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Archive for the ‘Fusion Jazz’ Category

Fifty Year Friday: September 1970

Lot’s of great albums released during 1970 and September was one of several notable months. About this time in 1970, I started listening to music with headphones. Our small living room was such that the two stereo speakers were poorly situated for optimal stereo, and so the headphones revealed a common characteristic of many of these albums — this was not the Stereo of the mid 1960s anymore. Stereo was now creating sound stages, some realistic, particularly with classical music recordings, and some surreleastic as with so many rock albums. The pleasure of listening to albums like Black Sabbath’s Paranoid or Jesus Christ Superstar increased measurably when the room was dark: the sense of sound borrowed attention-resources from the sense of sight. To this day, whether it is Bartok’s Night Music, Debussy musical imagery, Billie Holiday’s Verve-era vocals, Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um, the primal combination of Gezzer Butler bass and Toni Iomma’s guitar or a classic angular progressive rock album like Gentle Giant’s Free Hand, I remember the lesson from 1970, turn off the lights, extinguish all extraneous thoughts and make the music your entire and exclusive environment.

Andrew Webber and Tim Lloyd Rice:

Jesus Christ Superstar

Several months after The Who’s Tommy hit the FM radio stations, a more controversial album starting getting attention. It was also a rock opera, though more like a tradtional cast recording than Tommy, with different individuals on each part. My go-to radio station for new albums, KPPC-FM, announced that they would be playing the entire album from start to finish. I recorded the broadcast on reel to reel, with the broadcast’s less than perfect reception, and then repeatedly listened to the resultant recording on headphones through a wall of static. Thankfully, Christmas soon came and on Christmas day I received Superstar, as we colloquially referred to the album, as a Christmas present along with the complete Handel’s Messiah Oratorio, which I had also requested, and which my mom found it much harder to find than Superstar, now present at every record store. (I had also asked for the entire Tchaikovsky 1812, convinced that if there was an 1812 Overture, which I had, there must be a corresponding opera. Of course, no such gift could be purchased.)

I immediately transferred the two LPs of Superstar to tape, so as not to wear out the LPs, as I had done with the 1812 overture and my copy of Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote. The sound, recorded at the fastest speed available on my tape deck, on the highest quaility tape I had, was just indescribable, particuarly on relatively good headphones. I would sit on the floor close to my tape deck, following the lyrics initially, and then later abosorbing the compositional and instrumental richness of the album.

My grandmother, the more religious one, approved of my interest and commented that this was how music sounded back at the time of Christ, though I was old enough to realize this was way before her time. Yet, there seemed to be undeniable truth in this assertion, and part of this was the inclusion and incorporation of dissonance, and the use of the diminished chord, that standby of silent movie soundtracks to represent the bad guys — and hints of older modes and scales. This is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s masterpiece. That the composer of works like the earlier Joseph and the Amazon Technicolor Dreamcoat and the later Starlight Express, rose to this level of musical excellence may be challenging to explain, but it occured and this album was evidence.

Black Sabbath: Paranoid

That this larger than life work, the 20th century rock equivalent of a Wagner opera scene, was purchased for $2.99 at K-mart, took me a while to get over. I remember vividly, the first time I encountered the first Black Sabbath album being listened to on a cheap turntable plugged into a building outlet by some high school freshmen druggie-types, or at least academic poor-achievers (we won’t say failures as they had three more years of high school ahead) — and I remember being intrigued by the poorly reproduced but seemingly substantial music. And I vividly remember purchasing Paranoid at K-mart, taking it home and sitting in front of the stereo on a barstool borrowed from the kitchen counter. But what was most vivid about all encounters with Black Sabbath, even including seeing them up close and live at California Jam, was the first listening to Paranoid and the darkness, obscurity and obliqueness of the music.

Paranoid is often credited as the first true heavy metal album, though certainly all the elements in Paranoid are there to some degree in their first album. However, while the first album was basically a recording of a live set, the second album is of higher sonic and musical quality. Though all four band members are given songwriting credit, for the most part the music on this album was written by Tony Iomma, with lyrics provided by Geezer Butler. To classify this music as simply heavy metal ignores the unique musicl style of Iomma — a darkest violet, and yes, satanic-like sound, built on short basic and strongly diatonic phrases that fit together like lego blocks. The sound is readily identifiable, and works effectively at a slow tempo, as in the opening moments of War Pigs that start the ablum, or at a faster tempo as taken in the second track, Paranoid. I have never heard Black Sabbath labelled as a progressive rock band, and some of that may be due to the primal nature of thir muscianship and Iomma’s compositions, but for me, I see no reason why the music itself isn’t classified as progressive rock. It certainly was a progressive sound in 1970 and when I picked it up in 1971 when it hit record stores in the U.S. And today fifty years later, it still holds its own, tarnished slightly in terms of freshness by the subsequent Black Sabbath albums that sometimes recycled the building blocks that made this such a unique sound and the many less-distinctive and creative imitators that followed. There is nothing in the rock catalog that has both the somatic and metabolic magnetic impact as “Iron Man”, and excluding the very best canonical prog rock albums, there are few musical statements that show the boldness, consistency, and durability of “Paranoid.”

