Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Haunting, mumbling minimalism from Traffic

Traffic's" Low Spark of High Heeled Boys", the title track of  what is arguably their best album, is one of those tracks that starts so evocatively, with mystery, hesitation, a  suggestion of paranoia as one progresses into an imagined unknown that goes sour quickly. I have long admired the songwriting and vocal skills of Traffic, Winwood especially, but cringed mightily when they attempted long improvisations. There was the idea in the Sixties that rock music had come into it's own as having an extensive enough technique to support extensive soloing, an idea that, save for the emblematic albums of a select few bands, was more conceit than fact. The hunt-and-peck soloing by Winwood on piano and the generally rasping attempts by saxophonist Chris Wood to emulate Wayne Shorter does a serious disfavor to this genuinely haunting melody and lyric (and Winwood's soulful vocal). The hesitant meandering makes you wish they had called in some guest stars for the solos, perhaps Keith Emerson for the piano and Dick Heckstall-Smith for the saxophone . What the lyrics suggest, sorrowful consequences resulting from a character entering into a  problematic relationship without an idea of  what he or she wants, is diffused along with the  sluggish improvisation; while the middle section scrapes along without a change in tempo, and the pace is reduced to foot dragging, you imagine what this melody and lyric would have sounded like had their been sensible virtuosos at the ready, musicians who could dig deeper into their technique and opened up tonal moods and create textures of conflicting harmony and counter rhythms that might could have created true feelings of the senses released, made transcendent from mere gravity.  Miles Davis , Phillip Glass tand  the never-dying Pink Floyd  (among many others)show us that how to use a minimal amount of notes and not sound empty. The band on this track, I think, is playing at their peak. I wish they'd done better with such an amazing tune.

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