Sunday, April 11, 2021
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Friday, March 26, 2021
Fred Simon and Michael Bard, a pianist and multiple reedman respectively who' ve been around jazz circles in seeming anonymity the past few years, here emerge from relative obscurity with their first record Musaic It's a release that plays-it-safe: the melodies are pleasant and draw on a number of recognizable sources, the rhythm section does its chores competently, and the solos display the requisite knowledge of technique. But, the music never takes chances. Technical competence aside, the moves are second guessed and have a familiarity to them not unlike a song you've heard too often for too long and desire nothing less than to be rid of the tune for your remaining lifetime. It does not move this listener, who may be accused both of jazz snobbery and, no doubt, of having listened to too much solos that have more to do with practice than performance. To restate, the skill is is high among the particulars, but this is more paycheck than pay off. Simon and Bard s insistence on maintaining a· status quo - their sources sound like an overly-familiar crossbreeding of Paul Winter, Oregon and Brubeck: with a dash of Ellington thrown in for good measure - makes the stuff on Musaic merely run of the mill. Even Larry Coryell's appearance on the funk jam "Fancy Frog" fails to rise this effort above the level of shallow breathing. Coryell is his generation's essential jazz guitar innovator who has recorded an impressive array of off-the-grid improvisations in an increasingly restrictive jazz-pop-rock genre. Simon and Bard's preference for the most somnambulant variation on that once galvanic arena seems to lull the guitarist into an uncharacteristic mellowness. The music is not atrocious. It's nice and would make the ideal backdrop for when your mother was over for dinner. This is the music you put on when you're loading the dishwasher.
Thursday, February 11, 2021
|photo by Tore Saetre (c)|
I had the amazing luck to have seen Chick Corea five times, three times with Return to Forever, a dazzling and powerful jazz-fusion band fueled in major portions by Corea's protean skills as a composer. Let be known that it wasn't just Corea alone that drove RTF to fusion greatness, as the work of guitarists Bill Connors and Al DiMeola, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny contributed in large measures to elevating brain-scrambling virtuosity to something highly, creatively musical . But it was Corea's vehicle over all, his compositions deftly bringing in the warring genres of classical, Latin-jazz, bop, blues and progressive rock bombast into a coherent and cohesive whole. There were hard time signatures and severely rapid changes in tone and attack, but Corea had a true composer's sense of pacing, structure, of linking a variety of moods and color, into contiguous wholes that continually and (seemingly) organically morph into new shapes. There was a sense of the story teller , the saga ,the musical journey in his finest work both in RTF and in his ceaseless solo albums and projects. I was additionally blessed to see Corea as well in two other contexts, one in which he shared the stage with fellow Miles Davis keyboardist Herbie Hancock for an evening of inspired duets, and with the Chick Corea Acoustic Trio at the now-gone Elario's in LaJolla, two experiences that impressed for no other reason than that I haven't witnessed a better improvisor at the piano. His mastery of the instrument was absolute, his attack was crisp , fiery , elegant, resonating, endlessly inventive. As you might expect, his long career has seen him take many fruitful and some not-so-fruitful turns and that his body of work is simply too massive to comment on cogently here. But let us remember that Corea was firmly wedded to the jazz tradition despite his avant gard bone fides with Anthony Braxton and Woody Shaw, or his eventual crossover appeal to rock and pop audiences. Some time ago he recorded a tribute album to the late pianist and likewise protean composer Bud Powell with a select group of young jazz turks. It is a wonder tribute, and will end with a post of my review. Take off your hat, bow your head and have a good thought, we have a lost a great art ist.
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Lenox Avenue Breakdown- Arthur Blythe (Columbia)
McLaughlin,the principal composer here, has taken on a new maturity as a composer as well. Where much of his writing in the past seemed to be little more than tricky unison parts. employing Indian and neo-classical modes with little substantive guts underneath the dizzying dexterity, Electric Dreams material cuts a wider swath. The band's unified character gives the variety of approaches -Basie blues, poly-tonal funk, Coltranish chases - a coherence that last year's recipe hodgepodge, Johnny McLaughlin. Electric Guitarist, lacked. Unlike Electric Guitarist, a session where McLaughlin employed different musicians on each track, Electric Dreams has a central character. This album is by recipe hodgepodge, Johnny McLaughlin. Electric Guitarist, lacked. Unlike Electric Guitarist, a session where McLaughlin employed different musicians on each track, Electric Dreams has a central character.