Atomic Rooster:

Death Walks Behind You

If the William Blake bestial  Nebuchadnezzar album cover didn’t entice you to immediately purchase the Atomic Rooster Death Walks Behind You, hearing that dark descending four note chromatic bass line that permeates the title track or the quirky, keyboard-bejewelled “Tomorrow Night” might have. Unfortunately, being on Elektra, there was slight chance of someone in the U.S. seeing this album stocked in most record stores in 1970, and unless you lived in the L.A. or the Bay area, it’s not likely you would have heard any portion of this album on FM radio, until the success of ELP prompted many to check the back catalog of Atomic Roster. Nonetheless, this ablum, with Carl Palmer now replaced with Paul Hammond on drums, and Vincent Crane and John Du Cann raising their level of creative partnership, this is not only the best Atomic Rooster album, but a fine, at times joyful and playful, at times dark and shadowy, heavy metal, progressive hard rock album. Whereas no band ever imitated Black Sabbath effectively, the style of hard rock exemplified in Death Walks Behind You, a style with its roots in earlier hard rock English pre-metal bands such as Cream, was successfully incorporated by a number of bands of the early seventies.

Caravan:

If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You

Another high quality progressive album, released in the UK on September 4, 1970, and also difficult to find in the U.S. until later in the seventies, was Caravan’s second album. Providing a diverse range of progressive rock, Canterbury scene rock and English Jazz rock (with its inclusion of saxophonist Jimmy Hastings), this is an album that endears itself upon repeated listenings.

Neil Young:

After the Gold Rush

Full of unerringly good music and lyrics that range from near-nonsense and obliquely obscure to shamelessly unaffected and nakedly transparent, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, is one the finest if not the very best of his long, productive and meaningful career. Southern Man is a case in point where the music and lyrics are beyond any criticisms, or need for critique, but the rest of the original compositions are each worthy of special attention. Neil Young is a master at combining musical and lyrical simplicty to get through one’s superficial emotional barriers as exemplfied in “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” It is the Neil Young magic that turns a basically musically and poetically flimsy and somewhat monotonous song into exquisitely simple high art, something also accomplished with the less emotional “When You Dance I Can Really Love” and the entire contents of his subsequent album, “Harvest.” The most memorable song on After the Gold Rush, is the title track with its seemingly deeply profound, but if you believe later Neil Young interviews, somewhat meaningless, lyrics. I prefer to think that Young is being more modest than accurate, for even if there was no particularly deep intent in the lyrics they fit so well with the music that they deserve some praise. But the most incredible feature of this work, at least for me, is that with every listening it always seems to be of epic length, even though it only clocks in at only 3 3/4 minutes.

Santana: Abraxas

Released on September 23, 1970, Abraxas is another special album. Despite an initial lack of attention and acceptance from many in the music press, the attention the band garnered from the Woodstock film, the success of the “Evil Ways” single, and the striking cover soon propelled this album to number one on the album charts making the album a staple in many early 1970s record collections. This is another one of those albums you turn down (or off) the lights to listen to. The opening track is dramatic and provides an imposing and remarkable beginning to an amazing, whirlwind musical experience.

If: If

Though often labelled as jazz-rock, this first of several albums by If, released in September 1970 is as much British progressive rock as it is jazz-rock. Similar in some respects to early Jethro Tull and Genesis, the musicianship is solid and the music is engaging. I picked this album up when it came out after reading a postive review of it in the L.A Times, expecting that it might be similar to Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears, and didn’t fully appreciate if for what it was, mostly listening to it as background while studying or reading. Listening to it again, almost fifty years later, I much better appreciate it’s abundant qualities and strengths.

Jackson Five: Third &

Allman Brothers Band: Idlewild South

There are two other albums released in September of 1970 that require a brief mention. The first is the Jackson Five album, their third album, simply titled Third. As I was starting my sophemore year in school, the biggest slam one could throw (“dis” in modern parlance) at someone was either they were a freshman, or worse, they were a freshman and put on a Jackson Five album when they went home. Nothing was more uncool musically. And yet, when riding on the bus, one couldn’t avoid (and very embarrassing, and something I would never admit until now too old to care about being cool) liking the music. So it was with “I’ll Be There” which I heard over and over again. I never listened to any Jackson Five album until recently — but now listening to them as I go through the timeline of albums that are celebrating their fiftieth year of existence. Of course, it helps that I am married to someone that was a fan of Michael Jackson when growing up.

The other album I must mention is the Allman Brothers Band’s Idlewild South album, released September 23, 1970. Although often pigeonholed as an early Southern Rock album, or even as Southern Blues-Rock, it is so much more. The opening incorporates jazz elements and anticpates groups like Dixie Dregs. Yes, when the vocals start, the music becomes more conventional and less interesting — until the next instrumental excursion. And basically, that is the strength of this album: it’s instrumental passages.

