Friday, September 23, 2016

Petrichorus: After the 'Trane

Welcome to the weekend, and a milestone birthday tribute to someone more than a few consider the most important and transcendent musician of all times.
Not all that many in the musical field are worshiped as Saints, in a church named for them. Fewer still would be deserving of such an honor. Today's birthday boy is one such player.
It's hard to explain to people not of the same vintage or older exactly what his music is about, given that things in the last 50 years since he died have gone in the direction of pushbutton perfection, where the machines can cover for a lack of instrumental prowess. This was not always the case.
See, you used to have to be able to actually play, and the best players were the ones who could (crazy, I know) make their instrument say something comprehensible to the listener. The ultimate players were the ones like Glenn Gould, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker... guys and ladies that could command the evolution of their instrument and their area just by picking up their axe.
The really, absolutely stone-cold innovators -- the ones where you could say there was music before them and music after them, and those were two totally different things -- are the rarest of all. They come along and explode the possibilities not just in their genre or comfort zone, but across the entire spectrum of musical conception and expression. 
Somehow, in our lifetimes, we have been privileged beyond imagining, and have been exposed to a handful of such deities. Today's honoree -- other players of his instrument refer to him as The Father --  is surely one of the all-time heavyweight champions.
He did not live past the age of 40, yet his influence and presence remain as powerful as the summer day he left us in 1967. Honestly? If I had to choose the most powerful player of any instrument ever in human history, it would be a tough call but I might have to go with John William Coltrane.
The passions, prayers and pulverizations that poured from his horn changed the very lives of a whole generation of musicians across all stylistic boundaries, ushering in a creative revolution he was as responsible as any single person you might name for touching off.
There are stories of him in concert where people claimed to have met God, had their third eyes opened, perceived Forever's Infinity... whatever denomination of epiphany they were susceptible to had its seal ripped off and atomized forever, just by seeing him play.
Again, it's a tough call but if you had to say who did the most damage on their instrument, in terms of what was left in their wake after an impossibly short time among us, you might be left with Hendrix and Coltrane. And Hendrix? A lot of what he was doing was imitating -- especially in the sheets-o'sound, maelstrom feeling of it all -- you-know-who.
I jive a lot on here about this one and that one, and how what they came up with changed everything and it could never be the same... and, most of the time, I mean it. Today, though, is another level, and the argument could be made that if I had this page for another hundred years I would never get to feature a purer, more monumental musical figure than 'Trane.
If you know him, you know. If you don't, there's nothing I might say to pry you from beneath the rock under which you've dwelt these last six decades, other than to deliver the goods that will get you hip to what makes John Coltrane a name that will never, ever be far from the lips and minds of musos for centuries -- perhaps millennia, if we make it that far -- into the future.
Which brings us to today's megapostings, featuring a pair of items not sold in stores (or on Amazon either, for that matter). One is a terrific two-hour audio documentary -- sourced from the original, pre-broadcast CDs --  produced at WBGO-FM in New Jersey and sent to radio stations in 2002 for a one-time airing. This is hosted by noted hip-hopper and actor Mos' Def and details a career overview of Coltrane, all centered around the composition and recording of his acknowledged masterpiece, A Love Supreme.
The other bit has a longer story. See, there's this famous compilation of 'Trane's mellower, more instrospective cuts made for the impulse! label in the early 1960s, that's been around for decades, called The Gentle Side of John Coltrane, right? It has a long, 40 year history dating back to mid-1970s vinyl, and was issued on CD in 1991.
Thing is, there's always been confusion about why certain tracks -- like the completely face-frying multiphonic mayhem on the Live at Birdland version of I Want to Talk About You -- made it on there, as there is positively nothing gentle about what JC is doing to his saxophone in that performance. The vinyl had the 20-minute 1961 Village Vanguard take on Spiritual as well... again, surely one of the five greatest performances in the history of Jazz and maybe even all music, but not what I'd categorize as quiet or gentle.
The CD version also edited the seminal, Civil Rights-era-defining ballad Alabama -- composed after the bombing of the Birmingham church that killed three young girls in 1963 -- removing, for reasons no one can even begin to contemplate, the middle section of that incredible piece. 
Anyway, you needn't worry, as I have gone full excessive and fixed all of these issues, extrapolating the original vinyl running order to a full three CDs, with one each covering the quieter moments from 'Trane's Blue Note/Prestige, Atlantic, and impulse! periods. To say this is 4 hours and 40 tracks of some of the most beautiful and lushly gorgeous music of any kind ever made does little to describe the ecstasy on offer here, I'm afraid.
John Coltrane

