Thursday, July 31, 2014

Muhammad the Prophet

I hate to have to write this, but my personal all-time favorite drummer -- and surely one of the most important and underrated of our lifetimes -- has passed away at the age of 74.
Legend has it that what we know as Funk was invented because James Brown saw Idris Muhammad -- then called Leo Morris -- play behind sax legend Lou Donaldson in 1965 and decided that the world was ready for the second-line New Orleans beats to come into pop music. In terms of music and the continuum of its history, it just does not get any more formative than that in the 20th Century, I'm afraid.
There isn't any way to express what the drumming of Idris Muhammad means to me, or to the tens of millions of funk enthusiasts who dig the music he helped spawn but yet still might not have a clue who he was. But the fact remains that if you love to funk -- and let's face it, funk is one of the basic templates upon which a great deal of the music of the whole world is built -- you love Idris even if you've never actually heard him play. Very few musicians of any kind can make the claim that their influence goes well beyond just people who know of them directly, but this guy is definitely one of them.
He could have only been born in New Orleans and nowhere else. Having absorbed the musical traditions of that city by the time he was a teenager, he moved directly into the soul jazz scene of the Sixties and transformed what was permissible in the rhythm section. With toms that sounded more like Turkish frame drums than regular kit, all it takes is one fill leading up to the one for you to know who is manning the skins. Lou Donaldson, Charles Kynard, Melvin Sparks, Grant Green and countless other luminaries all made their finest records with Idris Muhammad behind the drums, and the man has been sampled by more hip-hoppers than almost anyone, save the aforementioned JB. Who decided to go full on into Funk after catching a set with Idris laying down the groove's grooves.
Today is a grievous day, and it's never easy to lose someone of this magnitude and prestige. But it's all about the music and a life well lived shaping it at the root, which is what this person so manifestly accomplished. Few people can say they left that kind of indelible mark on culture, yet escaped the bulk of the fame and scrutiny that often accompany such achievements. Idris Muhammad surely can; or, more realistically, the music he left and inspired will never leave us.
To mark his passing I am going to put up a compilation I made many years ago, which I have modified in the last 24 hours so it features Idris' unmistakable playing backing up 10 different heavyweights of the jazz-funk style. There isn't much else to say except to quote an old drummer friend of mine, who once said "You can't miss with 'Dris."
You Can't Miss with 'Dris
10 Jazz-Funk Favorites Driven by Idris Muhammad

01 Turn It On - Sonny Stitt
02 Fire Eater - Rusty Bryant
03 Hot Rod - Reuben Wilson
04 Jug Eyes - Gene Ammons
05 Slow High - Lonnie Smith
06 Snake Bone - Lou Donaldson
07 Stone - Bill Mason
08 The Windjammer - Grant Green
09 Where I'm Coming From - Leon Spencer, Jr.
10 Baby Let Me Take You In My Arms - Gary Chandler

Total time: 1:18:07

So yes, a sad day anytime we lose someone of this pedigree of accomplishment, but also a day to celebrate what he means to the music of our lives, which in this case almost cannot be measured. Again, you hear him once and you know it's him... that's the highest achievement for any musician, and precious few drummers -- I can think of five or six -- can lay claim to it. Everything started somewhere, and if you love The Funk today is a day to reflect and acknowledge where it all came from. Idris Muhammad is arguably the alpha and the omega in this regard, and he should never be forgotten.--J.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Most Delicious Slice of Birthday Kate

The brilliant English songstress Kate Bush is 56 today, can you believe that? She isn't even that much older than I am... and she is WAY better looking. I'm not even heterosexual and I can see that Kate's one of the world's most beautiful and supremely talented women for decades running, up that hill or on flat ground.
Since her arrival like a ton of bricks on the UK music scene in the mid-1970s, she's established herself as one of the great icons... and she doesn't even tour, due to an outsize fear of flying. Although she is apparently going to perform in England in August and September, or so the rumors have it.
Discovered by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, whose doctor at the time was Kate's dad, her first several records made her one of Earth's biggest star chanteuses. As her career has progressed, the records have gotten fewer and further between but the sense of her output as among the finest of our lifetimes has not diminished. 
Combining music, theater and dance into a unique and highly skilled presentation, Kate was one of the first artists to really use video to get across. This DVD I am sharing today -- a bit of Christmas in July -- is a case in point as to how. The songs in this BBC special from December of 1979 are all highly elaborate stage set pieces with dancers, costumes, a miming band, the works. She even duets -- stunningly -- on the Roy Harper song "Another Day" with Peter Gabriel.
 Kate Bush
London, UK
December 1979

