Friday, May 7, 2021

Live at the Bee Hive - Clifford Brown and Max Roach (Columbia)

 Live at the Bee Hive - Clifford Brown and Max Roach (Columbia)

 Live at the Beehive is a wild and wooly document of the excitement of the jam session. Recorded in a Chicago bar in 1955, the audio quality  is not the best, as the sound is muddy and flat, there's an excess of surface noise, and the continual buzz of customers ordering drinks and talking through the best solo moments are sn annoyance. The music from the bandstand easily overcomes and transcends the grouchy ambience. The collective sound is lively, rambunctious and packs the punch of a chain-mail glove.The several extended forays of the late Clifford Brown are especially exciting. Before his sudden death, Brown had established himself as possibly the premier trumpet player on any jazz scene, and this record, especially the workout on Sonny Stitt's "Cherokee," reminds us of his incandescent powers as a soloist. Clifford possessed a big, fat sound, and was alternately lyrically sublime and frenetically rapid in his choice of note. Bee Hive is a handy display case of this man's brilliance. The other players hold their own as well. The searing sax work 'of Sonny Rollins and Nicky Hill, the shimmering guitar of Lou Blevins and the pulsating time kept by pianist Billy Wallace and drummer Max Roach is featured. Audio quality is ragged, which is to  be expected, but these things are remedied and the music proceeds, quickly regain momentum. Live at the Bee Hive exists as an example of superb musicians just flat-out playing their  hearts out.

THE EAGLES MOVE NEXT DOOR . THE FLOWERS DIE IN YOUR GARDEN AND THE BIRDS FALL DEAD OUT OF THE TREES

 Quit defending the Eagles! They’re simply terrible - Salon.com:



The first thing that one has to do is give the Eagles their due, which is their ability to write tunefully, maintain tight harmonies and sustain an impressive level of musicianship. To their credit, these guys have always had a sound that makes them stand out in a crowded field, and they've always sounded like a real band, not an assembly of hired professionals. Normally t hose would be items that would lead to be an additional 500-700 words of praise for a particular album or live performance, but I've always hated this band . They are distinct and professional the way Disney Products, especially Marvel Movies, are professional, which is to say their efforts are superbly assembled works composed of elements skillfully, artfully, cynically chosen for their capacity to appeal to a mass audience of males who have a self-righteous and self-pitying chip on their shoulder and the women who love all those misunderstood and misunderstood men. Don Henley's voice is a nasally and grainy combination of Rod Stewart and Neil Young and reduces the calculated pathos of the lyrics to an aggravating noise, like the ice machine goes off next to the motel room you rented just when you're entering a select acre of nod. Their sense of telling sagas of heartbreak, stoicism in the face of hard choice, and despairing about the end of innocence after the party balloons have shriveled and the last flake of cocaine has been wiped from the mirror and rubbed some last-gasper's gums are soilless , overwrought, overwritten , and overacted. Their narratives are goon show narcissisms that are designed to impress, not express; they skip the dramatic all together and settle over the melodramatic. Theirs is the suicide -prone "code" of Hemingway, the arrogance that rather than cope, grow, move on with a life to which change ,significant change has inevitably come to , one instead nurtures the hurt privately, does not complain and carries on as before, exhibiting a pretense of "grace under fire" (Hemingway's coinage) while stewing in their own private hell of resentment, jealousy, anger, self-loathing and compensating arrogance in the conceit that their ability to take a punch, to take many blows to the head and to the ego, makes them a higher caliber of human, male human, white male human, than the lesser masses who inhabit the planet. Everything about their message and sound--the guitarwork that is too tasteful in country accents and too rubbery with the more rocking workouts--props up this multi-platinum hoax. I am very fond of Joe Walsh, having seen him a few times from my Detroit days when he played with the James Gang at area venues and festivals, but his personality seemed all but erased when he joined this egregious unit. His persona, a bohemian for whom there are no big deals and that what whatever travails and tragedies befall are likely because he made a decision that was  ill chosen and that life, such as it is despite the bad luck, is good so far ("Life's Been Good"), seemed an odd fit for this professionally pessimistic posse. His sense of humor and life-preserving irony couldn't keep them from absorbing Walsh into their uniformly sense of weltschmerz. Even Joe's famously chunky brand of blues rock guitar couldn't lift the band's  music anymore. The truth of this band  is plain: The Eagles blow.