Quietrane I - Violets for Your Furs (The Blue Note & Prestige years, 1957-58)

01 Don't Take Your Love from Me
02 While My Lady Sleeps
03 Why Was I Born?
04 You Leave Me Breathless
05 Theme for Ernie
06 Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?
07 Time After Time
08 Slow Dance
09 Like Someone In Love
10 I''m Old Fashioned
11 Violets for Your Furs
12 Stardust

Total time: 1:18:06

Quietrane II - Equinox (The Atlantic years, 1959-60)

01 Aisha
02 Mr. Syms
03 Central Park West
04 Blues to Bechet
05 Naima (alternate take)
06 Mr. Knight
07 Everytime We Say Goodbye
08 Original Untitled Ballad (To Her Ladyship)
09 Village Blues
10 Stairway to the Stars
11 Blues Legacy
12 I'll Wait and Pray (alternate take)
13 Equinox

Total time: 1:18:33

Quietrane III - After the Rain (The impulse! years, 1962-65)

01 Soul Eyes
02 What's New
03 Welcome
04 Nancy (With the Laughing Face)
05 My Little Brown Book
06 Lush Life
07 Wise One
08 Alabama
09 My One and Only Love
10 Feelin' Good (alternate take)
11 They Say It's Wonderful
12 Dear Lord
13 After the Rain
14 In a Sentimental Mood
15 Psalm

Total time: 1:18:43

sourced from the box sets Fearless Leader, The Heavyweight Champion, and The Complete impulse! Classic Quartet Recordings, as well as a few other albums

all three volumes zipped together
The Making of "A Love Supreme"
WBGO, 88.3 FM
Newark, NJ

01 documentary: interviews and music

01 documentary: interviews and music

Total time: 1:58:07

interviews include author Ashley Kahn with Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, Archie Shepp, Carlos Santana, and Branford Marsalis among others
narrated by Mos' Def

sourced from pre-broadcast CDs of a rarely-aired radio documentary
587 MB FLAC here
This took a lot of work, getting it all together and adjusted so it plays like one thing... the documentary is also very much worthwhile. I'd advise pulling down the lot and getting your head and ears next to what makes this man so special and such an ongoing force in the music of our world. The idea that he was born in 1926 and would have turned 90 today is, at the end of the day, just statistics and numbers. What he made possible and the avenues of expression he pioneered will never end and could only be just beginning, with any luck.--J.
9.23.1926 - 7.17.1967

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Julian Calendar

I'm down with an injured leg -- long story short, I fell through the floor in my kitchen -- but I'm also down to deliver an 88th birthday tribute to another one of the heroes.
Today's birthday guy needs little introduction, especially if you're of a certain vintage or you remember music before it was all scantily clad hoes shaking their assets at the camera whilst the pushbutton, Autotuned Tracks Reeking Of Profitably Homogenized Yawn (ATROPHY) bopped along like ten million Target ads in the background.
He began in the 1940s with Ray Charles, when The Genius lived in his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, and was a legendary component of the Miles Davis Quintet that made Kind of Blue, widely considered the greatest record in the history of Jazz. He introduced George Duke and Josef Zawinul to the world they would conquer. He had hits on the pop charts with actual Jazz music. His own records hold a special place and are never that far from my Play button.
Yes, today is the birthday of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, gone 40+ years now but never forgotten.... certainly not by me. A man with an appetite so voracious -- his nickname was a bastardization of "cannibal" -- and a personality so inclusive and gregarious, you almost couldn't have drawn up a better advocate for Jazz music in the laboratory.
I think of how many of his albums rank among my most treasured in the pantheon: Accent On Africa, Inside Straight, the Soul Zodiac series, and of course the burning Black Messiah, recorded live at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
He only lived to be 46, and died of a sudden brain aneurysm in 1975, but I am typing this now so he must have made a lasting impression while he was around, eh? Teacher, Blues-rooted alto legend, and like I said one of the all time ambassadors for the music around the world when he was alive.
To mark this occasion, I have got a stellar, rare-as-hen's-teeth 25 minutes of pristine video from the vaults, recently rebroadcast via webstream on Norwegian TV's internet channel. This was recorded in the Spring of 1969 and features footage of Cannon's unbelievable quintet with his brother Nat, plus the aforementioned Weather Reporter Joe Zawinul manning the keys.
Cannonball Adderley Quintet
Njårdhallen Sports Arena
Vestre Aker
Oslo, Norway

