Monday, November 30, 2009

Delta Sax Quartet Do Soft Machine

Originally posted on March 27, 2008

This next one is not average fare. If you liked the progressive rock group Soft Machine, you know that over the course of their initial run, they were likely to give you intricate compositions that touched on minimalism while remaining firmly rooted in the jazz-rock and psychedelia modes. There is a new release out that covers some of the best of those pieces, but done by the Delta Saxophone Quartet (Dedicated to You. . . but You Weren’t Listening) (MoonJune). It’s a rather vital recreation of some of Soft Machine’s best, only transformed to a different musical medium.

As I listened for the first time, I thought to myself, “Hey! We were right all along about these guys.” Because the music still sounds fresh and in the moment. My favorite cut is “Facelift” which joins the quartet with Soft Machine’s bassist Hugh Hopper on his instrument and loops. This is a solid outfit and it’s the kind of CD that sounds good just about any time of day or mood you are in—at least for me.

Ornette with Two Bassists: His Best in Years

Originally posted on March 26, 2008

Ornette Coleman has unquestionably been a primary creative force in new jazz beginning with his initial recordings in the late ‘50s. His last CD continues that journey in a way that those who like the free thing will find thrilling. Sound Grammar was recorded live in Italy in 2005 (OK so I’m late getting to this).

It features Ornette with a quartet—two acoustic basses (one plucks, one bows) and Ornette’s son Denardo on drums. Denardo sounds better than ever and the two bassists really give the group a flair. Bassists don’t miss it! Ornette has refined his playing even further, it seems to me, and the mostly new compositions are fabulous. Order this one on Ornette’s website. File this review under “how did I miss this one?” or “better late than never.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Secret Oyster's Fourth Album Reissued

Originally posted on March 25, 2008

A little while ago I mentioned the ‘70s Danish fusion group Secret Oyster and their recently re-released first album on The Laser’s Edge (see March 6). The group’s fourth album, Straight to the Krankenhouse, is also available on the label.

Secret Oyster’s guitarist at that juncture was Claus Bohling and he’s very good indeed. I must admit I like the first album a little bit better. This one has plenty of musical substance to it, but perhaps just a little less of the fire. Still. . .

Some Ways to Change Your Guitar Sound

Originally posted on March 24, 2008

Today a few brief ideas about things to do to get a different guitar sound. Do you remember the band DNA? I believe the guitarist sometimes played a guitar that was strung with six high e strings. You could also try it with 6 low e's, but be careful with your nut and neck. Some people, like Derek Bailey, sometimes prepare their guitars by inserting objects into the strings: erasers, paper clips, clothespins, etc. If you have a double neck guitar, what about tuning the 12 string a full step up and alternate back and fourth between the two sequences of tonalities? For another effect Jeff Beck has been known to use a violin bow on his guitar.

Those sustainer kits and/or e-bows are very cool. I know somebody who used a vibrator on his strings (I mean the kind for massaging--no "x" rated material on this site!!) What else? I swear by my 12-string bass. It has the four usual bass strings plus two octave strands next to each. I am not selling it; it's too much a part of my arsenal. Anything else? Write in at with other ideas and I'll list them.

Richard Crandell's Thumb Piano Music

Originally posted on March 20, 2008

If you are a fan of the African thumb piano (mbira) or of musical minimalism, or you just like grooves, you probably want to sample Richard Crandell’s Tzadik album Spring Steel.

Crandell is a modern west coast composer man, not an African mbirist per se. He nevertheless has mastered the instrument and offers a CD length series of attractive numbers with percussionist Cyro Baptista. The music has a lyric touch but it rocks out in an African sort of way. It is one of those disks that just puts you in a nice frame of mind. It did to me anyway.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Few Goth Groups with Free Creative Commons Downloads

Originally posted on March 19, 2008

A moment to mention three Creative Commons (free downloads) goth groups you might want to do a search for if you like the genre.

Ofearia — Metal goth with a definite edge; and the lead singer isn’t at all bad.

Reverand Ghoul — a spookier side of things. Echo-atmospheric with some industrial shadings thrown in there.

Niteshade Kiss — a little more on the song side of the spectrum with some metal moments. Almost a very dark Smithereens, but not quite.

Try and/or a general search to find some of this.

Buckethead's Guitar Wizardry

Originally posted on March 18, 2008

If you don’t know who Buckethead is, maybe you should. If you know, you might check out his release on Tzadik Records, Kaleidoscalp.

