Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wayne Shorter - 1969 [1988] "Super Nova"

Super Nova is the twelfth album by Wayne Shorter, recorded in 1969 and released on the Blue Note label. The album features five originals by Shorter and an arrangement of "Dindi" by Antônio Carlos Jobim. "Water Babies", "Capricorn" and "Sweet Pea" were originally recorded in a more traditional jazz setting in 1967 during the sessions with the Second Miles Davis Quintet that would be released in 1976 on the album Water Babies.

Chick Corea appears on drums rather than his typical role as a keyboardist.

Recorded just 8 days after the Bitches Brew session, many of the same artists from Bitches Brew appear here: saxophonist Wayne Shorter, guitarist John McLaughlin, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and pianist Chick Corea (playing drums and vibes on this!). Other Miles Davis alums appear: Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira and acoustic bass player Miroslav Vitous (both later would become members of Wayne Shorter's Weather Report). The band plays new versions of 3 Shorter tracks previously recorded with Miles Davis (but not released until Water Babies in 1976). They are performed much better in this context. Though this is post-bop (stretching into free jazz)... it's far more melodic than the dark moody Bitches Brew. Highly recommended.

Super Nova is an important transitional album for tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Doubling on soprano (which he had recently begun playing), Shorter interprets five of his originals (including "Water Babies," which had been recorded previously by Miles Davis) and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi." He definitely used a forward-looking group of sidemen, because his "backup band" includes guitarists John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock, Walter Booker (normally a bassist) on classical guitar for "Dindi," bassist Miroslav Vitous, both Jack DeJohnette and Chick Corea (!) on drums, and percussionist Airto; Maria Booker takes a vocal on the touching version of "Dindi." The influence of Miles Davis' early fusion period is felt throughout the music, but there is nothing derivative about the often-surprising results. As with Wayne Shorter's best albums, this set rewards repeated listenings.

It was the summer of 1969, flower power was in the air, conventional hard bop was in serious trouble, and Wayne Shorter wrought the hipfest Super Nova in the company of a gaggle of guitarists and percussionists. Super Nova , while typical in many ways of jazz in 1969, is by no means the average Blue Note session or the average Wayne Shorter album, but it has its charms.
He had the help of a stellar lineup. Shorter’s soprano (he plays no tenor on this album) was complemented by guitarists John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock, who were joined by Walter Booker on one track; Miroslav Vitous on bass; Jack DeJohnette on drums and African thumb piano; Chick Corea, of all people, on drums and vibes (no piano); Airto Moreira on additional percussion; and Maria Booker singing on one track. An unusual lineup today, but not too head-turning alongside the likes of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew or Pharoah Sanders’ Karma , which have more in common than is usually acknowledged, and were the sort of thing that turned heads back then.

"Super Nova" kicks off our love-in with a repeating motive from Shorter, who follows his figure down various paths and returns repeatedly to home base with an oboe-like Coltraneish tone, while behind him his guitarists and drummers bubble and churn. McLaughlin squeezes out an undistinguished solo (with Sharrock thrashing behind him), and then it’s back to Wayne, sounding more like Trane every second. "Swee-Pea" is oddly titled, for the title reminds me of the Popeye’s baby, but the track is the occasion of some beautifully touching playing from Shorter. Romantic and elegiac by turns, he is at his most affecting here. Miles bandmates Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams would have backed this one up capably, but the percussion and guitars create a shimmering backdrop that works quite well. "Dindi" takes us to a hooting, groaning rain forest, which is suddenly broken by, lo and behold, Maria Booker singing a soft Portuguese ballad a la Astrud Gilberto. Playing Joao to Maria’s Astrud is Walter Booker on classical guitar. Then it’s back to the rain forest. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the structure of this song, except that bossa nova was popular in 1969, and Maria’s part is nice. Shorter plays outstandingly all through this album, but especially on "Water Babies," where he is the only soloist. The sidemen get restless on "Capricorn," especially the drum corps, and Shorter’s soprano grows more sonorous to match them. His soprano preaches, brays, and warns; the drums churn and the guitars quiver, but never get solo time to speak of. Wayne is always at the center on this album. Not to take anything away from Wayne: he can pull it off, and does.

In August of 1969 the Great Sorcerer Miles called together many acolytes to form the legendary electro-psychedelic-groove-jazz orchestra which unleashed "Bitches Brew" unto the world.

The following week, four of those acolytes (Shorter, Corea, McLaughlin & DeJohnette) reconvened across town with Sonny Sharrock and others in tow to continue questing, the Holy Fire still burning brightly in their souls. Meanwhile in the outside world, men were walking on the moon and the hippie tribes were gathering at Woodstock -- kozmik times indeed!

Hence Wayne Shorter's "Super Nova" album was literally the first* fruit borne by the Bitches revBrewlution which really did knock jazz on it's ass for most of the next decade. Though this album is far from a mini-"Brew", for starters because Blue Note's approach to recording was far different than the extravagances Miles was laying down over at Columbia. "Super Nova" and everything else on Blue Note in those days was cut live in the studio to two-track tape, and (perhaps with a little editing) that was pretty much it as far as "production" goes (in contrast, the extended pieces on "Bitches Brew" were multitracked & edited together from day-long jam sessions.)

"Super Nova" is also distinctive in that several of the musicians are not even playing their usual instruments! Starting with Wayne Shorter playing soprano instead of his usual tenor (the higher pitched soprano is often used for more "exotic eastern" sounds, exhibit A: Coltrane's raga-delic version of "My Favorite Things.") Also keyboardist Chick Corea plays percussion, bassist Walter Booker makes a guest appearance on classical guitar, and Booker's wife sings (her only appearance on record as she was not a professional musician.) Furthermore, the rather strange seven-piece lineup doesn't fit any usual mold in jazz or rock: a front line of only one horn accompanied by two electric guitars, a bass and three percussionists (no keyboards.)

The combination of all of these factors results in one uniquely organic, wooly & free-kadelic jazz record. Although this is technically a "fusion" record, it's important to note that it is not the "funk/jazz" fusion usually associated with the term, but rather a "psychedelic/jazz" fusion. There is not really any discernible hint of "rocknroll" nor any electronics (aside from the guitar amps, which aren't used for feedback or anything exotic like that.) Yet the record feels more akin to the galactic explorations of contemporary "rock groups" like Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead than to anything else coming out on jazz labels like Blue Note in 1969.

Recorded August 29 (1, 2, 4 & 5) and September 2 (3 & 6), 1969.

Track listing:
All compositions by Wayne Shorter except where noted.

"Supernova" – 4:52
"Swee-Pea" – 4:36
"Dindi" (Antônio Carlos Jobim) – 9:35
"Water Babies" – 4:53
"Capricorn" – 7:47
"More Than Human" – 6:12

Personnel:

Wayne Shorter – soprano saxophone
John McLaughlin – acoustic and electric guitar (1, 2, 4, 5)
Sonny Sharrock – electric guitar
Chick Corea – drums, vibes
Miroslav Vitouš – bass
Jack DeJohnette – drums, kalimba
Airto Moreira – percussion
Walter Booker – acoustic guitar (3)
Maria Booker – vocals (3)
Niels Jakobsen – claves

Monday, July 17, 2017

Allan Holdsworth - 2002 "All Night Wrong"

All Night Wrong is the first official live album by guitarist Allan Holdsworth, released in 2002 through Sony Music Entertainment Japan and in 2003 through Favored Nations Entertainment (United States).

Guitar hero Allan Holdsworth often performs with his peers. Such is the case with this live setting recorded at a venue in Japan during a 2002 tour. On this release, the guitarist leads a trio featuring longtime musical associates, drummer Chad Wackerman, and bassist Jimmy Johnson. To that end, the respective musicians' talents are well-known entities. Wackerman and Johnson can handle the trickiest time signatures imaginable. Along with the nimble flexibilities and odd-metered excursions witnessed here, they exude a force of power that serves as a meaty foundation for Holdsworth's mighty licks.
A wonderfully recorded album, Holdsworth's climactically driven legato-based riffs are intact, as he also implements jazzy chord voicings and delicately stated fabrics of sound. But the trio raises the ante throughout many of these pieces, awash with moments of nuance and controlled firepower. In sum, Holdsworth's legion of followers should be pleased with a recording that should rank among his finest efforts to date.

Incredibly, All Night Wrong (Favored Nations) is Allan Holdsworth’s first “official” live album, made at the Roppongi Pit Inn in Japan in May 2002, with two longtime collaborators, former Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman and bassist Jimmy Johnson. Holdsworth’s guitar improvisations are about as complex as they get without flying over your head completely. Holdsworth, as is well known, is a guitarist’s guitarist who doesn’t consider himself a jazz player yet whose music can barely be called rock. Virtually cliche-free, Holdsworth isn’t someone you can categorize; listen to “Alphrazallan” for evidence of this. His uncompromising music doesn’t come to you; you have to go to it. Holdsworth’s intensely focused, fearsomely long solos make their point by cramming more notes into the square inch than you might think is humanly possible, such as on “Funnels,” and with Wackerman’s fill-every-crack drumming, it can make for exhausting listening. Usually at one dynamic level, it’s like being trapped in a conversation where you can’t get a word in edgeways.

