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Fifty Year Friday: Power to the People, The Giant is Awakened, Empty Sky, At San Quentin, and Charisma

 

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Joe Henderson: Power to the People

Recorded in late May of 1969, Power the Power stands out distinctly from both those late-sixties partly-commercially friendly hard bop albums and the bevy of free-jazz albums being recorded in 1968 and 1969.  It opens with one of the most sensually gorgeous jazz ballads of the era, the beautifully lush Black Narcissus with Herbie Hancock’s Fender Rhodes electric piano providing the appropriate ambient backdrop. Henderson’s tenor work here is stunningly elegant as he shapes his lines with a rare level of delicate control.  And though “Black Narcissus” is the highlight here for me, Ron Carter’s “Opus One-Point-Five” is also particularly beautiful with Henderson’s tone capable of the most nuanced reflection and introspection.  Hancock is on acoustic piano, and Jack DeJohnette’s percussion fits in perfectly.

Despite all this beauty, on cannot overlook the other tracks including an updated version of Henderson’s Monk-influenced “Isotope” that Henderson and Hancock had previously recorded in 1964 for the “Inner Urge” album.  As a Thelonious Monk fan, this resonates with my personal music sensibilities, and so very glad to have both the longer 1964 version and this version. “Lazy Afternoon” swings effortlessly, “Afro-Centric” is hard-edged, modally adventurous hard bop, and “Foresight and Afternoon” omits keyboards with the trio charging into the realm of free jazz territory.  The title track, “Power to the People”, is also adventurous, with a modern hard-bop theme, aggressively inventive improvisations, and sparking electric piano work by Hancock. Now if I had to change one thing about this album, I would have liked to have a second version of “Power to the People” included with Mr. Hancock on acoustic piano. That would be one way to make an amazing album even more incredible!

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Joe Henderson, except where noted.

  1. “Black Narcissus” – 4:50
  2. “Afro-Centric” – 7:00
  3. “Opus One-Point-Five” (Ron Carter) – 4:56
  4. “Isotope” – 4:53
  5. “Power to the People” – 8:42
  6. “Lazy Afternoon” (MorossLatouche) – 4:33
  7. “Foresight and Afterthought (An Impromptu Suite in Three Movements)” – 7:33

Recorded on May 23 (2, 5) and May 29 (all others), 1969.

Personnel

 

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Horace Tapscott: The Giant is Awakened

Recorded on the first three days of April 1969, released later that year to negligible sales and then not reissued until 2015, The Giant is Awakened is Horace Tapscott’s first album as a leader, with not another album in his name until 1978, by Tapscott’s choice, as he was reportedly disappointed in being excluded from the mixing process of this album despite assurances to the contrary.  Reportedly, Tapscott was particularly dissatisfied with the over-emphasis on the piano, which aggressively stands out whether soloing or providing accompaniment. The two basses could have been brought out more, particularly in passages where one is bowing and the other is being plucked.

The album finds middle ground between standard hard bop and extreme free jazz as nicely exemplified in highly structure and rhythmically-driven “The Giant is Awakened.”  This is also Arthur’s Blythe’s first recording, but his distinct alto playing is evident even at this point in his career as he provides an orchestra’s worth of tension and forward momentum in the first track, preceding Tapscott’s unrestrained and exploratory solo. Blythe also contributes the composition “For Fat’s” with its Monk-like opening theme and its freer contrasting section —  the two themes rotating in a straightforward ABABA form.  The third track,  the relentlessly rhythmic “The Dark Tree” is particularly appropriate for showcasing Tapscott fearless piano technique. The final track, “Niger’s Theme”  begins with a distinct, angular melody that then gives way to Blythe’s almost chaotic, but brilliant, free improvisation, followed by some pungent and highly accentuated piano.  This returns to an extended restatement of the main theme, with a suitable diminuendo bringing an accessible, engaging, and adventurous album to a pleasant but decisive close.

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Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All compositions by Horace Tapscott except as indicated

  1. “The Giant is Awakened” – 17:23
  2. “For Fats” – 2:20
  3. “The Dark Tree” – 7:01
  4. “Niger’s Theme” – 11:55

Personnel

 

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Elton John: Empty Sky

Recorded in December of 1968 through April 1969, Elton John’s first album was released in the UK on June 6th 1969.  Like many baby boomers in the States, my first exposure to Elton John was his self-titled second album, which at the time I purchased it, I believed to be his first.  It wasn’t until a few months after I had purchased Tumbleweed Connection, that I saw Empty Sky in the import section, and as it was at a reasonable price for an import album, $3.99,  I bought it.  I listened to it once, put it aside, listened to it again, but never took a strong liking to it as I had with those second and third albums, which, along with Yellow Brick Road, are what I consider to be the best of his long, productive career.

That said, Empty Sky is still a good album, with well-written lyrics by Bernie Taupin, skillfully set to music by Elton John.  Yes, the second and third albums have stronger songs, and also benefit from the wealth of quality musicians that contribute as well as Gus Dudgeon’s accomplished production — Empty Sky lacks anything approaching “Your Song”, “Take Me To the Pilot”, or “Burn Down the Mission”, does not have the same production values or range of contributing musicians — and appears to be constrained by a lower budget.