01 Intro
02 Violin
03 (Gymnopédie No.1 - composed by Erik Satie)
04 Symphony In Blue
05 Them Heavy People
06 The Angel Gabriel
07 Here Comes the Flood (Peter Gabriel)
08 Ran Tan Waltz
09 December Will Be Magic Again
10 Another Day (with Peter Gabriel)
11 Egypt
12 The Man with the Child In His Eyes
13 Don't Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake

Total time: 43:48

PAL DVD from the BBC U-Matic station master
3.02 GB total/July 2014 archive link
This is a fantastic and expressive 45 minutes of footage; truly representative, in many ways, of what she is all about. I hope you'll enjoy this one as a way of joining in the birthday appreciations for this most unusual and awesome mistress of music, the incomparable Kate Bush... born July 30, 1958.--J.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Select Fusion Friday: The Art of the Meter

A special 80th birthday post today for a forgotten legend of music. If you know of him, you know. If you've never heard the name Don Ellis, that has to change and change right now.
One of the first -- if not the first -- to propose a molecular merger of jazz and rock into a standalone hybrid of their own, if you've ever seen either of The French Connection films you have had a primo taste of him. If you've a taste for off-kilter and funky music that is totally in a league of its own, you're gonna want to take a big bite of this CD I am putting up. No, it's not sold in stores.
He only lived to be 44 due to a severe heart condition, but even almost 40 years since he passed his music is still totally unique to him. He mined veins that no one else has ever really touched in quite the same way, and it's a shame that more people don't know his name given what he contributed to the continuum of musical innovation and progress that's taken place over our lifetimes. And, you can dance to it. Probably.
If you're like me and you're a drummer that likes to funk in strange and often alien-sounding time signatures like 11/4 and 7/8 and 9/4, there just isn't any avoiding the music and influence of Don Ellis. This man did more for odd meters in the couple of decades he was on the scene than almost anyone you can name... even the esteemed and legendary Dave Brubeck, dare I say. And unlike Brubeck, Ellis brought the contemporary and popular sounds of his time into his music, expanding the palate of the P in several important and indispensable directions in the process.
The French Connection is a case in point. Having never scored a film before and to have that be your first... I mean, this guy did just as much for wah-wah grooves in cop films as Isaac Hayes, even if he didn't get the Oscars or the acclaim of the Shaft-master. (Wow, that sounded dirty.) In addition to the proper sequel, he also scored the classic semi-sequel that preceded that one, called The Seven Ups, that had Roy Scheider instead of Gene Hackman. I'll hold on here while you fetch your official 1970s Grittily Realistic Police Drama scorecard sheet; it's difficult to tell the tough-yet-sensitive, heroically misunderstood gumshoes apart unless you've got one.
To honor this underappreciated master of meter, I have composited some of his craziest and deepest forays into funk and fusion onto one powerful plastic party platter for your perusal. I worked pretty hard on this one so enjoy it to the fullest; it's guaranteed to get your shindig up and shakin', fo' sho'. As the song goes, let's do it this way for a while!
Don Ellis
Euphoric Acid & Eros
Select Fusion

01 Couple (from 'The Deadly Tower')
02 Theme from 'The French Connection'
03 Arcturus
04 Source Cue 1 (from 'The French Connection')
05 Love for Rent
06 Whiplash
07 Eros
08 TR's Theme
09 Big Chase (from 'French Connection II')
10 Train to Get There
11 The Devil Made Me Write This Piece
12 Rehabilitation (from 'French Connection II')
13 Goodbye to Love
14 Mercy Maybe Mercy
15 Lean On Me
16 Euphoric Acid
17 Sladka Pitka
18 Desire

