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.

http://jazz-rock-fusion-guitar.blogspot.com/2015/12/yes-1973-1994-yessongs.html

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Pat Martino - 1997 "All Sides Now"

All Sides Now is an album by guitarist Pat Martino which was recorded in 1996–97 and first released on the Blue Note label. The album pairs Martino with notable guitarists from across the musical spectrum.

Veteran Pat Martino is teamed up with a variety of different fellow guitarists on this interesting if not quite essential release. Martino matches wits with guitarist Charlie Hunter (who on Stevie Wonder's "Too High" often sounds like an organist), Tuck Andress, Kevin Eubanks, Les Paul ("I'm Confessin'"), Mike Stern and Michael Hedges. In addition, Cassandra Wilson sings Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" accompanied by Martino, and rock guitarist Joe Satriani tries to sit in on two numbers (with indifferent results). A decent effort, but not up to Pat Martino's most significant releases.

Pat Martino's 1997 album All Sides Now features performances by (among others) Les Paul, Mike Stern, Tuck Andress, Joe Satriani, Michael Hedges, Charlie Hunter, Kevin Eubanks and Cassandra Wilson.

After the Los Angeles studio dates, Martino traveled north to the seaside town of Mendocino where guitarist Michael Hedges has his home studio. This was a special rendezvous for Martino. Years earlier before his brain aneurysms had been diagnosed, he spent a period of time in locked psychiatric wards undergoing shock therapy to alleviate the memory loss and severe headaches he was suffering. "My friendship with Michael goes back to that crucial time in my life. He used to come into the ward where I was confined and play his guitar for me. I don't think Michael ever thought we'd play together let alone record together. Doing this session was a major breakthrough in our relationship. It was a dream come true to work with him."

The pair duet on Hedges' "Two Days Old," a pensive piece from his album Aerial Boundaries. [Correction…Breakfast in the Field.—Ed.] Martino plays one of Hedges' nylon-stringed guitars while Hedges plays steel-stringed acoustic. The number is a jewel of virtuoso guitar playing. While in Northern California, rock guitarist Joe Satriani traveled to Hedges' studio and recorded two songs with Martino. "Ellipsis" features gripping rock-edged and blues-tinged improvisations while the end track of the CD, "Never and After,"is a calming tune with ripples of guitar beauty. "I had no idea that Joe was interested in my music and my style of guitar playing," Martino says. "We hit it off and improvised with dignity, even though we're from two different polarities."

Track listing:
All compositions by Pat Martino except as indicated

"Too High" (Stevie Wonder) - 5:03
"Two of a Kind" - 5:54
"Progression" - 5:36
"I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)" (Doc Daugherty, Al J. Neiburg, Ellis Reynolds) - 4:41
"Ellipsis" (Martino, Joe Satriani) - 3:09
"Both Sides, Now" (Joni Mitchell) - 3:53
"Ayako" - 7:46
"Two Days Old" (Michael Hedges) - 5:17
"Outrider" - 7:43
"Never and After" (Satriani) - 2:54

Personnel:

Pat Martino - guitar
Charlie Hunter - guitar (track 1)
Tuck Andress - guitar (track 2)
Kevin Eubanks - guitar (track 3)
Les Paul - guitar (track 4)
Joe Satriani - guitar (track 5 and 10)
Mike Stern - guitar (track 7 and 9)
Michael Hedges - guitar (track 8), percussion (track 5)
Scott Colley - bass (track 7 and 9)
Paul Nowinski - bass (track 4)
Scott Amendola - drums (track 1)
Ben Perowsky - drums (track 7 and 9)
Jeff Hirshfield - drums (track 10)
Cassandra Wilson - vocals (track 6)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Simon Phillips - 1995 "Symbiosis"

