Monday, September 28, 2020

Building with Lagos

We're gonna finish off September with someone who left us last Spring, and whom I wanted to cover on what would have been his 80th birthday on July 20th, but I couldn't because I had no computer.

Now that that's changed, we can right that wrong on the 8th anniversary of a bangin' set from the man, at the helm of a pretty steamy ensemble.

Surely one of the most influential musicians that shall ever do it, the tributes that poured in from all over the globe, and from all style and manner of players, tell the tale of exactly what he meant to the music of our age.

Born in Lagos in 1940, he started playing the drums at age 18, joining the band of future Afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti when he was in his twenties.

As the Sixties became the Seventies and Fela's militant, Afrocentric vision came into focus, our hero became the musical director of the Afrika 70, and began to evolve a drum vocabulary and style that had never really existed before.

Part Jazz, part Highlife, and part stuttering herd of charging Funk Elephants, this style became what is now termed Afrobeat, and beyond Fela its main, vital and most indispensable architect was today's esteemed honoree.

Once the money got too squirrelly and Fela got too ego-mad, he split that group and went solo at the beginning of the 1980s.

Forty more years at the forefront of rhythmic innovation followed, with collaborations all over the map from Rock (The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Blur) to Jazz (his own groups) to Electronica (Air) to Hip Hop (Gorillaz) and back again.

I'm not much for quantity emphasis, but 60 years as a front-line, innovative player in almost every conceivable context is, for my money, the basis to make the bold statement that Tony Allen -- who passed from an abdominal aneurysm on April 30th -- may have been the most prolific and influential drummer of our entire lifetimes.

We will celebrate his life and unquantifiable legacy with a completely cooking hour from German radio exactly eight years ago, when his collaboration with Funk wizard Amp Fiddler and a whole group of top-flight cohorts was racing up the charts.

Tony Allen
Theaterzelt Burgplatz
Düsseldorf, Germany

01 Secret Agent
02 One Tree
   03 Ijo
04 Busy Body 
05 Eparapo
06 Ariya
                07 Afro Disco Beat incl. FM outro

Total time: 57:33

Tony Allen - drums & vocals
Amp Fiddler - keyboards, vocals & Vocoder
Audrey Gbaguidi - vocals & percussion
Andre "Foxxe" Williams - guitar
Kologbo Oghene - guitar & percussion
Cesar Anot - bass
Éric François Rohner - tenor saxophone
Gilles Garin - trumpet

digital capture of the original Funkhaus Europa "World Live" FM broadcast
399 MB FLAC/September 2020 archive link

I shall return in October with yet more grease for your gears, as we creep up upon the 7-year anniversary of this ridiculous page.

They say your personality is completely formed by age 7, so we shall see what that means going forward!

Be that as it may, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, and remember to never forget Tony Allen, who was pretty damn far ahead himself over the course of a half-century exploring the molecular alteration of the possibilities of Music.--J.

7.20.1940 - 4.30.2020

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Key We: Mike Nock 80

I was going to finish out September tomorrow -- and I still plan on it -- but we are interjecting this one because this is just too great and rare a record and too accomplished a musician, and on too big of a birthday to let pass unheralded.

Today's underappreciated legend is, perhaps, the greatest Jazz musician and maybe even the greatest musician, period, ever to hail from the country of New Zealand.

He's also acknowledged to be one of the first cats ever to achieve a molecular -- and not just a vestigial -- synthesis between Jazz and Rock, beginning way back in the late 1960s when such things were only just becoming horizonally visible.

I first came across the music of Mike Nock as part of that group, the Fusion pioneers The Fourth Way he formed in 1969 in the Bay Area, and which famously caused Miles Davis -- for whom they were opening at the Fillmore West -- to loudly proclaim that he would never go on second again.

Obviously MDIII did a whole lot to point the way into Fusion, but no one did more than The Fourth Way when they were hitting, and straddling the atomic line between Jazz improv chops and Rock muscle.

After those guys broke up, Mike Nock has carried on a long and fruitful five decade solo career, some of it in a Rockier-leaning bag but mostly in an acoustic, more traditionally compositional/improvisational vein.

He's made a million incredible records, but my all time favorite thing of his outside of The Fourth Way is this impossibly rare LP from 1977, with reedmelter Charlie Mariano blowing his brains clean out of his cranium in a sublime acoustic-Fusion-with-synths session that may never, as far as I know, be properly reissued.

I first heard this LP in the late 1980s, when some friends and I were driving from NYC to Virginia to do a record fair. It was hard to get a hold of then, and it hasn't got any easier since that morning on the I-95, grooving to its charms.

Mike Nock
Magic Mansions

01 Magic Mansions
02 Twister
03 Enchanted Garden
04 Hybris
05 Blackout
06 Everglad
07 Mambucaba

Total time: 44:30

Mike Nock - keyboards and synthesizers
Charlie Mariano - reeds
Ron McClure - bass
Al Foster - drums
Nacho Mena - percussion
Lyn Williamson - vocals

lossless rip of the 1977 LP on the Laurie label, never reissued in the digital era
denoised and cleaned up by EN, September 2020

I worked for 11 straight hours on this record, trying to dial back the bacon-n-eggs fryfest that was the surface noise situation to a more reasonable,  less clicky and poppy listening experience.

I'd like to think I did alright, but there's still some light static. This might be the best we'll ever get, unless #3 on my Dream Reissues Of Ever list here finally gets popped from the masters.
That is, if the tapes from 1970s private press labels like Laurie even still exist.

Anyway the point is that Mike Nock is 80 today, is still alive and kicking it somewhere in Australia, and I was just not gonna let his big day go by without marking the occasion. I could have posted a concert, but this album is just too special and too tough to get lossless not to break my usual pattern.