The high points on the album are many, but especially exciting is "The Dark Prince," a fevered stretch of extended bop acceleration, where McLaughlin fuses the melodic sense and chordal strategies of Coltrane and Parker with the with the quirky meters of his Mahavishnu period. Though the purist elements of the jazz audience might dismiss this tract as mere facile Clash and showboating for its own sake. McLaughlin’s solos are nonetheless crisp. concise. elegantly phrased and to the point. The closing guitar keyboard shootout between he and Goldberg is an enthralling example of two musicians pushing themselves to their respective creative limits. "Miles Davis " (so named. as a return compliment to the trumpet player who named one of his songs "John McLaughlin" on his Bitches Brew is heart burn with musical notation after a delicious but over-spiced meal. It’s at this point where I turn off the music and walk into the sunlight of the spirit.
(Originally seen in the UCSD Daily Gaurdian.)
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Draw The Line -Peter Alsop (Flying Fish)
(Originally in The UCSD Daily Guardian)
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Emotional Rescue --The Rolling Stones
Although Some Girls was a wide improvement over the phoned-in raunch-rock the Rolling Stones came to specialized in after Exiles on Main Street, I never thought it was really that good. There were no songs on the par with "Satisfaction," "Sway," or "Backstreet Girl" (to choose three from a sizable collection of classics). Still, I didn't think that the Stones would go as slack and indifferent to their legacy as they sound on Emotional Rescue. Might it be that they’ve become so world weary that their sense of cruel irony, which was always a refreshing bracer against the worst collective delusions and naivete of major b ands that wanted to be relevant in turbulent times, has been dulled to the degree that they’re reduced to the status of cranky uncles at the family Christmas table. They don't sound angry or outrageous, they sound as though their feet hurt.
Maybe they’re jaded, maybe they're tired, maybe they're just burned out by the stress of being the "world's greatest rock and roll band." but whatever the cause, the symptoms are apparent and irritating. Keith Richards and Ron Wood charge through Chuck Berry riffs like drunks stumbling through plate glass, Charlie Watts drumming has never sounded more uninteresting, and Bill Wymans' bass work sounds resembles nothing so much as sleepwalk proficiency. Jagger is the only one who sounds as though he's having any fun, but I suspect its fun for the wrong reason: he knows precisely what he can get away with throughout the songs he sings With a leering, mocking contempt.
The problem is that the contempt is aimed not at any of the sacred cows the audience likes to see slaughtered as a matter of routine. Rather, the smug superiority of persona and derisive disgust seems aimed toward the audience, the the front row to the cheap seats. This is to say that the cynicism that comes easily and too convincingly for the Stones signals a flatlining of their imagination. Living up to your reputation isn’t the same as creating something a few of us would so preciously term art.
(Originally seen in the UCSD Daily Guardian).
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Directions - Miles Davis (Columbia)
Intensities In Ten Cities - Ted Nugent (Epic)
Saturday, December 26, 2020
What song is going through my head? An old one, old, "Dreams of Milk and Honey" by Leslie West and Mountain, from the second side of their album Flowers of Evil, recorded at the Fillmore East in NYC in 1971. It is one of the great moments of Hard Rock guitar, with a great, lumbering riff that distorts and buzzes on the low strings with crushing bends and harmonics squealing at some raging pitch that might make one think of natural calamity, a force no power could withstand. West, never the most fluid guitarist, had, all the same, a touch, a feel, a sense of how to mix the sweet obbligato figures he specialized in with the more brutal affront of power chords and critically rude riff slinging. The smarter among us can theorize about the virtues of amplified instrumentation attaining a threshold of sweetness after the sheer volume wraps you in a numbing cacophony, but for purposes here it suffices to say, with a wink, that is a kind of music you get and accept on its own truncated terms or ignore outright. His guitar work was a brick wall you smashed into at an unheard number of miles an hour and, staring up at the sky, you noticed the bloom of a lone flower, not to mention a halo of tweeting birds and la-la music.