It’s Buckethead all the way on this one, lots of his thrash metal guitar and diverse material, seemingly all multitracked by Buckethead, but that isn’t completely clear. Since Tzadik is a non-profit label and could use your support, this is a good place to begin.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jazz-Rock Fusion Today with Belgium's The Wrong Object

Originally posted on March 17, 2008

The world of jazz-rock has had its ups and downs in the past several decades. Once disco-funk invaded the world of fusion it seemed fashionable to turn away altogether. From around the time of the millennium, however, serious jazz-rock seemed to turn another page and the music began coming back.

One of the bands who is in the new vanguard is “The Wrong Object,” a horn and guitar oriented mid-size group that hails from Belgium. They began by playing covers of Frank Zappa’s music and broadened out with their own originals. A recent collaboration with the late Elton Dean, wind man for the Soft Machine and its modern-day offshoots, brought them to my attention (See my review in this past January’s Cadence Magazine). Moonjune Records has followed up with the band in its own full-flown glory, Stories from the Shed.

Bass and drums are in the tight yet busy and driving vein. Fred Delplanco on tenor and Jean-Paul Estievenart on trumpet and flugelhorn, respectively, form a solid ensemble and can solo with weight. Guitar and Electronics man Michel Delville plays an idiomatic axe that can groove as well as wail and writes much of the band’s material. Like the Later Soft Machine and Zappa, it is certainly the music itself that sets them apart. There is much of musical merit to digest on this disk and I recommend it highly.

Ladies of Gangster Rap?

Originally posted on March 12, 2007

Ladies of Gangster Rap (Deff Trapp). . . . Now I bought this for a dollar. No it wasn’t worth the effort. Lyrics are censored, so then what’s the point? You don’t get offended, but then again you don’t get any message at all. No thanks.

New Jazz From Bassist Adam Lane

Originally posted on March 11, 2008

For more cutting edge new jazz, consider upright bassist Adam Lane. He fronts a trio with saxman Vinny Golia and Vijay Anderson at the drums on several disks.

The one I’ve been listening to is Music Degree Zero (CIMP) and it’s a scorcher with the bonus of audiophile sound quality. Everyone is up for playing and it comes across as a definite statement of the music for today. There are others but this is a great place to start. I kid you not.

Steve Swell's Magical Listening Hour

Originally posted on March 10, 2008

To my mind trombonist/composer Steve Swell has become one of the key figures in the new jazz today. He has recorded a number of fine albums for CIMP, Cadence and others in the past, and he offers several limited edition CD-Roms of his music on his own website. Here is one of them: About a year ago he and his cohorts Louie Belogenis (tenor sax), Michael Attias (alto saxophone), and Nate Wooley (trumpet) played a concert as part of New York’s Vision Fest: Magical Listening Hour, Live @ The South Street Seaport. One of the hardest things to pull off I believe is a free session of all horns and no rhythm. That’s exactly what this ensemble does and does superbly.

There are two long sets captured on this CD-ROM disk. Continuously inventive sound events prevail. Sometimes there are a series of atmospheric long tones, sometimes sounds mixed with melodic lines. Various members of the ensemble take a sound-note role from time to time and interact as a multi-personed musical organism of the highest level. This is a very fine example of what four talented jazz hornmen can do when inspired. It’s well work picking up if you are so inclined. You can grab it at Steve Swell’s website [Note: This CD has now been released on Cadence Jazz Records. Find out more at]

Screaming Trees with a Sore Throat?

Originally posted on March 7, 2008

In my pursuit of alt classics I’ve been listening to Screaming Trees’ Nearly Lost You (Sony), and, well, it lost me. These guys were supposed to be cool. I don’t hear anything on this disk. OK, so Sony told them get a hit or die I guess. They did both? Neither? One of the two?!?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Welcome Reissue of Secret Oyster's First Album

Originally posted on March 6, 2008

In 1973 Danish jazz-rock-fusion heavyweights Secret Oyster released their first LP on Danish CBS. I happened to have grabbed a copy of it then and I am glad I did. They released several records and then faded, but managed to stir up a following and a reputation.

Now after a skillion years Secret Oyster (Laser’s Edge) is back in print and it sounds as good now as it did then. Claus Bohling plays lead guitar and takes some pretty wild solos. Karsten Vogel on the saxes and Kenneth Knudsen on keyboards contribute distinctive instrumental offerings and the whole band clicks. It was that early, hell-for-leather era of fusion and the group crackles with raw power. If you like fusion, here’s a long-lost classic.

Lovely Music of the Judeo-Spanish Diaspora

Originally posted on March 5, 2008

Tzadik Records operates out of downtown NYC. It is perhaps one of America’s most unpredictable labels. Expect anything and you’ll be likely to get it. Formed by jazz-improv-composer John Zorn, the label is devoted to, but not limited to, radically conceived new Jewish music, rearrangements of traditional song, reconceptions of the Jewish diaspora conceptualized in the broadest sense, and fusions of traditional and non-traditional musics.