I started writing material for Symbiosis early '93. In fact Force Majeure hadn't been released yet, but I needed to get my ideas down and focus more on developing my writing style.
I was living in an apartment in Studio City and had set up a little writing studio in the living room - no drum kit. I had a DrumKat set up but that is not quite the real thing. However, for composition it was fine, and I believe the first piece that made it onto the CD was "Sea Of Sighs". Ray Russell came over to stay in my new home and we worked together on some new material. Most of it was accomplished with the help of FedEx. I would send a DAT of some ideas - he would send back the same, and then I would arrange all the parts making changes and so on. The little writing studio was pushed to the limit, with various complaints from tenants underneath and around me. Time to look for somewhere else!
Mike Porcaro had a small studio but it was in need of a little sort out. Using my experience and knowledge of running and maintaining a professional studio I proposed that I design and wire his equipment, add some of my equipment, in return for the use of the studio.
Thus Mickey Shoals was born. A modest ADAT studio with a rather fine patch bay - small drum kit, keyboards, Vision sequencing - even a coffee maker! I recorded Toto's Tambu demos there and even one basic track was used on the album - not telling which!
A fellow from a new German Label, Lipstick, had been calling me every time I landed in Germany. Quite how he knew where I was amazed me, but he was sure consistent. I was on tour with Los Lobotomies in '94 and I decided to meet with the fellow in question to see what he had to offer. I drove overnight from Hamburg to Köln in a nice little BMW rather rapidly - I think I made it in less than 3 hours - and met with him over breakfast at the Central Bar. His name was Joachim Becker, and our deal was agreed over Rührei mit Speck, no messing around. At last I was signed to a small, but enthusiastic company.
Recording for Symbiosis started on June 3rd, 1995 at A & M studios in Hollywood and was to date the most successful CD earning a German Jazz Award for 10,000 domestic sales.

Nice release. Very unique. Reminded me of the old Bill Bruford and Alan Holdsworth Jazz Fusion. Simon Phillips style of drumming is very unique. I really can't remember a CD I purchased that was anything like this in many years (Bill Bruford 1979 One of Kind). Dixie Dregs also comes close. I'll be looking & listening for some of Simon's other releases.

Stumbled upon this after picking up Simons new album. Really nice blend of Saxophone and Guitar. Harkens back to 70's fusion albums by (Di Meola era) Return to Forever or 70's Allan Holdsworth. Definitely worth a listen.

Wow!!! Awesome Fusion from 1995 at the right price. I was hoping to get something more recent from him, but the budget didn't allow it. Practically stole this album on Marketplace and must say: MIND. BLOWN. Reall great stuff; balance of emphasis on Saxes and Guitar up front; progressive writing, great hooks, just not only fun but GOOD, GOOD JAZZ if you ask me

This CD is a great find for all musicians listening to contemporary jazz. The level of musicianship is very high. Simon Phillips is, of course, just fantastic. On this, his third solo effort, he turns off the sequencers and does it all with real musicians. The ensemble contains the core from Force Majeure - Anthony Jackson, Ray Russle and adds Mitch Forman and various percussionists. Several of the compositions seem to have more body than Simon's earlier work without losing any of the Simon signature fireworks. Absolute must for any drummer. I would have given it 5 stars but I would reserve that rating for aclassics like 'A Love Supreme" or 'Kind of Blue' and so forth

Track listing:

1. Symbiosis
2. You Restless Angel
3. Midair Decision
4. Biplane to Bermuda
5. Isis
6. Out of the Blue
7. Starfish Spaghetti
8. Indian Summer
9. Sea of Sighs

Personnel:

Simon Phillips - Drums;
Ray Russell - Guitar;
Mitchell Forman - Keyboards;
John Pena, Mike Porcaro, Jimmy Johnson - Bass;
Wendell Brooks - Horns;
Chris Trujillo, Sheila E. - Percussion

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Emerson Lake & Palmer - 1971 "Tarkus"

Tarkus is the second studio album by the English progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, released in June 1971 on Island Records. Following their 1970 European tour, the group returned to Advision Studios in January 1971 to prepare material for a new album. The first side is the seven-part "Tarkus", with a collection of shorter tracks on side two.

Tarkus went to number one in the UK Albums Chart and peaked at number 9 in the US.

The cover artwork was commissioned from the painter and graphic designer William Neal.

"The armadillo was simply a doodle created from a fusion of ideas while working on the Rare Bird album As Your Mind Flies By. I had produced a gun belt made up of piano keys, which somehow led to WW1 armoury; nobody liked the idea, but the little armadillo remained on the layout pad. Later on we were asked to submit ideas to E.L.P. for their second album. David Herbet and I put tank tracks on the little fellow ... yet it was still basically a doodle. However, Keith Emerson spotted it and loved the idea, so we developed him further ... After hearing the substance of Tarkus on the acetate I developed the ideas along with Keith and Greg, and painted all the other creatures too."