The title may offer insight into guitar legend Holdsworth's notorious aversion to the pressures of live recordings; indeed, this marks the first live solo album of his long career. But the nigh-flawless performances here (recorded in May, 2002 at the Roppongi Pit Inn in Tokyo, Japan) also suggest a certain irony to the fusion pioneer's concerns. His distinctive chordal melodic technique sets "Lanyard Loop" (and much of the album) in a quietly savory orbit; but it's a deceptively languorous framework that Holdsworth masterfully uses to contrast his often-aggressive soloing. "The Things You See" showcases some remarkably fluid tonal shifts and a solo tack that's as free and Coltrane-esque as advertised. The soft focus of "Alphrazallan" proves it can also be a tightrope walk, while drummer Chad Wackerman's playful, funk-edged solo introduction gives the dark, cascading mystery of the guitarist's playing on "Zone" yet another compelling facet, with bassist Jimmy Johnson capably adding yet another layer of rhythmic complexity. The jazzy, neo-swing of "Water on the Brain, Pt. II" and "Gas Lamp Blues" (where Johnson in particular shines) displays the trio's forceful, economic interplay to good effect, and one that stands in dramatic contrast to the dreamy soundscape "Above & Below." Fusion remains an underappreciated musical language, but this is a fine live showcase for one of its master linguists.

Track listing:
All tracks written by Allan Holdsworth, except where noted.

1. "Lanyard Loop" 5:46
2. "The Things You See" 6:53
3. "Alphrazallan" 7:04
4. "Funnels" 5:01
5. "Zone" (Holdsworth, Steve Hunt, Gary Husband, Jimmy Johnson) 9:19
6. "Water on the Brain Pt.II" 5:30
7. "Above & Below" 8:21
8. "Gas Lamp Blues" 7:59
Total length: 55:53

Personnel:

Allan Holdsworth – guitar
Chad Wackerman – drums
Jimmy Johnson – bass

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Grant Green - 1963 [2001] "Am I Blue"

Am I Blue is an album by American jazz guitarist Grant Green featuring performances recorded in 1963 and released on the Blue Note label.

This great guitarist recorded in a variety of settings and concepts during his years at Blue Note. Am I Blue featured the perennial trio of Green, organist John Patton and drummer Ben Dixon with the trumpet of Johnny Coles and the tenor saxophone of newcomer Joe Henderson.

What makes this album so unusual in Green's canon is that the entire album is in a soulful, atmospheric ballad groove. The material ranges from the blues ballad "Sweet Slumber" to the country song "Take These Chains From My Heart", but the after hours mood that these men create is never broken. This is the first appearance of this album on CD.

AM I BLUE features the classic Green/Patton/Dixon ensemble plus Johnny Cole and Joe Henderson on horns in a delightful yet unusually laid back vain. The gospel influence in John's playing is particularly evident on this recording, as is his minimalist philosophy. (If you don't have to play it, don't) Ironically, in his latter years, due to a strange accident with a car jack which would injure a tendon in his hand he would not have use of his pinky and fourth finger, yet could still create some of the richest and most amazing connections on the organ as well as develop very rich and lucid solo ideas ! The showstopper on the CD is the light and bouncy FOR ALL WE KNOW... Of course, Johnny Coles and a then newcomer and relatively unknown Joe Henderson definitely get their word in, but it is amazing to hear John's passing chords behind them. Grant Green typically lays out, listening, listening, listening, listening (which is what a soloist needs to be doing when his other bandmates are playing... not playing over them, or holding coversations, but listening and taking in the dialogue). Finally, Grant comes in and is as crisp, melodious and swinging and used expect him to be... throwing in a few surprise left hooks as well! - - Last word goes to John... who in turn not only takes a well crafted single note solo, but digs down with a real nifty shout chorus as well (though admittedly I will ever have to admit that Johnny Hammond Smith and Wild Bill will ever have him beat on that.) With Ben Dixon in his corner, however, he does take it home quite masterfully ! of note: That's the one thing that distinguishes a Grant Green session from one of those sessions where people are trying to copy such a session - - you can really tell the players are listening to each other, providing a lot of space and responding to one another's ideas! True Jazz masters are at their best not when they're showing off what they know... but when they're really listening and responding to what's going on around them. Then magic occurs, as was the historical case of John Coltrane's layer of sound discovery.

If you like Grant Green, you know what to expect from this album: a GREAT recording. Sure, it's not THAT unique from others around the time but it is by no means a bad album. There aren't any bonus tracks or alternate takes (like many of the other RVG remasters) but the album is impossible to find on vinyl so that's forgiveable; practically the only complaint I have with it. Don't be fooled by snobbery.

Track listing:

"Am I Blue" (Harry Akst, Grant Clarke) - 6:56
"Take These Chains from My Heart" (Hy Heath, Fred Rose) - 6:12
"I Wanna Be Loved" (Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Billy Rose) - 7:39
"Sweet Slumber" (Lucky Millinder, Al J. Neiburg, Henri Woode) - 7:17
"For All We Know" (J. Fred Coots, Sam M. Lewis) - 13:59

Personnel:

Grant Green - guitar
Johnny Coles - trumpet
Joe Henderson - tenor saxophone
"Big" John Patton - organ
Ben Dixon - drums

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Eric Marienthal - 1990 "Crossroads"

Eric Marienthal has always had limitless potential. Primarily known as an altoist but also an excellent player on tenor and soprano, Marienthal came to fame with Chick Corea's Elektric Band and tends to sound at his best when teamed with players of that caliber. Many of his own projects suffer from overproduction, a lack of spontaneity and commercial material, but that is not true of Crossroads. In groups ranging from quartets to sextets, Marienthal is challenged by the material (all group originals), matching wits with the likes of keyboardist Russell Ferrante (from the Yellowjackets), bassist John Patitucci and, on three selections, Chick Corea. Crossroads contains some of Eric Marienthal's finest playing outside of the context of the Elektric Band. Well worth searching for.

I have to confess that I bought this great album on the strength of the names of the players on it, rather than being an Eric Marienthal fan [sorry Eric]. You only have to look at his choice of players to know it's going to be worth hearing.

What a line up he has! Vinnie Colaiuta plays drums on most of the tracks, while on the others; you'll hear Dave Weckl and Terri Lyne Carrington as well. John Patitucci plays bass throughout. In addition, with Russell Ferrante on keyboards and Chick Corea on piano, it couldn't fail to be a winner. Interestingly, the main writing credits go to Patitucci and Ferrante, with Marienthal a co-writer on two of the tunes.

Although Marienthal's playing is of course very good, and does play some great solos either on soprano, alto or tenor sax - I feel it's his supporting cast that really grab your attention. Vinnie is stunning, as usual, and plays a cracking solo. However, even when he's just playing through the compositions, it's classic Vinnie.

Terri Lyne also plays superbly. She also gets a solo spot. Of course, Weckl does what only he can do. It's beginning to sound like a drummer's album, rather than a sax player's solo album! Maybe that's just how I hear it.

I would say the writing is what you would expect from a fusion band of that time - a few stand-out tunes, but in the main, it only hits the spot on a couple of occasions. My favourite tracks are probably, "SPOONS", "UPSIDE DOWN" and "RAIN ON THE ROOF".

As I said, it's more about the playing than the actual musical content that makes this album work. Let's face it, with this kind of star line-up supporting you, know it'll be worth a listen.

One the finest Sax Soprano in the nineties, the overflowing talent of him is carved in relief, along every single track of this praised album.

If you notice carefully, you will watch the presence of Big Leaguers musicians: Jon Patitucci, Chick Corea, Vinnie Colaiuta, Alex Acuna and Russell Ferrante are names that by themselves are capable to gather any Hall Concert.

The sun was in my eyes, Upside down, Hide & seek, On the eve of tomorrow and Rain on the roof are the most significant tracks in a winner album.

This is Eric's best album I know of, even to this day. The album consists of great playing & very strong tracks, thanx to Patitucci & Ferrante. A little surprising Eric can stand so firmly in 2 such diverse genres, you'd think he somewhat misses making a fantastic album like this one. Ah well. If you'd only will get 1 album of Eric's, get this, after a few listens you won't regret it. It just has such quality & depth to it..

Track listing:

1 The Sun Was in My Eyes 5:52
2 Spoons 6:45
3 Yellow Roses 4:03
4 Upside Down 6:40
5 Schmooze 4:30
6 Cross Country 8:05
7 Hide & Seek 5:03
8 Two Bits 5:42
9 On the Eve of Tomorrow 5:53
10 Rain on the Roof 7:04

Personnel:

Electric bass guitar: John Patitucci
Drums: Terri Lyne Carrington, Dave Weckl
Synthesizer: David Witham
Percussion: Alex Acuña
Keyboard: Russell Ferrante
Piano: Chick Corea
Piano and synthesizer: John Beasley

Monday, July 10, 2017

Jack Dejohnette - 1991 [2013] "Earth Walk"

Earthwalk is an album by Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition, featuring Greg Osby, Gary Thomas, Michael Cain, and Lonnie Plaxico, recorded in 1991 and released on the Blue Note label.

The final version of drummer/composer Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition bands sports a unique sound, on the verge of M-Base, and artfully driven due to saxophonists Greg Osby and Gary Thomas. Their tart sweet sounds are as much a part of the identity of this group as anything, and DeJohnette adds his own personal brand of funk and swing to the proceeding, making for an exciting and vital original music. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico, straight off the bandstand with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, keeps things briskly moving along, while Michael Cain plays a lot of acoustic piano, and some modified electric keyboards, to further separate this Special Edition from the others. DeJohnette's epic tribute to Wayne Shorter, "Where or Wayne," is reworked in a hip, measured melody missing beats on purpose, simmered in Cain's synthesized mystery. The spiked notes of "Monk's Plumb" provide space for drum fills, merging to an easy swing discipline, and a typically ribald Osby solo. A deliberate Herbie Hancock-styled funk identifies "It's Time to Wake Up & Dream" with the sour horns and Cain's intent acoustic piano driving this most M-Base track. If "Priestesses of the Mist" is reflective of its title through Cain's foggy electronic washes, the distaff, magical side is also represented by the flute of Thomas and Osby's soprano during a most evocative selection. Similarly, the title track feels like a trek through thick jungle flora and fauna, as a heavy-footstepped electric bass guitar from Plaxico leads the many and long, heavy strides of the band members. Closest to jazz is the electro-acoustic hot bopper "One on One" and "Blue" with its patient, straight-ahead, no-amenities framework. This band has changed radically since the days when David Murray and Arthur Blythe were frontmen, but the music is all good, holds interest, and makes for another giant step in the varied, diverse, and intriguing career of DeJohnette.