La Mar Enfortuna’s second album Convivencia pits the lovely vocals of Jennifer Charles with the arranging talents of Oren Bloedow from the downtown band Elysian Fields.

The program is an uncanny mix of reworked traditional music of the Judeo-Spanish Diaspora. It is completely eclectic in a semetic way. Haunting ouds mix with guitars mix with synths and /or anything that seems right for the musical moment. Ms. Charles has a wonderfully sultry voice and the disk comes off with a program worthy of a sleeper of the year award.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Granados' "Goyescas" for Classical Guitar

Originally posted on March 4, 2008

Although the percentage of the Euro-American classical CD output devoted to the guitar is not overwhelmingly large, one could spend many days auditioning the available discs. I have not done that, nor will I ever, I suspect. Time, money, opportunity seem to have their impact. Nonetheless I sample from time to time.

Naxos has a good one, a set of transcriptions of the piano suite Goyescas by Spanish composer Granados (1867-1916). Christopher Dejour has done a good job arranging these pieces for three guitars. Granados could be thought of loosely as a Spanish impressionist, and there are plenty of harmonic and melodic sophistications to bring out the sonority of the trio. It is a definite change of pace.

Pyeng Threadgill Sings the Blues

Originally posted on March 3, 2008

Pyeng Threadgill is a fresh young voice with enough musical energy to wake up your weary ears. She is currently working on her third CD. We take a peek at her first, Sweet Home (Random Chance, recorded 2003). It is a modern tribute to the music of blues pioneer Robert Johnson.

The arrangements are in a contemporary bag and Pyeng’s vocals tend to be oblique compared to a classical blues belt. She finesses, drops herself into a song to ride a tide of turbulence, with one foot in the present, one in the blues past. This is not nostalgia. It is a re-creation for today and thanks to Pyeng’s musical sensibility, it works.

McLaughlin, Pastorius, Williams, 1979

Originally posted on February 21, 2008

There was a point in the early-mid 70’s when fusion was king. Three musicians had much to do with that. I refer to John McLaughlin, guitar, Jaco Pastorious, bass, and Tony Williams, drums. Each were a big part of a group on the slicing edge of creativity at the time: the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Lifetime, respectively.

For an extraordinary brief space in musical time, the three banded together to form the Trio of Doom. Ostensibly the idea was to play the 1979 Havana Jam Festival. And their short 25 minute set was recorded by Columbia. McLaughlin at the time was not satisfied with the recorded results, so the band went into the studio to rerecord their tracks.

With several short alternate takes, the entire recorded output of the trio (some 40 minutes) has been released by Columbia Legacy on CD (Trio of Doom). Now this is not the best CD any of them have recorded. The nature of the one-shot appearance would certainly make that proposition unlikely. And there are only four pieces recorded multiple times. Yet the live spot is quite powerful, with all three showing why they were peerless on their instruments. And the studio set is a nice supplement. Anyone who is into any or all of these folks will certainly appreciate the CD. It is not perfect, not at all slick, and a worthy addition to your fusion collection.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fripp and Eno's "Beyond Even (1992-2006)"

Originally posted on February 20, 2008

Guitarist Robert Fripp has established himself as one of the foremost contemporary progressive guitarists and musical thinkers from the time of his founding of King Crimson, through his League of Crafty Guitarists and today. Similarly, Brian Eno from his beginnings with Roxy Music, his remarkable solo albums, then onto his pioneering work in ambient music, has been one of the most provocative and innovative musicians alive. Fripp and Eno collaborated on two legendary albums in the ‘70s: No Pussyfooting and Evening Star. These works extended both of their musical vocabularies in long minimalist tape delay pieces with expressive guitar solos.

DGM Records has released an anthology of mostly unreleased later collaborations called Beyond Even (1992-2006) and it is great music. The limited first edition programs the material on two separate disks. The first separating each cut, the second moulding them together into one long piece. Eventually only disk two will be available. Personally I like both versions, but it is the music as a whole that matters. And that music is firmly ambient, with long labyrinths of drone sounds, spacey drum beats, psychedelic guitar loops, envelopes of event universes, and general atmospheric futurity. Don’t expect a lot of guitar soloing. This is a mind meld between the two creators and it is egoless in its own way. What Fripp solos there are, however, are excellent, especially his electric wailing overtop a metallic beat reverberance and spooky synth chords on “Cross Crises in Lust Storm.” It all makes me want to hear more. I hope they plan to go back into the studio soon, if they have not already. Great sounds from two great masters of the art!