Keith Emerson said, "To everyone, it represented what we were doing in that studio. The next day on my drive up from Sussex the imagery of the armadillo kept hitting me. It had to have a name. Something guttural. It had to begin with the letter 'T' and end with a flourish. "Tarka the Otter" may have come into it, but this armadillo needed a science fiction kind of name that represented Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in reverse. Some mutilation of the species caused by radiation ... 'Tarkus'!"

Emerson, Lake & Palmer's 1970 eponymous LP was only a rehearsal. It hit hard because of the novelty of the act (allegedly the first supergroup in rock history), but felt more like a collection of individual efforts and ideas than a collective work. All doubts were dissipated by the release of Tarkus in 1971. Side one of the original LP is occupied by the 21-minute title epic track, beating both Genesis' "Supper's Ready" and Yes' "Close to the Edge" by a year. Unlike the latter group's cut-and-paste technique to obtain long suites, "Tarkus" is a thoroughly written, focused piece of music. It remains among the Top Ten classic tracks in progressive rock history. Because of the strength of side one, the material on the album's second half has been quickly forgotten -- with one good reason: it doesn't match the strength of its counterpart -- but "Bitches Crystal" and "A Time and a Place" make two good prog rock tracks, the latter being particularly rocking. "Jeremy Bender" is the first in a series of honky tonk-spiced, Far-West-related songs. This one and the rock & roll closer "Are You Ready Eddy?" are the only two tracks worth throwing away. Otherwise Tarkus makes a very solid album, especially to the ears of prog rock fans -- no Greg Lake acoustic ballads, no lengthy jazz interludes. More accomplished than the trio's first album, but not quite as polished as Brain Salad Surgery, Tarkus is nevertheless a must-have.

For Emerson, Lake & Palmer the year 1971 represented an opportunity to establish that this union of three giant talents was more than a mere supergroup, but the chance for the band to become a firm fixture on the prog scene. Their self-titled debut album from the previous year had displayed some spectacular performances, even if the songs themselves had been a little uneven. Tarkus was their opportunity to address that.

What was to give this album its tone, timbre and colouring was the epic title track, which, with its seven movements, took up the whole of the first side of the original vinyl. This was a bold step for the band, and one that relied heavily on Keith Emerson’s compositional dexterity. In fact, it was the keyboard player who came up with the musically complex composition in the first place.

“After the release of ELP’s first album and during the live recording of Pictures At An Exhibition, it was coincidental that Carl Palmer and I were working individually on the same sort of complex rhythm ideas,” recalls Emerson. “He was doing this on his practice drum pads, while I was at home on an upright piano in London and a Steinway in Sussex. As my ideas seemed to complement what Carl was up to, I pursued this direction.

“We focused on a centrepiece first to establish a concept. Sometimes we didn’t know if it would become a conceptual piece of work at all. All of the compositions had to bond and work together, and if they didn’t they were used somewhere else.”

For this 20-minute exposition, Emerson drew heavily on the work of both Frank Zappa and the Argentinian classical composer Albero Ginastera.

“I was a huge admirer of Frank Zappa, and had met him on a few earlier occasions when he wanted my advice on how to cope with English orchestras. Frank was of the opinion that there really should not be time signatures. That’s how I felt. Why be governed and dictated to by a 4/4 or 3/4 rhythm by adding or subtracting notes just to make it fit?”

Ginastera’s inspiration is also readily acknowledged by Emerson. In fact, he was to adapt the Argentine’s first piano concerto under the title of Toccata for the 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery. Ginastera absolutely loved this adaptation, claiming that Emerson had captured the true essence of the piece.

Tarkus was the first ELP album I owned back in the early '70s. I've been a fan of ELP ever since. Pretentious, saber rattling, aggressive rock-n-roll. ELP was at the forefront of progressive rock, blending classical, jazz and rock in a frantic keyboard driven fusion. ELP's music is more complex than any other rock band I am aware of. ELP was not only complex in the scope of the music, but often used complex 5/4 and 7/4 time signatures, which only jazz great Dave Brubeck and classical composers would dare use. They are as dark as Pink Floyd could ever be and just a touch more complex and grand in scope than the best work by Yes. And they manage to make this amazing music, which at times has the scope and feel of a whole symphony, with only three musicians and without any overdubs.

