Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Slowhand Crafted

Hello again! Fresh from my emergency Ella Fitzgerald post, we have something a little more Seventies for your hopper this afternoon, starring one of the most popular and revered musicians of the last 50 years.
2017 is the 40th anniversary of one of the truly pivotal years in music, and we're gonna have a whole bunch of 40th anniversary postings to mark the anniversaries of some truly essential and iconic shows. Today's fare is just such a commemoration of just such a legendary performance, unissued for decades outside of a long-dead video format.
That year was a little bit of everything, with Progressive Rock, Blues, Punk, Reggae, Jazz Fusion and a host of other shadings enjoying a kind of simultaneous heyday. It was in that environment that forty years ago tonight, a struggling and fairly intoxicated Eric Clapton appeared with his band on one of the mega-tremendous TV programs of the 1970s, itself the only time he ever appeared on that fantastic and quintessential show.
In the mid-1970s he was trying to get off of heroin and turned to alcohol to fill the gaping void left by the deification he experienced in the 1960s ("Clapton is God," read the graffiti) and the realization he was nowhere near the status people had conferred upon him as a guitar player and songwriter, much less a human being.
Coaxed back to music in 1973 by a host of muso pals after several years in a drug-fueled hiatus, he spent the middle part of the decade in a drunken stupor, trying to dull the twin pains of addiction and expectations. He had plenty of commercial success during that time, but very little peace of mind. In retrospect, he was extremely lucky to have survived the decade.
None of this prevented him from delivering a burning hour of Blues Power, however, and on April 26, 1977 he took the stage at the BBC with an eight piece band in front of a receptive audience. As it turned out, he came up with one of the most consistently interesting and corset-tight sets the show had ever seen.
I'm not gonna lie: he's so sloshed he can't even pronounce backup singer (and soon to be disco diva) Yvonne Elliman's name. Somehow, though, he manages to play his ass pretty much clean off, starting on acoustic and proceeding to his trademark electric excursions.
Now, a lot of this and why I'm sharing it has to do with The Old Grey Whistle Test, itself possibly the finest and most beautifully filmed music television program of the Seventies. Entire episodes in pristine quality are hard to come by, and this one hasn't seen the light of day since a gray-area Japanese laserdisc of it was issued in the mid-1980s. Today's PAL DVD is sourced from precisely that long out-of-print item and is indistinguishable from a legitimate release.
This is a fascinating document of a performer on the edge, not sure how to make it through without destroying himself, and for this reason it makes for subtly gripping TV. Honestly the best part when you watch it is the knowledge that he did make it, and didn't end up in an early and ignominious grave from drink-n-drugs, like so many of his contemporaries.
Eric Clapton
Old Grey Whistle Test
BBC-TV Theatre
London, UK

01 Hello Old Friend
02 Sign Language
03 Alberta, Alberta
04 Tell the Truth
05 Can't Find My Way Home
06 Double Trouble
07 I Shot the Sheriff
08 Knocking On Heaven's Door
09 Further Up the Road
10 Badge

Total time: 59:52

Eric Clapton - vocals & guitar
Dick Simms - keyboards
Jamie Oldaker - drums
Sergio Pastora - percussion
George Terry - guitar
Carl Radle - bass
Yvonne Elliman - vocals & guitar
Marcy Levy - vocals, guitar & harmonica

PAL DVD of the mid-1980s laserdisc
Clapton is extremely generous here, giving lead guitar time on the first couple of tunes to his cohort George Terry and letting Yvonne Elliman sing lead midway through the hour. If you are at all interested in him this is something of a Holy Grail, featuring him in a sort of frail-but-fiery position and providing a unique insight into his career trajectory and the self-destructive bumps along the way.
Anyway that's enough putrid punditry from me... pull it down and enjoy yourself an hour of Slowhand gestures from one of the acknowledged masters, and I'll return sooner than later with the May 1977 motherlode! Blues Appetit everyone.--J.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Voice Keep Swinging: Ella 100

