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Fifty Year Friday: Overcast

Overcast1

This debut album by the Southern California group, Overcast, recorded in January of 1968, and released prematurely on April 1, 1968 prior to any marketing effort or activity, due to a simple clerical mistake, sold less than 800 copies, many of which were purchased by family, friends and, even though they were given several gratis copies, band members themselves.  It was first re-released in 1989 as a CD and later pressed on 180 gram vinyl as a limited edition LP; one can also find one or more tracks included in various compilations and box sets.

Bill Fortney was born in Whittier, California, and moved to La Mirada in 1959 at the age of 11, learning guitar from his uncle, who being intermittently unemployed, lived on and off with his sister, Bill’s mother, and her family, giving guitar and piano lessons to neighborhood children and, on occasion, playing studio gigs recording unaccredited guitar work for technically deficient rock guitarists or providing short passages of  acoustic or electric guitar for lower budget movie soundtracks.  The young nephew never took a liking to the piano, there was none in the Fortney home, but, instead, Bill spent hours upon hours playing all three of his uncle’s guitars until his father bought him an inexpensive nylon-stringed acoustic guitar for his 15th birthday and then a second-hand scarlet-red Vox Clubman electric guitar for his 17th birthday.

In his senior year of high school, Bill hooked up with Douglas Brandt and David Amato from nearby Buena Park and played local high school dances under the band name The Blue Ravens, then The Blue Jeans, then The Ever Expanding Bright Blue Jeans,  covering everything from early Beatles and Beach Boys to singles by The Bachelors, The Marketts and the Hondells. It was during this time that Fortney and Brandt starting taking chord sequences from the various songs they had learned by ear and imposed new melodies and words to create their own songs.  These rarely went over well when played for a dance audience, but were worked and reworked until Jan 12, 1968, when The Ever Expanding Bright Blue Jeans, now named Overcast, a name change that happened shortly after watching the Doors on the Jonathan Winters show in late December 1967, with Fortney and Brandt agreeing on the need for a shorter and somewhat darker name,  had their first of two three-hour studio sessions to record their debut album, originally proposed by drummer David Amato to be titled, “With a Chance of Showers”, but changed simply to Overcast after the record label tried to get them to change the name of the band from “Overcast” to “A Chance of Showers.”

The album opens up with the bass-dominated instrumental “Weather Endeavor” which is primarily blues-based except for a psychedelic middle section in which Douglas Brandt’s friend, Rick Stephenson plays saxophone against Fortney’s wailing, Hendrix-influenced guitar. In this middle section, the band modulates from C major to D major with a ensuing mish-mash of major, minor and dominant seventh chords until a sustained half-diminished seventh-chord on B precedes a decisive return back to C major for a heavily modified A section rampant with chord substitutions.  The result, though adventurous and unusual, comes off more unfocused than artful.

This is then compensated for by the second  track,  “Action Reaction”,  which is a simple three-chord riff-based rocker, with Brandt’s bass conspicuously emphasized and borderline decent drum work from David Amato.

The third track “Break Out of Salina, Kansas”, is a two-part five-minute track with the first part containing the same chord sequences as The Door’s “Break on Through” and the second part matching the chord sequencing of The Door’s “Soul Kitchen.”

Side one closes out with “Please Plead Plea”, a sorrowful lament entreating the love interest of the song to apologize for past wrongs and beg to be taken back. Again Brandt’s bass stands out with Fortney’s electric guitar imploring and beseeching throughout.

Side two opens up with “Fifth Tuesday of March” which is similar to the Kink’s “Love me ’till the Sun Shines.” This track is followed by “Sawdust and Certainty?” with marimba and organ contributing to a song full of contrasts, the music vacillating between contending against and partnering with decidedly opaque and impenetrable lyrics.

The third song of side two is “Sampson and the Philistines” a musical sermon against giving into the establishment, cutting one’s hair and becoming blind to the evils of the military-industrial complex — especially when this is done for the sake of landing a summer job.

The fourth song, “Short Wave Radio Girl” is based on the chord sequence of the Hondell’s “Younger Girl” but faster paced and with an added section in the middle based on another local group’s work, The Parade’s 1967 hit “Sunshine Girl.”

The album ends with “Electrical Connection”, apparently an attempt to create something akin to The Door’s “Light My Fire”, though clearly falling short commercially and artistically. Claire Stanston proves effective on organ, and, once again, we have Rick Stephenson on tenor saxophone and some notable guitar work by Fortney.

All tracks written by Bill Fortney and Douglas Brandt except where noted.

Side A

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Weather Endeavor” (Fortney, Brandt, Polson, Amato, Rick Stephenson)

7:19

2.

“Action Reaction”

3:25

3.

Break Out of Salinas Kansas

5:04

4.