There is an aesthetic at work here, but it might as well come to saying that you had to be me, at my age, in 1971 when I was struck by this performance to understand a little of why I haven't tossed the disc into the dustbin. He is in absolute control of his Les Paul Jr., and here he combines with bassist Felix Pappalardi and drummer Corky Laing in some theme and variation that accomplishes what critic Robert Christgau has suggested is the secret of great rock and roll music, repetition without tedium. There are no thousand-note blitzkriegs, no tricky time signatures, just tight playing, a riffy, catchy, power-chording wonder of rock guitar essential-ism. I've been listening to this track on and off since I graduated from high school, and it cracks me up that my obsession with this masterpiece of rock guitar minimalism caused a few my friends to refer to me listening yet again to my personal "national anthem." This is the melodic, repetitive grind I wished life always were, endlessly elegant and stagnant, shall we say, in perfect formation of the senses, hearing, smell, taste, the arousal of dormant genitalia, all big and large and grinding at the gears that sing sweet mechanical song of intense love heavier than any metal beam you might care to bite into. The combination of Felix Papalardi's whiny voice singing his wife's bullshit lyrics can ruin any buzz you have going for you. It's the live material that kicks it, with lots of fat, snarling Leslie West guitar work twisting around a punchy set of slow, grinding, distorted hard rock. Yes, arrangements do count, even in rock and roI might have even lit a Bic lighter for this tune. is something beautiful in that as well but, alas, the end result of that is the end waxing poetic. Alas. Sing it, Leslie.
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
(Originally posted in 2018, it merits a reprint now on the 40th anniversary of the singer's death.)
Monday, December 7, 2020
Leslie Gore was one of those pure pop singers like Gene Pitney and Neil Sedaka who had an appealing, earnest voice that could manage the hooks and addictive choruses of the songs she performed. Like Pitney, her song "It's My Party (and I'll Cry If I Want To)" was a catchy distillation of teen heartache and anxiety, an age where neither female nor male could help but continually compare their inside turmoil with what seemed cool and calm of the appearances of friends, associates, and other hangers-on. Am I good enough? Smart enough? Pretty/handsome enough? Pitney and Gore were the heralds of awkward teenage blues, that time of life when hormones are kicking in and extending their reign from the brain and the appendages they command, a set of years where self-esteem is rare and fragile where it exists at all.
Not much has changed, just the style of clothes, the music soundtrack, and how far past first base you have to go to fit in, or at least seem to. Pitney was dour, moody, full-time drama queen in his string of hits, tunes he sang masterfully. He had a range, of course, easily witnessed with a listen to "I'm Going to Be Strong", "It Hurts to Be In Love", but it also had the strange quality of being scratchy, a strange impression of the gruff textured rhythm and blues singers he admired, and a certain "girlishness" as well. He had a fast vibrato, a quiver that would appear in the center of a phrase, making keywords seem suddenly uncertain, nervous, subject to glandular swings of mood, oftentimes undercutting the stronger voice, the more stoic, stronger pronunciation where Pitney reached down to an unnaturally low register as a means of constructing a solid, masculine calm. The singer was fascinating and melodramatic, and his performances were a clash of emotional raw ends. But what really hits a nerve with Pitney's voice was the higher register, which he could twist and torture with deceptively able finesse to create a sense of a young and sensitive young man tasting for the wrong time the bitter fruit of breaking up. Neal Sedaka's song title "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" offers a clue to the genius of Pitney, who explodes the minor key agony of teenage breakup blues and expand the melodrama to the extent that it's tempting to apply "Wagnerian" to his extreme style. Maybe not so dramatic.
Leslie Gore was pop music for young people and I have to say that I found myself liking more than a little of it when I listened to TOP 40 radio. She was pop personified, the girl singing into the mirror as she prepared for a school dance for which she had no corsage nor date, singing her woes and insecurities into the reflection, watching her image, hair parted on the wrong side, watch on the wrong wrist, admit to the worries and dread of not being in the center of the party, not being interesting enough for a boy or a girl to talk to, someone for whom being friendless was worse than the death. Death, to her thinking, would be a release from this hell of other people's happiness mocking you without end, amen.
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
The Wayne Riker Gathering
We range from the subdued and conversational truth telling of Leonard Patton's reading of the B.B.King classic "Everyday I Have the Blues "(composed by Memphis Slim) , a vocal marked both by restraint and conviction in the singing while the band provides a sprite, marauding groove, to the classic blues shouting brought on by Scott Mathiasen on Freddy King's "Tore Down" ( written by Sonny Thompson), a snappy and strutting shuffle highlighting the singer’s grand and soulful rasp over the percolating ensemble. Shelle Blue’s reading of “W-O-M-A-N” , composed by Dorothy Hawkins, Abbey Mallory, Jean Mitchell and Jamesetta Rogers, is a sexy and assertive response to the male-point of view of “I’m A Man”, reminding everyone in the room that women are full partners in the life they have with their mates. The B.B. King arrangement of “Rock me Baby” is sufficiently growled, groaned and soulful as rendered by Deanna Haala’s declarative voice .