I almost blew this one because the date nearly got past me, but I'm sneaking it in under the wire due to the fact that this lady is worth the accolades.
There isn't much more to say other than today would have been the 100th birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, widely considered one of the top ten American singers ever to live.
Surely one of the most swinging and elegantly expressive vocalists of any nation, she passed over 20 years ago but no one will ever forget what she did over a storied career spanning almost seven decades.
She started way back in the 1930s with drummer Chick Webb and assumed control of the band when he died at the end of that decade. After three years leading the orchestra she struck out on her own and immediately began to have hits and influence.
After a huge hit with a scat version of the Lionel Hampton classic Flying Home, her career really began to ascend in the 1950s, when she moved to Verve Records, a label essentially created for her by renowned impresario Norman Granz that went on to become one of the central Jazz imprints ever.
More hits followed, as did a reputation as one of, if not the, very best scat vocalists of all time. She recorded whole sets of Cole Porter and Duke Ellington standards in the Fifties that endure to this day as among the most revered ever created in Jazz.
Absolutely one of the most beloved and imitated of all singers in any discipline, Ella Fitzgerald set multiple standards for the interpretation of a song that will likely never be approached, no less equaled. Her instantly-identifiable voice will speak across the ages long after everyone any of us have ever known is gone from the Earth.
Like I said this one is a no-brainer and if I need to explain to you who Ella Fitzgerald is, you've probably got bigger problems in life than merely being out of the musical loop.
To commemorate this milestone centenary, let's fire up an unissued PAL DVD of a tight 33 minute performance of this first-ballot Hall-of-Fame vocal acrobat with the Tommy Flanagan trio, taped for Finnish TV way back in the Spring of 1965 and sourced from a crystalline 2009 rebroadcast in Europe. She tackles 11 tunes ranging from Jobim to The Beatles, all with suitably swingin' accompaniment.
Ella Fitzgerald
w/The Tommy Flanagan Trio
Helsinki, Finland

01 People
02 They Can't Take That Away from Me
03 And the Angels Sing
04 A Hard Day's Night
05 Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me
06 Mood Indigo
07 It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
08 The Boy from Ipanema
09 Angel Eyes
10 Hello, Dolly!
11 Smooth Sailing

Total: 33:15

Ella Fitzgerald - vocals
Tommy Flanagan - piano
Keter Betts -  bass
Gus Johnson - drums

B&W PAL DVD of a 2009 digital rebroadcast
I'll be back in just a few hours with a pretty ridiculous bit of Seventies Rock-n-Roll excess, but tonight let's not forget to honor Ella Fitzgerald -- a most deserving and inspiring woman who was born this day in 1917 and whose music and mystique continue to thrill tens of millions.--J.
4.25.1917 - 6.15.1996