The Cranberries (for Thanksgiving?)

Originally posted on February 19, 2008

As you might have gathered, here and again I have been surveying some classic alt CDs that had somehow missed my close inspection. And so we come to The Cranberries’ No Need to Argue (Island), a disk worthy of note. Steve DiMarchi, a newer member of the group, endorses Parker Guitars, just FYI. (My guitar shop carries them.) However, he is not on this album.

Dolores O’Riordan’s yodeling, sensuous and sensitive vocalizing is the centerpiece of the music. The songs are modern-sentimental and have melodic durability. There is a certain something melancholy about it all—in that sense they show the roots of traditional Irish music, where even in joy, sadness is never far away. Life is like that most of the time, today, at least for some of us. A good record for that mood, certainly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Elmer Bernstein's Concerto for Guitar

Originally posted on February 18, 2008

When people think of classical guitar, Christopher Parkening will inevitably come to mind among connoisseurs of the art. Elmer Bernstein, on the other hand, might not. He certainly will be remembered for his film scores, A Walk on the Wild Side, The Magnificent Seven, etc.

Before passing away in 2004, he wrote a Concerto for Guitar specifically for Parkening, which they recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1999 (Angel). It is a pleasantly diatonic work and the orchestral parts show some of the dramatic bombast of Bernstein’s film scores. The guitar parts do not seem especially difficult, but are memorable, idiomatic to the instrument, and are played with Parkening’s typical lyrical care. It is a refreshing listen.

Early Rap. Does it Sound Dated?

Originally posted on February 15, 2008

What occurs to me when listening to a collection of early rap (First Generation Rap—The Old School Sampler [Collectibles]), is not how the elements in today’s rap are germane to the first things, but how it could have developed at all out of those first attempts.

Grandmaster Flash and Doug E. Fresh, to take two examples, seem little more to me than cheerleaders for the disco scene in general and themselves and the dance audience in particular. That's what it comes out of, of course, but it just doesn't sound like something that will be remembered years from now. Simply said, it doesn’t speak to me at all today.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Inimitable Guitar Sounds of Derek Bailey

Originally posted on February 14, 2008

There are of course virtually infinite ways to play the guitar and an infinite number of styles possible. The late Derek Bailey tried to avoid any reference to harmony and, often, even any conventionally struck note. His musical vocabulary was made up of harmonics, string pulls, scratching the strings, and any or all manner of sounds.

He recorded a number of solo CDs, one of which, Improvisation (Ampersand), happens to be on my listening pile. It’s incredible what he does and what he DOESN’T do. Some people have reacted to his playing with, “Oh, anybody could do that.” But it isn’t so easy to speak a new instrumental language with the fluency he had. Try it. Or don’t. Nonetheless he pioneered a particular sound and nobody has done as well as he did in performing what he did.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Some New Guitar Music; Jeff Furst Passes Away

Originally posted on February 13, 2008

When you talk about acoustic players, the field is vast and not as accessible as it could be. My old friend George turned me on to some really interesting music in this vein last week. There is a guy named Erik Mongraine who taps with both hands while the acoustic is on his lap. It’s amazing what sounds he gets. Check out the harmonics alone. See the youtube clip at

What about flamenco meets fusion? Go to and look up Paco Fernandez. Listen to “Gandi” and/or any of the others. Wow. Then look up the Brazilian acoustic master Lenine. Next, for a more rock influenced thing, listen to Cibelle. If you want more there is "ojos de drujo." Try a Google or a Yahoo search for them. I love the new and unknown. Surely these are interesting examples of that.

On a less bright note, I stumbled across an obituary on the net yesterday that shocked and saddened me. Jazz pianist and music educator Jeff Furst died last November. He was a brilliant pianist and an innovator in music ed. He was in a group in the sixties called fourth stream and he and clarinetist Bob Fritz did some out stuff with that group that gained critical success and a loyal following in the Boston area. I still have their first and, I believe, only album. It sounds good to me to this day. Then Jeff formed the Contemporary School of Music in the mid-70s in Brookline, Mass., which I attended for a while. It was a great place to learn, jam, and a sort of free-form deal where you took classes in what interested you. I also jammed with him, and that was a real moment. His touch on piano was amazingly vibrant, and he probably got that from the great piano teacher Madame Chaloff. He was only 63 when he died. I hope those who were affected by his musical vision will not forget. I won't.

Louis XIV? Off With Their (Amp) Heads!

