Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gobble, Gobble (Slight Return)

Today is really two holidays, or at least it should be. Thanksgiving this year falls on what would have been the 72nd birthday of one of the most revered musicians that will ever live.
That's right, calling long distance (on a public saxophone, of course) is the thoroughly immortal James Marshall Hendrix, born November 27, 1942. I think you know who he is so I don't have to explain all that much.
I should say, however, that there's music before him, and music after him, period. He probably had the most significant impact of any human being ever born that didn't make it to 28.
There really isn't much to say other than "thanks a lot, music industry!" for ensuring he'd be watching his influence unfold over this planet for decades from somewhere else not on this plane. I mean, he wasn't really from this plane anyway, so we have to let bygones be bygones. Suffice to say that his manager was a British Intelligence agent of the M15 and that the bastard did much to make sure Jimi would find an early grave. Mr. Asshole's plane exploded over France in a mid-air collision in 1973, and not a moment too soon. Too bad he wasn't the only one on it.
But no matter. Michael Jeffery didn't almost singlehandedly invent the vocabulary of the electric guitar. Jimi did. You could even argue that he did so in spite of Michael Jeffery. So in honor of that fact today's share is a pristine DVD, sourced from the Swedish TV master tape, of a full set of The Jimi Hendrix Experience onstage in Stockholm on January 9, 1969. There's also a sweet bonus of two songs recorded for the same station in 1967, also sourced from the master.
The 1969 performance is a strange one... you can tell that the Main Man is getting sick to death of playing his older repertoire and wishes he didn't have to. He doesn't seem awfully keen on singing the songs, but he plays just fine. The version of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is positively incendiary, and not once does he play with his teeth or behind his back. A cool aside is that the band each have a single rose with them from Eva Sundquist, who was the mother of one of Jimi's children later on. Perhaps even later on that night.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Stockholm, Sweden

01 Killing Floor
02 Spanish Castle Magic
03 Fire
04 Hey Joe
05 Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
06 Red House
07 Sunshine of Your Love

Stockholm, Sweden

01 The Wind Cries Mary
02 Purple Haze

Total time: 1:03:33

Jimi Hendrix - guitar, vocals
Noel Redding - bass, vocals
Mitch Mitchell - drums

PAL DVD, sourced from Super-VHS tapes of the station masters
I hope y'all have the best holiday (even y'all are not in the US, where TG is celebrated), and you find time after the big feed to slap on this prime concert, live and in living black and white. Hopefully someday his family will issue this performance officially, but until then this is undoubtedly the very best version out there, and I bring it to you in celebration of Jimi Hendrix, likely the greatest of all Rock guitar players and quite possibly the most influential single musician of all time.--J.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In the Nick of Time