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Grievous Bodily Harmonics

There's quite a few musicianly departings to catch up on, and I'm going to do most of them on their birthdays upcoming because death posts are a drag. There is one, however, from a week ago that merits immediate attention.
I know I talk a lot on this page about this guy or that gal, and how they altered the molecular structure of the music of our world with just their mere presence and their coterie of unprecedented innovations. It likely sounds like a boatload of hyperbolic drivel 99% of the time, trust me I get it.
Once in a while, though, all my extravagant exaggerations fall short of description, in the cases where the person being tributed really does deserve the most far-flung and extensive praise as the rare, true game-changer. People whose instrument was one thing before they arrived, and something entirely different -- with a whole host of new possibilities uncovered -- after their advent upon the scene.
Last weekend we lost just such a talent and just such a pioneer, of an instrument that's perhaps the most prone of all to the expression of cliché and redundant, empty pyrotechnic display. To say that the universe of the guitar was fundamentally altered by the deceased would be a categorical understatement of immeasurable proportions. Wait, what was that about hyperbole?
A perhaps startling admission: I used to not understand or really enjoy the music of Allan Holdsworth. What he was up to felt completely out of my pay grade, and all those great albums he's on before he went on his own -- those with Nucleus, Gong, Soft Machine, and Bill Bruford's late 1970s band -- always left me confused and feeling on the outside, looking in. Maybe that was the idea... I had to grow up to fully get it.
It took until 2010 and a visit to Yoshi's in Oakland for a performance of HoBoLeMa -- an all-improvised superband featuring Holdsworth, colossal drum beast Terry Bozzio, bass titan Tony Levin and percussion savant Pat Mastelotto -- for me to begin to comprehend what made and makes Allan Holdsworth one of the most important and essential axe-grinders of our lifetimes.
I got to meet him out in front of the club before the show, and the first thing I was struck by was the hands. A possessor of hands so large and fingers so spiderifically long, his reach was surely measured not in frets but in entire guitars. He seemed lost and unable to find his way to the backstage area, so I shepherded him to the event staff to get him where he needed to go.
That life-changing set got me over the Holdsworth hump -- seeing is believing, as they say -- and from that night on I transitioned from uncomprehending observer to appreciative aficionado. Of course over the course of the last 30 years I have known countless guitar players who revere the guy as an absolute deity; it just took me until age 44 and absorbing him in that context for me to catch up to the rest of the world.
I don't feel alone. No less a guitar godhead than John McLaughlin once opined that he'd be happy to steal every shred of Allan Holdsworth's technique and harmonic conception... if he could begin to figure out precisely wtf was going on in the guy's playing.
It's impossible to describe the visceral power and alien complexity -- or the insane, warp-factor speed -- of AH except to say he is like a horn player with a guitar. A really out there horn player, something like if John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders had played guitar instead of tenor saxophone. With an undecodably sophisticated approach to harmony that makes Ornette Coleman seem like the Sex Pistols.
Of all the stone cold Samurai of the six strings I can think of, this is the one with maybe the most disorienting, dervish approach and the most extraterrestrial-sounding sensibility. Worshiped by players as diverse as Eddie Van Halen and Frank Zappa, and from Robben Ford to Vernon Reid, there's no one else I can name on the instrument that brought more expressive power and more intervallic innovation to the fretboard than this man.
Sadly he passed away from a massive heart attack last Saturday at the age of 70, but not before giving us 50 years worth of unprecedented output to chew on, both as a part of legendary groups and on his own. To commemorate this monumental player's player, I have today an NTSC DVD of a laserdisc -- remember those? -- never officially issued in the DVD era, depicting a complete performance of his I.O.U. band, captured onstage in Tokyo almost 33 years ago.
Allan Holdsworth
Yubin Chokin Hall
Tokyo, Japan

01 introduction
02 Tokyo Dream
03 Road Games
04 White Line
05 Panic Station
06 Letters of Marque
07 Devil Take the Hindmost
08 Home
09 Material Real
10 Metal Fatigue
11 Where Is One?
12 The Things You See
13 Was There (Something)

Total time: 1:21:33

Allan Holdsworth – guitar
Paul Williams – vocals
Chad Wackerman – drums
Jimmy Johnson – bass

NTSC DVD of the 1985 "Tokyo Dream" laserdisc, never officially issued on DVD
This is 80 full minutes of Allan Holdsworth doing what he did and a near-flawless example of what made him someone other guitar players looked to for leadership into the unprecedented unknown. Look out as well for Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman, who lends a distinctively muscular thump to the proceedings and an earthy grounding to AH's more wormhole-wandering and mindbending explorations.
I shall return Wednesday with a wild 40th anniversary post about yet another guitar molester, but for now I'd advise pulling this little puppy -- never issued since the days of laserdiscs and velour sweaters -- out of the cloud and familiarizing yourself with what it looks like when an unassuming, slightly frumpy looking guy sets a guitar on fire without the use of matches or gasoline... just his fleet fingers. And R.I.P. to the Maestro Allan Holdsworth, who perhaps did more to redefine the instrument than anyone in those same last 40 years.--J.
8.6.1946 - 4.15.2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