Originally posted on February 12, 2008

Louis XIV. Who? It’s an alt group and the EP I’ve been checking out is called Illegal Tender (Pineapples). I’ve listened to it five times and it just doesn’t do anything for me. I believe this was their first. I’ve got another one on my pile. Why doesn’t it do anything? It’s alt but doesn’t seem to have much of an edge to it. The songs are a little whiny. None of the melodies stick out in my head. And instrumentally nobody seems to be kicking it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Green Day Sound Good To Me

Originally posted on February 12, 2008

Here I am with something a few years old and what of it? It’s Monday. Green Day’s American Idiot (Reprise) has an impertinence I like and as far as 3-4 chord bands go, this one is one of the best. They thrash, there’s some emo, tunefulness, and variety.

All young folks need a model and so here is one if you play bass, guitar or drums. We older folks need to respect anyone who injects some freshness into older models of playing.

The Electric Avant Guitar of Joe Morris

Originally posted on February 9, 2008

Joe Morris is an avant-jazz electric guitarist who released a nice CD in 2007 called Rebus (Clean Feed). He is joined by Chicago tenor stalwart Ken Vandermark and Luther Gray on drums. It is one of those freewheeling sessions that grows on you the more you listen. Each cut is loosely constructed and each has a varying mood. The stuff is mucho cool in my opinion and shows you what three improvisers can come up with when inspired and mutually attuned.

A good place to find it and other jazz obscurities is Check out the CD ordering service. They carry all kinds of hard to find and terrific jazz titles at decent prices. While we're at it for rock oddities is good.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Miles Davis and John McLaughlin Reunite, 1985

Originally posted on February 7, 2008

How many albums did guitarist John McLaughlin record with Miles Davis? I’ll let you answer that for yourself if you know but there may have been one you’ve neglected. In 1985 Miles entered the studio with John McLaughlin and others to perform Palle Mikkelborg’s compositions/arrangements in an album that became known as Aura (Columbia). Even though it took three years before the label put it out, it is hands-down one of the absolute best of the last years of Miles’ output. It is steaming, thick, complex, hot music with a burning cool in the middle. A true classic of fusion. Look for it if you want to hear something different.

Defunkt in 1990

Originally posted on February 6, 2008

And then there is Defunkt. It’s a mid-sized band that began under leader Joseph Bowie in 1978. I believe they are still together. The CD I’ve been checking out is Defunkt Live at the Knitting Factory (Enemy) recorded in NYC 1990.

Now I don’t know enough about their extensive discography to tell you whether their sound has changed in any big way since that period, but what they did back then was a volatile mix of funk, rock, jazz and avant elements. I suspect they are doing much the same today. Bill Bickford was playing a raucous funk electric guitar and the band had gotten pretty tight. It was a bit too "in your face" to get a lot of commercial attention. There are some real moments on the disk, though.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Frank Hewitt, A Jazz Pianist that Deserves Recognition

Originally posted on February 5, 2008

From electric yesterday to acoustic today. I refer to the Frank Hewitt Trio. Hewitt was a jazz pianist in the tradition of such boppers as Monk, Bud Powell, and Elmo Hope. He died in this decade with recognition only starting to come his way. In no tiny part that recognition had to do with his playing at the NYC club Smalls, that gave him a steady gig and also recorded his performances.

The latest CD is called Out of the Clear Black Sky (Smalls) and it is a joyful and idiosyncratic romp through some jazz standards. Now when you see “Misty” or “The Girl from Ipanema” on a song list, you might assume that you are in for a stereotypical club session. Not so here. Frank devotes personal attention to every song on this CD, giving his own unconventional spin on every phrase. There is a seemingly relaxed, almost casual approach to his instrument, but he fully centers every moment on what he intends. That is in part what a great jazzman can do—make the complicated sound simple and instantaneously a part of that very moment of creation. Here is a man who was ignored by the jazz establishment much of his life. He fully deserves the attention he is getting now.

The Future of Rock Guitar; Stone Temple Pilots

Originally posted on February 4, 2008

Not everything electric is good, obviously, in spite of Thomas Edison and his wonderful light bulb. That bulb is soon to disappear, but the electric guitar and electric bass show no signs of extinction. In fact, even at this moment there are those who are perfecting the art of playing; ever since Charlie Christian first plugged in that has been true. I jammed with my brother-in-law and my 7th grade nephew yesterday and I was amazed at how far the latter had come. With young people like him the future of electricity and the music it makes possible look to be in good hands.