Michele Lundeen’s vocal on the blues -torch song ballad “That’s Why I’m Crying” (composed by Samuel Maghett) brings a hint of the sassy earnestness of Eartha Kitt to the testifying. Riker’s guitar fills and his solo on this tune, incidentally, are quite thrilling, responding to the highs and lows of Lundeen’s matchless singing.Singer and guitarist create unbearable tension until Riker cuts loose with a bravura solo, eloquent and slashing. The solo is an exquisite showcase of two-fisted blues work, as is , in point of fact, the entirety of Blues Lightning. Buy the record and do as I do and place the disc on while having your morning coffee. Twenty minutes of that in the A.M. and I am ready to seize the day.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
It might be compared to Miles Davis when he was performing with his classic bands--John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock,Tony Williams, Ron Carter, et al-- with a long string of releases like Birth of the Cool and Kind of Blue (name your favorite here)and when he turned to the jazz rock fusion of Bitch's Brew and On the Corner, which featured the endeavors of Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin . The first mentioned releases are conspicuous examples of bands sensitive to each members nuances, strengths and weaknesses, quirks and signatures, combing with the material to offer adventurous improvisations as part of an ensemble effort, while with Bitch's Brew Davis and his producers culled performances from hours of taped jam sessions where ideas and motifs were explored to produce albums that are, in effect, mosaics. The general tone of the later releases was less the sparks that occur between musicians confronting each other in performance but rather something more theatrical; thought the musicianship is rather magnificent and often times bracing on the later electric releases,they seem more in service to Davis' cantankerous muse , performing as directed. As much as I admire and respect the accomplishment of both the Beatles and Davis in their late work, studio craft and all, a larger part of me would have preferred if the musicians had found a way to expand their horizons without abandoning their identities as bands. The Rolling Stones sought to produce their own version of Sgt.Pepper with the releases of the bloated and wasted Satanic Requests, and it's a fine thing to appreciate the Stones self critical response to bad notices (and perhaps some sober listening to the record, after the fact); they abandoned their attempts to compete with the Beatles on their new turf and returned to riffy, R&B inflected rock and roll.
What hasn't been mentioned here is that Frank Zappa released his first Mothers of Invention album Freak Out on June 27, 1966, a full month before the Beatles released Revolver in August of that year. Zappa was an erratic, quizzical, quarrelsome presence, but he achieved things with that album that neither the Beatles nor the Stones came close to; both those bands were more influential in the pop music sphere, where their separate approaches to including cross genre and experimental gestures made for pleasant and easily appreciated (and imitated)music for a large record buying public. Zappa, though, with his solid chops as composer, producer, guitarist, satirist and multi media maven, was miles further up the road and around the bend with respect to advancing the primitive ways of rock and roll into an art form. A good amount of Zappa's early music remains challenging to comprehend, which is another way of saying that it's hard to sit through and that it's downright ugly. The ugliness, though, wasn't merely my limited aesthetic; Zappa cultivated it, advanced it, gloried in it. Now that's integrity. But the stuff that sounded ugly decades ago still kills small animals today.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Dionne Warwick was a vocal original . The going tradition for black pop and soul singers had been a very gospel , shout to the rafters approach that required range and training. Warwick had the training, obviously, but not the vocal range and managed in working spectacularly well within her limits. She had an interesting, off beat sense of when to sing a lyric, a subtle tone of sadness in the lower register, there was a magical sense of her speaking to you directly, softly, after a good cry. This is shown in the video of Walk on By , a song that begins that begins with the pacing of someone trying to hurry down a street, trying to avoid eye contact with a former lover they can't bring themselves to see, a perfect mood, at the edge of the frantic, as Warwick movingly , slowly sings the opening words of her imagined speech to her ex-paramour :
If you see me walkin' down the street
And I start to cry each time we meet
Walk on by, walk on by
Make believe that you don't see the tears
Just let me grieve in private 'cause each time I see
I break down and cry, I cry
Walk on by, don't stop
Walk on by, don't stop
Walk on by
This is one of the great heartbreak songs of the era, and it shows Warwick's particular genius for softly dramatizing a lyric by underplaying the emotion. Leslie Gore, Patty Duke and a myriad other pop proto-divas would have raised the roof beams with this song, but Ms. Dionne finds the right pitch. The sorrow, the self pity, the resignation is all there, but it the quality of Warwick's singing places her not in sort of hysterical moment of solipsistic self-pity but someone, actually, he is more the Hemingway stoic, shouldering the pain and the grief and dealing with what the everyday life demands. Of course, there is that sweetly sad piano figure in the chorus that presents an effective change in tempo and mood, a circling keyboard figure that halts the forward motion of the narrative and stops the narrator, our singer Dionne, dead in her tracks, briefly and sharply remembering the pain of breaking up.