01 Experience In E (section)
02 The Morning of the Carnival (from Black Orpheus)
03 Work Song
04 Walk Tall (J. Zawinul) [cuts at end]

Total time: 23:07

Cannonball Adderley - alto saxophone
Joe Zawinul - piano, electric piano
Nat Adderley - trumpet, cornet
Victor Gaskin - bass
Roy McCurdy - drums

flv file of a recent NRK webstream rebroadcast
I shall return next week, after this heals, with a whole string of birthday mayhem for your eyes, ears and minds. But for now I command thee to Walk Tall -- do it for me, cuz I sure can't -- and pull down this masterful clip, showcasing one of the greatest Sixties jazz groups in full flight. And of course we will never forget Cannonball Adderley, born this day in 1928 and still saxing up our speakers four decades removed from Earth.--J.
9.15.1928 - 8.8.1975

Monday, September 05, 2016

Farrokh of the 70s: Queen Energy

It's Labor Day and I have been working up a tremendous birthday tribute for someone who'd be turning 70 today.
Friday we honored the 5th Beatle (and 6th Stone?), who achieved greatness to last forever in spite of struggling so mightily when he was alive with the psychosexual baggage of this barbaric social construct we all call home. Today, we continue that trend with a similar story of someone revered by tens of millions of people, yet whom few really knew when he was alive.
By many accounts, Farrokh Bulsara -- you know him as Freddie Mercury -- is considered the single greatest vocalist and performer in the history of Rock music. His music, and that of the seminal-beyond-words, Galactic Hall-of-Fame band he started -- and had the unprecedented audacity to name Queen -- is undeniably among the most justifiably revered that will ever be produced.
Somewhere, at all times and in all lands, a Queen song sung by Freddie Mercury is being played. Whoever is listening is likely singing along with every word... even if they speak no other English. There simply is not -- and for sheer electric power and vocal muscle, will likely never be -- a recording artist to match him.
I mean, you're asking yourself right now... why is Josh putting all animated gifs? Does he want to crash my laptop? But I decided, for the first time ever in three years of doing this, to use these pix because Freddie Mercury -- gone from AIDS almost 25 years -- is still in motion among us, and I felt it germane to illustrate that point however possible here.
He was born with a dental abnormality that supplied him with two extra back teeth, creating a wholly unique vocal embouchure that made him sound and project as no other singer, in any genre, ever. For his band and music, he took the shredding power of Heavy Metal, the bombast of Progressive Rock, and the grandiosity and flair of Musical Theater and synthesized those elements into, arguably, the most popular and eternal Rock group of all time.
I can't think of anyone I have ever known that doesn't love Queen. Not a one. In the 1970s and 1980s they made records worshiped the world over, featuring tunes whose appeal will never wane. That they were largely masterminded by a gay person who didn't live to be 50 years old is a bit lost on people, but not I.
As a gay man I often wonder why. What is so important about oppressing us that the Freddie Mercurys and the Billy Prestons and the Sylvesters (he turns 70 next September, and will be here then) -- who supply endless enjoyment and pleasure to everyone regardless of denomination or ideology or creed -- can't be allowed to last and deliver their precious gifts to our sphere? It's a question to which I probably won't ever get the answer, but it'll never stop me from asking.
The saddest part is that these people don't fully get to bask in the glory they have wrought, and whilst here often lead lives of confusion and melancholy that seek escape from their undeserved plight. Freddie was no different and, in a time when The Plague was rampant and most folks were, well, just fine with that, he paid the ultimate price. And somewhere, an ardent homophobe jams "We Are the Champions" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- often cited as the #1 Rock song of all time, by the way -- without so much as an ironic glimpse. Any way the wind blows, indeed.
It doesn't really matter. They are gone with their hatred in the blink of an eye, never to be remembered. Freddie is immortal and cannot really die. He wins, always. Life is temporary, but Art is something that -- properly constructed with longevity in mind -- lives forever. Sorry, haters... and don't let the iron door of history hit you in your tight little ass on the way out, neither.
To honor this heroic individual who means so much to me and people like me especially, here comes a finely chiseled exemplar of a full, unedited, pro-shot film of a complete Queen concert from their absolute heyday.
This two hours of "How To Kill An Audience" instructional video mayhem was captured at the end of 1977 in the old Summit in Houston, Texas just as Queen's epochal News of the World record dropped like an atomic bomb on a waiting world. It used to circulate from a nearly unwatchable, heavily generated VHS tape, but someone unearthed the 1st gen source of all those inferior versions and that is what is here for you today.
The Summit
Houston, Texas USA