Today is a very sad anniversary.
Forty years ago tonight, someone really powerful and connected left us.
While he lived, no one really noticed. What he did and the completely unique way in which he did it was nearly entirely lost on people during his tragically short life.
He knew he was good. I don't know that he knew that 40 years on he'd be considered one of the greatest songwriters and guitar players ever born, but he knew he was good.
He knew he was good. But he was so much more than just good. He was an indescribable talent that only comes along once in a very long while. We are lucky in this information era that we get and have gotten so much in the way of Great Art, and the means to effortlessly enjoy it that this here technology affords us. It wasn't always this way and we should be grateful. But he was beyond merely "good" and what he did came from an entirely special place inside him.
Three records. Comprising thirty-one songs. He sold less than 10,000 of them before he died of an overdose of a primitive antidepressant called Tryptizol, on this day in 1974. He didn't even make it to the allegedly glamorous rock-star-overdose age of 27. When he died, no one even noticed other than his family and few friends. They are all gone now, every last one except for his sister, who administers his estate and just wrote a book about him called Remembered for a While. Since his passing, it is estimated he has sold over 10,000,000 records.
What is it about Nick Drake? Why does someone completely ignored as they create the utmost irreplaceable beauty in our world become an idol to millions decades after death? What is it in his songs that speaks so profoundly to the lives of people? Why can't our world take care of these individuals? Why can't we ever support and nurture, or at least respect, undeniable beauty? There must be something wrong with us.
No one could touch him as a writer and a player; no one could and no one yet has. I remember in the 1990s I was living in this house in SF and my room was sort of right near the front door. There was a knock at the front door and I answered it... and I happened to have Bryter Layter on the stereo. A small boy (2, tops) rushed in as soon as I opened the door (he was with his mom) and blew right past me. He dashed right into my room and I found him in there, hugging the speaker and refusing to let go. I'm not even sure he could talk yet.
Nick's music is the living, breathing definition of timelessness. Part of his problem might have been that he was mining an artistic vein that was at the time taking a back seat to more aggressive sounds with more overtly psychedelic tints. His records are much more like Chamber Music than his era might have been willing to absorb, with nary an electric guitar to be found on the vast majority of any of his songs.
I feel like he gave me something, this man. There are moments in my life -- and I'd imagine the lives of countless others -- where only Nick will do... where only he can save me. When you hear his voice it almost sounds as if he is whispering in the ear of the whole world. I only wish he had lived so he could know the impact he ended up, decades late, having. He was so tuned in to what was happening to him, he wrote an entire song (Fruit Tree) predicting all of it. In 1969.
He railed, sometimes with uncharacteristic fury, at his failure to become in life what he ended up becoming in death. It'd be worth it for someone to make a biopic, a film about him... if nothing else so we can see the legendary tirade he laid on producer Joe Boyd one time (it's the stuff of myth, epic) about why he wasn't famous suitably dramatized. About why he could make this music and play the guitar with a precision and a skill still not equaled, and yet struggle to even survive. I mean, if you took a computer graphing program and mapped out the spaces between his fingerpicked notes, they'd all be exactly the same distance apart, to the nanosecond. He was like a machine. If he'd never opened his mouth to sing a single syllable, he'd still be rightfully considered one of the best ever to pick up a guitar.
It hurts to write this because someone who bestowed such grace upon this world deserved better when he was alive. I guess the consolation might be if there is some sort of conscious afterlife, so he could see what his music -- which, according to his sister, he only ever intended as a way to help the lost souls of his generation -- has become in our world. It's so sad that has to suffice for what he should have received while alive... in his words from Fruit Tree, "forgotten while you're here, remembered for a while."
So I am here to mark this tragic, unspeakably sad anniversary to post in memorial tribute to this most ineluctably gorgeous songsmith, whom people only ever decided was one of the Greatest of All Time many years after he passed. I spent yesterday working on this concert of Nick's songs that aired on FM radio in NYC almost 20 years ago, featuring a wealth of incredible performers who revere him, that I might bring it to you in the spirit of recognition and gratitude for what he has given me. As a criminally underappreciated (and shockingly underpromoted) artist during his lifetime, I can't help but feel he'd approve on some level.
"Bryter Layter"
The Music of Nick Drake
St. Ann's Church
Brooklyn Heights, NY

01 introduction
02 Syd Straw - I Was Made To Love Magic
03 Sloan Wainwright - One Of These Things First
04 Terre Roche - Joey
05 Richard Davies - Things Behind The Sun
06 Duncan Sheik - Which Will
07 Dana & Karen Kletter - From The Morning
08 Richard Barone - 'Cello Song
09 Syd Straw - Pink Moon
10 Katell Keineg - River Man
11 Terre Roche - Poor Boy

01 Peter Holsapple - Horn
02 Peter Blegvad - Been Smoking Too Long
03 Susan Cowsill - Way To Blue
04 Katell Keineg - Time Has Told Me
05 Peter Blegvad - Clothes Of Sand
06 Mimi Goese - Black Eyed Dog
07 Sloan Wainwright - Time Of No Reply
08 Richard Barone - Northern Sky
09 Richard Davies - Fly
10 Duncan Sheik - Hazey Jane I
11 Rebecca Moore - Fruit Tree
12 outro

Total time: 1:33:33

The musicians:
Peter Holsapple - guitar, piano, bass
Chris Cunningham - guitar
Michelle Kinney - cello
David Mansfield - violin, mandolin
Deni Bonet - violin

WFUV-FM broadcast (likely a master cassette capture), remastered by me
It's an imperfect recording as many are, with little flaws and distortions here and there that are near-impossible to scrub out, but really it didn't need much to make it jump out of the speakers nonetheless. Just some dynamic enhancements to the high end (that good ol' Fordham University FM compression) and some channel rebalancing on CD2, along with the requisite tags and a few altered track markers. Anyway, I hope this concert meets your ears in a lovely place, and that you take a moment to honor the memory of one of the most immaculately inspiring songwriters and guitar players of our or any other lifetimes, Nicholas Rodney Drake.--J.
June 19, 1948 - November 25, 1974