Earthwalk is a very good album. Jack DeJohnette made a number of superb albums starting in the 1970s, unfortunately they did not receive the attention they deserved. The interesting thing about this album is that DeJohnette wrote all the music, produced the album and picked the musicians. This album probably reflects Jack's actual taste in music more so than many of the sessions he has played on. The record was recorded in 1991 on Blue Note.

DeJohnette is still one of the most respected drummers in jazz and he has played with virtually every major U.S. and international jazz artist since the 1960s including Miles Davis and John Coltrane. For a while he was virtually ECM's house drummer and played on ECM sessions led by Keith Jarrett, Terje Rypdal, Kenny Wheeler and many others.

The band is excellent, featuring: Michael Cain - keyboards; Gary Thomas -tenor saxophone, flute; Greg Osby - alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; and Lonnie Plaxico - bass. Cain, Thomas, Plaxico and Osby were all at one time M-Base players and this influence is reflected in the music, which is loud, brash, melodic and full of energy. It could be described as a post-bop sound with a touch of funk. Osby and Thomas drive the music on saxophone. DeJohnette provides a powerful backbeat on most of the tracks. Anyone looking for introspective ECM-style chamber jazz won't find it here.

Cain has played with Dave Holland, John Scofield, Steps Ahead, Gary Thomas Marty Ehrlich, Ray Anderson and Bobby Previte. Cain also recorded a CD of his own for ECM in 1986. During the mid-'80s, Osby played alongside Steve Coleman, Geri Allen, Gary Thomas, and Cassandra Wilson as a member of the M-Base Collective. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico played with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and the M-Base Collective. Thomas has played with Miles Davis, Steve Coleman and John McLaughlin.

Great example of modern jazz. Fresh sounding and superbly played. What I like about this kind of "free-form" jazz is that it doesn't convey to the usual "theme-solo-solo-theme" formalism of traditional jazz. It is free in the sense of being organic and unpredictable, while still being melodic and very musical. Highly recommended even as it is a bit pricey.

Track listing:
All compositions by Jack DeJohnette

01 "It's Time to Wake Up and Dream" – 5:30
02 "Blue" – 6:18
03 "Where or Wayne" – 9:44
04 "Priestesses of the Mist" – 7:44
05 "Earth Walk" – 13:05
06 "On Golden Beams" – 5:16
07 "One on One" – 11:18
08 "Lydia" – 2:24
09 "Monk's Plumb" – 12:08
10 "It's Time to Wake Up and Dream" [Alternate Version] – 0:50

Recorded at Dreamland Recording Studios, West Hurley, NY in June 1991

Personnel:

Jack DeJohnette – drums
Michael Cain – midi piano, korg keyboards
Gary Thomas – tenor saxophone, flute
Greg Osby – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Lonnie Plaxico – electric bass, acoustic bass
Joan Henry – animal sound on "Earth Walk"

Various Artists - 2005 "Visions Of An Inner Mounting Apocalypse"

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was one of the true pioneers of jazz/fusion as was their leader, visionary guitar icon John Mclaughlin. This collection features stellar performances by some of today's greatest guitar talents including: John Abercrombie, Warren Haynes (Govt Mule), Jimmy Herring (Allman Brothers), Mike Stern (Miles Davis), Steve Lukather (Toto), Steve Morse (Deep Purple), Greg Howe (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake), Frank Gambale (Chic Corea), Jeff Richman and Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski. Backed by an incredible band featuring Vinnie Colaiuta (Sting Frank Zappa), Kai Eckhardt (John Mclaughlin, Garaj Mahal) and Mitch Foreman, this is one fusion super session you can't afford to miss!!!

Guitarist Jeff Richman conceived of, produced, and arranged for this project. A tribute to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, it utilizes the same instrumentation, with Mahavishnu alumnus Jerry Goodman being a welcome addition on violin. Each song features a different guitarist and there is plenty of heat displayed by the individual but complementary players (practically every top fusion guitarist other than Al DiMeola), all of whom are rockish and passionate. One almost doesn't miss John McLaughlin, since the band is playing his songs and the guitarists are mostly influenced by him. The only change of pace from the intensity is the closer, a version of the relatively mellow "Follow Your Heart" (which predated the Mahavishnu Orchestra) featuring John Abercrombie. This project is well conceived, and one would imagine that John McLaughlin would appreciate the colorful tribute.

This all star jazz-fusion tribut CD features some of the greatest names in porgressive jazz fusion guitar, each paying tribute to guitar innovator, master musician, John McLaughlin, McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra was a ground breaking fusion group that essentially "wrote the book" of fusion. Artists featured: Steve Morse, John Abrecrombie, Dave "Fuse" Fiuczynski, Frank Gambale, Jimmy Herring, Warren Haynes among others.

This one is a MUST for Mahavishnu fans, and lovers of fusion guitar. Without exception the soloists understand the drawing power of each song they play. The orchestration in several cases actually improves on the original recording, in Lila's Dance, Jazz, and Can't Stand Your Funk. The MO's one weakness was its occasionally thin sound - and here each song gets the full treatment. The guitarists are literally tearing the place apart with every solo. And it is so fantastic to hear violinist Jerry Goodman in top form on several songs, like the original MO didnt play 30 years earlier. It's like he's the special guest star. Add to that how modern recording makes the music sound better, and you will love this music every bit as much as the originals.
A final tribute in the album is John Abercrombie's gentle and subtle rendition of one of McLaughlin's early, best songs, Follow Your Heart. Does anyone remember that from Joe Farrell's quartet LP? A beautiful song, and a perfect way to close and calm down from the joyful frenzy you have just experienced.

I am an old time Mahavishnu fan who has been going back down memory lane and rediscovering the band. Being a purist I NEVER buy tribute albums. I find them unnecessary & unworthy. I stumbled across the listing for this when I was buying the remastered version of Visions of Emeralds Beyond and after seeing that it contained some of my all time favorite players I decided to give it a shot. I'm so glad I did! I can't stop playing it.

What makes this tribute different? How about the inclusion of original band members to back up the guest guitarists! The contributions of the much underrated Mitchel Forman on Keys and the superb Jerry Goodman (often covering what was Ponty material)on violin are outstanding.

What are the highlights...nearly too many to list: Steve Lukather (Toto)shines on "Birds of Fire'. The Mike Stern (Miles Davis & solo work)and Jerry Goodman interplay on "can't Stand Your funk" is exceptional. I bought this in part because I am addicted to the Dixie Dregs but found Steve Morse playing a little too clean. (Most of the other players expanded beyond the Mahavishnu parameters but sadly not Morse). Jimmy Herring (Aquarium Rescue Unit & the Other Ones) strikes a nerve on "Meeting of the Spirits". "Jazz" is a nice unexpected inclusion from '84. Frank Gambale's (Vital Information) cover of "Dawn" again with Goodman is lively and memorable. As much as I admire Warren Haynes (Govt Mule/Allman Brothers) I was skeptical of how he might come across on a fusion LP; in truth "Lila's Dance" may be the best cut on the CD. The final wind down comes with John Abercrombie bringing us back to Earth with "Follow your heart" The whole cd is a solid pleasant surprise. If your an old fan give it a try. If you are a new fan listen to this first and then compare it to the original material; you'll be opening the doors to some great fusion.

Tracks Listing:

1. Birds Of Fire (6:47)
2. Can't Stand Your Funk (6:43)
3. Celestrial Terrestrial Commuters (4:46)
4. Meeting Of The Spirits (6:51)
5. Jazz (4:53)
6. Dawn (6:34)
7. Lila's Dance (5:22)
8. Faith (5:47)
9. Dance Of Maya (6:16)
10. Follow Your Heart (7:46)

Total Time: 61:45

Line-up / Musicians:

- Vinnie Colaiuta / drums
- Kai Eckhardt / bass
- Mitchel Forman / keyboards
- Jeff Richman / guitars

Guest musicians:
- Steve Lukather / guitar (1)
- Mike Stern / guitar (2)
- Jerry Goodman / violin (2)
- Steve Morse / guitar (3)
- Jimmy Herring / guitar (4)
- Frank Gambale / guitar (6)
- Jerry Goodman / violin (6)
- Warren Haynes / guitar (7)
- Jerry Goodman / violin (7)
- David Fiuczynski / guitar (8)
- Greg Howe / guitar (9)
- Jerry Goodman / violin (9)
- John Abercrombie / guitar (10)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Weather Report - 1972 [2014] "Live In Tokyo"

Live in Tokyo is the third release (and first live album) by Weather Report. It was recorded on January 13, 1972. It was one of five sold-out concerts played in Japan during January 1972. I Sing the Body Electric contained several tracks that were edited for the studio album, but can be heard as they were performed, in their entirety, on this live album.