The serious Eagles fan would come to the defense of this band--seemingly as much despised as they are loved by fans--and maintain that their cynicism, despair, and weariness were anything than the routine posturings of experience-glutted rock stars, the more being that they were artful and could write good song hooks and manage to keep their songs under a certain length. Granted, although a tune like "Hotel California" , paced at a tortoise crawl and it is slow in duration, is a notable exception, notable in that it contains everything that is objectionable to this band a collective projection of the zeitgeist. The lyrics are laden in down cast metaphors where the secreted meanings are grandiosely proclaimed, exhibiting a "you know what I mean " vagueness that is an  bullet to interests in whatever forbidden knowledge these musicians gleaned from their adventures at the edge of their own limitations.  An amazingly successful rock band with some indisputably talented musicians, the Eagles are a band I never cared about. Even in their best songs they seemed, smug in the depths of despair, depression and bad-luck stories their songs evoked. Tuneful, well crafted, laden with nicely arranged guitar textures and incidental instrumentation,the sweetly harmonized lyrics were a first rate evocation of bankrupt imaginations trying their best to out -bottom the rest of rock and roll's iconic desolation row residents. In meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous there there is the tradition of a having a leader "qualify" , that is, telling their tale of what it was like, what happened and what it's like now. The telling, or testimonial , if you will, would normally contain some sordid tales of their past that their  powerlessness over alcohol led them to, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly; the point is to make the listener understand the inevitable destruction this path results unless the alcoholic or drug addict has their moment of clarity and grasps a solution, which are the components of the "what happened" and "what its like now" parts of the formula. There is the habit of some members with years of recovery (such as it might be for them personally) who eschew the solution and instead tell one horrible anecdote after another; this is not generally appreciated by other group members seeking a confirmation of the hope that is supposed to be contained in the rooms where those meetings are held. This turns testimony in a drunkalogue and the effect is of someone who takes an inordinate pride in the horrible things they have done--each instance of bad luck,lying, theft, jail time, divorce, traffic accidents, job loss,  sexual misbehavior become like bullet points on a resume. 

Whether they intended to or done, those who overshare such things wallow in the gloom and their words become pointless. So with the Eagles, who have spent decades writing songs as if they are the only witnesses to the end of the world, a world where only they are citizens worth listening to. Theirs was a music akin to an old car with a great, shiny new paint job; attractive surface gleem, noisy and tired under the hood. For all their gold records and fanatical fan base, they have proven to be even more tiresome than U2. 

GREATEST SCREAMER OF ALL TIME

 Dickie Peterson, bassist and lead singer for the proto heavy metal band BLUE CHEER,  ascended to the giant E CHORD in the sky in October of 2009, which is another w ay of saying that he's dead, still dead to this day. But lately I've thought of him as I've done my research into outre electric guitar solos. His bandsaw -on-steel vocals, joined with guitarist Leigh Stephens' PULVERIZING ATONAL GUITAR SOLOS and drummer Paul Whaley's trash can demolition, Peterson and crew lay the ground work for a generation of metal and punk bands to come: MC5, STOOGES, MOUNTAIN, LED ZEP, RAMONES, MOTORHEAD, DEAD BOYS. Even the Velvet Underground, with their feedback skronk , couldn't match Blue Cheer's steel-belted forays into electricfied abandon; the Velvets merely taunted the strings of their guitar, Blue Cheer sounded like they punched holes in oil tankers. And Peterson's vocalizations where the perfect match, screech, rasp and banshee wail all rolled into one bag of verbal outrage, maintaining a punk's slouch . He was the white blues belter who deserved the praise. Sorry Janis.It's appropriate to remember that their early manager, a fellow named Abe "Voco" Kesh , bragged that Blue Cheer played so loud that they killed a dog at an outdoor concert. It is true that they played so loud that they recorded parts of their second album on piers in San Francisco, amps and speakers faced toward the bay, because they kept blowing out the studio soundboard.

HIP HIP, VULGARITY

 

Kalefa Sanneh weighs in on the renewed focus on hip-hop's intransigent vulgarity in the New York Times and offers a typically middle of the road position about the music's part in encouraging violence and the furthering coarsening of American life. Don't blame the music, Sanneh writes, these words, these jokes, these attitudes have been part of African American and urban culture for generations, evolving from   

the tradition of "toasting" and graduating from the streets and the rent parties to the airwaves, discos, and television. The point of it all was to shake up the mainstream, upset the comfortably settled, and give voice at the same time to a vital life that boiled and roiled in the heart of every poor neighborhood languishing in the shadows of corporate America. Blame the corporations for disseminating the material to the larger population, blame your own uptightness if you are offended and taken aback by the rough language and general ugliness of much of the work. Some points well taken, and I'm of the mind that music and lyrics, whether Muddy Waters, Elvis, the Ramones or NWA in themselves cause people to have unprotected sex and buy "cop killer" bullets--this is a controversy that gets replayed every few years when media critics and their employers have exhausted the current crop of pseudo events for their capacity to inspire unending opinion-mongering whose collective outrage seems more scripted and assigned than spontaneous and reflecting real offense.What's irritating is the casual implication that if we'd relax and take a broader view we wouldn't get so upset. Some terms of  insult are like the half life of plutonium 239, which is roughly 24,000 years.  The comparison is this: frequent exposure to plutonium will still kill you no matter how much it ages in  our collective lifetimes, and there are words that have a seeming permanent capacity to offend and create havoc, discord , gross results. The N-word is so freighted with a foul history that repetition of use does not make it harmless, does not leach of it's  destructive purpose.