“Please Plea Plead”

3:51

Side B

No.

Title

Length

7.

“Fifth Tuesday of March”

2:54

8.

“Sawdust and Certainty?” (Fortney, Polson, Claire Stanston, Paul Mayer)

3:22

9.

“Sampson and the Philistines”

2:52

10.

“Short Wave Radio Girl”

4:31

11.

Electrical Connection(Fortney, Brandt, Polson, Amato, Claire Stantson, Rick Stephenson)

5:47

Personnel

Overcast

  • Bill Fortney – guitar, lead vocals
  • Douglas Brandt – bass guitar, vocals
  • Greg Polson, guitar
  • David Amato, drums

Additional Personnel

  • Rick Stephenson – tenor saxophone
  • Claire Stanston – organ, piano
  • Paul Mayer – marimba

 

 

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Fifty Year Friday: The Don Ellis Orchestra “Electric Bath”

electric_bath

Is it possible that the first truly progressive rock album was not a rock album, but a jazz album?  For those that adamantly insist that the most adventurous and exploratory rock music of 1967 and early 1968 is really not progressive rock but “proto-prog, such prog fundamentalists often require that any music to be considered true progressive rock must display a relatively high level of musicianship and deploy mixed meter or unusual time signatures, 20th century instruments, a wide range of dynamics and instrumental combinations, effects such as tape loops or use of quarter tones, and extended length tracks painting a colorful, sonically rich landscape.  If we buy into such requirements, then perhaps we should consider this modern big-band jazz album recorded in September 1967 and released either in late 1967 or early 1968, to validly qualify as the first progressive rock album.

In terms of quality and excitement, The Don Ellis Orchestra’s “Electric Bath” should please any “Close to the Edge”, “In the Court of the Crimson King”, “Thick as A Brick”, “Selling England By the Pound”,  “Brain Salad Surgery”. or “Power and the Glory” fan.

A progressive rock album has to start with a fervently vigorous or otherwise bigger-than-life immersive track such as King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, Genesis’s “Watcher of the Skies”, or the opening to ELP’s Tarkus.  “Indian Lady” is just that with its fanfare opening, a meter of alternating 3 and 2,  and a strong distinct theme running relentlessly forward, swinging ferociously with a indisputably bluesy orientation.  We also have sitar, electric piano, and most notably, Don Ellis on a four-valve quarter-tone enabled trumpet.

The second track, “Alone”, by far the shortest at less than six minutes, is a basically a samba, a musical form from Brazil that became so popular in the mid sixties, but in 5/4 time without any sense of awkwardness, but just the opposite, fully liberated and unconstrained.

Ending the first side is the brilliant “Turkish Bath” with sitar and a exotically distorted reeds sounding not so much like instruments from Turkey, but from an even more exotic location, probably from another planet in some remote solar system. Sitar and quarter-tones contribute to the appropriate balance of spices.

“Open Beauty” open side two of the original LP, and provides appropriate contrast and musical reflection.  Elegantly executed by the band, this composition is haunting, surreal and evocative, with ebbs and flows of intensity until a little over two-thirds of the way in when we get a tape-delay Don Ellis solo  which initially echoes with layered fifths and then more adventurously explores into more expressive and polyphonically combative territory.

The last track, “New Horizons” is the strongest, longest and most remarkably inventive of the album with relentless energy driven by a 17/8 5-5-7 pattern with amazing ensemble and solo trumpet passages.  The work unfolds like a story with contrast and subplots ending with explosive energy winding down into an emphatic, punctuated coda.

This album should appeal to anyone that loves adventurous and well-written, arranged and performed music whether their preference is classical, progressive rock, progressive heavy metal, be-bop or big band jazz.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Don Ellis except as indicated

  1. “Indian Lady” – 8:06
  2. “Alone” (Hank Levy) – 5:32
  3. “Turkish Bath” (Ron Myers) – 10:16
  4. “Open Beauty” – 8:29
  5. “New Horizons” – 12:20
  6. “Turkish Bath” [Single] (Myers) – 2:52 Bonus track on CD reissue
  7. “Indian Lady” [Single] – 2:58 Bonus track on CD reissue

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour”

in 1968, I went, along with some other junior high school friends to another friend’s house where his dad greeted us by playing us Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture on, what to most junior high students at that time, was a pretty impressive stereo system.  I had had rather limited exposure to classical music at this point, never having been to a classical concert, and only having heard a few complete classical pieces like Ravel’s Bolero, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade on a limited-fidelity monophonic system. To hear this Tchaikovsky work not as a snippet in a television commerical, but from start to finish in full stereo, with horns and, ultimately, cannons, commandeering the empty air space around us, left a impregnable impression not just for that day, but the rest of my life.