Part of the fire seemed to come from the Japanese people themselves. “When we went to Japan,” Zawinul recalled, “we didn’t know what kind of a response we would get, but I couldn’t believe what happened. We thought, ‘What are we gonna do with these Japanese people, man?’ They’re so beautiful, such wonderful listeners, but laid back. That was their culture. So we said, ‘Let’s hit ’em hard, right from the first note,’ and we hit ’em hard! We improvised, because the tunes we had written at that time were not very long–eight bars here, a nice little melody, and so on–but we worked it over, and sometimes we’d play it long, sometimes short. It was an inspirational way of doing things, and through that slowly we developed into a band.” [IASW, p. 144]

In a 1977 article, journalist Sy Johnson recalled his impressions of a Weather Report concert from this period. “[Weather Report’s first album] was an intriguing but introspective affair that puzzled many and won over few. I heard the band in a coffee house in the Village shortly after that first Columbia record, and the vagueness had disappeared. A hard-driving confidence was radiating from the bandstand. Eric Grávátt was on drums and moving the group with rare musicality. Dom Um Romão had taken Airto’s place on percussion… [This band] was everything we could have imagined, and more.” [Jazz77]

In a 1972 article, Zawinul talked about the band’s live performances: “Right from the start, [playing together] was just a very natural thing. But I can’t really talk about the music. None of us can. We don’t know what’s happening. We have our tunes and lines, which we always play differently. What’s happening up there is just composing, and when it’s right, it’s magic. There’s a certain chemistry in the band which amazes me–and which makes it very consistent, also.” [MM72]

He offered these words of advice to those planning to attend a Weather Report concert: “Don’t go expecting anything–just let it come to you. That’s the only way I can say it. At the moment, if you expect anything from anyone then you’re likely to get a great shock! That’s all.”

While side two of I Sing the Body Electric gives us heavily edited glimpses of Weather Report as heard live in Tokyo, this two-disc Japanese import contains entire group ensembles from that concert -- and as such, it is a revelation. Now we can follow the wild, stream-of-consciousness evolution of early Weather Report workouts, taking the listener into all kinds of stylistic territory -- from Joe Zawinul's lone acoustic piano to dissonant free form and electronic explosions -- with lots of adjustments of tempo and texture. The pulse of jazz is more evident in their work here than on their American albums, and the example of Miles Davis circa the Fillmore concerts directs the fierce interplay. In his subsequent recordings with Weather Report, and as a leader, Wayne Shorter would rarely equal the manic intensity he displayed in Tokyo. All of the music is encapsulated in five lengthy "medleys" of WR's repertoire, three of which contain elongated versions of themes from the group's eponymously titled debut album from 1971. This would be the radical apogee of Weather Report on records, though they could retain this level of fire in concert for years to come.

Weather Report really cooks in this concert that is both groundbreaking and barrier shattering. The music is definitely seventies Miles Davis styled fusion, but that's the only thing this album has in common with what you have heard from that era. It is interesting that keyboardist Joe Zawinul has stated that he had the whole electric jazz idea in mind when he joined Miles Davis to record the classic album "In a Silent Way." If you listen to this album and understand that this is a Zawinul driven band completely separate from any Miles David ensemble, it is obvious that Zawinul's claims about "In a Silent Way" are well founded and justified by facts and the passage of time.

There is a lot to recommend the music found at this live concert event. For one thing, Weather Report's sound was often forged at concert dates and then recorded in the studio. The real essence of Weather Report, one could observe, is that of constant live composition and improvisation that thrives on the spontaneity of the moment. Weather Report was founded on the notion that everyone solos while no one solos, and it was an ongoing collaborative effort.

That was in sharp contrast to most of the music of the time. Whether listening to popular music, blues, or jazz of that time period, the majority was primarily based on song composition. That is, the music was first a song with the structure of verse, chorus, or bridge - and it was recorded or performed live in that format. Weather Report pioneered the ongoing sound that was based on a riff or melodic fragment, rhythm or bass line - and was ongoing without clear definition of compositional structure. That was a real contribution to the evolution of music in general and jazz in particular, one that is still being explored today in the musical idioms that followed.

In addition to all the analyzable elements, this album rocks! There is a lot to recommend this album for rock, funk, soul, and jazz audiences - and every bit of it moves and grooves and just kicks hard. There is a lot of experimental, even avant garde sound here as well. The sonic experimentation is awesome, and those with renewed interest in classic synthesizer sound will be thrilled and amazed.

Wayne Shorter excels as always in the saxophone department. His sense of melody, harmony, rhythm, and improvisational flair are unequalled. He truly tells a musical story with every song, every solo. His collaboration with Joe Zawinul's keyboard work is legendary and does not disappoint here. He also succeeds in taking many of the songs in unexpected directions as he spins his musical contributions throughout the concert.

Track listing:

CD 1
01 Medley: Vertical Invader/Seventh Arrow/T.H./Doctor Honoris Causa (Vitouš, Zawinul) – 26:14
02 Medley: Surucucú/Lost/Early Minor/Directions (Shorter, Zawinul) – 19:19

CD 2
01 Orange Lady (Zawinul) – 18:14
02 Medley: Eurydice/The Moors (Shorter) – 13:49
03 Medley: Tears/Umbrellas (Shorter, Zawinul) – 10:54

Personnel:

Josef Zawinul - Electric and acoustic piano
Wayne Shorter - Saxophones
Miroslav Vitouš - Bass
Eric Gravatt - Drums
Dom Um Romão - Percussion

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tunnels With Percy Jones - 1993 [1999]

Fretless bassist Percy Jones leads a post-fusion session featuring midi vibe player Marc Wagnon, guitarist Van Manakas & drummer Frank Katz; album includes 2 live tracks recorded at CBGB's & The Knitting Factory.

Percy Jones has been on the cutting edge for so long, it's a wonder he hasn't been sliced to ribbons by now. Undeterred by commercial considerations, he keeps forging ahead, adding more and more weapons to his arsenal of fretless techniques and writing thick threatening fusion (here performed with guitarist Van Manakas, drummer Frank Katz, and MIDI vibist Marc Wagnon). Jones has said he'll try anything to make the bass sound like it usually doesn't, and he's highly successful at it here.

Attention Brand X Listeners! This is the disk for you! One hot recording from beginning to end and contains more music than the original Ozone release of 1993. Yes, it's got it all and more! The players on this recording couldn't be any better. Van Manakas is one of those rare guitarists that actually play a guitar rather than just strum it. Frank Kats is probably one of the best drummers of the 90's. Percy Jones is always true to form and Marc Wagnon.

Incredible drum solo in track 5. Tracks listed from most exciting to less exciting. Very good prog here. Drummer's Delight. Melodies perfect.

Track listing:

1) Inseminator (Jones) 6:09
2) Prisoners Of The Knitting Factory Hallway (Wagnon) 6:37
3) Tunnels (Jones) 6:56
4) Maxwell's Demon (Jones) 7:17
5) Bad American Dream part 24 (Jones, Wagnon,Manakas, Katz) 15:42
6) Freebander (Jones) 5:24
7) Area (Wagnon) 7:51
8) Freebander 3:49
9) Silck 5:39 (Jones)
10) Improvisation 4:35 (Jones, Wagnon, Katz)

note: the last two tracks are bonus tracks, not included on the original release

Personnel:

Percy Jones: bass
Marc Wagnon: midi vibes
Van Manakas: guitar
Frank Katz: drums

Jim Hall - 1991 "Live At Town Hall" [Vol. 2]

James Stanley Hall (December 4, 1930 – December 10, 2013) was an American jazz guitarist, composer and arranger. Premier Guitar magazine stated that "It could be argued that the jazz guitar tree is rooted in four names: Django [Reinhardt], Charlie [Christian], Wes [Montgomery], and Jim [Hall]"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Hall_(musician)

Been listening to a lot of Jim Hall lately and happen to see this album. It has a long list of other great musicians playing in various settings from duo to large ensembles. Normally I don't like large ensembles but the compositions are very interesting as is the playing. Really enjoying this album a lot.  By Steve B.

I would suggest that anyone into JAZZ do your self a favor and buy this CD. I have spent hours listening to this CD. By sybilgoodson.

Track Listing:

(1) Hide and Seek  11:01
(2) How Deep is the Ocean  8:18
(3) Sancticity  8:56
(4) My Funny Valentine  7:52
(5) Careful  8:25

Personnel:

Guitar – Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Mick Goodrick, Peter Bernstein
Bass – Ron Carter, Steve LaSpina
Drums – Terry Clarke
Piano, Synthesizer – Gil Goldstein
Vibraphone – Gary Burton

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Billy Cobham - 1975 [1999] "A Funky Thide Of Sings"

A Funky Thide of Sings is a 1975 studio album by Billy Cobham.

The progressive rock band Caravan would be impressed with the album title. They too specialize in tricky album titles (just check out their 1975 album for proof!) A Funky Thide of Sings is either intended for those who prefer Billy's Crosswinds albums since there's more emphasis on jazz than usual (at least in the song "Moody Modes" which is the longest song here at 12 minutes) and of course, there's a LOT of funk (though not as much as the enthusiastic reviewers below led me to think).

And "Moody Modes" lives up to its name! At least initially. It's quite moody with the repetitive piano line and the dreamy synths. Soon the jazziness gets overwhelmingly loud and the song loses focus for a couple minutes. When the pace dramatically slows down a couple minutes in and a gentle piano solo occurs, I really enjoy this part. Reminds me of a peaceful rainfall in a forest. Soon it turns into a full-fledged piano jam reminding one of classical music. The really big Emerson, Lake & Palmer fan in me loves this part! Then a trumpet solo arrives that feels a bit out of place, but still okay since the notes are good... for the most part. It does wander a bit. Then a bass guitar solo comes in afterwards and tries rocking out on a few occasions which is when I *really* take notice of it. The dreamy jazzy theme returns to end the tune. Overall, a pretty solid song but the trumpet solo is a bit overlong.