 Tracks Listing:

1. Tarkus (20:43)
- a. Eruption (2:44)
- b. Stones Of Years (3:44)
- c. Iconoclast (1:16)
- d. Mass (3:12)
- e. Manticore (1:52)
- f. Battlefield (3:51)
- g. Aquatarkus (4:04)
2. Jeremy Bender (1:51)
3. Bitches Crystal (3:58)
4. The Only Way (Hymn)(3:49)
(Themes used in intro & bridge from Toccata in F and Prelude VI, composed by JS Bach)
5. Infinite Space (Conclusion)(3:20)
6. A Time And A Place (3:02)
7. Are You Ready Eddy? (2:10)

Total time: 38:56

Line-up / Musicians:

- Greg Lake / vocals, bass, electric & acoustic guitars
- Keith Emerson / Hammond organ, St. Marks church organ, piano, celeste, Moog synthesizer
- Carl Palmer / drums, percussion

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Simon Phillips - 2009 "Another Lifetime"

All world drummer Simon Phillips returns as a bandleader/solo artist following up his 1995 release “Symbiosis”. Phillips, one of the planet’s most versatile and explosive drummers shows his inventive and keen composing skills on “Another Lifetime” along with the estimable bassist Anthony Jackson and long time associate, guitarist Ray Russell.

Simon Phillips can do it all. Phillips has recorded on two Buddy Rich Big Band tributes, showcasing his ability to read complex charts and swing with passion or supporting the likes of “The Who”, Peter Gabriel, Gil Evans and many others too numerous to cite here. On “Another Lifetime”, Phillips expands his working unit with the additions of guitarist Andy Timmons, saxophonist Wendell Brooks, percussionist Peter Michael Escovedo and keyboardist Jeff Babko. The proceedings get off to a heated start with the Phillips/Russell composition “Jungleyes”. Here, the blistering crunch chords from the twin guitarists provide the ammunition for Phillips’ commanding presence yet the composition takes on a new light when the guitarists emulate a mini-brass section with soaring and melodic unison lines. Throughout, Phillips and co. tread waters that bound Prog-Rock, Fusion and Jazz which makes it fairly evident that Phillips is a well-schooled and diverse technician/composer. On Phillips’ “Freudian Slip” saxophonist Wendell Brooks along with the dynamic guitar work of Russell and Timmons craft enticing upper register thematic statements as Phillips’ sturdy and pronounced backbeat guides the tune on a whirlwind course. As in the past, Phillips reaps many rewards performing with the brilliant Anthony Jackson. Jackson is arguably one of the world’s finest bassists. Jackson plays yet constantly explores his instrument while providing one of the most distinctive “bottoms” in the business. Jackson’s approach is muscular, slick and extremely “musical” while rarely, if ever conveying an obtrusive presence. Percussionist Escovedo and keyboard ace Jeff Babko provide the complimentary accents yet also maintain a hearty presence while rounding out the colossal and fiery band sound. Phillips’ “Kumi Na Moja” is a straight-ahead burner featuring some appealing and crafty time signatures that should keep the listener on the edge of his or her seat. Engaging motifs, dynamic chord progressions, captivating solo work, supplemented by swift double bass drums and thunderous tom-tom maneuvers from the master. “Kumi Na Moja” is a tour-de-force. Things let up a bit on the Phillips/Russell composition “Mountain High”. This piece serves as a good vehicle for saxophonist Wendell Brooks. “Mountain High” is an innocent yet moody tune which hints at Adult Contemporary or New Age but features some charming and airy phrasing by Brooks’ clean soprano work. Phillips and Russell’s “Euphrates” features Phillips’ performing polyrhythmic patterns across his toms while Anthony Jackson thumps his bass in linear fashion as he constructs engaging patterns and difficult octaves which at times mimic the semblance of two bassist’s. The closer, Phillips and Russell’s “Another Lifetime” is a highly charged Jazz induced scorcher where everyone gets a chance to extend their wares. This track could also serve as an appropriate finale for the “live” show.