That's the old Lenny Bruce theory on foul language, that words are only words and that if we use them frequently and openly, they would lose their shock value and their capacity to offend. Nice theory, but very Fifties in fact, and one that does not travel well. Lester Bangs, writing of the N-word in a seventies piece called "White Noise Supremacists" in the Village Voice, examined his own adherence to Bruce's notion to defang the quarrelsome words and found the formula lacking. The word is generations old, used as powerful weapon to reinforce cultural and institutional racism and oppression, so much so, he found, that no matter how ironic one tried to be in their attempt to liberate the term from it's originating pathology, the N-word hurt, it hurt deep, it still caused anger, as it was designed to. Violence is an inevitable consequence for some when this word gets used, and so it goes with the hip-hop's street-level idiom. The language isn't going to be less upsetting merely because most of us shrug our shoulders and do nothing. The republic will survive, and the language we might object to will cease finding it's way into our public spaces only when the reality the words reflect ceases to be attractive, enviable, romantic. We return to our original and ongoing problem as a country: the transformation of a political apparatus into a means that allows people to achieve lives worth living. 
                                                                                       --Originally written in 2007.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Incomparable jazz flutist Lori Bell gives the world a swinging jazz love letter to Brooklyn

In the 1970s and early ’80s I worked at the Summer House Inn in La Jolla as a combination desk clerk, switchboard operator, bell man, reservationist, and whatever odd job that needed to be done that didn’t require driving the company car. It was an okay job, nothing great, but the greatest benefit of working there was that Elario’s, at the time one of the best jazz clubs in Southern California, was perched on 11th floor of the high-rise. It was at Elario’s where I was introduced to the music of Brooklyn native and San Diego resident Lori Bell, a jazz flautist (or flutist?) in live performance. Playing with the very fine pianist Dave McKay and with her own groups, Bell’s flute work was a revelation of sorts. Her tone is firm and she shows a virtuoso’s command of the sounds it produces. Whether digging into the sub-atomic emotions that are the genius of the blues, releasing a torrent of inspired runs on the obstacle course complexities of bop or the nuanced, minor key subtleties of a ballad, Lori Bell played her flute in any fashion she chose. Delicacy and strength, firm and rhythmic, unfaltering and malleable, hers is a sound with verve and lyricism.That said, Bell has released her ninth studio album,  2016's impressive Brooklyn Dreaming, a tribute to her place of birth and where her heart and roots remain. She is joined her by Matt Witek on drums, Tami Hendelman on piano, and Katie Thiroux on bass, an ensemble reveling in what seems like telepathic communication during in both the softer and more dynamic album selections. The album is a tribute to the vital elan of Bell’s fabled native grounds, but over anything else this album’s main attraction are the top shelf performances. These sessions wails, soars and swings on the good grace of superb musicianship.Noteworthy are the hard-charging interpretations on the twisting turns of Charlie Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square”; brisk, given to fast tempo changes and the odd quirks Mingus is known for in his writing, Bell’s solo is magnificent, building with simple statements and gradually accelerating the speed, upping the ante, and dancing on the edge of the rhythm section’s sublimely kept pace. Bell’s original compositions–“Times Squared,” “Brooklyn Dreaming,” “A Dog on Coney”–provide what we can take as the New York attitude: fast, in-your-face , loquacious, but friendly and swinging. Bell finds the mood, explores the variations, makes it all swing, her notes precise and rounded, fleeting and wild in their spirit. Hendelman’s piano work has that extra-sensory element suggested from before. His chord voicings chime magically to provide a suitable push and texture to the ensemble, and his solos are rich complements to Bell’s, matching her in stratospheric outlay of ideas but adding his own deft touches. Half chords, short runs, and bell-tone octaves make him the necessary musician to have around. Likewise, the teamwork of the Witek and Thiroux rhythm section move this wonderfully realized session with an ease dually dynamic and apt. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

BEACH BOYS GET INTROSPECTIVE

 
The old and admittedly stale joke about the positive side of having Alzheimer's is that you're always meeting new people. Too often it seems I have forgotten the old joys of tunes that lie in my record collection , only to have a pleasurable re-acquaintance with the music decades later, out of now where.The effect is just a little like wandering around your house looking for something you need but that you forgot what it was you  began the search for. And then presto!, there they are, your house keys, that thing you need and can't get along without. It's a moment of revelation, surprise aplenty, a  great and rushing relief.  

This Beach Boy tune, from their landmark album Pet Sounds , is one of those songs, significant because principle songwriter Brian Wilson had begun to wander from the teen beach-babes-cars-surfing tropes that endeared he and the Beach Boys to the world and began to write material that contained a telling element of introspection. This melody is gorgeous, the peerless harmonies gliding along like light feathers on the breeze of a tentative and ascending melody, the odd intervals combing for an effect of naive plain speak, a young person aware that there is something more to this world than distractions. A writer greatly influenced by the subversive genius of Chuck Berry, a black musician vested in the blues and swing, who could bright and verbally inventive lyrics about being a white  teen innocently looking for fun and distraction,  Wilson here seems to pick up the theme of where the Brown Eyed Handseom Man had left off:  School is a drag, and cruising for fun is fine and all, but a whole world  unknown is rearing itself over the horizon as senior year ends and graduation ends.What now ? This seems to be what the song is asking. The narrator remains painfully young, but there is genuine introspection in a mind formerly the exclusive property of youthful impulse. Who is one going to be in the world of jobs, mortages and taxes? 