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Synthpop Satori: Yaz We Can

Welcome to Saturday, and a fantastic anniversary special for your Synthpop satisfaction. I worked suitably hard on this one cuz it's one of my most favored live shows ever.
When I was 15 or 16, no single record moved me as much as the first by this tremendous duo of early pop-electronica, consisting of the founder of Depeche Mode and one of my favorite singers.
It is astonishing, 32 years after their advent, that so much of modern pop music carries so much of the DNA of what these two helped start. They reunited for a sold-out world tour a few years back, and released a live record showing they'd lost wholly none of their juice.
The name of this group is Yazoo (shortened to Yaz in North America to avoid conflict with another band then active in the US with that name), and when I was 16 there was no music I dug more.
Vince Clarke. What is there to say? This guy surely must be one of the most underrated pioneers, having started not one, not two, but three of the formative electronic bands ever (the third is Erasure). Listen to the first DM album... songs like New Life and Just Can't Get Enough almost distill the complete, living template of modern techno and synth/sequencer-driven pop music from whole cloth. At the least, VC skimmed the sugar off of the brew cooked up in the 1970s by various German bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!, crafting an almost pure, dramatic pop confection out of their innovations.
Had he just started that one band and quit right then, he'd still be considered a huge factor in the general arc of the development of this kind of music. But after he split Depeche Mode in 1981 (I think they survived just fine), he hooked up with super-soulful vocalist Alison Moyet and formed Yazoo, which arguably outclassed even that heavyweight group.
Alison Moyet, what a voice. Soul-pop divas of today like Adele ought to have to pay this woman a portion of their lucrative incomes, I mean it. The balance between the technological sounds of Clarke and the totally human, emotionally charged vocals of Moyet are what make this band one of the most revered of the 1980s, and their songs like little romantic movies. As a kid I felt totally swept away by the dramatic and melodic power of what these two were doing.
Studies have shown that the music you loved when you were 15 and 16 -- and your brain was just finishing maturing to the adult brain you'll use for the rest of your life -- impacts and imprints you in a way no other music does, and for me this band and this concert (which used to air all the time back in the early 1980s on WLIR-FM in NY) proves the point. 
When I was that age, Upstairs At Eric's (their incredible debut) was never far from my cassette deck, and when I worked on this show yesterday it was hard to keep focused on the task at hand -- making this absolute gem sound as close to an official release as I could make it -- and not just dance around the room in a kind of adolescence-revisited dervish ecstasy.
I compared several different captures of this one to prepare a 32nd anniversary remaster of this devastating set. After I settled on one particular master cassette capture (which had to be speed adjusted to be in correct pitch) as the one to get the treatment, I completed the set with the song that was only part of the original broadcast, the B-side instrumental jam "Chinese Detectives". This was part of another capture that seemed like it had been worked on before (vestiges of Noise Reduction software were in evidence). 
I remastered this track to seamlessly match the rest, and straightened everything out with tags and a touch of Sound Forge 9 Graphic Dynamics sweetness to get it crisper than a fresh head of lettuce in the Berkeley Bowl produce section. I even went through it static click by static click, and cleaned it up meticulously for your auditory stimulation. What can I say? Call it the dedication (OK, obsession) of the young... or at least the formerly so.
Dominion Theatre
London, UK

01 Situation
02 Too Pieces
03 Goodbye Seventies
04 Winter Kills
05 Bad Connection
06 Tuesday
07 Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)
08 Midnight
09 Chinese Detectives
10 In My Room
11 Don't Go
12 The Other Side of Love
13 Ode to Boy
14 Only You
15 Situation (12-inch version)

Total time: 55:04

Vince Clarke - synthesizers, keyboards, electronics and vocals
Alison Moyet - vocals

master FM cassette (Track 09 is from another master FM cassette capture), all remastered by yours truly
Now I think it's easily the best version of this incredible concert -- in which Vince Clarke essentially invents the template of modern Synthpop at his bank of gear (do I hear a Fairlight CMI?) whilst Alison Moyet sings the living shit out of the entire Upstairs At Eric's album and one cut that ended up on their second one, You and Me Both -- that I remember hearing as a teenager so many times and which meant so much to me growing up. I hope you feel the same and enjoy it as much as I have, 32 years to the day after it was recorded in London.--J.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Dr. Will See You Now