“Another Lifetime” may in fact be Simon Phillips’ finest solo release to date. Other than the extraordinary soloing and interplay among the band, Phillips and Ray Russell get high marks for strong compositional development which should meet or exceed the expectations of most Simon Phillips fans. “Another Lifetime” makes for compelling listening and should satisfy the appetites of those who have been anticipating this release. Highly Recommended!

If you took musicians who have worked on projects with artists as diverse as Olivia Newton-John, Vanilla Ice, Tim McGraw, Julio Iglesias, Tina Turner, the London Symphony Orchestra, Ashford & Simpson, the Bee Gees, George Benson, Jimmy Buffett, Chick Corea, the Doobie Brothers, the Four Tops, Stephane Grappelli, Lena Horne, Joe Jackson, Madonna, the O'Jays, John Sebastian, Doc Severinsen, Simon & Garfunkel, Steely Dan, Dionne Warwick, Sadao Watanabe, Jon Anderson, Big Country, Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger, Judas Priest, Mike Oldfield, Trevor Rabin, Joe Satriani, and Whitesnake and put them together on a project, several questions might come to mind. Among those questions might be: Just how big of an army is this? Another would certainly be: What kind of music would these people make? Well, the answer to the first question is, just seven people (Simon Phillips, Andy Timmons, Wendell Brooks, Jeff Babko, Ray Russell, Anthony Jackson, and Pete Escovedo). The answer to the second question is not as simple to answer, but far more interesting. Overall the CD is a very enjoyable variety of jazz, but certainly progressive rock leanings and other sounds do emerge. Expect to hear funk alongside elements of both Pat Metheny and Al Dimeola. Don't be surprised if you pick up on hints of vintage Genesis. As one might expect with musicians boasting the above credentials, the album is exceptionally strong, both in terms of writing and performance. Also coming as no surprise, the drumming is top-notch and makes up a lot of the interest of the CD. However, the rest of the band definitely keep up their ends as well, serving up their unique blend of fusion. This is one that should serve to entertain both jazz aficionados and fans of progressive rock equally well. They just don't make them a lot better than this.

Simon Phillips has for years occupied a respected berth as one of the worlds best, most dynamic and in demand session drummers. My understanding
is that this is the first album he's done of original material fronting his own band.

In a nutshell this is high octane, high energy, beautifully performed jazz fusion of the highest order. Every cut is a gem and for fans of 5 star, kick out the jams instrumental music you're going to love this one.

Track Listing:

  1. Jungleyes  8:07
  2. P O V  5:55
  3. Freudian Slip  6:45
  4. Eyes Blue For You  5:40
  5. Kumi Na Moja 8:13
  6. Mountain High 5:40
  7. E S P  6:10
  8. Euphrates  6:36
  9. Another Lifetime  6:34

Total time - 59:40

Personnel:

Simon Phillips - Drums
Anthony Jackson - Bass
Andy Timmons - Guitar
Jeff Babko - Keyboards
Peter Michael Escovedo - Percussion
Ray Russell - Guitar
Wendell Brooks - Saxophone

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Billy Cobham - 1974 [2014] "Crosswinds"

Crosswinds is the second album of fusion drummer Billy Cobham. The album was released in 1974. It comprises four songs, all composed by Billy Cobham. It was used as the basis for the Souls of Mischief's hit song "93 'til Infinity". Wiki

Billy Cobham's second date as a leader was one of his better sessions. Four songs (all originals by the leader/drummer) comprise "Spanish Moss -- A Sound Portrait," and, in addition, Cobham contributed three other pieces. The selections team him with guitarist John Abercrombie, both of the Brecker Brothers, trombonist Garnett Brown, keyboardist George Duke, bassist John Williams, and Latin percussionist Lee Pastora. In general, the melodies and the vamps are reasonably memorable. Cobham also takes an unaccompanied drum solo on "Storm." Worth searching for by fusion collectors.  All Music

Billy Cobham made this album at a pivotal point. The original Mahavishnu Orchestra had disbanded, John McLaughlin was wallowing, and jazz purists were beginning to complain about the rock influence. Billy helped show a new direction. Crosswinds opening suite has lush and sophisticated horn arrangments, soothing a subtly intense rhythm. The effect is like night, tropical breezes, just as he wants to convey. You can almost hear the ocean, the music of the wild Caribbean (no steel drums of course, just cool). The rest of the album alternates between hot and cool, with some funky fusion and a beautiful extended piece, Heathers, near the end, featuring a trombone solo that sounds like the soundtrack to a loving and relaxing dream. The album is inspired, Billy at his creative best, showing the jazz world a new dimension that fusion had not shown before. At 35 minutes it is a little short, but we have quality here, not quantity. This album belongs in any jazz or fusion collection. By D. M. Paine