What is one supposed to be in this world? What others expect him to be? Or to be his own person, ignoring advice, constraints, societal mores and laws? Or a combination of all these things, somewhere in the middle, defined, distinct, whole, happy, productive, creative? The song is not profound in message, it is not even poetic or artful in any way rock critics would desire,but it is beautiful in terms of being that moment when the music softens,the drummer lays out, and someone removes them self form where the action is to some other space inside their soul, reflective for a moment, perhaps indicating a prelude to a searching, innovative life. Nice jam/

Friday, April 23, 2021

A post that mentions Malcom McLaren

 


It was April 8, 2010 when Malcom McLaren  passed away, the man commonly credited  by quick study journalists and water cooler culturati with creating  punk rock, in the form of The Sex Pistols. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols , their  1971 album ,  was an  especially revulsive  revolt against the tired blood of album-oriented-rock , an especially sharp weapon that spearheaded, many assert, the war against the decadence that made rock and roll into a glitzed up cash machine for  corporations . But grand as they were, and visionary though he was, I thought they and their like were redundant to rock and roll's evolution. Rather than make something new, they reiterated old noise and pre-owned attitudes. I grew up in Detroit in the late Sixties, where the local bands included The MC5, Iggy and the Stooges and The Amboy Dukes, not-give-fuck punks who kicked out the jams a good decade before the Brits made what was punk rock into a design fetish. It's not that I  thought the Sex Pistols weren't called for, as the pretentiousness of the musicians and the gullibility of the audience had choked off the life force that made rock and roll exciting and worth caring about. Some of it might be laid at the feet of rock criticisms, since the advanced discussions of Dylan's relationship to Chuck Berry's everyman existentialist demanded a musical technique and lyrical concept just as daunting. This is the danger when folk art is discovered: it stands to become something distorted, disfigured and bereft of vitality. I was lucky , I guess, in that I was a fan of the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges long before the Sex Pistols caught the punk wave. 

They and bands like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath were a grounding principal--rock and roll is beautiful because it's energetic, awkward, and stupid, but profoundly so. There are "concept albums" I admire and still like, if not listen to, but I won't name them here. I am pleased, though, that the idea of the Album being a literary object has been dropped in a deep grave and had dirt thrown over it's  remains. What we can thank the late McClaren for is reminding us that rock and roll is a loser's game, the noise of the empty stomach made worse by broken promises where ever a good person woke up with full knowledge of the truth of their lives under the campaign  banners and cheers for a loving God. Since I'm making a cursory mention of Chuck Berry in connection with the Sex Pistols, it's worth mentioning here that Greil Marcus, the grayest and gravest presence on the pop/rock/culture-vulturing punditry hierarchy, has a nice stretch of descriptive prose in his mystical history of rock and roll and rebellion Lipstick Traces about the Sex Pistols rehearsing Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." It seems they never get it right for all the angry and frustrated attempts the  Pistols have at the song, but Marcus does a bit of his magic and  describes the energy in the room as he imagined it, making the increasing verve, the theoretical channeling of frustration and spite into inspiration and useful energy seem  believable. This is a Marcus specialty, creating more mythology from details culled from far  fetched sources. That's why I continue to read the man.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER: making the ugly wonderful

 Over all, the whole phenomena of ELP was a fever that took too long to run its course, but for all their mechanical onanism, they did at times amuse me or impress me to an extent. Tarkus, their  1971  studio album, was such an extreme example of unplayable , undanceable, unlistenable, jig-sawing time signatures that I wound up respecting it as something wherein we have a band that accomplished exactly what they set out to do, produce a loud, grinding, smoke and spark belching bit of unlovable Avant Gard music. I would assert that if a college music department had their resident experimental music ensemble take up this album as a proposed project in search of some grant money, it would come pouring it.


That is say that it's very unloveability fits right in with much more contemporary noise makers at the edges of listenability. Also, these fellows had the the chutzpah to take Copeland's sacrosanct "Hoe Down" and turn it into a keyboard dominated speed metal blitz. I loved th
at. 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

smoking

Simeon Flick is a San Diego guitarist and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire who comes to the world with his ninth studio album, Gung Ho Hum, a heady and sometimes overcrowded release of relentless eclecticism. There is a generous portion for whatever one’s tastes happen to be it seems, with the atmospheric tone poem of the opening track “Singularity,” with its quizzical syncopated rap vocal through the scorching hard-rock blistering of “Bad Lot” (rhythm and blues funk joined with power chords and a fine and nasty guitar solo) not to mention the high-strung Hendrixisms that tattoo “Oh Please” or the shape-shifting state of “Careful What You Wish For,” where metal guitaristics give way quickly but smoothly to soulful harmonies over an accelerated dance floor groove. Variety is the name of the game of Flick’s stock in trade, but there is more, much more here than simply trying to please the fickle listener’s ear. At its best moments—which are many—Gung Ho Hum is an imaginative blending of elements; transitions between styles are smooth, congruent despite their seeming musical disparity among the sounds he displays. It’s worth noting that the songs wide-ranging material was entirely written, performed, produced, and mixed by Flick, with some horn assist from Matthew Stewart). The one-man-band tradition in pop music has been a phenomenon that has rarely impressed me—for all the praise that stalwarts like Paul McCartney or Stevie Winwood have gained for being able to multitrack different instruments (usually guitar-bass-keyboard-vocal-sometimes drums combinations), the music seemed half-baked, rather gutless. Flick is in the upper echelons of the one-man-banders, whose sparse ranks include Todd Rundgren (1973’s A Wizard, A True Star) or latter-day Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin on his first solo release (1978’s Trevor Rabin). As with these artists and albums, Gung Ho Hum maintains a solid live-band feeling; the engineering and sound mix achieve a blended unity. There is a grainy element to this inspired selected olio that keeps the energy high, the vocals buoyant, the flash and fire alluring. Flick keeps it moving, keeps it tight, keeps it grooving.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Low Temperature Fusion