These are rare and beautiful attributes in a singer, the capacity to emote in such a small scale; she was the exact opposite of the late Gene Pitney, who turned every sad song into an aria of teen heartache. Both singers, incidentally, were blessed to have song many songs by the Bacharach/David team, two men who knew how to write songs for a singer's vocal strengths. Bear in mind, I was a big fan of Pitney's. For comparison, above is Pitney singing "I'm Gonna Be Strong" , written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (later covered by Cyndi Lauper in her early band Blue Ash). An extreme bit of heartache here, with the perfect singer for the sad tale. The tempo is the same through out, but as it progresses, subtly but quickly, Pitney's voice is stronger, filled with more self-aggrandizing emotion, a man turning in his sleep and trying to burn his way through his lose with nothing but stoicism, but who, in the final hour, alone, will just weep as hard and as loud as he is able. The way Pitney's voice climbs to his highest register is chilling, equaling the grandiose swell of the orchestration. Tortured high notes were precisely what Pitney's music were about, observable in the operatic, compressed, grandiose and florid teen angst songs he sang with a voice that could start out low, smooth, slightly scratchy with restraint, and then in the sudden turn in tempo and a light flourish of horns or sweeping , storm-bringing violins, slide up the banister to the next landing and again defy gravity to the yet the next level as he his voice climbed in register, piercing the heart with melodrama and perfect pitch as the most banal love stories became the raging of simultaneous tempests.
It was corny, but Pitney had the voice and he had the songs to pull it off and make records that still have that stirring hard hitting effect; "Town Without Pity", "It Hurts To Be In Love", "Twenty Four Hours to Tulsa", "I'm Gonna Be Strong", and an substantial string of other hits he had ( 16 top twenty hits between 1961 through 1968) took the tear jerker to the next level. As mentioned by someone the other day in the British press commemorating his music, his tunes weren't love songs, they were suicide notes. Pitney's multi-octave sobbing qualified as Johnny Ray turning into the Hulk wherein the sadder he was made, the stronger his voice became. All this was enough for me to buy his records in the early Sixties when I was just making my way to developing my own tastes in musicians and their sounds.Most of the early stuff I liked--The Four Seasons, Peter Paul and Mary--I dismiss as charming indulgences of a young boy who hadn't yet become a snob, but Pitney? I kept a soft spot for his recordings in my heart, and defended him in recent years when those verbal battles about musical tastes found his name impugned in my presence. The Prince of Perfect Pitch deserves respect for turning the roiling moodiness of teenage love into sublime expressions of virtuoso emotionalism.
Monday, September 7, 2020
( Rock criticism had a heyday in the sixties, when the mostly male likes of Lester Bangs , Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh and Robert Christgau combined their counter culture hedonism and the civil-rights informed progressive spirit and composed an ecstatic body of writing that supposed that rock music was more than a newly arrived art form, it was the future itself singing to us. Those of us old enough to remember can replay our favorite bits of prose that underscored the historic struggles embodied by the Beatles v The Rolling Stones, or the visionary accounting of Bob Dylan on the plight of our collectively bedraggled spirit. What of all that? Well, there was some good writing, deluded as much of it tended to be. Greil Marcus has become an ersatz cultural critic who chases around Bob Dylan's reputation in much the same fashion as the later writing of Harold Bloom rides Shakespeare's coat tails, Dave Marsh has become a dour Methuselah, serious and dull as paper clip, Robert Christgau has at least left the past behind and continued to listen to and write about new music, and Lester Bangs, pour sainted Lester, is dead as a door stop. Not that rock criticism has stopped being written, or that there's nothing good being said about younger artists. But there times when the younger criics read as if they're performing an Andy Kaufman like parody of an older generation of serious reviewers. It's disheartening when you discover these guys aren't kidding.Latest case in point that I've come across is Stephen Metcalf's hand wringing piece in Slate about Bruce Springsteen's performance at the Super Bowl. Springsteen had sinned some how, and the additional crime , from Metcalf hints at, was that The Boss couldn't sense the beleaguered critic's reservations through the ether, over the digital transmissions. Bad dog!