"A Funky Kind of Thing" is all about the funk! Space rock drumming to be precise. Wow does this make me feel unstoppable! Like soaring to the moon on a big rocket and never looking back. Some may think this song never truly gets going since it's all about stopping/starting drum workouts, but I have to disagree. I think a lot of these drum patterns are quite good when approaching them under the right mindset. In fact it didn't take long at all to get into them! "Some Skunk Funk" opens on a boisterous note. Of course you can imagine how much funk there probably is... an abundance of it! This is a tightly constructed fast-moving song that focuses on horns playing swiftly to the rhythm, and a magnificent saxophone solo after. This song is written in similar fashion to the Mahavishnu Orchestra with all the sophisticated and tight time changes occurring.

"Thinking of You" is a guilty confession- I LOVE softly played synth instrumental music! There I said it. Despite how dated this sounds and stuck in the mid 70's, you know I just don't care because the mood is spectacular and relaxed. The melody is wonderful too. Oddly I can think of some video game music this might resemble. I'm thinking the Mega Man series, lol! The horns really give it flavor. Perhaps the saxophone solo is slightly out of place, but it too has enough melody that I don't mind. Ah, and then it gets mellow again like it was in the beginning before a jazzy guitar solo occurs (would've been nice if this part lasted a minute longer, huh). Just a great song!

"Panhandler" begins with an eerie type of ambience that reminds me of hiding under a rock until this unexplainable ominous danger above clears. But then... it clears out in a big way! In comes a jazzy rhythm with a funky horn riff. This song keeps a tight melody flowing and even when this extraordinary jazzy guitar solo comes in, the song remains high-octane and awesome. "A Funky Thide of Sings" (I guess is considered the title song- wow I never thought I'd experience confusion in figuring out what the title of an album is but this is one of those cases, haha) starts off a lot like "A Funky Kind of Thing" until turning into a rhythmic horn-drenched steady paced instrumental. Great sax solo near the end.

"Light at the End of the Tunnel" has a catchy intro riff that reminds me of a military march before shifting into a jazzier rhythm. Not sure what makes this song so irresistible, but it could be the heavy thumping bass in the background. Or the amazing Tommy Bolin-like guitar solo that comes in. "Sorcery" is based around a really cool swirling bass riff with other jazzy instruments coming in to enhance the atmosphere. Awesome keyboard solo that reminds me of the same one near the end of... Caravan's "The Love In Your Eyes" suite! Hard to believe I'd be bringing up Caravan's name twice in this review. Seriously Billy Cobham and Caravan are completely different artists 99% of the time!

Overall, the perfect album for Billy Cobham lovers!

Cobhams's long been revered as one of the best drummers on the planet , a distinction shared by only but a few of the top tiered pounders who ever picked up the sticks. A devout fusioneer who cut his teeth playing with the likes of legendary
axmen John McLaughlin , John Abercrombie & John Scofield - anybody who appreciates guitar jam will know of whom i write. Cobham's also surrounded himself over the years with nothing but the best sidemen and studio players such as the late great Michael Brecker and the always inventive bass player and ex Passport member Wolfgang Schmid. Cobham's thunderous drumrolls and triple kick bass drums are his signature sound and to hear them is to realize you'll always recognize , and appreciate what a great drummer sounds like.

Originally released in 1975. While elements of funk were always a part of his band's sound, it was now the primary focus. "Panhandler" stands out as the session's most memorable composition, while Milcho Leviev contributes nicely on "Moody Modes." Cobham fans will want to seek this out for the extended drum solo "A Funky Kind of Thing," which stands as one of the most original drum solos he ever recorded. Of particular interest here is the presence of John Scofield, who had replaced John Abercrombie. Not up to the standards of its predecessors, but a worthy purchase.

Tracks Listing:

1. Panhandler (3:50)
2. Sorcery (2:26)
3. A Funky Thide Of Sings (3:40)
4. Thinking Of You (4:12)
5. Some Skunk Funk (5:07)
6. Light At The End Of The Tunnel (3:37)
7. A Funky Kind Of Thing (9:24)
8. Moody Modes (12:16)

Total time 44:32

Line-up / Musicians:

- Billy Cobham / percussion, synthesizer, arranger & co-producer
- John Scofield / guitar
- Milcho Leviev / keyboards, arrangements (2,8)
- Michael Brecker / saxophone (excl. 3)
- Randy Brecker / trumpet (excl. 3), arrangements (5)
- Glenn Ferris / trombone (excl. 3)
- Larry Schneider / saxophone (1,3)
- Walt Fowler / trumpet (1,3)
- Tom Malone / trombone & piccolo (1,3)
- Alex Blake / bass, arrangements (4)
- Rebop Kwaku Baah / congas (1,3)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

George Benson - 1976 [1988] "In Concert-Carnegie Hall"

In Concert-Carnegie Hall is a live album by American guitarist George Benson featuring a performance recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1975 and released on the CTI label. The CD reissue added one bonus track and reordered the selections as presented in concert.

In Concert -- Carnegie Hall is George Benson's final recording for Creed Taylor's CTI label, and was mostly recorded on one night in 1975. There was some additional recording done at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in 1976, where Taylor replaced the original rhythm section of Wayne Dockery on bass and Marvin Chapell on drums with Will Lee and Steve Gadd, for whatever reason Taylor had at the time. Regardless, this is a solid "live" effort with Benson cooking on all burners, beginning with a monster version of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," which had been cut on an earlier album and had become a staple in the live set. Organist Ronnie Foster's backing skills here are indispensable, as they keep Benson talking to the other members of the band. The version of "Summertime" here could have been recorded by Phil Spector. The concert version of the tune -- on which Benson takes a vocal -- has been added to with the substitution of the rhythm section and the later addition of a string orchestra in the studio. (Perhaps Taylor understood Benson's crossover appeal; he would cross over into the pop charts on Warner the next year with "This Masquerade.") The crowd dug it, but it's simply OK over the test of time. Hipper is the long snaky groove of Benson's own "Gone," with begins with the steady pulse of Hubert Laws playing a counterpoint foil on flute. The entwining harmonic interplay between the two is gorgeous and goes on for over ten minutes. The band then takes on Freddie Hubbard's "Sky Dive" with real aplomb. The Latin rhythm and slippery guitar by Benson pull the rhythm section up a notch before he begins the head. His funky articulation of fifths and then eighths in his break is mesmerizing. The way Chapell rides the cymbal like a bell is particularly satisfying. The album closes on another Benson original with Laws popping in again. It's called "Octane." Over ten minutes in length, it begins with Benson in full roar before the time signature changes and triples, feeling like a bebop tune more than anything else. Foster keeps it all grounded, but this baby swings so hard it threatens to lift off. In retrospect, listening to this record in the 21st century, it's difficult to imagine Benson making the switch from a classy guitar firebrand to a pop star so quickly. Mosaic Contemporary has brought out a fine remastered edition on CD.

George Benson – one of his hardest-hitting albums of the time! In a way, the record returns George to his early years at CTI – particularly the album Beyond The Blue Horizon – as the set's got a stripped down smaller group, working in a tight blend of electric jazzy bits that's very nice! Ronnie Foster lays down some great keyboards on the set, Hubert Laws is on flute, and George himself plays a hollow body with a nice soulful tone – stretching out on some straight jazz on most cuts, but also hitting a few of his smoother notes from the mid 70s. Titles include "Take Five", "Octane", "Summertime", and "Gone".

George Benson comes on very much like Wes Montgomery, effectively in tone and style, though Montgomery had that raw touch with his playability, and a more intuitive feel while Benson's sound does rather sound schooled and well disciplined, but the different generation production techniques may have enough to do with that. And, in fact, as well as sounding quite similar both Benson and Montgomery followed much the same paths career wise. They started out as jazz guitar players who simply relied on their virtuoso talent to carry their music through but later on both men would turn their attention to pop like standards and reap commercial success in that direction. While both men would also end up working with producer Creed Taylor who probably had some say in the their watered down if more wider appealing directions. This would be Benson's last album before seeking out newer pastures with a new label and style of music, but while on CTI he was still producing music with little or no pop gimmickery. Live At Carnegie Hall contains Benson at the end of his pure jazz playing days, while not as exciting as his earlier seventies work the album is finely honed and smooth with some fluid and clean guitar. There are four cuts here, and basically Benson lets it all flow out into neat and tidy jams, it all does become a little too conservative though, which allows flautist Hubert Laws some room to move. "Gone", "Take Five", "Octane" are good and show some great guitar skills but Benson's version of "Summertime" is just pop pap. George sings along with the solo here when in fact he should just shut the fuck up and let the guitar do the talking. The frame of "Summertime" is what Benson would do for the next few years. Best stop at this juncture though before anyone gets hurt.

Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, New York City by David Hewitt and John L Venable on the Record Plant Remote Truck on January 11, 1975 with overdubs for the reissue at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Track listing:

01 Introduction - 1:17 Bonus track on CD reissue
02 "Take Five" (Paul Desmond) - 5:37
03 "Summertime" (George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward) - 7:24
04 "Gone" - 10:28
05 "Sky Dive" (Freddie Hubbard) - 6:57 Bonus track on CD reissue
06 "Octane" - 10:16

Personnel:

George Benson - guitar, vocals
Hubert Laws - flute
Ronnie Foster - keyboards
Wayne Dockery - bass
Marvin Chappell - drums
Bernard Fennell - cello

Overdubbed:
Johnny Griggs, Ray Armando - percussion
Will Lee - bass
Steve Gadd, Andy Newmark - drums
Unknown string section arranged and conducted by David Matthews

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Jack Wilkins - 2001 "Reunion"

Reunion is just that.

And for jazz listeners who missed Jack Wilkins' outstanding 1977 release, Merge, the first time out, or for those who are too young to remember it, Reunion brings back that group for a brief moment in time.