 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

CHICK COREA, RIP

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

a rant for the MC5

 

This is important shit , folks: To this day , the MC5 are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite the impressive argument that they have been one of the most influential and , ergo, most important rock and roll bands in history. In any event, here is a choice cut not discussed much even my 5 aficionados , James Brown's "It's a Man's World". Agreed, the song is more than patronizing and winds up placing women on the damnable pedestal and back in the kitchen at the same time, but you have to hand to these guys for their odd choice. They loved black music and their choice of a song only JB could pull off is a classic punk gesture: "Fuck you guys, we're gonna play this goddamned song because WE WANT TO." Vocalist Rob Tyner did not, as has been remarked around a trash can full of burning rubber, give a FLAT FUCK if he sang worse than a horse thief gagging at the end of a dirty rope of justice. Rob Tyner sang like a man who had his head wrapped in a thick sheet of bubble wrap and then had his noggin stuffed into a burlap bag that reeked of diesel stained wagon timber and mildewed hemp. He sounded like he'd swallowed his fist in a freak accident that might have occurred when he he was chewing on his knuckles in macho-mechanical panic while watching an asteroid streak a fiery, smoky path to Cobo Hall. When he wrapped his crackling squawk to  It's A Man's World, satellites stopped broadcasting and Gabriel drove over his trumpet in a huff of overriding despair. His was the voice of percolating whiteness, personified grieving love handles with a microphone. There was a time when an attitude like that would inspire otherwise stoned and clueless teens , all of them too late for the absurd counter-culture vanities of Haight Ashbery and Greenwich Village, to yell "fuck yeah" and babble their rendition of dumb cliches about offing the pigs and serving the people. So yeah, the MC5 were really punks, macho black bad boy wannabes and crazy mofos in their right who were willing to stick it in your eye." Hah. Hit me again." The rest of the guys crammed their guitars into the cones of their amps and ground their strings against the microphone stands.The drummer, Dennis Thompson, rattled on over the snare, performed an encyclopedia's worth of imagined sexual amnesia drills over the head of the snare drum and punched a hole in the base drum with nothing other than a random disease he picked up for kicks at the last Room Temperature Ale House he was located  within. Some one in the middle of what was left of the audience that wasn't yet unconscious, bleeding or deceased hooted. "SUCK MY DICK" countered Tyner, "GAG ON MY GOODNESS, JARHEAD." After that, it started to get weird.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Arthur Blythe, John McLaughlin capsule album reviews from 1980

 Lenox Avenue Breakdown- Arthur Blythe  (Columbia)

Blythe. a saxophonist who's done time with drummer Chico Hamilton's group and the New York jazz scene, is the most interesting player of the instrument around. Where most saxists make the choice of the kind of music they want to play and seldom, if ever, stray to other styles, Blythe's sound is an engagingly eclectic mixture that he bonds together with the self-assurance and personality of his playing. 

His tone is as firm and spritely lyrical as either Joe Farrell or Phil Woods, yet he can, when need be, brandish the pyrotechnical verve of Sonny Rollins, the gruff, full-bodied harmonics of early Pharaoh Saunders of Gato Barbieri, and the sweet natured lilt of Charles McPherson. One shouldn't think that Blythe sounds like any of these players, though. Blythe sounds like Blythe alone, and the different ideas he uses compose a perfectly coherent style. With Blythe on Lenox Avenue Breakdown are drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Cecil McBee, guitarist James Ulmer and several others. 

They provide the firm yet malleable bottom that Blythe requires for his extravagant solos, with their own sorties adding distinctive color and contrast. The title track is the best example of this, a wildly shifting terrain of rich sounds and multi-leveled rhythms interspersed by Blythe's brilliant gymnastics. Lenox Avenue Breakdown is rough, raw, brilliant and 1'i¥etting, and should be bought by anyone who's tired of the oversweetened contrivances branded as improvsational music.

 

Electric Dreams
- John McLaughlin and the One Truth Band - (Columbia)

When last seen and heard in concert in San Diego. guitarist McLaughlin had assembled a unit called the One Truth Band, and from the evidence, there was little reason to feel hopeful. The performance was atrocious. a poorly mixed and badly played din of electronic flash. with McLaughlin and the band undertaking a pointless, random cacophony of speedy riffs that never jelled. The concert lacked even the callous cleverness McLaughlin has become known for. Well, surprise. Electric Dreams, the One Truth Band's 'first release with McLaughlin, is everything their concert wasn’t. The six musicians - McLaughlin. L. Shankar on violin, Stu Goldberg on keyboards, Fernando Sanders on bass, Tony Smith on drums and Alyrio Lima on percussion - have consolidated their skills into a fully integrated unit and display a distinct musical identity. 