I shall be back tomorrow with the last September post, but let's give thanks and praises for this unsung Kiwi keyboard deity, and what better way than with a Soul Jazz tour de force
trip through the Magic Mansions? And remember to always Nock, OK?--J.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

NTU the Music: Gary Bartz 80

It may not be the most high-profile milestone muso birthday today, but it gets the nod based on seniority alone. Apologies to Bryan Ferry in advance.

The man celebrating this milestone day also happens to be, arguably, the greatest and most accomplished living alto saxophonist on Earth.

He's been at it since the mid-1960s and has experienced precisely zero dropoff in the quality and range of his music as he has aged.

I was introduced to his stuff at the start of the 1990s, just as the big Soul Jazz revival was jumping off.

Back at the end of the 1960s, he had made a few tremendous solo records when he got the call to join the band of Miles Davis.

I've heard him tell the story of how when he got that call, at first he thought he was being pranked and it took a few minutes to acknowledge that it was really Miles on the other end of the phone.

Eventually he got out on the road with that band, participating in some of the most blazing and formative electric Miles LPs like Live-Evil.

At the same time, he was making some of the most lasting and mesmerizing records of the time, with his own band he christened NTU Troop.

Between sets at the old Yoshi's on Claremont about 20 years ago, he explained to me what the concept of NTU is all about, and how it stems from the Bantu language as a modality of animation for other words and constructs in that language.
Somewhat akin to the -ing suffix in English but more far-reaching, in that it kind of sets things into motion.
Maybe the best thing about him is that even as he turns an age most of us are either dead or retired, he still plays and records and makes music that seems so fresh, exploratory and present.

He is the big 8-0 today, and to properly commemorate the occasion we have a fantastic and highly representative hourlong set taped off of Canadian radio in the mid-1990s, which finds out hero and his stellar quartet burning down the legendary Edmonton jazz venue The Yardbird Suite using only their instruments.

Gary Bartz Quartet
Yardbird Suite
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
likely 3.16.1996
01 FM intro/Gary Bartz talks
02 The Song Of Loving Kindness
03 J Seas
04 Interlude (Concerto de Aranjuez)
05 Gangsta Jazz
06 Interlude
07 When Your Lover Has Gone
08 Interlude
09 Holiday For Strings
10 Interlude (After the Rain)
11 And He Called Himself a Messenger incl. FM outro

Total time: 57:26 

Gary Bartz - alto & soprano saxophones
George Colligan - piano
James King - bass
Greg Bandy - drums 

master HiFi VHS capture of the complete CBOF-FM broadcast
341 MB FLAC/September 2020 archive link

I shall return in 48 hours to end the September to remember with a tribute to a fallen superstar, who left us not long ago.

Today is the day to pay homage to Gary Bartz, born this day in 1940 and thankfully still doing what he does at the highest level!--J.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Genius Is the Light of this World: Ray Charles 90

It's another 9/23 -- one of the most born-upon days for iconic musicians, for some reason -- so here I come with the real shit.

We've covered him before but there's never enough, is there?

I was thinking as I was looking at the list of all the September 23rd-ers, that most of them would not exist in quite the way they do, were it not for this gentleman.

Frank Sinatra called him the only true genius. Billy Joel said he exceeds all performers in importance, even Elvis Presley, in terms of influence on modern music.
He preceded James Brown on the scene and the charts, and for my money is the true inventor of Soul music.

I hear him in everything, he's impossible to avoid. That "Before You Go" song that was the big smash of the summer? If Ray Charles had never existed, that song and vocal style would vanish like stuff does in Back to the Future, when Marty and Doc remove events from history.

He woulda been 90 today, if you can get your grizzled, graying head around such a number. I swear when I write these things I start aging in front of the screen like Dorian Gray in reverse.

Don't even get me started on the time in the early 1960s when he made Country records that completely and irrevocably altered what that music could be and became.

His legacy almost stands alone, and he is, without equivocation, one of the most imitated and revered musicians the world shall ever see.

It's near impossible to explain to younger folks who may never have heard of him that he is responsible, in a not-insubstantial way, for the bulk of what they know as possible in music. Before he showed up, it may as well have been another planet.

Let's honor The Genius with this bombtastic German concert from the mid-Seventies, which finds him at the peak of his vocal powers and just laying it on Stuttgart, and in the company of trumpet deity Johnny Coles too!

Ray Charles
Stuttgart, Germany

01 How Long Has This Been Going On?
02 Feel So Bad
03 Am I Blue?
04 I Can't Stop Loving You
05 Take Me Home, Country Roads
06 Don't Let Her Know
07 What'd I Say

Total time: 46:22

Ray Charles - vocals & piano
Johnny Coles, Bob Coassin, Jeff Conrad, Dan McGurn - trumpets
Henry Coker, Glenn Childress, Wally Huff, Bob Knedlik - trombones
James Clay, William Byrne, Andy Ennis, Ed Pratt, Clifford Solomon - saxophones
Tony Matthews - guitar
James Campbell - bass
Scott Von Ravensberg - drums
Ernest Vantreese - piano & organ, musical director
The Raelettes: Dorothy Berry, Bernice Hullaby, Donna Jones, Linda Sims & Estella Yarbrough - vocals

partial Minidisc capture of a 2005 SWR "Jazz Session" FM broadcast
one digital glitch in Track 06 fixed by EN, September 2020

This set is short, but deeply powerful. The stuff he does on Feel So Bad predicts the entirety of modern Soul singing like the Rosetta Stone of it all.

I'll be back on Saturday with another big b'day... this time for someone that is thankfully still with us.

Today is all about Brother Ray, born this day in 1930 and still looming over it all like a granite bust on the ultimate Mount Rushmore of music. What'd I say? --J.

9.23.1930 - 6.10.2004