01 intro: We Will Rock You (slow)
02 We Will Rock You (fast)
03 Brighton Rock
04 Somebody to Love
05 Death On Two Legs
06 Killer Queen
07 Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
08 I'm In Love with My Car
09 Get Down Make Love
10 The Millionaire Waltz
11 You're My Best Friend
12 Liar
13 Love of My Life
14 '39
15 My Melancholy Blues
16 White Man
17 The Prophet's Song (Freddie Mercury vocal solo)
18 Brian May guitar solo
19 Now I'm Here
20 Stone Cold Crazy
21 Bohemian Rhapsody
22 Keep Yourself Alive
23 Tie Your Mother Down
24 We Will Rock You
25 We Are the Champions
26 Sheer Heart Attack
27 Jailhouse Rock
28 God Save the Queen

Total time: 1:53:18
disc break goes after Track 15

Freddie Mercury - vocals & piano
Brian May - guitars & vocals
Roger Taylor - drums & vocals
John Deacon - bass & vocals

looks like a 1st gen off the master VHS of the unaired station master,
with remastered mono PCM sound
includes the 2019 definitive DJGreg remaster of the classic, VHS-sourced complete concert

Dual layer PAL DVD (4.61 GB)/2CDs (726 MB FLAC of DJGreg remaster)
If you dig these guys -- and like I said, who doesn't? -- this is a sort of Holy Grail and I'd advise you snag it as fast as your browsers will allow. As you do, remember to never, ever forget its architect, Freddie Mercury... born this day in 1946 and gone a quarter century, yet still somehow a gargantuan, implacably regal presence in our world.--J.
9.5.1946 - 11.24.1991