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

from 1980:capsule reviews of mahogany rush,gentle giant,Peter alsop

 What's Next-

Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush (Columbia) T

The story goes that a young Frank Marino freaked out on bad acid some years ago, and after being given a guitar by his doctors as part of his recovery therapy, he was soon playing exactly like the deceased Jimi Hendrix despite the fact that he had previously never touched the instrument. Marino said in ea rly interviews that he believed the spirit of Jimi had entered him during his recovery, and that he had been changed from being just another teenage doper into someone who would carryon what Hendrix had begun. So the story goes. What you can say about Marino, whether you swallow' that crock or not, is that he does sound like Hendrix. But instead of "carrying on" the guitar stylistics and advancing the art of electric guitar, Marino's playing is somewhere in the late 60s, fast and furious, full of echo, feedback , and, unlike Hendrix 's occasional moments of bluesy lyricism, utterly graceless. The problem is singular: Marino and Mahagony Rush are incapable of writing a decent riff, a failing that results in Marino ejaculating pud-pounding solos over the material like a meat and potatoes slob drowning the most expensive plate at the Top Of The Cove in a comeuppance of ketchup. Although one has to concede Marino's adeptness, his style becomes wearisome. In the end, What's Next,their newest record, seems aimed at the audience who've turned Hendrix into a deity and refused to admit that better guitarists have come along. 

_____

Civilian -
 Gentle Giant (Columbia)

Back in the days when classically-derived rock was all the rage among the small enclaves of pop dilettantes, Gentle Giant set themselves apart from the pack with the unusual continuity and stringent formalism of. their playing. In recent years, though, Giant has been changing their sound, gearing it toward a more commercial appeal so that they might attract a larger audience who might otherwise dismiss them as mere technical tricksters.- Unfortunately, what they sound like on Civilian, their latest record, is merely a watered down rendition of their old self, bordering almost on self parody. "The material stays safely within the limits of what the average tolerate - there is little risk-taking here - and except for some pleasant ensemble bits here and there, nothing really gels moving. Also, Derek Shulman's singing - a distraught, emasculated whine - has never been my idea of great crooning, and the lyrics, trapped in the aprioric existential murk of alienation and all, amount to nothing more than in articulated pout. Words such as these are enough to make one want to give the linger, incessantly mewling about a world he didn't ask to be born into, a good swift kick in the pants. And not necessarily in the seat. 

_____

Draw The Line -Peter Alsop (Flying Fish)

 

If this were 1967, al an anti· war or Civil Rights march, and if I were 17, 'dad in khaki, stoned beyond what's reasonable in public, and still believing we could have world peace through the right mixture of drugs and indiscriminate sex, I would think that folkie Peter Alsop . was a totally bitchen guy. But this is 1980, and though my politics haven', changed all that much, I think most of us learned the lesson that the world won't be a better place through wishful thinking and pamphlet politics. Alsop , though, seems to exist quite happily in an airless vacuum . He 's what used to be called a  "topical" songwriter, and though the things he chooses to sing about - the innate greed principal of capitalism, the horrors of nuclear energy,  labor songs, feminisms' liberation of males from the breadwinner role - you find him to be so politically "correct" that you'd like to punch him out. Not that I find anything particularly disagreeable with Alsop's world view. Rather, Alsop gets on my nerves because of his expression, which is didactically self righteous , s hallow and humorous to only an audience of like-minded politico who already know the punchlines. And as a propagandist, he lacks the needed ability to turn up with the stirring turn of phrase . This man is not Phil Ochs, not Dylan, not Dave Van Ronk, not Buffy St. Marie. He is Peter Alsop, an insufferable little snit, a profoundly depressing experience. What else can you expect from a man who probably won't play in any state that hasn't ratified the ERA? 


(Originally in The UCSD Daily Guardian)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

EMOTIONAL RESCUE by The Rolling Stones (capsule review from 1981)

 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

2 capsule record reviews from 1981

 Directions - Miles Davis (Columbia)

 Like last year's Circle In The Round, Directions is another double record anthology of previously unreleased Davis material from 1960-70, and it's neatly divided between the coaly lyrical post-bop styles and the period when the trumpeter led his musicians into the wilds of polyrhythmic jazz-rock. For my part, I prefer the latter of the two styles on the fir t two sides, highlighting Davis' sharp, pointillistic brassiness and several swinging performances from Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Ron Carter, and others. The fusion material tends to drift too far afield, lost as it is around funk riffs that are annoyingly stationary while improvisations, by Davis. John McLaughlin , Wayne Shorter and Steve Goodman, lack anything to say save for arbitrary utterances. One jam, "Willie Nelson ," do 1' , however. transcend the hit-and-miss method of the style t with superlative bassist Dave Holland elevating a simple figure into truly propulsive  groove that in turn inspires McLaughlin to give his best guitar work-out on the four record set. Still, the fusion sessions are stiff and unmotivated, and one wonders whether Davis himself would have allowed these tracks to see light. Sides one and two, though, are quite fine, and well worth the price of the package.  

Intensities In Ten Cities - Ted Nugent (Epic) 

I once thought  Ted Nugent was a  guitarist of singular style who would one day drop the meat-eater stance and make music well the equal of his instrumental skill. Well, I still think that Nugent i a good guitarist, but I’ve abandoned all hope that he might garner some dignity as a musician. Primarily, dignity and class are elements Nugent has no interest in, nor use for. Yes, he can play guitar well and one respects him for that, but he’s also a freak show, a performer, a loud and grotesque figure of masculinity who has no problems selling out arenas and moving vinyl. Intensities in  Ten Cities is more of what he' been serving up the last . ix years or so: songs in major keys using major chords with lots of screaming guitar work and plenty of lyrics that display no more odal conscience than a back alley brawl. Nugent is obviously very happy to remain where he is, his audience seems more than happy to be typified as bone heads of the first order, and presently I'm more than happy to ignore this me . Give the audience what it wants and then wash the blood off your hands

(Originally published in the  UCSD Guardian).