Eleventh House Party

Welcome to the start of the weekend, and the first of two homages to guitar gods recently departed.
Friday's lord of the strings passed on in February, appropriately after playing a blazing gig at a NYC jazz club. He was 73.
He is considered by many people to the father of fusion, and amongst the first -- if not the very first -- players to merge the improvisational flow of jazz with the pulsating, backbeat energy of rock, back when such alchemical combinations were as yet unheard of.
He first surfaced over 50 years ago, on one of the ten greatest jazz records of the 1960s, Chico Hamilton's The Dealer. After Chico he bounced into Gary Burton's pioneering jazz-rock group, playing on seminally indispensible records like Duster and A Genuine Tong Funeral. Before long he was recording under his own name and forming one of the bedrock ensembles of fusion, chronicled here today in their explosive prime.
A genuine master across different styles, he also made a whole bunch of gorgeous and reflective acoustic LPs, both on his own and in collaboration with topnotch Maestros such as John McLaughlin, Paco DeLucia and Al DiMeola. If you were making a list of the most important six string samurai of the last several decades, he would have to be on it or it simply would not be complete.
He performed right up until the end, found dead in his hotel room in the middle of a sold-out run at Iridium in New York City, the jazz capital metropolis where 50 years previous he had made such a lasting and viscerally world-altering impact.
The basic point is that Larry Coryell had the chops of twenty guys and the ability to merge heretofore disparate styles of music in new and paradigm-shifting directions. The world of guitar is a lot less pyrotechnically blazing with him no longer in it.
His crowning glory might indeed be his band The Eleventh House, which he began in 1972 and which toured and recorded throughout the 1970s, also reforming a couple of times since. He had booked a full summer tour of it when he suddenly died two months ago.
It is this ensemble that we feature today, in a wild segment taped for Norwegian television on this very day in 1975, and sourced from an HD rebroadcast on the NRK-TV website. Watch out for monster drummer Alphonse Mouzon, whom I tributed at his passing at the end of last year.
Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House
Studio A
Oslo, Norway

01 Cover Girl
02 Low-Tee-Tah
03 The Funky Waltz
04 The Other Side
05 Diedre
06 Some Greasy Stuff

Total time: 38:55

Larry Coryell - guitar
Michael Lawrence - trumpet
Mike Mandel - keyboards
John Lee - bass
Alphonse Mouzon - drums

HD FLV file of an NRK digital rebroadcast
I shall return on Sunday with another homage to yet another recently-interred axemaster, but for now I'd encourage you to sample this wicked 38 minutes of mayhem from back when fusion was the happening thing, and our honoree Mr. C here -- who, as I said, is widely acknowledged as having helped invent it -- was at its absolute forefront.--J.
4.2.1943 - 2.19.2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Feat First: George Town