It wasn't easy. Schedules conflicted and everyone was busy, but they found a slot when they could record. Try as they might, Wilkins and the producer weren't able to pin down saxophonist Michael Brecker for more than two tracks. But the "what if" questions about the addition of Michael Brecker are answered on Reunion, for the Brecker brothers do team up on "Kiwi Bird" and Horace Silver's "Break City." The remainder of the CD consists of the personnel who created such a pearl 24 years before, one that awaited discovery by a guitarist who recorded too infrequently as a leader.

The original group grew incrementally, at first consisting of Wilkins and bassist Eddie Gomez when they played at Sweet Basil. Later, Jack DeJohnette and Randy Brecker joined in. The result was/is a distinctive group, each member with his own personal sound. Yet, they all intuitively understand the value of interaction and spontaneity. In fact, this group is one case where the rhythm section leads the horn, so recognizable are their styles. Gomez' full virtuosic sound in instantly recognizable, no matter where he performs. DeJohnette developed his own individual approach to the drums that, like all great drummers', enlarges the meaning of each tune through texture and pulse.

Often, the genre of choice is bop, which makes sense due to the influence of musicians like Horace Silver upon members of the group. Recalling their work in his group, the Brecker brothers perform Silver's "Break City," and Michael in particular stretches out in full command of his instrument.

But Wilkins had more in mind than a re-creation of his previous album. "Reunion" the song is a minor-keyed excursion that invites close listening as the musicians improvise over its modal structure. Wilkins develops the tune as through successive choruses of atmospheric embellishment, which are notable in addition for Gomez' and DeJohnette's irresistible rhythmic drive that they build.

The slower tunes include Gomez' "Scott," a 3/4 tribute to his son that he bows in introduction before Wilkins joins in to break out the melody. Gomez' and Wilkins' solos are the highlights of the tune as they demonstrate mastery of their instruments that has only improved over the years. Wilkins ends the CD with the standards "But Beautiful" and "All The Things You Are," "But Beautiful" being a trio setting that lets Wilkins relax as he explores the tunes harmonic richness.

After all of these years, the Wilkins group is intact and inspiring. If their now-busy careers prevent the opportunity for them to perform live, at least we have Reunion to document the group's natural ability to perform, and to communicate, as if 1977 were only yesterday.

This disc reunites the musicians-guitarist Jack Wilkins, saxophonist Michael Brecker, trumpeter Randy Brecker, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Jack DeJohnette-featured on Merge, recorded for Chiaroscuro in 1977. Since then, more than 20 years later, each has become one of the most respected players on his instrument. And while Wilkins is the leader of this date, the other players get plenty of blowing room, and Wilkins, Gomez and Randy Brecker all contribute original material.

On Wilkins’ grooving, upbeat “Kiwi Bird” the Breckers step up with dynamic, searching solos that set the stage for a guitar excursion that includes myriads of beautifully conceived and executed phrases. And on the title track, a moody, anthemic ballad, Wilkins wields an electric nylon-string whose sonic properties heighten the overall feel. Gomez’s “Cheeks,” a salute to Dizzy Gillespie, relentlessly bops along, providing a nice vehicle for a grooving solo by Wilkins, who particularly excels in this type of setting, and a burning outing by Randy Brecker, whose nuances and phrasing frequently acknowledge Birks. Balancing the program’s originals are readings of three standards, including “All the Things You Are,” whose melody is chucked aside in favor of a novel, uptempo, kinetic treatment that supports an array of adventurous blowing by Wilkins and a masterfully expansive solo by DeJohnette.

While this date could have been recorded better (the guitar sounds like it went straight into the board instead of being miked, which influences its tone and presence), it only slightly detracts from the typically brilliant compositions and performances.

Back in 1977, guitarist Jack Wilkins led a very rewarding recording date, Merge, that featured trumpeter Randy Brecker and tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker playing straight-ahead jazz. For this reunion date, Wilkins, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Jack DeJohnette are joined throughout (except for the guitarist's feature on "But Beautiful") by Randy Brecker, although brother Michael is unfortunately only on two selections. Wilkins and Randy Brecker have many fine solos, and the repertoire consists of five group originals, Horace Silver's "Break City," and three standards. Although not reaching the heights of Merge (it is a pity that Michael Brecker was not along for the whole project), this is mostly a high-quality quartet outing of fine post-bop jazz. Worth exploring.

Track Listing:

1. Kiwi Bird (6:46) [Jack Wilkins]
2. Reunion (8:30) [Jack Wilkins]
3. Break City (6:03) [Horace Silver]
4. Moontide (8:31) [Randy Brecker]
5. Yours Is My Heart Alone (7:24) [Lehar]
6. Scott (8:27) [Eddie Gomez]
7. Cheeks (7:42) [Eddie Gomez]
8. But Beautiful (4:42) [Burke, VanHeusen]
9. All The Things You Are (7:23) [Hammerstein, Kern]

Personnel:

Jack Wilkins (guitar);
Michael Brecker (tenor saxophone);
Randy Brecker (trumpet, flugelhorn);
Eddie Gomez (bass);
Jack DeJohnette (drums).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Various Artists - 1989 Jazz-Club - "Bass"

Selecting representative recordings of bass players is an especially tough task, given the relative scarcity of recordings of bassists as leaders, but the Ralf Enoch/Horst Hohenböken Jazz-Club series has come up with a fascinating anthology from PolyGram's archives. Although there are some unavoidably glaring omissions due to ties with other labels -- Jimmy Blanton, Milt Hinton, Scott LaFaro, Charlie Haden, for example (Christian McBride wasn't on the scene yet in 1989) -- the collection still makes its way from the nifty Slam Stewart hum-scat swing of "Beyond the Blue Horizon" (1944) through the mainstream '50s and closing with the emergence of Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke in the jazz-rock '70s. "Prayer for Passive Resistance" is an exciting example of Charles Mingus' sudden shifts of tempos; Percy Heath is shown off effectively on the MJQ's "The Golden Striker." Oscar Pettiford's solid, booming sense of time in Tal Farlow's "Blues In the Closet," Ray Brown's self-explanatory "Solo for Unaccompanied Bass," and Clarke's spellbinding "Bass Folk Song" are standout tracks. Other bassists anchoring their bands here are Chubby Jackson, Eddie Safranski, Paul Chambers, Red Mitchell, Sam Jones, Ron Carter, Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen and Richard Davis.

Artist / Tracklist

01 –Slam Stewart With The Coleman Hawkins Quintet - Beyond The Blue Horizon Take 1
02 –Chubby Jackson & His Orchestra*  - Northwest Passage
03 –Charles Mingus - Prayer For Passive Resistance
04 –Ray Brown  - Solo For Unaccompanied Bass
05 –Oscar Pettiford With Tal Farlow  - Blues In The Closet
06 –Percy Heath With The The Modern Jazz Quartet  - The Golden Striker
07 –Eddie Safranski With The Metronome All Stars - How High The Moon Part 1
08 –Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cleveland And His All Stars  - Little Beaver
09 –Red Mitchell With The Herb Geller Quartet  - If I Were A Bell
10 –Sam Jones With The The Cannonball Adderley Quintet  - Tribute To Brownie
11 –Ron Carter With Kenny Burrell - Stompin' At The Savoy
12 –Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen With Oscar Peterson  - Younger Than Springtime
13 –Richard Davis  - Muses For Richard Davis
14 –Jaco Pastorius - Foreign Fun

Saturday, June 24, 2017

George Benson - 1971 [1987] "White Rabbit"

White Rabbit is an album by George Benson. The title track is a cover of the famous Great Society/Jefferson Airplane song by Grace Slick.

For George Benson's second CTI project, producer Creed Taylor and arranger Don Sebesky successfully place the guitarist in a Spanish-flavored setting full of flamenco flourishes, brass fanfares, moody woodwinds and such. The idea works best on "California Dreamin'" (whose chords are based on Andalusian harmonies), where, driven by Jay Berliner's exciting Spanish rhythm guitar, Benson comes through with some terrifically inspired playing. On "El Mar," Berliner is replaced by Benson's protégé Earl Klugh (then only 17) in an inauspicious -- though at the time, widely-heralded -- recorded debut. The title track is another winner, marred only by the out-of-tune brasses at the close, and in a good example of the CTI classical/jazz formula at work, Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Little Train of the Caipira" is given an attractive early-'70s facelift. Herbie Hancock gets plenty of nimble solo space on Rhodes electric piano, Airto Moreira contributes percussion and atmospheric wordless vocals, and Ron Carter and Billy Cobham complete the high-energy rhythm section. In this prime sample of the CTI idiom, everyone wins.

After three late-1960s A&M albums with mastermind Creed Taylor prior to the creation of CTI Records, guitarist George Benson hit 1971 running with two CTI debuts, issued a few months apart. Beyond the Blue Horizon was closer, in complexion, to his A&M recordings—harkening back, even, to his impressive 1966 Columbia Records two-punch, It's Uptown and The George Benson Cookbook—although the virtuosic, soul- drenched guitarist was clearly evolving as a player and maturing into one whose firebrand, virtuosic tendencies were becoming refreshingly balanced with greater maturity and restraint.

White Rabbit was (and remains) an anomaly in Benson's prodigious catalogue, with its heavy orchestration by CTI regular Don Sebesky. It's also the album that first paired Earl Klugh—a guitarist who, in the face of Charlie Byrd and Laurindo Almeida, took the nylon-string into the realm of light funk and soul—with the electric Benson. The partnership would last a couple more years to the more decidedly groove- centric Body Talk (CTI, 1973), which foreshadowed Benson's rocket to stardom with his move to Warner Bros. and 1976's megahit, Breezin'.