Total time: 1:19:02
I made sure to include a couple of really rare funk nuggets from the "isolated score" segment of the Blu-Rays -- translated from 7.1 sound to stereo -- for the two French Connection films... pieces that never made the movies but are worthy of inclusion in this set. If it's big band beats you crave and Friday funk you're feeling to get the weekend moving correctly, you'll do no better this day than this CD, intended to commemorate one of my personal musical heroes, gone too soon but never forgotten, and born July 25, 1934.  --J.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Soul Sacrifice

Happy Sunday and a very happy birthday to guitarissimo Carlos Santana, who is 67 years young today. To honor this heavyweight player, whose career spans six different decades, I am posting a delicious King Biscuit Flower Hour reel which I have translated from Quadrophonic DVD Audio to stereo for your enjoyment.
This fellow needs no introduction and hasn't since the first Woodstock festival in 1969, when -- under the influence of a not-insignificant amount of mescaline -- he and his eponymously-named outfit stole the show. A million years later, he is still going strong.
I really love the Barboletta album from 1974, so here comes an utterly incendiary set put together for a KBFH broadcast from that tour. Carlos' tone here is kind of shredding for him, heavy on a psychedelic chorusy distortion and maybe a little less clean and ringing than you're used to from him. I dig this set because there isn't a whole lot of singing, which leaves more time for him to solo with wild abandon.
King Biscuit Flower Hour
Balboa Stadium
San Diego, CA

01 KBFH intro
02 Going Home
03 Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen
04 Oye Como Va
05 Incident At Neshabur
06 Soul Sacrifice
07 Samba Pa Ti
08 Toussaint L'Overture
Total time: 51:48

Carlos Santana - guitar, percussion, vocals
Jose "Chepito" Areas - percussion
Jules Broussard - flute, saxophone
David Brown - bass
Tom Coster - keyboards, vocals
Leon Patillo -  keyboards, vocals
Armando Peraza - percussion, vocals
"Ndugu" Leon Chancler - drums

Quad pre-FM KBFH reel translated to stereo by EN
The sound on this one is probably superior to Lotus, the official live record from the previous year, or at least comparable... these radio people did not mess around back in the day. Anyway, enjoy this marvelous little set as you do your Sunday thing... let it be a reminder to celebrate the birthday of Carlos Santana, born this day in 1947! --J.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Moraz Moody Madness

A happy 33rd anniversary to this unusual and unique concert which forms today's share fare... it's a Moody Blues show from when they sorta went New Wave to shamelessly court the fans of that then-new style... and they had massive, Earth-shattering hits with it. It comes from the pre-FM vinyl collection of a famous collector of such things, with a little light cleanup/remastering by yours truly to make it the best, or at least near the best, it can be.
All I did was clean up the LP staticky clickishness and apply a tiny bit of dynamical expansionism (aka pixie punch dust) using Sound Forge 9. Left in the minimal radio chatter cuz I thought it had a nice flavor of those Mello Yello times before Reagan really dug his fingernails into the blackboard and erased the lesson plans. I moved a track point to before a count-in by the drummer, and I also named and tagged the files and rearranged and appended the original text file to include both the players, the correct name of the venue and these notes. Nothing else was changed as this was already a top-notch sounding mix and set and a five-star gem -- from original, mint ABC Radio Network LPs -- out of the vault of the legendary archivist RJP, transferred brilliantly and shared generously a little while back courtesy of KRW&CO and Mike.
I love this concert because "Long Distance Voyager" is such a weird album, where the Moodies desperately try to incorporate the burgeoning (in hairstyle, at least) new wave to reinvent and update themselves, and it almost succeeds. At least for one record... it has a healthy smattering of great songs on it anyway, including "The Voice," which I remember hearing on the radio all the time back then.
 The Moody Blues
Poplar Creek Music Theater
Hoffman Estates, IL