Fifty Year Friday: March 2020

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Miles Davis: Bitches Brew

It was sometime around 1971 (and maybe as early as 1970) that I first saw some promotional marketing material for a mail-based membership club called the Seven Arts Society. It wasn’t offering the usual record club membership (where one could buy 10 albums for $1 and then have to buy more albums later),  it was a one time $7 fee to a club that sold mostly books on the seven arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, drama, literature, music and photography) as well as small book-shelf friendly reproductions of sculptures.   I put it aside and didn’t think about it again, until a received another version of their promotional mailing that included a picture of the stunning cover of Miles Davis’s Bitches’ Brew.   At this point, even though I had never knowingly heard a note of Miles Davis, I took the ad very seriously and noticed that for $7 one could get membership into the Seven Arts Society that included a couple of items I wasn’t particularly interested in and two items that did capture my interest: the Miles Davis album and a 10 LP set of classical piano masterpieces.  The first thing I did was to get my father’s take on the overall legitimacy of the membership and his personal verification that there were really no strings attached, and though he advised against my signing up, he did so with limited conviction.  This step completed, I then had to decide  which was the better choice: the Miles Davis two record set or the Piano Masterpiece. I knew nothing about Miles Davis at that time, and wasn’t sure what kind of music I would be getting.  On the other hand I was developing a growing love for classical music, and this 10 LP set had one entire LP of Mozart, two LPs of Beethoven, and half a side of Tchaikovsky — composers of which I had recently been buying recordings of their symphonies.  I also knew a little bit about the other composers included as I had started casually listening to the local commercial classical AM and FM radio station., KFAC-FM. Ultimately I decided that 10 LPs were much better than 2 and figured I could buy the Miles Davis 2 LP album later.

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It turned out the 10 LP set was a smart purchase.  The set was in a quality box with the highest quality LPs I had ever seen. Deutsche Grammaphon produced thick, heavy, noiseless LPs.  The sound was clearly superior, even on our modest sound system, which had been very recently upgraded from a mono cabinet to a radio shack stereo turntable, amplifier and a pair (a pair!) of speakers. And even to my rather limited sensibilities, it seemed to me the orchestras and pianists were of the highest possible quality.  I started by listening to the Mozart and Beethoven, working through the 10 LPs in order, and playing the Beethoven LPs several times before getting to what I considered to be the second tier composers of the fourth LP, Schubert and Schumann,  composers I had heard little about and less of their music.   I was pleasantly surprised with Schubert’s Marche Militaire and Opus 103 Fantasy and by the delicateness and clarity of the solo piano sound.  The music sparkled  and sounded so perfect and so, well, pianistic.  Next, I was really impacted by the Schumann piece that started on that same side and continued on the second side.  A piece with both an English name, “Scenes From Childhood”  — and a German name that I couldn’t pronounce,  Kinderszenen, but now knew what it meant.  That first “scene”, “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples” had one of the most haunting, evocative melodies I have ever heard up to that time — the second theme, even further heightened by its harmonic, rhythmic and thematic relationships to the first, simpler, more innocent theme.  That first side of that fourth LP would get played many more times,  more than the Beethoven LPs .  However, it wouldn’t get played the most of those ten LPs.  Soon I came across the famous Chopin A-flat Polonaise (slightly familiar to me from hearing it once on the radio [hadn’t yet realized it was used in the Wizard of Oz] and promising myself that I would one day have a recording of it) on the second side of side six and Prokofiev’s Opus 11 Toccata on the tenth LP both played by Martha Argerich who along with Christoph Eschenbach who was the pianist on the Kinderszenen and Sviatoslav Richter who was the pianist on the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto became immediate favorites of mine.  By the time I had finished that tenth LP, this was my favorite LP set in my modest collection, at least until I spent $20 to buy a 21 LP set of Alfred Brendel performing Beethoven’s piano works.

Now, please note, that I had expected I would purchase the Bitches Brew LPs when I received the catalog from Seven Arts.  However, much to my surprise, it was priced at twelve dollars, more expensive than what it would be if I had purchased it at one of the newly-being-built discount mega-record stores.  So I told myself that I would purchase it later.  But time went on, and it wasn’t until the end of the 1980’s that I purchased my first Miles Davis album, Amandla and it wasn’t a few days ago that I first heard the entire Bitches Brew album from start to end.

And though it is nowhere close to Kinderszenen, Chopin’s famous A-flat Polonaise, the Prokofiev Toccata or even the Ravel Piano Concerto performed also by Martha Argerich (in that 10 LP Great Piano Masterpieces set I am still in love with), Bitches Brew is a very consequential album that makes use of sound and space much like the Miles album before it, In a Silent Way, but has a greater focus on energy, drama and drive than the more ethereal and beautiful In a Silent Way.  It combines elements of psychedelic rock with jazz and modern classical improvisation.   Along with In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew has had considerable influence on many styles of music in the next few years including rock, funk, jazz and prog-rock.

