantly evolving cycle of fresh ideas.

"Memory" marks the album's first appearance of Hutcherson and Hancock. The most percussive track on the record, Williams plays his usual kit along with timpani, wood blocks, maracas, and triangle. Hancock plays in the shadow, setting an overarching moody tone with dark, sporadic chord sequences. Hutcherson, playing vibraphone and marimba, embellishes Williams' primitive instrumentation, performing with the utmost zeal and inventiveness.

Williams, being the mature musician he was, stepped out of the spotlight and allowed Hancock and Carter to perform a piano/bass duet for the last composition. A song as enchanting as its title, "Barb's Song to the Wizard" is saturated with whimsical interplay and musical subtleties. Apart from the stunning performance, this song is a fine testament to Williams' underrated compositional prowess.

In retrospect, it's easy to see why Williams' accomplishments in the field of fusion often conceal his earlier organic efforts; the boisterous music of the '70s is undeniably more popular than the experimental ideals of avant-garde jazz. Nonetheless, this music deserves to be recognized and enjoyed. Constantly brimming with spirit, Life Time is an enthralling debut from a young trailblazer.

Track listing:
All compositions by Tony Williams

1. "Two Pieces of One: Red" – 8:06
2. "Two Pieces of One: Green" – 10:40
3. "Tomorrow Afternoon" – 5:35
4. "Memory" – 8:06
5. "Barb's Song to the Wizard" – 5:58

Recorded on August 21 (#1–3) and August 24 (#4–5), 1964.

Personnel:

Tony Williams – drums, timpani, woodblocks, maracas, triangle
Sam Rivers – tenor saxophone (1–3)
Bobby Hutcherson – vibes, marimba (4–5)
Herbie Hancock – piano (4–5)
Ron Carter (5), Richard Davis (1–2), Gary Peacock (1–3)  – bass