I never had the chance to check out Stone Temple Pilots until recently. (I don’t much listen to the radio anymore, so I can be isolated from certain immediate happenings sometimes.) I got a hold of their compilation Thank You (Atlantic) and find much to like. There is some of the melodic angst of a Kurt Cobain, memorable songs, and plenty of electricity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Teagle's History of Washburn Guitars

Originally posted on February 1, 2008

I believe there are a number of books on the history of Washburn Guitars. The one I read was written by John Teagle (Washburn: Over One Hundred Years of Fine Stringed Instruments.) It begins with the founding of the company in the 1800s and ends up in the mid’90s. It’s a good read and has plenty of illustrations. I suspect there may have been later editions but either way it’s fascinating in its discussion of the musical instrument business, especially the early days. Washburn comes off as an innovator through the years. Check it out.

Guitarist Towner and Oregon: 1000 Kilometers

Originally posted on January 31, 2008

The phenomenal guitarist Ralph Towner and his cooperative group Oregon have been making great music since the late sixties. They have always had the knack of combining elements of world music, especially classical music from India, contemporary western classical, jazz, avant-garde and fusion with their own personal blend of sounds that has put them apart. With the tragic death of sitar-tabla-percussionist Colin Walcott in the ‘70s, they began a period with the exceptional percussionist-drummer Trilog Gurtu. Nowadays it is Mark Walker ably fulfilling that function. The rest of the lineup remains unchanged since its conception. Ralph also plays piano, there’s Paul McCandless playing distinctively an array of woodwinds, and the foundational yet exploratory bassist Glen Moore.

The latest CD 1000 Kilometers (CamJazz) involves a dedication to their late, long-time agent Thomas Stowsand. As always there are moments of quietly thoughtful music, more vibrantly percussive numbers and much in between. Each member is a master of his instrument. As a guitarist, you must not miss Ralph Towner’s playing if you don’t know it already. (He sticks with the nylon stringed classical instrument for this recording.) The same is true of Glen and Paul’s playing, and the “new” guy is darned good too. They write some wonderful music and improvise over it with careful virtuosity. You could call it mood music for cosmic introspection, but that might sound like you’re not supposed to listen to it. You are. You should.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells

Originally posted on January 30, 2008

I’ve spoken of guitarist Buddy Guy before. I have another one on my list lately, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (Castle). It’s one of those cobbled together things, sounds like from the ‘70s or ‘80s, but it has some nice moments with harmonica-vocalist Wells and his forceful blues attack trading lines with Buddy. One of my favorite Buddy Guy records was on Delmark. It included a blues to Chicago’s Mayor Daley (the first one) that was pretty amusing. I don’t know if it is still in print. Have to look for it again.

Lester Young at Birdland

Originally posted on January 29, 2008

Tenor saxophonist Lester Young invented “cool.” Any self-respecting guitarist or bassist, musician or music fan. . . all should know his work, really. One of the first things I had to do when I studied with Barry Altschul years ago was to learn a Lester Young solo by heart and then sing along with it. I chose one of his later live solos from the fifties. What a revelation. He was such a melodist and what he played was his alone, although he influenced many jazz musicians both during his lifetime and after. His post-World War II period is sometimes discounted as not as great as what went before. I don’t really agree. Much of everything he played in later years was more concentrated, pithy and to the point. Allowing for a few mannerisms he picked up in response to JATP crowds—like playing one note with two alternating fingerings so it would sound alternatingly different—he is a more minimalist version of his former self. So what is wrong with that?

Lester was a fixture at the New York jazz club Birdland through most of the ‘50s. ESP Disk has issued a couple of radio broadcasts of his appearances there (Live at Birdland) and if you don’t know his work at all, it is one place to start. About half of the CD features a band that included a young Horace Silver on piano and it’s prime material. The recording quality is fair to good—they were radio transcriptions and sound the way most of them did. The playing, however, is what counts. Lester is in typically fine form throughout. The backup band in the last half of the disk is not always up to his level. But for Lester alone, it’s worth the price of admission.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fort Minon and the Possibility of Hip-Hop Metal

Originally posted on January 28, 2008

Hip-hop with electric guitars? Well, yeah in a few passages. If somebody ever successfully melded hip-hop with metal, they would be a sensation. (Have I missed anybody that has? I don’t know.) Fort Minon’s CD The Rising Tied (Machine Shop) has something to say and there are plenty of musical elements, even if there isn’t anything like a complete fusion taking place. They cajole people out there not to panic; they tell the story of a Japanese-American concentration camp victim, and otherwise broach topics not always a part of the genre. That’s cool with me.