01 intro
02 Gemini Dream
03 The Story In Your Eyes
04 Twilight Time
05 Tuesday Afternoon
06 The Voice
07 Nervous
08 Steppin' In A Slide Zone
09 Talking Out Of Turn
10 The Balance
11 Isn't Life Strange
12 Gypsy
13 Driftwood
14 22,000 Days
15 I'm Just A Singer
16 Nights In White Satin
17 Legend Of A Mind
18 Question
19 Ride My See-Saw
20 outro

Total time: 1:40:19

disc break goes after Track 12

Justin Hayward - guitar, vocals
Ray Thomas - flute, percussion, harmonica, vocals
Patrick Moraz - keyboards
Graeme Edge - drums
John Lodge - bass, vocals

mint pre-FM LPs from the archive of the late RJP, transferred by KRW&CO and Mike & remastered by EN
This contains songs from their whole catalog, but done in the somewhat alien style of that platter. So you have Patrick Moraz's majestic prog-rock flourishes (is that an Optigan? I have no idea.) colliding with the other guys trying to sound like who? Echo and the Bunnymen? Martha and the Muffins? (Your contemporaneous first-day-of-MTV artist here.) It doesn't matter. Moraz plays mightily in this and if you love Refugee or "Relayer"-era YES or his own "Story of I" LP you'll probably go crazy for this show, seeing as he kinda takes over a lot of the tunes! But in a good way... he handles multiple keyboard instruments flawlessly throughout and pumps up the Mellotron pomp, yet somehow seamlessly integrates his unique contribution into the slightly new wave-ish sounds his mates lay down. I also hear him bridging the prog-new wave gap with a good few of the last wave of pre-digital, classic analog synthesizers... and although I'm no Prophet, I now go scatter. On the latter!--J.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Touching Bass

A moment of Silence if you please for a titan of the acoustic bass, who passed away this morning at the age of 76. I am deeply saddened to report that Charlie Haden, a foundation of the instrument for over five decades, is no more.
Born in Shenandoah, Iowa on August 6, 1937, he first came to prominence with the Ornette Coleman groups of the late 1950s and early 1960s and played with Ornette on and off through the 1970s and '80s. Any jazz head will tell you that those records -- The Shape of Jazz to Come, This Is Our Music, Free Jazz and others -- helped to define the 1960s avant garde landscape as much as any you could name.
After lending a deeply melodic underpinning to Ornette's excursions into the unknown, he branched off to numerous groups of his own, forming the Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969. He joined Keith Jarrett's band in the mid-'70s and then formed the seminal Old and New Dreams with several of his Coleman cohorts in the latter part of that decade. In the 1980s and 1990s he was to be found leading his Quartet West in concerts all over the world, and was still a powerful force up to today when he left us.
It's impossible to exaggerate the influence and pedigree of a player like this... to me, these are the people -- creative behemoths for over 50 years -- most worth celebrating in our culture. The lyricism of his playing almost sets the standard for modern bassists, and without him lending a big chunk of the melodic basis to Ornette's knotty compositions, there might never have been a Sixties avant garde in jazz.
I can't even name all the records I own of which he is a part... a great deal of the last fifty years of jazz history runs through this man. In tribute I am posting this exquisite off-air FM remaster of a LMO concert from 1987 in Germany, with an all-star aggregation of musicians on hand to blow their socks off over Charlie's sonorously constructed bottom end. This show contains a few of Haden's most enduring compositions, and you could make the argument that of all the groups he was ever a part of, the Liberation Music Orchestra was the most direct reflection of who he was as a human being.
Charlie Haden
Liberation Music Orchestra
Bremen, GE

01 "Ballad of the Fallen" medley, including:
The Ballad of the Fallen
If You Want to Write Me
Grandola Vila Morena
Introduction to the People (fade out/in) >
02 The People United Will Never Be Defeated
03 Silence  
04 We Shall Overcome 
05 Tale of a Tornado  
06 Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

Total time: 1:45:34
disc break goes after track 02

Stanton Davis & Herb Robertson - trumpet
Craig Harris - trombone
Sharon Freeman - French horn
Bob Stewart - tuba
Joe Lovano - tenor sax
Dewey Redman - tenor sax
Ken McIntyre - alto/soprano sax
Geri Allen - piano
Mick Goodrick - guitar
Charlie Haden - bass
Paul Motian - drums

off-air FM master tape, remastered by Tom Phillips
A very sad occasion to post some seriously beautiful music from a seriously beautiful man. R.I.P. Charlie Haden, one of the greatest bass players that will ever be. --J.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Monday Meteorology