Friday, September 02, 2016

SOUL! Reliable: Preston 70

All in all, this should be a September to remember, so let's get it started right with the first of two 70th birthday celebrations on either side of the holiday weekend here.
First of the 9/46 Brigade is your standard issue, "Only guy ever to be asked to join both The Beatles and the Rolling Stones" type dude. Oh, and Sly & the Family Stone too. He did play with all three extensively, and is the only man ever to receive a songwriting credit from both the Fab Four and their dark side doppelgängers, the Stones.
His own legendary records have moved millions and produced several standards, like Will It Go 'Round In Circles? and Nothing from Nothing. He was the very first musical guest on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live.
He was also, much like the gent whom we will honor this coming Monday, gay. Because of his church upbringing he struggled with his orientation mightily, descending several times into drugs and alcohol in his battles with himself. Much as Monday's honoree, although he is considered one of the greatest musicians of our lifetimes, he did not live to be 60 years old.
He's been gone ten years now, but time will do little to tarnish the luster of the career of Billy Preston. Starting in the early 1960s -- he was backing up Mahalia Jackson on organ in his teens and appeared on TV with Nat King Cole at age 16 -- he was a major force in shaping some of the seminal sounds ever made, on his own and through some of the most deified groups of the last 50 years.
The story goes that he had met The Beatles in Hamburg, where they both played the Star Club in 1962, and years later -- during what were then called the Get Back sessions -- George Harrison famously stormed out of a particularly tense Beatles' recording date to attend a Ray Charles concert in London, at which he ran into Billy.
George and John Lennon tried to convince Paul McCartney to let Billy join the band full time, but Paul refused because he didn't think it would be any easier to get five guys to agree than it was proving for the core four. A compromise was reached that saw Billy join the sessions and play all over what became the Let It Be LP, most famously with the electric piano solo on Get Back. He also accompanied them in their final concert on the Apple HQ rooftop, in January 1969.
As the 1970s dawned and The Beatles broke up, he went solo and scored several huge hits. Parallel to this he toured with The Rolling Stones in the mid-1970s and played on some of their most iconic albums like Sticky Fingers and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, contributing to several compositions like 1974's Fingerprint File, likely the funkiest-ass single track on any Stones record and Joshy's personal single favorite track of theirs.
He had other hits, principally the song With You I'm Born Again with Syreeta Wright, in the 1980s and kept at it -- Born Again kind of ushered in the "Love Songs to God" genre in a certain way, at least the 1980s incarnation, and his music became progressively more gospel-oriented -- until his kidneys failed from years of substance issues and he passed away in 2006 at age 59.
It probably didn't help that he had such a hard time accepting himself and being accepted for who he was, and it's telling that these two posts today and Monday reflect upon two individuals whose then-taboo sexual desires led to their downfall, far too young and with so much left to give to us.
It's a shame that this person had to pretend to want to date women, agree to marry, come home to find her in bed with Sly Stone -- who'd she'd later marry onstage at Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000 concertgoers -- and then be forced into such despair that for much of the remainder of his life, cocaine and alcohol were his spouses in a troubled, off-and-on relationship.
I'm the way he was too -- the homosexuality, not the hardcore habit -- lucky enough to have witnessed at least some measurable progress since he went through what he did 50 years ago. But you know me, I desire a social construct that doesn't just "tolerate" but supports and accepts and celebrates all people, regardless of their identities.
Not just for my benefit, and not the least of all so the Billy Prestons and the Freddie Mercurys don't have to bear that sort of burden when life is already hard enough, and bringing such beauty into the world is such a mammoth task in its own right, without the additional baggage from bigots.
Anyway enough of my wretched politicking; treat people how you'd have them treat you, and better, without thought of reward for it, or get off this planet: that's how I feel. And try to be, succeeding occasionally and failing spectacularly. I'd like to see "loving one whom one is naturally inclined to love and whom is naturally inclined to reciprocate those feelings" taken off Spaceship Earth's Luggage Manifesto, is all.
In honor of Billy Preston, who should still be here but would have been 70 today, I have placed into the Mega-tropolis an NTSC DVD of another episode of possibly the single greatest music TV program ever to air, over five magical, still-criminally-unissued seasons from 1969-73. This one, a transfer of a 1st gen VHS off the WNET-TV master from what I can tell and from early on in the show's last season, documents the music and mind of Billy Preston at the apex of his influence.
Billy Preston
WNET-TV Studios
New York City, NY

01 intro by Ellis Haizlip
02 Make the Devil Mad
03 The Bus Is Coming
04 Amazing Grace
05 Will It Go Round In Circles?
06 That's the Way God Planned It
07 My Sweet Lord
08 God Squad band introductions
09 Higher

Total time: 59:03

Billy Preston - keyboards and vocals
George Johnson - guitars
Louis Johnson - bass
Hubert Heard - keyboards
Manuel Kellough - drums
NTSC DVD of what looks like a first gen VHS of the master tape, maybe the VHS master
3.82 GB/September 2016 archive link
I'll be back with the second charge of the September 1946 Brigade (Pansy Division) on Monday, fittingly Labor Day here in the (cognitively compromised) States. Until then enjoy your long weekend if you have one, pull down this incredible installment of pure, undistilled SOUL! from the vaults, make it go 'round in circles, and funk thyselves to freedom! The Brothers Johnson are manning their battle stations in this, so you know it's uncut P. And, speaking of "all P," a Happy milestone Birthday to Billy Preston, one of my heroes in this life, forever.--J.
9.2.1946 - 6.6.2006