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Tyrannosaurus Rex: A Beard of Stars

At around the same time I purchased the 10 LP Great Piano Masterpieces, my dad had taken my sister and I to one of the newly opened Wherehouse record stores, the first one opened in Orange County, a car drive of about 20 to 25 minutes.  Not having much money, I bought a bargain-priced ($4.99) three-LP box of Mozart late symphonies, and some “cut out” records — records reduced in price with a corner cut out, or a small notch cut or small whole punched in the in the outer area of the cover.  The records I got were three or four LPs from the Czech Supraphon label of exotic named composers like Jiří Antonín Benda, Vojtěch Matyáš Jírovec, Václav Pichl and Václav Voříšek each priced at $1.99 — and a single cut-out LP priced priced at exactly 99 cents,  an album that did well in the UK and so was released in the US on Blue Thumb, but failed to sell and so ended up in the cut-out bin.  I had never heard of this two-person band (their name was not one to invoke confidence) and the dreary photo of a single, unknown musician on the front cover and another on the back, was not particularly appealing, but there was something appealing about the title of the album, Beard of Stars, and the track names on the jacket, the first of which was title “Prelude” with the ones following seemingly having a connection to folklore or fantasy with titles like “Pavilions of Sun, “Wind Cheetah” and “Dragon’s Ear.” What sealed the deal was a sticker on the LP indicating that there was also included inside (as a bonus!) their hit single, “Ride a White Swan”, which, like the name of the group, I had never heard of before, and, all things considered,  I figured there was no harm in taking a chance at 99 cents — money I could quickly recover working at the school cafeteria before school started and during half of my lunch period each day.

I can’t say how much I was amazed and delighted at all six of the symphonies in the Mozart box set.  Also, my sister had bought a two-record set of Puccini’s La Boheme.  I had never heard an entire opera before, and how very exciting it was to follow the English translation of the Italian as the plot of the opera unfolded accompanied by a continuous stream of drama-steeped melodies and melodic-like fragments.  The Supraphon Czech composer LPs were not as novel as the opera experience, but were quite good in terms of performance and musical content.  Then there was the Tyrannosaurus Rex Beard of Stars album, which I had pretty low expectations and much to my surprise was both intriguing and musically satisfying from the opening prelude.  There is a level of intimacy throughout each track, and I thought of these two musicians performing in a small venue or someone’s den, crosslegged on the floor.  But there is also an intensity, liveliness and forward motion to the album that propels itself through the slower tunes like the simple “Organ Blues” or the dissonant “Wind Cheetah” that ends side one.  Side two opens up with more upbeat energy with the title track, of “A Beard of Stars” which effectively serves as an instrumental prelude for side two.   It is not until the very end,  in the final moments of side two, that the tone and consistency of the album is disrupted with the closing three minutes of the last track inexplicably veering off into an rather unstructured and wild — and seemingly unrelated — electric guitar excursion by Marc Bolan.  And though a better and more cohesive ending would be welcome, all in all this is an excellent fantasy-folk rock album filled with a variety of well-crafted and laudably idiosyncratic tunes that make this my favorite T. Rex album.

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As mentioned this cut-out version also included a single hurriedly shoved into the interior of the jacket — a single, “Ride A White Swan” that held little interest for me upon first listening and held none of the charm or uniqueness of the album it came with.  “Ride A White Swan” produced by Tony Visconti (earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex including Beard of Stars, later T. Rex, David Bowie and the first Gentle Giant album ) was well received in the UK, where it peaked at the number two spot. Though a simple blues-based tune, “Ride A White Swan” is often credited as the first glam-rock song and with its success was the second step towards fame and fortune for Marc Bolan and his new percussionist, Mickey Finn — the first step towards fame being this Beard of Stars album, recorded in 1969 and released March 13, 1970, which, though it didn’t catch on in the U.S. as mentioned earlier, did pretty well in the UK.

Egg: Egg

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If Bitches Brew or Beard of Stars aren’t usually classified as progressive rock, even though they should be, Egg’s first album, Egg, released the same day as Beard of Stars, on March 13, 1970, clearly has left the late-sixties genre of psychedelic rock behind, incorporating classical and jazz elements into a rock foundation, but very differently, and less organically, than Bitches Brew.  Egg embraces one of the signature elements (excuse the pun since I am indeed referring to odd and sometimes alternating time signatures) of prog-rock to such a degree that the single that preceded the album, their first and only single, starts off with a 4/4 verse with a brief 5/4 part and then with a chorus in 7/8 with the returning verse going from 4/4 to 11/8  — all with matching lyrics that clearly call out what is happening.  The first album is equally adventurous with a progressive rock treatment (percussion and bass added à la Keith Emerson’s Nice) of Bach’s famous D minor organ Fugue as well a complete part original, part classical-based symphony taking up the entire second side.  Well, almost a complete symphony, as the third movement was dropped by the record execs due to it using material so close to the still-under-copyright “dances of the adolescent girls” section of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and replaced by an alternate, stand alone composition, fitted in at the spot where the third movement was.  Fortunately, a test pressing was made and saved that included that third movement which is now available on more recent digital versions of the album.  All in all a strong debut by Egg, showcasing Dave Steward on keyboards.

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Cosby, Stills, Nash and Young: Déjà Vu

Released on March 11, 1970 Déjà Vu adds Neil Young to the Crosby, Stills and Nash lineup, providing three radio-airplay hits (Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children Well” and “Our House”) as well as Stephen Stills “Carry On” and Neil Young’s “Helpless” and “Country Girl.”  If you are looking for a post-Beatles example of what is meant by “Classic Rock”, this album fits the bill as well as any with its strong songwriting, tightly executed harmonies, and brilliant arrangements.