It's a funky Friday fiesta this afternoon as we head to Bourbon Street by way of our nation's capital, to join in a mos' scoscious celebration of the 74th birthday of the man known to the world at large as "Dr. John" Creaux. Yep.. I bet you didn't know that Dr. John had a last name.
The whole thing, apparently, was conceived as a concept album in 1968 by New Orleans piano personality Mac Rebennack and several others lost to history. They made up a fictional character called "Dr. John, the Night Tripper" to star in a sort of psychedelic, voodoo funk LP and at the last minute, the guy Mac has lined up to portray the character split the project with no notice. 
So (according to Mac, just to spite the flaky bastard), he did it himself, never expecting to make a second record. He had no idea what was about to happen, and that nearly 50 years later the Good Doctor would have come to be loved by millions the world over.
Part Gris-Gris warlock, part good-time N'awlins funkateer, part Ambassador for the essential, formative music of that city... there will only ever be one Dr. John. He is the man with the musical Remedies to soothe the soul and the Goofa Dust to motivate the hips.
I went back and forth with myself about what to share and finally settled on this all-star set from the Cellar Door in Washington, DC broadcast over legendary WHFS-FM in Bethesda, Maryland 36 years ago. This smokin' 70 minutes of Bayou mayhem was apparently captured under who knows what kind of conditions by the radio station back in the 1970s, but suffered from innumerable disturbances and fluctuations in the stereo image that were ultra-distracting. 
I sat down yesterday and worked on the show, eventually using an old stereo-mono matrixing-type trick to dial the fluctuations back to semi-tolerable levels and some Sound Forge 9 Graphic Dynamics pixie dust to bring some of the high end out from beneath the murk. It is still a flawed and imperfect recording, but it's a devastating performance with a ridiculous heavyweight band backing Mac here and I dug the energy of the set... so much so I decided to try to excavate it's essence as best I could.
Dr. John
Cellar Door
Washington DC
EN FM remaster

01 Swanee River Boogie
02 Dance the Night Away with You
03 Wild Honey
04 He's a Hero
05 City Lights
06 Street Side
07 Mama Roux
08 Snake Eyes
09 Right Place, Wrong Time
10 Let's Make a Better World
11 Rain
12 Fire of Love
13 Such a Night
14 Iko Iko

Total time: 1:09:24

Dr. John - vocals, piano
David Sanborn - alto saxophone
Kim Hutchinson - alto saxophone, woodwinds
Buzzy Feiten - lead guitar
Jim Calhoun- bass
Neil Larsen - organ
Hugh McCracken - guitars
Steve Gadd - drums
Joyce Kaye - vocals
Tami Lynn - vocals

FM capture (probably master), remastered by me
While this isn't the most pristinely perfect recording I've ever put here, what it lacks in ultimate modern fidelity it more than makes up for in raw power and punch. Look out for drum beast Steve Gadd at the kit, "Night Music" host David Sanborn on sax, and for the always-tasty guitarisms of the legendary Hugh McCracken... and of course, remember to proclaim a hearty "Yeah you right!" to the Doctor himself, in the right place at the right time and born this day back in 1940.--J.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

You Got the Way to Move Me, Cherry

Today is the birthday of one of my all-time favorite musicians, who has sadly been gone from us almost 20 years now.
Beginning with sax iconoclast Ornette Coleman in the late 1950s and proceeding through a career marked by pioneering music both in Jazz and in the then-nascent World Music genre, there will only ever be one Don Cherry. Actually there are many Don Cherrys... there's the famous hockey analyst and also the "Band of Gold" singer. But there will only ever be one Don Cherry when it comes to the music of our lifetimes.
Don Cherry, in addition to being the greatest pocket trumpet player ever and having been so impactful in the genesis of World Music, could really work an audience. He could have a whole concert hall full of the stodgiest people singing along and carrying on as per his onstage instructions better than perhaps anyone ever to live not named Bruce Springsteen. There's always a moment on his live recordings when he drafts the crowd into frenzied participation.
You'll hear ample evidence of this talent over the hour and forty minutes of today's celebratory share, which is a pristine pre-FM reel of Codona -- the supergroup Don formed in the late 1970s with Brazilian percussion deity Nana Vasconcelos and sitar master Collin Walcott -- performing in Hamburg, Germany in 1978. There's an entire sequence where Don riles up the assembled throng and gets them singing like they are in the band!
Hamburg, Germany

01 Like That of Sky
02 Codona Moon Dog
03 Relativity Suite
04 Onipapa/Africadeus
05 Race Face
06 Onipapa reprise

Total time: 1:41:48

Don Cherry - pocket trumpet, doussn'gouni, flute, percussion, vocal
Collin Walcott - tabla, sanza, sitar, timpani, vocal
Nana Vasconcelos - percussion, berimbau, vocal

disc break is after Track 03

Pre-FM master reel, recorded by WDR Radio
This is a magnificent, quiet and meditative kind of show; it's like a cup of gourmet Swiss hot chocolate... really good for a cold winter's day under the covers. All three guys play so elegantly and the recording makes it sound like they are in the room with you... those Germans know how to position a Neumann microphone or two. Anyway do enjoy this nice birthday appreciation for one of the greats and a truly beautiful man (whom you may know as the father of singers Neneh and Eagle Eye Cherry), born this day way, way back when in 1936.--J.