Despite some truly dated material—in particular the title track, an overblown look at Jefferson Airplane's drug-drenched, 1967 hit single—Benson transcends it all, with some brilliant playing, even as "White Rabbit" strives to break out of Sebesky's overbearing bolero-like arrangement. Herbie Hancock, too, turns in an energetic electric piano solo, and comps with soft (and welcome) pushes towards the outer reaches during Hubert Laws' flute feature, creating some much-needed tension and release, even as the track heads towards an overly cluttered ending that, with tympanis pounding, is indicative of CTI at its worst.

That said, Sebesky's gentle strings and harp on "Theme from 'Summer of 42'" are far more successful—and appropriate. It's easy listening, to be sure, with Benson joining Klugh on nylon string guitar, as the song moves into light Latin territory, but the more change-heavy take on a classical piece—Villa Lobos' "Little Train," taken from the composer's "Bachianas Brasilerias #2," is an album highlight; Benson's fleet-fingers matched by Hancock and bolstered by bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Cobham, who cook without overbearance.

Another dated track, The Mamas and The Papas' pre-Summer of Love hit, "California Dreamin,'" begins with an almost non-sequitur of Spanish tinges but, more than anywhere else on the album, demonstrates the simpatico interplay between Benson and Klugh, suggesting that Klugh was, indeed, a star in the making. Klugh's gorgeous intro to Benson's closing "El Mar"—the album's only original—sets the stage for an 11-minute highlight that suggests a stylistic breadth to Benson that, despite a subsequent career living as much in the pop world as anywhere else, has continued to this day.

An anomaly in Benson's catalogue, perhaps, and one with its fair share of weaknesses to offset its many strengths, this CTI Masterworks reissue of White Rabbit remains, in many ways, a curiosity that transitions between his more mainstream efforts and the soulful jazz/pop star he was about to become; not without its merits, but not essential either.

Track listing:

01 "White Rabbit" (Grace Slick) - 6:55
02 "Theme from Summer of '42" (Michel Legrand) - 5:08
03 "Little Train (from Bachianas Brasileiras No.2)" (Heitor Villa-Lobos) - 5:47
04 "California Dreaming" (John Phillips, Michelle Phillips) - 7:22
05 "El Mar" (George Benson) - 10:49

Personnel:

George Benson - guitar
Jay Berliner - acoustic guitar
Earl Klugh - acoustic guitar (5)
Ron Carter - bass
Herbie Hancock - electric piano
Billy Cobham - drums
Airto Moreira - percussion, vocals
Gloria Agostini - vibes, percussion

Woodwinds:
Phil Bodner - flute, alto flute, oboe, English horn
Hubert Laws - flute, alto flute, piccolo, flute solo on 1
George Marge - flute, alto flute, clarinet, oboe, English horn
Romeo Penque - English horn, oboe, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet
Jane Taylor - bassoon

Brass:
Wayne Andre - trombone, baritone
Jim Buffington - French horn
John Frosk - trumpet, flugelhorn, solo (1, 5)
Alan Rubin - trumpet, flugelhorn

Wes Montgomery - 1966 [1997] "California Dreaming"

California Dreaming is the sixteenth jazz album recorded by guitarist Wes Montgomery and released in 1966. It reached number one on the Billboard Jazz album chart and number 4 on the R&B chart. It was reissued on CD in 2007 with an alternate take of "Sunny".

Wes Montgomery's last album for Verve (other than an exciting collaboration with Jimmy Smith) is a so-so orchestral date featuring arrangements by Don Sebesky. The material (which includes "Sunny" and "California Dreaming") is strictly pop fluff of the era and the great guitarist has little opportunity to do much other than state the melody in his trademark octaves. This record was perfect for AM radio of the period.

My step-father brought this home on 8-track in 1968 and to this day when I listen to it, I can go back to that place in time. Wes is on it, the arrangements are sharp, tasteful and evoke a mood that I will always cherish, even the cover fit to a tee. Wes was a unique artist, the likes of which we won't soon see again. Something about the early sixties...just makes me want to make a highball, throw a t-bone on the grill, light up a Kool Filter King, kick back and enjoy life...this is a great period piece.

Classic Jazz re-visited and enjoyed that's what this vintage music means to me and others who love it as well. I now own a classic piece of history (How sweet is that?) This was a vintage recording hard to attain and easy to enjoy Jazz America's only true original Art form...this album is sophisticated AND musical and in my opinion puts Wes' tone and imagination on display at their best ! I have a lot of Wes in my collection; this is my favorite ! (... the sidemen / arrangements are only spectacular !)

Although this the 'pop' Wes Montgomery, I think it show his remarkable guitar playing. He was a unique and wonderful artist. I highly recommend it

Track listing:

01 - "California Dreaming" (John Phillips, Michelle Phillips) – 3:08
02 - "Sun Down" (Wes Montgomery) – 6:03
03 - "Oh, You Crazy Moon" (Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke) – 3:44
04 - "More, More, Amor" (Sol Lake) – 2:54
05 - "Without You" (Marino, Myers) – 3:05
06 - "Winds of Barcelona" (Lake) – 3:07
07 - "Sunny [alternate take]" (Bobby Hebb) – 3:07
08 - "Sunny" (Hebb) – 4:04
09 - "Green Peppers" (Lake) – 2:56
10 - "Mr. Walker" (Montgomery) – 3:39
11 - "South of the Border" (Jimmy Kennedy, Michael Carr) – 3:13

Personnel:

Wes Montgomery – guitar
Herbie Hancock – piano
Bucky Pizzarelli – guitar
Ray Barretto – percussion
Grady Tate – drums
Al Casamenti – guitar
Richard Davis – bass
Bernie Glow – trumpet
Mel Davis – trumpet
Jimmy Nottingham – trumpet
Wayne Andre – trombone
Johnny Messner – trombone
Bill Watrous – trombone
Stan Webb – clarinet, English Horn, saxophone
Raymond Beckenstein – flute, piccolo, saxophone
James Buffington – French Horn
Jack Jennings – castanets, scratching, vibraphone
Don Butterfield – tuba

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

King Crimson - 1973 [1989] "Larks' Tongues In Aspic"

Larks' Tongues in Aspic is the fifth studio album by the English progressive rock group King Crimson, released on 23 March 1973 through Island Records. This album is the debut of King Crimson's fifth incarnation, featuring original member and guitarist Robert Fripp and new members John Wetton (vocals, bass guitar), David Cross (violin, Mellotron), Jamie Muir (percussion), and Bill Bruford (drums). It is also a key album in the band's evolution, drawing on Eastern European classical music and European free improvisation as central influences.

At the end of the tour to promote King Crimson's previous album, Islands, Fripp had parted company with the three other members of the band (Mel Collins, Boz Burrell and Ian Wallace). The previous year had also seen the ousting of the band's lyricist and artistic co-director Peter Sinfield. In all cases, Fripp had cited a developing musical (and sometimes personal) incompatibility, and was now writing starker music drawing less on familiar American influences and more on influences such as Béla Bartók and free improvisation.

In order to pursue these new ideas, Fripp first recruited bass guitarist/singer John Wetton (a longstanding friend of the band who had lobbied to join at least once before but had become a member of Family in the meantime). The second recruit was Jamie Muir, an experimental free-improvising percussionist who had previously been performing in the Music Improvisation Company with Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, as well as in Sunship (with Alan Gowen and Allan Holdsworth) and Boris (with Don Weller and Jimmy Roche, both later of jazz-rock band Major Surgery).

On drums (and to be paired with Muir) Fripp recruited Yes drummer Bill Bruford. Another longstanding King Crimson admirer, Bruford felt that he had done all he could with Yes at that point, and was keen to leave the band before they embarked on their Close to the Edge tour, believing that the jazz- and experimentation-oriented King Crimson would be a more expansive outlet for his musical ideas. The final member of the new band was David Cross, a rock violinist and occasional keyboard player.

King Crimson reborn yet again -- the then-newly configured band makes its debut with a violin (courtesy of David Cross) sharing center stage with Robert Fripp's guitars and his Mellotron, which is pushed into the background. The music is the most experimental of Fripp's career up to this time -- though some of it actually dated (in embryonic form) back to the tail-end of the Boz Burrell-Ian Wallace-Mel Collins lineup. And John Wetton was the group's strongest singer/bassist since Greg Lake's departure three years earlier. What's more, this lineup quickly established itself as a powerful performing unit, working in a more purely experimental, less jazz-oriented vein than its immediate predecessor. "Outer Limits music" was how one reviewer referred to it, mixing Cross' demonic fiddling with shrieking electronics, Bill Bruford's astounding dexterity at the drum kit, Jamie Muir's melodic and usually understated percussion, Wetton's thundering yet melodic bass, and Fripp's guitar, which generated sounds ranging from traditional classical and soft pop-jazz licks to hair-curling electric flourishes.

With his third lineup in four years, King Crimson guitar maestro Robert Fripp finally tapped back into a musical energy as powerful and groundbreaking as that of his 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King. The group's fifth album was a masterful mélange of painstaking composition and wild experimentation, as if Fripp were depicting a madman struck with glimmers of melancholy clarity. In the end, it's difficult to tell which passages were happy accidents and which were carefully constructed; and it's even harder to determine which are more impactful, as clattering trays, chiming bells, twittering birds, understated voices and clown-toy laughter intertwine with tinny, static-filled guitar, epileptic beats and violin lines that range from gorgeous to harrowing.