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Joni Mitchell: Ladies of the Canyon

This brilliant album, filled with the 20th Century folk-pop equivalent of 19th century art songs, was released on March 2nd 1970.   The lyrics range from personal, philosophic, poignant and playful, with the music always of the highest caliber.  “Free” is one of many examples from this album of how lyrics and music come together perfectly and includes evocative cello and a brief, illustrative clarinet solo by Paul Horn.  By the time I was in college (1973), this was an album that every girlfriend of my close guy friends had in their collection and in the collection of the first young lady I moved in with as well as my close gay friend who always got the best scores on our music theory ear training tests and, then years later, two consecutive English singer-songwriter roommates (one female, one male) when I lived in England.  There is just something special about both Joni Mitchell and this album that everyone who has a more sensitive side to them should find intellectually, emotionally and musically appealing.

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Frank Sinatra: Watertown

One doesn’t usually think of concept albums and Frank Sinatra, but here we have a true concept album of the early 1970s — not a grand prog sci-fi theme, but an real-life concept with appropriate, corresponding songs about a guy whose wife leaves both him and his children.  This one tears at your heartstrings and the songs are well written and sung simply and without any bravado.  One annoying drawback is that Sinatra is dubbing his voice over the recorded orchestrations — very different than his usual method of operation of recording in real time with the musicians. And although this overdub approach detracts from the album, the album is still worth multiple listenings.

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Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsies

Whether live or in the studio, it seems that every moment of Jimi Hendrix on tape is priceless!  Released on March 25, 1970, this album is still as fresh as when it was recorded on January 1st, 1970. Yes, it’s far from the best Hendrix album or even the best live Hendrix, and Buddy Miles singing (and even some of his drumming) does get in the way at times.  But we get some amazing — no, some transcendental — guitar work from Hendrix on the longest track, “Machine Gun”, and side two also has its strengths with renditions of “Power of Soul” and “Message to Love.”

Also worthy of mention is Alice Cooper’s weirdly offbeat, partly Zappa-and-Captain-Beefheart influenced album, Easy Action, Rod Stewart and the Faces’ album First Step, The Temptations Psychedelic Shack, the live Delaney and Bonnie with Friends album, On Tour with  Eric Clapton, and Leon Russell’s debut self-titled album, with that classic Leon Russell gem, “A Song For You.’  There is also the live Ginger Baker’s Air Force album that I listened to once when in college and remember little of, but I heartily welcome any comments or reflections about it or any other album from March of 1970.

Which of these many and diverse, distinctive albums of March 1970 do you remember or still listen to (even if only now and then) in the 21st century?

Fifty Year Friday: In A Silent Way

 

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MILES DAVIS: IN A SILENT WAY

Recorded in one session on Feb 18, 1969 as three performances, “Shhh/Peaceful”, “In A Silent Way”, “It’s About That Time”, then edited by Ted Macero (with apparently minimal input from Miles Davis) into two compositions in ABA form, one for each side, In A Silent Way, was released on July 30, 1969, peaking at number 134 on Billboard’s Top LPs chart.  The music is available today in both the edited form, which for a long time was all that listeners were familiar with, and in its original form.

What is striking about either the edited or original form, is the original style of both the music and the musical approach to structure and form that was deployed.  The album version differs considerably than the original takes.  For “Shhh”/”Peaceful” the original starts off with a whole-tone sort of motif (with traces of the flat-second Dorian mode) on which the entire work unfolds.  There is this amazing guitar work from McLaughlin and a brief but luxuriantly melodic Davis/Shorter passage.  All of this is dropped from the album version, which begins with the initial statement of another theme from the original take (about ninety seconds) followed with the restatement of this theme that occurs during the last four and a half minutes of the original, then followed with earlier material.  Whereas the original is multi-thematic and provides more contrast, the album version is more mono-thematic and ambient in nature.  It is basically in A B A form, resembling the Sonata form found in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven era music, with the middle section analogous to a development section.

On the second side of the album, Teo Maceo continues to aggressively edit the original music, once again creating an ABA structure by taking the group’s performance of Davis’s simplified version of Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way” for the A section and using Davis and Zawinul’s collaborative “It’s about That Time” as the B section.  The results provides us with an impressionistic A section, and a quasi-bluesy, slightly funky B section, with a perfect repeat (as it is just a copy) of the original A section.

Though a transitional style for Davis, this landmark ambient jazz album would have considerable influence on many styles of music in the next few years ranging from other jazz or jazz-ambient artists to a subset of progressive rock groups, particularly several of the so-called Kraut-rock bands including Can, Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Amon Duul II, to Brian Eno to a number of New Age artists to even several modern “classical music” composers.  It’s tempting to debate the artistic pros and cons and the artistic merit of the original music versus the final edited album, but it was that final edited album that was the sole source of this music for musicians and music lovers during the last five months of 1969, all of the seventies, the eighties and the nineties.   Commercial music is often notable for its externally enforced limitations, but in 1969 in particular, music markedly stood out for its bold exploration outside of established boundaries, with In A Silent Way being one of the best examples of music liberated and unencumbered from the realm of retail-driven mechanical patterns and formulas, purposefully, yet seemingly spontaneously, creating a new and unconfined expanse of musical expression.