It's getting time for me to return with a birthday tribute to another one of the giants, gone from us for decades but still beloved and relevant.
He was born in Hollywood and spent the 1960s in various groups until he ended up in Frank Zappa's notorious 1969 Mothers of Invention lineup, sticking around for the monumental Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Burnt Weeny Sandwich opuses. That's him on the former, feigning the German accent in Did You Get Any Onya?
After a tumultuous year with the Mothers -- and far too self-sufficient a talent to spend very long as someone else's sideman -- he was ever-so-subtly nudged in the direction of forming his own band. Utilizing several high school mates, he did precisely that, with the combo he put together becoming one of the greatest in the great decade for music we like to call the 1970s.
Their music was and is thoroughly impossible to categorize, but if I had to describe it I'd say it's Country Funk... like a midpoint betwixt the Nashville skyline and New Orleans' Storyville. They made a half dozen still-revered records with him on board and toured the whole of the Earth, opening for many of the era's top drawer bands and blowing them off the stage on a regular basis. They themselves made a live record that more than a few consider the best concert  LP ever made by anyone.
He led this classic, often-emulated-but-not-as-yet-equaled group as lead vocalist and principal songwriter, also lending an extremely distinctive and unusual slide guitar style -- achieved using 11/18" metal sockets you'd buy in a hardware store -- to the proceedings. Even almost 40 years since his untimely death, which happened just as he found himself on the cusp of solo success, he is still thought of as one of the leading lights of the music of our age.
Today the music of Lowell George -- born this day in 1945 -- and Little Feat have blossomed into a whole genre, but back then the marriage of Country and Soul was still new territory. Professing to loathe the recording process, he always insisted it was a live band first and foremost, and almost all their concert recordings bear this out many times over.
Unfortunately the '70s Courvoisier-n-cocaine diet caught up to him and he passed away from a massive heart attack whilst on tour in 1979, promoting his then-fresh solo outing, Thanks, I'll Eat It Here. But none of the tawdry tales of Seventies excess can diminish his contributions to the pantheon, and his influence remains to this day, which would have been his 72nd birthday. Little Feat carried on in his absence and can still be found on tour occasionally, decades after their heyday.
Which brings us to today's share wares, which comprise two legendary bootlegs recorded at the venerated Ultrasonic Studios in Hempstead on Long Island, which hosted a plethora of live-in-the-studio concert broadcasts for the old WLIR-FM in Garden City, itself often considered the greatest radio station in human history and the subject of the brand new documentary currently premiering across the US, Dare to Be Different. These shows were taped 18 months apart and document the emergence of Little Feat into what would become their 1970s period of well-deserved dominance.
Little Feat
Ultrasonic Studios
Hempstead, NY

01 introduction
02 Apolitical Blues
03 Got No Shadow
04 Willin'
05 On Your Way Down
06 Walkin' All Night
07 Lowell George interview/band introductions
08 Two Trains
09 Fat Man In the Bathtub
10 Sailin' Shoes
11 tuning
12 Cold, Cold, Cold
13 Dixie Chicken
14 Tripe Face Boogie
15 Teenage Nervous Breakdown

Total time: 58:48

Lowell George - vocals, slide guitar
Paul Barrere - guitar, vocals
Bill Payne - keyboards
Kenny Gradney - bass
Richie Hayward - drums
Sam Clayton - percussion

sounds like an FM master reel

Little Feat
Ultrasonic Studios
Hempstead, NY

01 Rock 'n' Roll Doctor
02 Two Trains
03 The Fan
04 On Your Way Down
05 Spanish Moon 
06 Skin It Back
07 Fat Man In the Bathtub
08 Oh Atlanta
09 Willin'
10 Cold, Cold, Cold
11 Dixie Chicken
12 Tripe Face Boogie

Total time: 57:58

Lowell George - vocals, slide guitar
Paul Barrere - guitar, vocals
Bill Payne - keyboards
Kenny Gradney - bass
Richie Hayward - drums
Sam Clayton - percussion

composite of a pre-FM reel (Tracks 01-09) & a 1st gen FM reel (Tracks 10-14) from WLIR-FM in Garden City, NY
Tracks 10-14 slightly remastered by EN to match Tracks 01-09

both shows zipped together
I slightly tweaked the 1974 set so the pre-FM portion and the off-air part were more of a sonic match, but these are legendary boots for a reason as they are both impeccably captured and testimony to the unvarnished power of this equally-as-legendary group. Hence, they required a bare minimum of audio alteration, which is always the best way to go in that realm anyway.
Pull them down and be willin' to let them funk you with a generous helping of crispy Dixie Chicken, as today's birthday boy would surely have wanted them to. And as you do, remember to raise a glass or vessel of your intoxicant of choice to one Lowell Thomas George, born this very day in 1945 and in little danger of fading from the musical consciousness of our world.--J.
4.13.1945 - 6.29.1979