"Crosswinds" has been in my vinyl collection since 1974, when I first picked up a copy at King Karol Records on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Well, I recently became reacquainted with this recording after picking up a CD copy at a "oh so trendy" record store in Haight-Ashburry, San Francisco. As I did then, I played the new CD over and over again, completely enraptured by Cobham's "Ripley's Believe or Not" staccatto drumming and Lee Pastora's smoking Latin percussion. Joined by the Brecker Brothers, George Duke, John Abercrombie, Alex Blake, John Williams, Garnett Brown and other great luminaries of early jazz fusion, Cobham and his willing partners beat and shape a veritable masterpiece. Drive along Big Sur and take in the vast and dramatic California skies and scarred bluffs and you'll begin to undertand what hues of emotions this exquisite recording conjures. Crosswinds alternates between adrenaline musical rushes and absolute sublime chill, creating a perfectly balanced sinuous stream of sound. Simply exquisite!  By Hector Reyes-erazo.

I got this album as a gift in 1974 when I was 19 years old. My unsuspecting sister had heard the name Billy Cobham, but did not realize what a masterpiece she had placed in my hands. Although a virtuoso drummer with monstrous chops, Billy doesn't let his virtuosity run away with him. Although those looking for impressive drumming will not be disapointed. His use of time on the the Crosswinds suite, his climactic "Storm" solo the driving end movement will satisfy drummers, air-drummers and percussion fans. This album exhibits Billy Cobham, composer and arranger. With a dark hues on his palette and a wide brush, Billy paints us quite a seascape. The "Pleasant Pheasant",one of my favorites, is energetic, driving, exciting and just a little bit funky. This features an exceptional and rhythmic drum solo. "Heather", what can I say about "Heather", hypnotic, seductive, well paced. It starts as a whisper of a siren's song and builds to what to date might be one of Michael Breckers most beautiful and haunting solos. This one is for the headphones, folks. "Heather" is worth the price of this recording alone. A stellar cast of musicians on this album work in concert and in symbiosis to produce one of the underated recordings in the "fusion" era. No pyrothechnics for it's own sake here. Impressive solo's abound within the context of the pieces. John Abercrombie, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Garnett Brown, Lee Pastora ...etc., a dream team of musicians. This album should never have been gone this long from the CD shelves/racks/bins of music outlets. Few of Billy's recording measure up to this one in my opinion. By ND.NY 

Tracks Listing:

Spanish Moss - "A Sound Portrait":
1. a. Spanish Moss (4:11)
2. b. Savannah the Serene (5:14)
3. c. Storm (2:52)
4. d. Flash Flood (5:08)
5. Pleasant Pheasant (5:21)
6. Heather (8:40)
7. Crosswind (3:42)

Total Running Time: (35:08)

Line-up / Musicians

- Billy Cobham/ drums, percussion.
- John Williams/ guitar (acoustic), bass (acoustic), bass (electric).
- Randy Brecker/ trumpet.
- Garnett Brown/ trombone.
- John Abercrombie/ guitars.
- George Duke/ keyboards, vocals.
- Lee Pastora / percussions 
 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Miles Davis - 1970 [2015] "Bitches Brew" 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition

Bitches Brew is a studio double album by jazz musician Miles Davis, released on March 30, 1970 on Columbia Records. The album continued his experimentation with electric instruments previously featured on his critically acclaimed In a Silent Way album. With the use of these instruments, such as the electric piano and guitar, Davis rejected traditional jazz rhythms in favor of a looser, rock-influenced improvisational style.
Bitches Brew was Davis's first gold record; it sold more than half a million copies. Upon release, it received a mixed response, due to the album's unconventional style and experimental sound. Later, Bitches Brew gained recognition as one of jazz's greatest albums and a progenitor of the jazz rock genre, as well as a major influence on rock and funk musicians. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album in 1971. In 1998, Columbia Records released The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, a four-disc box set that included the original album as well as the studio sessions through February 1970.