Side One

“Shhh”/”Peaceful” (Miles Davis)  18:16

Side Two

“In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time” (Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis)  19:52

Musicians

 

Fifty Year Friday: Extrapolation, More, Audience

 

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John McLaughlin: Extrapolation

Recorded on January 18, 1969 and released later that year, this very well could be the first true fusion album.  The electric guitar of one of the finest electric guitarists in the generation after Grant Green and Jim Hall (how is it John McLaughlin is listed only at 68 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists list and Grant Green and Jim Hall are not on the list?) is featured prominently and emphatically throughout along with English sax jazz musician, John Surman, who incorporates his free-jazz experience seamlessly within the scope of the album’s intent.

The first composition is the Thelonious Monk sounding “Extrapolation”, setting the tone for a dynamic, musically extroverted album. Each track runs into the next, except for the side change (originally on LP, of course), creating a greater sense of mood and material continuity. The last track showcases a solo, acoustic McLaughlin, bringing a sometimes wild, but always musically accessible, stellar, and leading-edge jazz album to a thoughtful conclusion.

Album is produced by Georgian/Swiss/Italian/UK producer Giorgio Gomelsky, who also had produced and managed the Yardbirds and later worked with The Soft Machine, Gong, Magma, Bill Laswell and Laswell’s band, Material, and one of my favorite groups, Henry Cow. Album is engineered by Eddie Offord who later engineered the first four ELP albums and co-produced and engineered several of the Yes albums.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All tracks written by John McLaughlin.

Title Length
1. “Extrapolation” 2:57
2. “It’s Funny” 4:25
3. “Arjen’s Bag” 4:25
4. “Pete the Poet” 5:00
5. “This Is for Us to Share” 3:30
6. “Spectrum” 2:45
7. “Binky’s Beam” 7:05
8. “Really You Know” 4:25
9. “Two for Two” 3:35
10. “Peace Piece” 1:50

Personnel

  • John McLaughlin – guitar
  • John Surman – baritone and soprano saxophones
  • Brian Odgers – double bass
  • Tony Oxley – drums

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Pink Floyd: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from the film More

Pink Floyd’s first full album after Syd Barret was a movie soundtrack, More, recorded from January to May 1969, and released in the UK on June 13, 1967, a couple of weeks after the premiere of the movie More.  Though the music is meant to support the movie, and is a collection of basically unrelated tracks with a significant breadth of musical variety, the album holds together nicely, like a well-conceived sampler LP.

The music ranges from the dreamy “Cirrus Minor”, to the eerily pre-grunge-rock track, “The Nile Song”, to the exquisitely harmonically and melodically simple “Crying Song” to music that anticipates space rock and Kraut Rock. This is virtually a catalog of some of the adventurous musical styles that would become popular in the coming years.  Not hard to imagine why this is many listeners favorite Pink Floyd album.  It is hard to imagine why Allmusic.com gives this two and a half stars or Rolling Stone Album Guide gives it two stars.   More is more than just a movie soundtrack, it is an instruction manual of future musical styles.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

Side one

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

Cirrus Minor Waters

5:18

2.

The Nile Song Waters

3:26

3.

Crying Song Waters

3:33

4.

Up the Khyber” (instrumental) Mason, Wright

2:12

5.

Green Is the Colour Waters

2:58

6.

Cymbaline Waters

4:50

7.

Party Sequence” (instrumental) Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason

1:07

Total length:

23:24

Side two

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

Main Theme” (instrumental) Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason

5:27

2.

Ibiza Bar Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason

3:19

3.

More Blues” (instrumental) Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason

2:12

4.

Quicksilver” (instrumental) Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason

7:13

5.

A Spanish Piece Gilmour

1:05

6.

Dramatic Theme” (instrumental) Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason

2:15

Total length:

21:32

Pink Floyd

Additional personnel
  • Lindy Mason – tin whistle (5, 7)

 

AudienceAudience (2)

Audience: Audience

Audience recorded and released their first album in 1969, though it is not easy to find out exactly when. The band formed in 1969 and within weeks after their first rehearsal they had a record deal with Polydor and were playing at the famous Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, London, also site of the 1969 premiere of the Who’s Tommy.  Polydor, though quick to sign the band, was not so efficient at promoting them or their album.  The album had insignificant sales, not helped by the puzzling album cover, a dim negative of the band members, and shortly after its release was discontinued.  Meanwhile during live performances, the band drew critical praise for their performances and material, and soon, while the backup touring band for Led Zeppelin, was signed to the Charisma label.