My favorite songs are the opening (and title) track, “Empty Sky,” “Western Ford Gateway,” which sounds similar to content from Tumbleweed Connection, and “Hymn 2000,” which would fit in nicely on the second album.  The last track has a jazz-blues section, which would provide a nice ending to the album, except for the intrusion of a collage of snippets from each track that provides a musical flashback — a puzzling approach, but something repeated by both Gentle Giant (“In a Glass House”) and Queen (“Jazz”), with Gentle Giant keeping their snippets to a little under two seconds each, for a total length of nine seconds (not counting the few seconds of shattering glass) compared to the nearly two-minute recap on Empty Sky.  (In regards to Gentle Giant and Elton John, Elton, when still Reginald Dwight, played with Simon Dupree and the Big Sound for a couple of months when their regular keyboard player, Eric Hine, was ill.  The Shulman brothers and Reggie got along great, and recorded Elton and Bernie Taupin’s “I’m Going Home” as mentioned here.)

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Side one

  1. “Empty Sky” – 8:28
  2. “Val-Hala” – 4:12*
  3. “Western Ford Gateway” – 3:16
  4. “Hymn 2000” – 4:29

Side two

  1. “Lady What’s Tomorrow” – 3:10
  2. “Sails” – 3:45
  3. “The Scaffold” – 3:18
  4. Skyline Pigeon” – 3:37
  5. “Gulliver/Hay Chewed/Reprise” – 6:59*

Personnel

  • Elton John – vocals, piano, organ, Fender Rhodes, harpsichord
  • Caleb Quaye – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, congas
  • Tony Murray – bass guitar
  • Roger Pope – drums, percussion
  • Nigel Olsson – drums on “Lady What’s Tomorrow”
  • Don Fay – saxophone, flute
  • Graham Vickery – harmonica

 

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Johnny Cash At San Quentin

Whereas Elton John was just getting to his first album, Johnny Cash was tackling his thirty-first. If you had any relatives in 1969 or the early seventies that were partial to country music, there’s a good chance that this album would be in their collection, and for good reason: it is an exceptionally engaging live album, recorded on February 24, 1969, just two days before Cash’s 47th birthday, and released on June 4, 1969.  Those of us with any memory of 1969, will recall the repeated playing on the airwaves of this live concert’s version of Shel Silverstein’s cleverly-written “A Boy Named Sue”, and the bleeping out of “son of a *****” — how quaint censorship was back then.

Track Listing [From Wikipedia]

Side one
1. “Wanted Man” (Bob Dylan) 3:24
2. “Wreck of the Old 97” (arranged by Cash, Bob Johnston, Norman Blake) 2:17
3. “I Walk the Line” (Johnny Cash) 3:13
4. “Darling Companion” (John Sebastian) 6:10
5. “Starkville City Jail” (Johnny Cash) 2:01

Side two
1. “San Quentin” (Johnny Cash) 4:07
2. “San Quentin” (performed a second time at the audience’s request) (Johnny Cash) 3:13
3. “A Boy Named Sue” (Shel Silverstein) 3:53
4. “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley” (Thomas A. Dorsey) 2:37
5. “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash) 1:29

Personnel

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Lee Morgan: Charisma

With a lineup that immediately ensures a high level of quality, Charisma was recorded in 1966, but not released until May 1969.  Compared to the plethora of free jazz albums being released in 1969, this may seem embarrassingly accessible to more sophisticated jazz listeners, but there is nothing embarrassing about the quality of the musicianship and the level of improvisation. One can scarcely go wrong with any Lee Morgan Blue Note album, so given that everyone must own a copy of his 1963 Sidewinder album with Joe Henderson as well as the 1964 Search for the New Land with Wayne Shorter, Grant Green and Herbie Hancock, it seems reasonable one would be able to find a place in their music collection for an album where Lee Morgan teams up with Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Cedar Walton, Paul Chambers and Billy Higgins, particularly when it is also on Blue Note and is this good!

The album starts with “Hey Chico”, one of those mid-sixties blues-based jazzed numbers tailored for AM radio, though it never got such exposure, followed by, what for me, is the gem on the album, “Somethin’ Cute”,  rich in great solos, particularly the alto solo from Jackie Mac. Walton is exemplary on the lovely ballad, “Rainy Night”, and the fourth track, is another of those relatively simple, commercially friendly tunes, upbeat and perfect for the excellent soloing after the initial statement — particularly impressive is Lee Morgan’s trumpet solo.  This is followed by another Duke Pearson tune, with particularly notable solos by Morgan and Walton.  The last track, “The Double Up”, provides a nice symmetry against the opening track, and includes strong solos by Morgan and Mobley and a notable solo by Walton against the horns.  Chambers and Higgins are excellent, with Higgins flavoring these performances with unobtrusive ranges of shading and percussive hues and tints that lie almost below the range of general perception yet significantly contributes to the overall impact.

 

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All compositions by Lee Morgan except where noted

  1. “Hey Chico” – 7:17
  2. “Somethin’ Cute” – 5:39
  3. “Rainy Night” (Walton) – 5:39
  4. “Sweet Honey Bee” (Pearson) – 6:54
  5. “The Murphy Man” (Pearson) – 7:34
  6. “The Double Up” – 6:01

Personnel

 

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