Recording sessions took place at Columbia's 30th Street Studio over the course of three days in August 1969. Davis called the musicians to the recording studio on very short notice. A few pieces on Bitches Brew were rehearsed before the recording sessions, but at other times the musicians had little or no idea what they were to record. Once in the recording studio, the players were typically given only a few instructions: a tempo count, a few chords or a hint of melody, and suggestions as to mood or tone. Davis liked to work this way; he thought it forced musicians to pay close attention to one another, to their own performances, or to Davis's cues, which could change at any moment. On the quieter moments of "Bitches Brew", for example, Davis's voice is audible, giving instructions to the musicians: snapping his fingers to indicate tempo, or, in his distinctive whisper, saying, "Keep it tight" or telling individuals when to solo.
Davis composed most of the music on the album. The two important exceptions were the complex "Pharaoh's Dance" (composed by Joe Zawinul) and the ballad "Sanctuary" (composed by Wayne Shorter). The latter had been recorded as a fairly straightforward ballad early in 1968, but was given a radically different interpretation on Bitches Brew. It begins with Davis and Chick Corea improvising on the standard "I Fall in Love Too Easily" before Davis plays the "Sanctuary" theme. Then, not unlike Davis's recording of Shorter's "Nefertiti" two years earlier, the horns repeat the melody over and over while the rhythm section builds up the intensity. The issued "Sanctuary" is actually two consecutive takes of the piece.
Despite his reputation as a "cool", melodic improviser, much of Davis's playing on this album is aggressive and explosive, often playing fast runs and venturing into the upper register of the trumpet. His closing solo on "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" is particularly noteworthy in this regard. Davis did not perform on the short piece "John McLaughlin"

Thought by many to be among the most revolutionary albums in jazz history, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew solidified the genre known as jazz-rock fusion. The original double LP included only six cuts and featured up to 12 musicians at any given time, some of whom were already established while others would become high-profile players later, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Airto, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Don Alias, Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, and Lenny White among them. Originally thought to be a series of long jams locked into grooves around keyboard, bass, or guitar vamps, Bitches Brew is actually a recording that producer Teo Macero assembled from various jams and takes by razor blade, splice to splice, section to section. "Pharaoh's Dance" opens the set with its slippery trumpet lines, McLaughlin's snaky guitar figures skirting the edge of the rhythm section and Don Alias' conga slipping through the middle. Corea and Zawinul's keyboards create a haunted, riffing modal groove, echoed and accented by the basses of Harvey Brooks and Holland. The title cut was originally composed as a five-part suite, though only three were used. Here the keyboards punch through the mix and big chords ring up distorted harmonics for Davis to solo rhythmically over, outside the mode. McLaughlin's comping creates a vamp, and the bass and drums carry the rest. It's a small taste of the deep voodoo funk to appear on Davis' later records. Side three opens with McLaughlin and Davis trading fours and eights over a lockstep hypnotic vamp on "Spanish Key." Zawinul's lyric sensibility provides a near chorus for Corea to flit around in; the congas and drummers juxtapose themselves against the basslines. It nearly segues into the brief "John McLaughlin," featuring an organ playing modes below arpeggiated blues guitar runs. The end of Bitches Brew, signified by the stellar "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," reflects the influence of Jimi Hendrix with its chunky, slipped chords and Davis playing a ghostly melody through the funkiness of the rhythm section. It seemingly dances, becoming increasingly more chaotic until it nearly disintegrates before shimmering into a loose foggy nadir. The disc closes with "Sanctuary," completely redone here as a moody electric ballad that was reworked for this band while keeping enough of its integrity to be recognizable. Bitches Brew is so forward-thinking that it retains its freshness and mystery in the 21st century. [Some reissues add "Feio," recorded in early 1970 with much of the same band.]