The first two songs on this album are unquestionably progressive rock.  The tracks that follow, though more traditional rock, are still catchy and showcased the nylon-stringed acoustic-electric (fitted with an electric pickup) classical guitar  of Howard Werth and the sax, clarinet and flute of Keith Gemmel, the latter using echo and wah-wah pedal to fill in some of the role of the traditional rock guitar.  The album is worth listening to more than once, and the musicianship and arrangements are very good.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

Unless noted, all tracks credited to Werth, Williams.[2]

Side one

  1. “Banquet” – 3:47
  2. “Poet” – 3:05
  3. “Waverley Stage Coach” (Williams) – 2:59
  4. “Riverboat Queen” – 2:57
  5. “Harlequin” – 2:35
  6. “Heaven Was an Island” – 4:18

Side two

  1. “Too Late I’m Gone” – 2:37
  2. “Maidens Cry” (Gemmell, Richardson, Werth, Williams)- 4:47
  3. “Pleasant Convalescence” – (Gemmell, Werth) – 2:30
  4. “Leave It Unsaid”
  5. “Man On Box” (Gemmell, Werth) 
  6. “House On The Hill”

Audience

 

Fifty Year Friday: Switched on Bach, Songs of Innocence, The Book of Taliesyn, Steve Miller Band; Steppenwolf

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Wendy Carlos: Switched on Bach

“The whole record, in fact, is one of the most startling achievements of the recording industry in this generation and certainly one of the great feats in the history of ‘keyboard’ performance” Glenn Gould

This is the album that endeared myriad music lovers to the sound of the Moog synthesizer.   Young college radicals and middle-aged classical music aficionados, alike, found a place for this album among their dearest music treasures of Zappa, Hendrix and early heavy metal on the one hand and Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and newly-released Baroque music offerings on the other.

Staying atop the classical music Billboard charts for three years, this album had a lasting impact on many musicians including the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Keith Emerson and Don Dorsey (Bachbusters) and was the vehicle that gave Carlos the opportunity to provide film scores for two of Stanley Kubrick most successful movies: A Clockwork Orange in 1972 and The Shining in 1980.

Though not all of the album is consistently off-the-charts excellent, particularly by today’s standards of electronic-music production, there is much of great merit here.  Side one particularly deserves high praise for the realization of the individual contrapuntal lines that are so much of Bach’s late Baroque compositional palette.  It is the magic inherent in these Bach compositions that are so carefully and thoughtfully highlighted. This is all the more amazing, considering the technical limitations of the 1964 version of the Moog Synthesizer used — it could only play one note at a time, with the previous note having to be released before pressing the next, and it did not stay in tune for more than a few phrases. No surprise, then, that the album tallied up more than one thousand hours of production time over a five month period.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

Side one
  1. “Sinfonia to Cantata No. 29” – 3:20
  2. Air on a G String” – 2:27
  3. Two-Part Invention in F Major” – 0:40
  4. Two-Part Invention in B-Flat Major” – 1:30
  5. Two-Part Invention in D Minor” – 0:55
  6. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” – 2:56
  7. “Prelude and Fugue No. 7 in E-Flat Major” (From Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier) – 7:07
Side two
  1. “Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor” (From Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier) – 2:43
  2. Chorale Prelude ‘Wachet Auf’” – 3:37
  3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major – First Movement” – 6:35
  4. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major – Second Movement” – 2:50
  5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major – Third Movement” – 5:05

 

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David Axelrod: Song of Innocence

One of those landmark albums that is better appreciated in the context of the fifty years of music that followed its October 1968 release, David’s Axelrod’s first release, Song of Innocence, is an ambitious and visionary work performed by 33 top L.A. Session musicians.  A mixture of jazz, rock, world (middle-eastern), and movie-music elements, incorporating strings, horns, vibes, electric organ, drums, ear-catching electric guitar work and thick, palpable electric bass, drawing upon some of the premises of third-stream jazz, and coming only months after his earlier barrier-busting Mass in  F minor (covered here in an earlier post), Axelrod anticipates both some of the common aspects of fusion-jazz and an entire approach of music composition that was to appear so prevalently in some of the more ambitious and creative New Age albums that would appear in the 1980s.  Per the liner notes of the latest release of Songs of Innocence,  Miles Davis played the album before conceiving his own fusion of jazz and rock for Bitches Brew (1970).

Axelerod draws upon Blake’s illustrated 1789 collection of poems Songs of Innocence, for several of the tracks on the album.  Axelrod originally intended to set the text to music with a choir taking on the lyrics, but instead produced a instrumental album covering additional Blake material including his extended writings on the demiurge-like “Urizen” and his four-line “Merlin’s Prophecy” from Gnomic Verses.

As one might expect from something this boldly different, the album received  mostly negative reviews, with categorizations of pretentious and indulgent, and rock critics taking issues with the orchestral aspects and classical music critics taking issue with the electric guitar passages. “Holy Thursday”, the most jazz-fusion-like track on the album, received some airplay, but overall the album sold poorly and was generally forgotten until the 1990’s when the digital era brought out reassessments of almost all music material from the sixties and early seventies, with Songs of Innocence now receiving significant praise from websites like allmusic.com and tinymixtapes.com.  Additionally, in the 1990’s, the album attracted the attention of multiple hip-hop artists that sampled content, particularly “Holy Thursday.”