The Lemon Pipers and the Advent of the Rock Guitar Band

Originally posted on January 25, 2008

The later mid-sixties established electric guitars and basses as absolute components of the advanced rock bands. Keyboards were considerably diminished in importance, with the exception of bands like the Doors or Vanilla Fudge. Of course it was the influence of the Beatles that brought this phenomenon into play. Countless neighborhood bands sprang up, each trying to find a way into the glory and musical heights of the successful bands. With the Yardbirds and Jeff Beck, and later, Cream, the lead guitarist as virtuoso and kind of god developed and from that burgeoned psychedelic jam music and ultimately metal. There was much music in the air, some that today we might reject as dated. Nevertheless it was a time when people awakened to the idea that rock could be a serious music.

At the beginning of this heady time a number of rock groups charted with singles yet could not sustain themselves as an “album” band. It was a transition period where AM top forty was still the main component of success; the FM “underground” type stations were to have nascent beginnings, brought on in part by the extended forms, concepts and contents that a three-minute single could not contain. But they were not really there yet. In the midst of the early phase of this emerged a band called the Lemon Pipers. They had a big hit in “Green Tambourine” but did not manage to sustain the momentum. It is interesting to listen to a compilation of their Golden Classics (Collectibles) to hear them struggle to transform into a serious band. There are obscure lyrics here and there, and a kind of instrumental earnestness that pulled them in a direction of a journey that ultimately they were not to complete. Too bad. The compilation has its moments. It’s probably only for the die-hard historian of the period or for nostalgic hipsters, though.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ike and Tina Turner on Sue Records

Originally posted on January 24, 2008

The sixties were born in a blaze when Ike Turner played a signature guitar intro to Ike and Tina’s hit “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.” It was a rhythmic chord progression played on an electric guitar with, of course, a tube amp of the time. He dialed up the tremolo setting and, for about 16 seconds, created an icon of guitar playing. It still sounds great. What follows of course is a powerful vocal dialogue with Tina belting it out like nobody else back then. It’s on an Ike & Tina Turner Golden Classics CD (Collectibles) and classics they are.

Only the Everly Brothers rivaled Ike at the time for signature guitar chord intros, like on “Wake Up Susy” or “Bird Dog.” OK, you can’t leave out Bo Diddley either. Anyway the Ike & Tina CD consists of all (?) of the material they recorded for Sue Records, from 1960 to 1962. These are some killer tracks, with Tina just astounding. Listen to her on “Poor Fool” or “A Fool in Love” and you’ll know that she had more soul that the rest of the world put together. Indispensable stuff.

The White Stripes' "Icky Thump"

Originally posted on January 23, 2008

One electric guitar, one set of drums. That was the initial line up of White Stripes, and it continues to be. Their relatively new CD Icky Thump (Warner Brothers) has them mastering another instrument—the studio.

This new set combines some appealing riffs, a good hook here and there, and the beginnings of a studio mastery that includes use of effects, musical double-tracking, and a fullness and ambiance of sound not previous equaled in their efforts. I find it quite refreshing and wish them continued success.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lightnin' Hopkins and the Transition from Country to Urban Blues

Originally posted on January 22, 2008

Texas-originated Lightnin’ Hopkins was a charismatic transitional figure between the country blues and the urban blues that especially came out of Chicago beginning in the late '40s. He often played a solo acoustic guitar and sang, later he might use a semi-hollow, but the essential performances were made with just him and his guitar. What he played on that guitar was often boogie based and could easily have been transposed to an electric band without difficulty. Yet his roots were in the rural style he grew up with, so there can be some variation in the number of bars in the blues form and other asymmetrical features and nuances.

I have a CD on my listening pile right now that was released on Legacy International. It is called The Best of Lightnin’ Hopkins, but I wouldn’t say it is quite of that caliber. He is joined by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for a more or less casual sounding jam session on about half the cuts and, as much as I appreciate those artists, they take away slightly from what Lightnin’ Sam would have done on his own. Still it’s nice enough. Mr. Hopkins had a sense of humor, a knack for story telling or scene setting and some elemental but perfect guitar accompaniment abilities.

Sade's Live Album Reconsidered

Originally posted on January 18, 2008

Sade made a huge impact in the early ‘90s with several hits and some great albums. The guitar parts for some of the songs, like “No Ordinary Love” for example, were distinctive and said very much with minimal means. Of course Sade’s voice was and is a major instrument. So why has it taken me so long to listen to Lovers Live (Epic) a set of concert performances released in 2002? Sometimes I get backlogged. The CD has some of her best songs and they vary enough from the originals to be worth hearing on their own. The band is tight and she sounds beautiful as always. Next week we’ll kick up some dust with a varied assortment of things.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Classic Blue Note Jazz From Bobby Hutcherson

Originally posted on January 17, 2008

The situation of jazz around 1965 was interesting. Although rock was carving ever larger portions of the musically American pie, jazz was in one of its fruitful, increasingly innovative periods. There were the mainstream cats, plenty of them, playing some of their best music, there was the progressive branch, guys like Miles Davis, some of whom would go on to fuse jazz and rock, and there was the “new thing” or “free” school—late-period Coltrane, Ayler, Cecil Taylor and such—who were playing wild music that some people found downright puzzling. Interestingly, all three branches survive into today, although most radio stations don’t play it, and a very few play some of it, in the US anyway.