July 7th is here, and I am at your service with another birthday rebroadcast gem from European TV. They'd play this stuff on American TV, but that might indicate to the population that they are indeed citizens of an actual civilization, rather that just being 310 million willing slaves gathered together on the same continent and chasing the same phony paper, and we can't have that. Why, next they might want dignity, and then a reality less quantity-driven and perhaps more quality-oriented. So rebroadcasts from 25,000 miles away, never to be seen in the US, it is.
Yes, Joe Zawinul would have been 82 today. He has been gone seven years now, but his absence has not diminished his lasting impact. Let's face it, if no less a knob-twiddler than Brian Eno names a track after you, you probably have some degree of facility with synthesizers. Either that, or you're a 1920s German Dada-futurist who invented their own nonsense language. Or a fictional woman who sells specialty urine on the black market.
From his beginnings with Cannonball Adderley to the foundational fusion of Weather Report to the worldly riddims of the Zawinul Syndicate, there wasn't anyone more entitled to sit at the center of a bank of vintage 1970s analog keyboards than Joe Z. He even commissioned the world's first digital melodica -- the "Pepe" -- to be built... an innovation still unequaled, merely 30 years after he thought it up.
To commemorate this landmark day I am sharing a Weather Report appearance on German television from 1971, with the group augmented by Eurojazz heavies Eje Thelin, Alan Skidmore and John Surman. The expanded WR slither and bash their way through a half hour of embryonic fusion, before it was a caricature of itself and became all about how many notes in how little space someone could play.
Weather Report and friends
NDR Jazz Workshop #73
Berlin, Germany

01 Directions
02 Doctor Honoris Causa

Total time: 30:49

Joe Zawinul - keyboards
Wayne Shorter - tenor & soprano sax
John Surman - bass clarinet, baritone sax
Eje Thelin - trombone
Alan Skidmore - tenor & soprano sax, flute
Miroslav Vitous - bass
Alphonse Mouzon - drums
Dom Um Romao - percussion

mpeg file from a 2010 WDR-TV rebroadcast
If early, pre-stereotypical fusion is your thing, you won't want to miss this one... not like we miss Josef Zawinul, a seminal figure of the music of our lifetimes born this day in 1932.--J.

Friday, July 04, 2014

A Bill Becomes a Law

Hello there! Remember me? I am finally back from NYC with a post commemorating the birthday of one of the very finest American songwriters ever.
This is a fantastic 1/2 hour concert of today's hero, recorded by the BBC back in 1973. It's got some of his most enduring compositions and the band is tighter than money on the first of the month.
You know the songs; we all grew up with them. Hell, we sang Lean On Me in 6th Grade Chorus. Who didn't? That's just his most famous tune, merely one of the most inspirational songs of all time. I'd dare say that's a song that has saved lives.
Even the between-song introductions he makes are worthy of deep consideration, yet he speaks them in such a disarming and sincere way that you don't even know you're learning something. And the versions of the songs almost couldn't be better.
Bill Withers
Command Studios
London, UK
BBC-TV, 1973

01 Ain`t No Sunshine
02 Lonely Town, Lonely Street
03 Grandma`s Hands
04 Use Me
05 Let Me In Your Life
06 Lean On Me
07 Harlem

Total time: 29:37

 Bill Withers - guitar, vocals 
William Garrett "Snuffy" Walden - guitar
Melvin Dunlap - bass
James Gadson - drums
Raymond Jackson - piano

PAL DVD of a 2007 BBC rebroadcast
Who ever did it better than Bill Withers? He is 76 today, so while you're BBQ'ing and fireworking at the Great American Birthday Party, take a half and hour to enjoy and share this 30 minutes of mastery from one of the all-time champions of the music of our lifetimes, born on the Fourth of July in 1938.--J.