King Crimson‘s fifth album, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, is a pinnacle of progressive rock, even though its music is nearly unclassifiable. More than 40 years after its release, it remains a genre unto itself — a mishmash of heavy and soothing, beautiful and unsettling, experimental and melodic.
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is King Crimson’s second classic album. With 1969’s groundbreaking In the Court of the Crimson King, the band basically invented progressive rock entirely, utilizing bandleader Robert Fripp’s epic approach to song construction, which layered aggressive fretwork with propulsive rhythms, jazzy woodwinds and the most iconic Mellotron sound ever laid to tape.
But just as soon as King Crimson birthed an exciting new musical movement, they retreated to the shadows. The band’s following trio of albums (1970’s In the Wake of Poseidon, 1970’s Lizard and Islands in 1971) were scattered with brilliance, but mostly just . . . scattered, with Fripp unable to maintain a consistent lineup of players from one release to another (or even track to track).
That pattern ended in 1972, when Fripp started recruiting a brand new lineup — one designed for an edgier, more unpredictable style of playing. He brought in two new drummers, designed to represent polar opposite ends of the percussive spectrum: Jamie Muir — an explosive percussionist with an unconventional approach and wild stage presence — and Bill Bruford, who’d already established his jazzy, inventive approach to drumming as a member of Yes. On top of that double-percussion foundation, Fripp added violinist David Cross and bassist and singer John Wetton.
That quintet lineup quickly earned rave reviews for their highly improvised live shows. In the liner notes to the 2012 Larks’ Tongues in Aspic reissue, Wetton reflected on the intensity of those early performances. “A lot of the time,” he said, “the audience couldn’t really tell the difference between what was formal and what wasn’t because the improvising was of a fairly high standard. It was almost telepathic at times.”

Tracks Listing:

1. Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part One (13:36)
2. Book Of Saturdays (2:49)
3. Exiles (7:40)
4. Easy Money (7:54)
5. The Talking Drum (7:26)
6. Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two (7:12)

Total Time: 46:37

Line-up / Musicians:

- Robert Fripp / guitar, Mellotron, electronic devices
- David Cross / violin, viola, Mellotron, electric piano, flute (3)
- John Wetton / bass, piano (3), vocals
- Bill Bruford / drums, percussion
- Jamie Muir / percussion, drums

Monday, June 19, 2017

Leo Kottke - 1973 [1996] "My Feet Are Smiling"

My Feet Are Smiling is American guitarist Leo Kottke's sixth album, and his second album recorded live. It reached No. 108 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts.

The songs were recorded December 19 and 20, 1972 at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the majority of the album's content being from the second night. "Blue Dot" was written three days before the concert.
The album was re-issued on CD in 1994 by BGO and in 1996 by One Way Records.

The prodigious technique, deadpan sense of humor, and infamous singing are all evident less than a minute into the opening tune. Performing solo and playing more slide guitar than usual, Kottke wows a supportive hometown audience in Minneapolis with some of the finest playing of his career. That's saying a lot. Sensational one moment and sentimental the next, he presents a varied, well-paced set that's worth adding to your collection if you can find it. The well-traveled "Louise" is only one highlight, although it's Leo's playing that will drop your jaw, not his singing.

Not since the death of THE greatest guitarist of all time, Chet Atkins, has there remained the only truly unique guitar virtuoso, and that's Leo Kottke. Too bad this came out WAYYYYY back in 1972, and it, along with his "Armadillo" CD [Six and Twelve String Guitars], are still my favorite's of his. I saw him live, in Dallas, back in the mid-'80's and he was EXTRAORDINARY, and he played several favorites from this CD. Listen, and see if you don't agree he's the best acoustic guitarist you've heard!

This was one of the first LP vinyl records I bought as a teenager and with the changing audio technologies and my numerous moves across the country over the past 30 years I lost the album. So, I wasn't sure if I would still like it. I was right. I didn't like it. I loved it! This is truly a classic album! There is no better 12 string guitarist than Leo. The songs are better than I remember and his deep voice draws you in to the classic ballads he sings.

I ran across Leo Kottke by accident. I bought a copy of his album Peligroso. It was great. I started buying his albums and they all were great. This one is one of the best and every song is terrific. Leo is one of the premier guitar players in America. He sings in some of his albums and others are instrumentals. He is great either way. I have 5 of his albums now and if any one of the five is better than the others it is this one. But, the worst one is great!

He has other album, all very good and some with no vocals. But, I gotta say Leo that I love your vocals on this one!

He does not disappoint! Truly an album for your collection!

Track Listings

  1. Intro
  2. Hear The Wind Howl
  3. Busted Bicycle
  4. Easter
  5. Louise
  6. Blue Dot
  7. Stealing
  8. Living In The Country
  9. June Bug
  10. Standing In My Shoes
  11. The Fisherman
  12. Bean Time
  13. Eggtooth
  14. Medley: Crow River Waltz/Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring/Jack Fig

Personnel:

Leo Kottke - Guitar, Vocal.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Various Artists - 2005 "Fusion For Miles" - A Guitar Tribute

Titled Fusion for Miles: A Guitar Tribute, this set is a bit unusual. A five-piece band that includes Dave Liebman on soprano sets up grooves and backgrounds that sound like Miles Davis' bands of 1969-1971. A different guitarist is featured on each of the ten selections, with the biggest names being Mike Stern, Bill Frisell, Bill Connors, and Pat Martino. Ironically, those four are each featured on pre-fusion Davis-associated songs ("So What," "Nefertiti," "Eighty-One," and "Serpent's Tooth") that are performed with funk rhythms and as if Davis had revived them in 1970. In addition to having a string of guitars in the foreground, it is unusual to hear this music without any trumpeters. But overall, the project is successful with plenty of fireworks and creative playing along the way, reviving music from 35 years earlier that still manages to sound fresh and slightly menacing.

Trumpeter Miles Davis shifted gears so many times during his forty-year career that doing a proper tribute which covers the entire time frame represents a distinct challenge. Perhaps that's why many artists have focused on specific periods in their Miles tributes. Producer Gary Guthrie put a new spin on Kind of Blue with A New Kind of Blue, while trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Henry Kaiser's Yo Miles! project has released three sets inspired by Miles' '70s electric period. Even trumpeter Wallace Roney, while not recording a tribute album per se, has taken one of Miles' mid-'60s albums, Nefertiti, and used it, along with other sources, as the foundation for his own work.
In the past year, guitarist Jeff Richman has released tributes to saxophonist John Coltrane (A Guitar Supreme) and guitarist John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse). He's probably the first to try and put the departed trumpeter's greater career arc into perspective. The problem is that there's little to tie together Miles' various periods. One reason for this is that whenever he moved into a new musical space, he often alienated much of his existing fan base. Fans of Kind of Blue are not inherently going to be disposed towards Bitches Brew, and many who discovered Miles with the pop-funk of his last decade may find his more abstract mid-'60s quintet completely unfathomable.

Consequently Fusion for Miles starts with an immediate handicap. The bad news is that Richman's arrangements—featuring a core band of keyboardist Larry Goldings, bassist Alphonso Johnson, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta—don't go very far in finding the elusive common link. In fact, Richman often takes tunes that were the barest of sketches—for example, Miles' funk vamp of "Jean-Pierre" and the equally harmonically static jungle funk of his early-'70s "Black Satin"—and writes new passages to give them greater interest. While these radically altered and stricter arrangements give the guest guitarists more to work with, by its very virtuosity Fusion for Miles loses sight of one of Miles' core musical goals: creating specific vibes and particular feelings.

The good news is that Fusion for Miles is one heck of a great fusion record when taken on its own merits. It features a varied bunch of guitarists who range from the post bop sensibility of Pat Martino and Bill Connors, to more clear fusion from Jimmy Herring and Mike Stern, and the rock-centric approach of Warren Haynes and Steve Kimmock. Covering material from the late '50s ("So What") through the mid-'80s ("Splatch"), every guitarist digs into the solid foundation laid by the rhythm section. Unlike Richman's Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute, none of the core band members actually played with Miles, but the inclusion of one early-'70s Miles veteran, saxophonist Dave Liebman, on some tracks provides linkage. And while the individual tunes come from a multitude of spaces, Richman's arrangements bring them together for an album that is sure to please fans of pedal-to-the-floor fusion to no end.

Musicians and fans that revere Miles Davis’ late period work will treasure Fusion For Miles, an anthology whose participants consider “Black Satin,” “Back Seat Betty” and “Spanish Key” just as important as “So What” or “Nefertiti” (which are also part of the menu here). Organist Larry Goldings brings some blues/soul grit to the main lineup that also includes a tremendous funk bassist (Alphonso Johnson), a saxophonist just as comfortable with groove-heavy fare as the avant-garde (Dave Liebman) and a guitar-and-drum drum combo that are regulars in this setting (Jeff Richman and Vinnie Colaiuta, respectively).

Although personal favorites include Bill Frisell’s typically unusual but effective playing on “Nefertiti,” Pat Martino’s easy, sleek solos on “Serpent’s Tooth” and Bireli Lagrene’s balance between flash and soul on “Spanish Key,” there’s also Mike Stern’s steady playing on “So What” and Jimmy Herring’s resourcefulness on “Black Satin.” Richman’s arrangements retain much of the intensity and appeal of the original tunes, though the larger Davis aggregations generated more punch on “Black Satin” or “Back Seat Betty.”

As someone who initially loved (and still loves) the electric Davis’ ensembles as much as the great acoustic groups, Fusion for Miles is a worthy celebration of both approaches.

Track Listing:

01 Black Satin
02 Splatch
03 Jean Pierre
04 So What
05 Nefertiti
06 Eighty One
07 Serpent's Tooth
08 It's About That Time
09 Back Seat Betty
10 Spanish Key

Personnel:

Vinnie Colaiuta: drums;
Alphonso Johnson: bass;
Larry Goldings: keyboards;
Jeff Richman: guitars
Dave Liebman: saxophone.

Featured guitarists:

Jimmy Herring (1)
Jeff Richman (2)
Eric Johnson (3)
Mike Stern (4)
Bill Frisell (5)
Bill Connors (6)
Pat Martino (7)
Warren Haynes (8)
Steve Kimmock (9)
Bireli Lagrene (10)