The revolution was recorded: in 1969 Bitches Brew sent a shiver through a country already quaking. It was a recording whose very sound, production methods, album-cover art, and two-LP length all signaled that jazz could never be the same. Over three days anger, confusion, and exhilaration had reigned in the studio, and the sonic themes, scraps, grooves, and sheer will and emotion that resulted were percolated and edited into an astonishingly organic work. This Miles Davis wasn't merely presenting a simple hybrid like jazz-rock, but a new way of thinking about improvisation and the studio. And with this two-CD reissue (actually, this set is a reissue of the original set plus one track, perfect for the fan who's not so overwhelmed as to need the four-CD Complete Bitches Brew box), the murk of the original recording is lifted. The instruments newly defined and brightened, the dark energy of the original comes through as if it were all fresh. Joe Zawinul and Bennie Maupin's roles in the mix have been especially clarified. With a bonus track of "Feio"--a Wayne Shorter composition recorded five months later that serves both as a warm-down for Bitches Brew and a promise of Weather Report to come--this is crucial listening.

The sound of this album is very hard to describe. The instruments include trumpet (of course), up to three electric pianos (one in the left channel, one in the right, and one in the center), two drummers (one in the left channel and one in the right), upright bass, up to two electric bass player, electric guitar, soprano saxophone, congas, shakers, and bass clarinet. The music is very experimental. The sound is very layered, so much so that there is never a dull movement in any of the songs, there is always a pulse, moving the song forward. The opening song "Pharaoh's Dance" to be experienced fully needs to be listened to with headphones so you can hear the different instruments in each channel. The two drummers and three electric pianos drive the rhythm of the song while Miles Davis' trumpet soars overhead with th other instruments providing a sonic collage. This layering continues in other songs on the album. To say that speaker placement is key in these songs would be an understatement. The production quality is very good for having been recorded 40 years ago. The thing is even though the album was recorded 40 years ago it still sounds ahead of it's time. If you listen to this without any distractions it will take you for a ride.

Often regarded as one of Miles Davis' best albums only surpassed by "Kind of Blue." To compare these two albums is hard considering the huge difference in sound between the two, where "Kind of Blue" has a very traditional classic jazz sound, "Bitches Brew" is an experimental jazz roller coaster propelled by layered instrumentation and studio manipulation. "Bitches Brew" marked a radical change for Davis ushering in elements of rock and avant-garde into his Jazz sound, appropriately this album is often credited with inventing the Jazz-Rock or Jazz Fusion genres, that would continue to be popularized in the early '70s by artists such as Chicago, Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and Santana. To me the most impressive songs are first two tracks "Pharaoh's Dance" and "Bitches Brew." But I really like all of the songs on this album because they are distinct yet fit together as an album well. Personally I don't have any complaints about this album. The only complaint I could see anyone having with this album is the length of the tracks. With only one song below the 10 minute mark, "John McLaughlin," the tracks can drag on to non experienced of instrumental music or jazz. For rock music fans looking to get into Jazz, I highly recommend this album. Progressive rock fans will also appreciate this album. If it were stolen I would definitely have it replaced, not only for the music, but the beautiful album art which reminds me of a Dali painting.

Track Listing:

Disc: 1
  1. Pharaoh's Dance  20:06
  2. Bitches Brew  27:01
  3. Spanish Key  17:35
  4. John McLaughlin  4:23

Disc: 2
  1. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down  14:03
  2. Sanctuary  10:59
  3. Spanish Key (Alt. take)  10:23
  4. John McLaughlin (Alt. take)  6:40
  5. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down (Single edit)  2:51
  6. Spanish Key (Single edit)  2:51
  7. Great Expectations (Single edit)  2:43
  8. Little Blue Frog (Single edit)  2:36

Disc: 3
  1. Intro - Bill Graham  0:12
  2. Directions  9:31
  3. Bitches Brew  9:15
  4. The Mask  3:55
  5. It's About That Time  7:30
  6. Sanctuary  1:35
  7. Spanish Key / The Theme  6:32
  8. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down  4:39
  9. Outro - Bill Graham  0:22

Line-up / Musicians:

- Miles Davis / trumpet
- Wayne Shorter / soprano saxophone
- Bennie Maupin / bass clarinet
- John McLaughlin / guitar
- Chick Corea / electric piano
- Joe Zawinul / electric piano
- Larry Young / electric piano
- Dave Holland / acoustic bass, electric bass
- Harvey Brooks / electric bass
- Jack DeJohnette / drums
- Lenny White / drums
- Don Alias / drums, congas, percussion
- Billy Cobham / drums
- Airto Moreira / percussion
- Jumma Santos (Jim Riley) / congas, shaker