Saturday, July 22, 2023



Released in 1969, the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed is the centerpiece of my round up of favorite albums. It's a grand crescendo of the styles, personas, and attitudes they've been developing in the years before this, easily displaying less a fusion of acoustic folk and blues traditions than an early Americanish "blend" of the plugged in and unplugged traditions. It's fair to say that every element of sound we hear sounds as if it's always been there, perfectly formed, waiting to be discovered. Jagger is in peak form as a vocalist--there seems little in the way of traditional and more contemporary styles at the time he couldn't make his own--and his lyrics were never better, subtler, wittier, more British eccentric oddball. In an interview some time ago in Rolling Stone, Mailer found fine writing in the lyrics of "Live With Me" when the interviewer played him this record, praising the baroque and telling detail, the scene shifting line to line, the quick outlines of an upper class family's secret insanity fully exposed. The only track that doesn't work is "You Can't Always Get What You Want", intended seemingly as a grand , showstopping statement with just bit of philosophy delivered in the chorus. Overwrought, drawn out, very slow, anticlimatic, Jagger's singing uncharacteristically falls flat here--he sounds winded --and the not-quite surreal gibberish he usually excels at suffers in a determination to be "poetic".

Theoretically the Blind Faith super group, comprised of Eric Clapton,Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Gretch, should have worked, as they brought a demonstrated array of talents to the fold around instrumental chops, vocal strength and in songwriting especially. Though commonly felt by many to be a failure at the time of release, the lone Blind Faith studio release yielded an impressive number of all time gems--"Can't Find My Way Home", "Presence of the Lord", 'Well All Right". Even lesser material such as the structurally awkward "Had to Cry Today" and Ginger Baker's everybody-gets-a-solo excursion "Dow What You Like" provide sufficient joy. The Baker tune especially is worthwhile for Clapton's guitar solo, which to myhears has him revealing , maybe, a bit of influence from Mike Bloomfield's solo on "East West". The reason for abandoning this project would seem to be the expected issues of drugs, egos, and most likely that their hearts just weren't into it. A shame, they could have been one of the best.

Miles Davis is known as a man with great taste in highlighting the work of great sax players in his bands--Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Sonny Rollins. Add Sonny Stitt. Often derided as a knock off Bird, a grossly unfair charge, Stitt is shown here as lyrically expressive, technically sublime and engagingly melodic improviser for establishes his ideas of bebop chromaticism to the music's superb body of energy. Davis, in fine form here with his brief statements, quick , surgically inserted note clusters and his pure, nearly vibratoless tone --not to mention his genius use of space between his solos--has made it working habit to pare his minimalist expressiviseness against busier second voices like Coltrane and later John McLaughlin. With his band, with peerless support from alto and tenor saxophones, Wynton Kelly, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums--we have Stitt in that position. His choruses are choice, crowded but not crowding. Recorded sometime during the 1960s, according to some vague notes on the CD.

I went looking for a relevant live set by a great fusion band to post here and decided to post this very elegant and , yes, at times searing live set from the Gary Burton Quartet , IN CONCERT, featuring an early appearence by the late guitarist Larry Coryell, who man consider the man most responsible for laying a foundation for the jazz fusion to come. In any respect, this record hasn't aged at all since it's its release in 1968--that are no ugly fuzz tones , fake sitars or faux poetic-philosophical lyrics one needs to rationalize about--but is , rather, a vivid statement of what a innovative unit had been up to that moment and being able to reimagine their inventions yet again. The rhythm section of Steve Swallow on bass and Bob Moses on drums, navigate a variety of musical ideas and rhythms, buoying the remarkable contrasts between primary improvisers Coryell and Burton. LC's blues intonations seamlessly merge with rapid fire bebop complexity and an unfailing classicist precision, the same no less from Burton, who makes his percussive instrument reveal tones, undertones, and shades in a rapid flurry that might make you think of the dense fabric of an Art Tatum solo. A band remarkable that helped clear the ground for a stretch of great jazz rock.

Side two  of Mountain's 1971 release Flowers of Evil is live for nearly forty minutes and is pretty much the Leslie West Show. West wasn't the most fluid of blues rock guitarists--nearly anyone else could play circles around him in terms of speedy cliches and such--but what he had was phrase, taste and tone and a killer hand vibrato , featured here oh so brilliantly on the Dream Sequence segment of the side: "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 that cannot be withstood. 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 nasty riffing. 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. 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 particular masterpiece of rock guitar minimalism caused a number of my friends to refer to me listening yet again to my personal "national anthem."

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