Saturday, December 26, 2020

LESLIE WEST, RIP

 Leslie West, guitarist for Mountain , has passed away, age 75. The musician  was at the center of the  since my high school senior year, circa  1971 , which makes this especially sad.  His playing on the song "Dreams of Milk and Honey", the live version from  their  ' 71 Flowers of  Evil album, was a I track I    listened to obsessively , all  20 or so minutes of it, for years to come.  Suffice to say that I  pretty well had the performance memorized, every note, every phrase, every transition from one  theme and variation to another, each change in tempo, each down beat and  uptick in volume. Or so it seemed at times as I remember miming West's guitar work in the dresser mirror while the song blared . It seemed I could write a bit of memoir, autobiography let us  say, to each five minute segment of this track and have enough writing to fill a book. I thought I would reprint this here, an appreciation of what I thought the song sounded like to me, something entirely subjective. Leslie West could play guitar.    

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

REMEMBERING JOHN LENNON

(Originally posted in 2018, it merits a reprint now on the 40th anniversary of the singer's death.) 

This coming December 8th was the 38th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination by that ignoble cipher Mark David Chapman, and as much as one wants to deny that they remain obsessed with the great glory of their fiery youth, a day of this kind makes me none the less want to meander around the old and overgrown ground of the past and wonder how things might have been different.   But the motives are selfish, as they always have been with me, and I am less concerned with the winsome utopia Lennon wanted to bring us to had Chapman not found his gun and his target, but rather with the decline of Lennon's music, post-Beatles. My position is simple and probably simple-minded; Lennon was a pop music genius during his time with the Beatles, collaborating or competing with Paul McCartney, at the top of his songwriting and performer game, and with the introduction of Yoko Ono into his life, we see a lapse into the banal, the trivial, the pretentiously bone-headed. Yoko Ono did much to make Lennon the worst example of wasted genius imaginable. Though he did make some great rock and roll during his post-Beatle time and wrote and recorded a handful of decent ballads, his artistry took a nose dive he never had a chance to pull out of. He was monumentally pretentious, head-line hungry, and cursed with egomania that overrode is talent. He stopped being an artist, and a rock and roller, and became the dread species of creature called celebrity; the great work that made is reputation was behind him, and there was nothing in front of him except brittle rock music with soft-headed lyrics, empty art stunts, and drugs, drugs, drugs. A sad legacy for a great man. The fact of the matter is that Lennon's greatness was possible in large part because of his collaborations, full or partial, with Paul McCartney. Both had native musical instincts that balanced each other: the proximity of one to the other kept them on their best game.


The sheer genius of the entire Beatle body of work versus the sketchy efforts from both Lennon and McCartney under their own steam bears this out. Lennon never found anyone to replace McCartney, and certainly never had anyone who challenged to do better smarter work. Yoko certainly didn't give him anything that improved his music, and her lasting contribution to his career is to give him the errant idea that performing under your ability equals sincerity. It equaled excruciatingly inadequate music. What's amazing for an anniversary as seemingly monumental as this is the paucity of new insights, previously unavailable information, or especially interesting critical estimations of their estimable body of work. It is a topic that has been exhausted, it seems since scrutiny on all matters and personalities pertaining to the Beatles has been unceasing since their demise. We have, essentially, is reruns of our own memories, repackaged, remodeled, sold to us again, and endless of things we already know intimately and yet consume compulsively because we cannot help ourselves. It cheapens the term, but "addiction" comes to mind.

There is nothing to add to the Beatles legacy except perhaps add our anecdotes to the ceaseless stream of words that seek to define their existence and importance even today. It's no longer about what the Beatles meant and accomplished in altering the course of history or manipulating the fragile metaphysical assumptions we harbor, for good or ill; we’ve exhausted our best and largest generalities in that regard, and the task will fall to historians, philosophers and marketers after most of us are dead as to what The Beatles and their songs are worth as art and commercially exploitable assets. For us there remains only a further dive into autobiography, where we might yet find some clue and excitement as to how these guys became an informing influence on our individual personalities. John Lennon and the Beatles changed my life in a major and unalterable way during their existence, and this was something I came aware of only after watching two hours of CNN wall-to-wall coverage of the assassination. I broke down, tears came, I was a senseless, doom-stricken mess, even though at the time I loudly bad-mouthed the pasty, hippie-flake dilettantism of his later work.

None of what I thought I mattered in that instance. John Lennon was dead, and it was losing some essential part of myself whose loss would never be filled with anything even half as good or worthy. He still mattered to me in my life quite although I'd had what amounted to an argument with him over is politics and his music during the length of his solo career, but despite my best efforts to break off into new sounds and ideas and leave Lennon and the Beatles behind, his death hit as would the death of a family member. For good or ill, his work and the crude course of his ideas helped in the formation of values and attitudes that still inform my response to celebrity and events, no less than Dylan, and no less than reading Faulkner, Joyce, or viewing Godard films. The deification that he's had since the killing is the sick, fetish culture nostalgia that illustrates the evils of unalloyed hero worship, a need to have a God who once walked in our midst. This bad habit turns dead artists who were marginally interesting into Brand Name , icons whose mention confers the acquisition of class and culture without the nuisance of having to practice credible discernment: every weak and egocentric manuscript Kerouac and Hemingway, among others, has been published, and the initial reason for their reputations, graspable works you can point to, read and parse, become obscured.

