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).