The current CD on my desk is somewhere between the progressive and free schools. Recorded in 1965 for Blue Note, it is a total classic and one of my favorite recordings. It’s by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and it’s called Dialogue. What’s great about this one is, first of all, the contributions of each member of the group. The agile, exceptionally musical trumpet of Freddie Hubbard, the volcanic and uniquely singular Sam River on woodwinds, Bobby Hutcherson’s thoughtful vibes and marimba, the angular piano of Andrew Hill, Richard Davis’s insistently driving bass and Joe Chamber’s lithely floating drumming—these musicians make the set truly improvisatory in the best sense. They all mesh together in a single idiom, yet they are all staunchly individual in their approach. The tunes themselves are extremely interesting and make the album extraordinarily satisfying. Andrew Hill wrote a bunch of them; Joe Chambers wrote two. It is just wonderful music. And it shows a respect for the structure of a particular original song form while giving plenty of room for the soloists to express themselves. It is not a widely remembered recording, to my knowledge, but I recommend it highly to anyone who wishes to explore where things came from that are a part of the music of today.

Gamelan and Kejak from Bali

Originally posted on January 16, 2008

In the bitter winter [I wrote this in the middle of January] it might be hard to imagine a tropical “paradise” in full bloom, but that is more or less what it’s like on the island of Bali, just at the tip of Indonesia. It’s not entirely a paradise—no place is that. Historically and I hope through to today it has been a center of beautiful music and dance, in the complex called gamelan. The music first gained some attention in the Western world through a series of 78s made by Dutch Odeon in the ‘30s. It attracted the attention of Colin McPhee, who spent a number of years in Bali before WWII and wrote some important books and monographs on the scene, bringing the genre to the attention of many music people in the West. With the advent of high fidelity recordings, educational programs in Ethnomusicology and a new audience looking for expanded sounds Balinese Gamelan music began to get pretty good coverage with recordings released here in the States and Europe. Nonesuch Records was one of the labels to cover the music intelligently and in some depth.

Here on my desk is a CD copy of one of their later releases Gamelan and Kejak. Recorded around 1986, it has a good sampling of the various ensembles. Gamelan orchestras consist of a number of metallic instruments, something like gongs and vibraphones, plus percussion and flute. The music is of incredible complexity. Each orchestra instrument plays a characteristic role and the result can be thought of as one monstrous musical organism. Included on the CD is an excerpt of a Kejak, a vocal piece notable for the imitation of the sound of monkeys chattering, only transposed into something very percussive and musical. If you’ve never heard gamelan music, you could learn much by listening. Then figure out what you would do on guitar or bass in the orchestra!! Or don't. Just listen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Live Earth: Concerts for a Climate in Crisis

Originally posted on January 15, 2008

Almost nobody needs to be told that our environment is in trouble. Of course our dependence upon oil and those who set the prices makes the crisis that much more acute, even if consumption should theoretically be going down. We need to look to new leadership in the future, leadership that can think and act long-term on these issues.

So a two DVD, one CD set of The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis: Live Earth (Warner Brothers) might be called a “natural” for the times we are enduring. And it is. It is a current gathering of mainstream stars and a few edgier acts in support of a cause that certainly means something. I haven’t viewed the DVDs yet, but the CD is well constructed. Madonna, Foo Fighters, The Police, John Mayer, Roger Waters, Bon Jovi, Linkin Park, and James Blunt are some of the contributors, some new, some older school. It’s good if that’s what you like. And of course the message needs to go out.

Rocking with Jimmy Reed

Originally posted on January 14, 2008

“I’m goin’ to New York, gonna get there if I have to walk.” So sings Jimmy Reed on the first cut of his 1959 VeeJay album Rockin’ with Reed (Collectibles). OK, so I did another of his albums earlier, but it’s Monday and this one speaks to me.

It has all that great Reed interlocking guitar and bass, all the laconic charm of his vocal style, and some real classics. “Caress Me Baby,” “Take Out Some Insurance,” “Going to New York” kick serious blues butt and the rest of the cuts do it too. Since my car is in the shop, I would have to walk if I were going to New York. But I am not. Instead it’s time for Cadence reviews.