Lennon becomes less the musician he was and becomes, in death, just another snap-shot to be re-marketed at various times, complete with booklets containing hyperbole-glutted prose that attempts to instruct me that my response through a period I lived in is meaningless. Such hype utterly refuses to let newer listeners come to their own terms with the body of work. It is no longer about Lennon's music, it's about the promotion machine that keeps selling him. This is evil. Lennon, honest as he was mostly when he had sufficient distance from his antics, would have told us to get honest as well and admit that much of his later music was half-baked and released solely because of the power of his celebrity. This may well be the time for an honest appraisal of his work, from the Beatles forward, so that his strongest work can stand separate from things that have a lesser claim to posterity. Many magazines and other media have used Lennon and the Beatles for no than their value as nostalgia icons in an attempt pathetic glimpses of their own history. It's only business, nothing personal, and that is exactly the problem. Risky to assume what Lennon might ultimately have sounded like had he not died, since he had the ability to switch games suddenly and quickly so far as his musical thinking went. This was a constant quality that kept him interesting, if not always inspiring: there as always, a real hope that he would recover inspiration, as Dylan had after some weak work, or as Elvis Costello had after the soggy offerings of Trust or Goodbye Cruel World

Even the weaker efforts of Lennon's' later period were marked by his idiosyncratic restlessness, and the songs on Double Fantasy, domesticated that they are, might well have been transitional work, a faltering start, toward new territory.It's laughable that Lennon might ever have become as lugubriously solemn as Don Henley, but there's merit in saying that Lennon's work might become par with Paul Simon's: Simon's work is certainly more than screeds praising the domesticated life, and he is one of the few songwriters from the Sixties whose work has substantially improved over the forty years. If Lennon's work had become that good, on his own terms, it would have been a good thing, though it'd be more realistic to say that a make-believe Lennon rebirth of great work would be closer in attitude and grit to Lou Reed and Neil Young, two other geezers whose work remains cranky and unsatisfied at heart. Since his death, it'd been my thinking that Lennon would have transcended his cliches as some of the contemporaries had.

Monday, December 7, 2020

AWKWARD TEENAGE BLUES

 


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

HOLLER, STOMP AND RIFF WITH WAYNE RIKER


Blues Lightning
The Wayne Riker Gathering
The last we beheld guitarist Wayne Riker was on his 2018 release Blues Breakout, a spectacular exhibition of fretboard heroics. Known locally and nationally for  mastery of  a variety styles, the previous album was Riker in a mood to blaze the blues.It was, to my ears, the most impressive display of blues guitar know-how since Johnny Winter's fabled  Second Winter .  Riker is a very distinct, even singular stylist, of course, but what he shares with Winter is an unerring sense of melding technique, taste, flash and feeling into each phrase he puts out there. Wonderfully fluid , he makes it seem that he can make his guitar convey the emotion and attitude he feels the moment he feels it; this disc is the kind of long-form improvisation which renews itself with each chorus. Each solo our friend Wayne essays forth is packed with what might be called The "Wow Factor”.

The new record Blues Lightning  continues this ride, with Riker this time availing himself of another able musicians, a quartet with Riker on guitar, Doug Kvandal on organ, Mackenzie Leighton on bass and Walt Riker on drums. A briefer album Blues Lightning has six hard-sizzling tracks, recorded live on three different dates at San Diego's Studio West. The mood up-tempo, with enough of B.B. King’s feel for elegant hullabaloo. The band throughout demonstrates a flawless sense of what how to play the changes,  with bass and drums locked into a neat habit of propulsion , keeping the music tight while allowing it rock hard . Riker's guitar work is a revelation to anyone who had loved his accelerated dexterity from the 2018 release. This time his breaks are sweet, the phrases more voice-like , with a  very use of seeming obligato statements, superbly use of pauses between riffs, and an emotionally pulverizing feeling for the high blues bend, controlling with a vibrato at the end of the line , compelling your author to slam his hand on the coffee table a few times.  The band mix is spicier with Kvandal's adroit work on the Hammond B-3 organ work, producing swells of funky, grinding texture that weds Riker's spikey guitaring and the rock-solid rhythm section. He fills gaps, offers short phrases to underscore vocal lines, and is a glorious second voice on his own solos, spare, resonant, eternally funky. Guitarist and organist engage in a continuous series of quick- witted dialogues and call -and- response.As mentioned before, the album, this release has only 6 tracks, each of them a glistening gem of finesse and feel. But what brings Blues Lightning even more intoxicating is the are the six powerhouse vocalists, Leonard Patton, Shelle Blue, Deanna Haala, Scott Mathiasen, Lauren Leigh Martin , and  Michelle Lundeen.  Each vocalist applies their potent skills to their respective songs. Every hoop, holler, and belted testament to the ironic ways of life and love, a subtle array of emphasis and insight. It’s a one of the record's added pleasures that listeners get to appreciate the contrasting yet complementary contrasts that makes the music even more electrifying.

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.