Track Listing and Personnel

 

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Deep Purple: The Book of Taliesyn

Deep Purple’s second album, released in October 1968, takes the group one step closer to establishing an identifiable sound despite the general ecelecticism of the whole which unrestrainedly, though not recklessly, tackles hard rock, early heavy metal, psychedelic rock, and early prog.

The album starts of with the quirky homage to the Welsh 14th Century “Llyfr Taliesin” (Book of Taliesin), mixing hard rock and sixties psychedelia to support respectably decent lyrics, followed by the bluesy instrumental “Wring Thy Neck” (retitled “Hard  Road” in the US. release as an act of “corporate wisdom” censorship) including solid organ work and an indulgent, though somewhat tame, guitar solo.  Other notable tracks include the remaining original numbers, “Shield” and “Anthem” with the effective mix of hard rock and progressive elements.  The remaining tracks include a cover of a Neil Diamond song that actually got some airplay in the U.S., the Ike and Tina Turner “River Deep – Mountain High”, and the last track on the first side which covers Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and the Beatles with the treatment of the two 19th century composers faring musically better than the Lennon/McCartney interpretation.  All in all, an enjoyable album with substantial organ and guitar passages, strong vocals by Rod Evans and an effective balance between hard rock and early progressive rock, getting closer to the classic “progressive rock” sound than any album up to that point in time.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Listen, Learn, Read On” Ritchie BlackmoreRod EvansJon LordIan Paice 4:05
2. “Wring That Neck” (instrumental, titled “Hard Road” in the USA) Blackmore, Nick Simper, Lord, Paice 5:13
3. Kentucky Woman” (Neil Diamond cover) Neil Diamond 4:44
4. “(a) Exposition”
(b) We Can Work It Out” (The Beatles cover)
Blackmore, Simper, Lord, Paice,
John Lennon, Paul McCartney
7:06
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. “Shield” Blackmore, Evans, Lord 6:06
6. “Anthem” Lord, Evans 6:31
7. River Deep, Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner cover) Jeff BarryEllie GreenwichPhil Spector 10:12


Deep Purple

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Steve Miller Band: Sailor

Though my primary source of exposure to music was, first, my dad, then my sister, then my friends, particularly the three brothers in the corner house next to ours, it was during the summer after eighth grade (1969) that I discovered the availability of albums at the local public library.  One of the first albums I checked out, was Steve Miller’s Sailor.  Fascinated by the dramatic fog-horn opening and the conscientiously paced, slightly suspenseful, early space-rock music of that first track, and further pulled in by the general accessibility and variety of the remaining tracks, I realized the value of exploring groups that were far off the radar screens of my circle of friends.

Besides the well-known “Living in the USA”, the album contains the superb ballad, “Dear Mary”, with it’s Beatlesque opening and the seven-count lengthy first note on “Dear”, the leisurely yet evocative “Quicksilver Girl” (“A lover of the world, she’s seen every branch on the tree”),  and Boz Scaggs’ “Overdrive” with its Dylanesque verses and its earthy chorus anticipating early seventies rock.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Song for Our Ancestors” Steve Miller 5:57
2. “Dear Mary” Miller 3:35
3. “My Friend” Tim Davis 3:30
4. “Living in the U.S.A.” Miller 4:03
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. “Quicksilver Girl” Miller 2:40
6. “Lucky Man” Jim Peterman 3:08
7. Gangster of Love Johnny “Guitar” Watson 1:24
8. “You’re So Fine” Jimmy Reed 2:51
9. “Overdrive” Scaggs 3:54
10. “Dime-a-Dance Romance” Scaggs 3:26
Total length: 34:22

Steve Miller Band

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Steppenwolf: The Second

Though not as strong as the other albums covered in this post, Steppenwolf’s second album has its moments, particularly on side two which opens with the Rolling Stone influenced “28” with its  Nicky Hopkins-like piano work.  Next is Steppenwolf’s classic “Magic Carpet Ride”, not about sex or drugs as some may infer from a casual listen to the lyrics, but about John Kay’s recently-purchased, expensive stereo system. Seriously!

“I like to dream, yes, yes,
Right between the sound machine.
On a cloud of sound I drift in the night;
Any place it goes is right —
Goes far, flies near
To the stars away from here.”

This is relevant, in the context of side two, as it opens a tribute to the blues and to blues-rock, which I suspect John Kay listened to frequently, with the opening track an authentic blues number followed by three of Kay’s compositions.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All music composed by John Kay, except where indicated.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Faster Than the Speed of Life” Dennis Edmonton 3:10
2. “Tighten Up Your Wig” 3:06
3. “None of Your Doing” Kay, Gabriel Mekler 2:50
4. “Spiritual Fantasy” 3:39
5. “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” 5:43
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. “28” Mekler 3:12
7. Magic Carpet Ride Kay, Rushton Moreve 4:30
8. “Disappointment Number (Unknown)” 4:52
9. “Lost and Found by Trial and Error” 2:07
10. “Hodge, Podge, Strained Through a Leslie” 2:48
11. “Resurrection” 2:52
12. “Reflections” Kay, Mekler 0:43
Total length: 40:25

Steppenwolf

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