An equally indelible impression was produced when we later went upstairs and our thirteen-year old host set the needle of his personal phonograph at the start of the first side of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.” Now I had heard this song on the radio a number of times, but this phonograph produced better fidelity, and it occurred to me as we got to the end of side one, listening to the incredible “I Am the Walrus”, with its striking string arrangement and Lennon’s unrelenting, upper-register vocal delivery, that this was as unusual, mysterious and as equally vital as the 1812 overture we had heard downstairs.  I couldn’t but make the comparison between these two supremely transcendental works, “I Am the Walrus” and “The 1812 Overture.” Nor was this effect reduced by our young host replaying the end of “I Am the Walrus” for us to clearly hear what sounded like “Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot.”

This album doesn’t have the cohesiveness of “Sgt. Peppers” or the second side of “Abbey Road,  but the presence of “Strawberry Fields” and “I am the Walrus”, perhaps the only two songs of 1967 that are on par with “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, is enough to make this album essential.  There is also the post-summer of love anthem, “All You Need is Love”, which extended the momentum of the love movement for at least an additional eighteen months. George Harrison contributes the psychedelic and eastern influenced “Blue Jay Way”, one of those amazing tracks that we see so often on 1967 albums (for example, see last week’s post on the Byrd’s song “Why”)  that solidly sound Indian influenced and yet does not contain a single sitar or other traditional Indian classical instruments.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of “Magical Mystery Tour” on November 27, 1967 in the US, an album which sold a little under two million copies in the first 30 days of it’s release.

Track and personnel listing at Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Mystery_Tour#Track_listing

  	The Beatles perform 'I Am The Walrus' for the film Magical Mystery Tour.  West Malling Air Station, Kent, England. 20th September 1967. 	Images may be editorially reproduced only in conjunction with the 2012 DVD & Blu-ray / digital release of Magical Mystery Tour. 	Please credit © Apple Films Ltd. 	Promotional and review purposes only.

 

Fifty Year Friday: Byrds, Hollies and Buffalo Springfield

Formed in 1964, in Los Angeles California, the Byrds are generally, with the advantage of retrospect, considered one of the more essential and influential bands of the mid-sixties, primarily due to their blending the rock style of the British Invasion with elements of country and western music, folk, west coast rock and psychedelia.

The fourth album, opens robustly with the semi-ironic, partly humorous, “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” Other strong songs include the jingly-jangly arranged Chris Hillman composition “Have You Seen Her Face”, Hillman’s “The Girl with No Name” (apparently inspired by a young lady with then real name of “Girl Freiberg”, one of the better known covers of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”, and the David Crosby tracks “”Renaissance Fair” , “Everybody’s Been Burned”, “Mind Gardens” and “Why.” Psychedelia and Indian musical influences are present on several tracks with an  electronic oscillator providing suitable effects and McGuinn’s guitar providing a suitable substitute for the sitar on “Why.”

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

  1. So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (Jim McGuinnChris Hillman) – 2:05
  2. Have You Seen Her Face” (Chris Hillman) – 2:25
  3. “C.T.A.-102” (Jim McGuinn, Robert J. Hippard) – 2:28
  4. “Renaissance Fair” (David Crosby, Jim McGuinn) – 1:51
  5. “Time Between” (Chris Hillman) – 1:53
  6. “Everybody’s Been Burned” (David Crosby) – 3:05

Side two

  1. “Thoughts and Words” (Chris Hillman) – 2:56
  2. “Mind Gardens” (David Crosby) – 3:28
  3. My Back Pages” (Bob Dylan) – 3:08
  4. “The Girl with No Name” (Chris Hillman) – 1:50
  5. Why” (Jim McGuinn, David Crosby) – 2:45

Personnel

Sources for this section are as follows:[1][5][23][54][55]

The Byrds

 

The Hollies, released two albums in 1967, “Evolution” and “Butterfly”

Both  albums have their annoying, overly-commercial, teeny-bop elements (think of what you dislike about Herman’s Hermits) but this is compensated by the inclusion of several excellent tracks.  Lot of the credit for what is really good here goes to Graham Nash.

The best track on “Evolution” is the simply arranged and perfectly conceived “Stop Right There.”  Other worthwhile tracks include the hyper-vibrato-infused “”Lullaby to Tim”, the catchy, if outdated-sounding for 1967, “Have You Ever Loved Somebody?”, the wistful, and melancholic “Rain on the Window”, the early Beatles-era “Heading for a Fall”, and the AM radio hit “Carrie Anne.”

US/Canada track listing of “Evolution” [from Wikipedia]

Side 1

  1. Carrie Anne” (Clarke-Hicks-Nash) lead vocal: Clarke, Hicks and Nash
  2. “Stop Right There”
  3. “Rain on the Window”
  4. “Then the Heartaches Begin”
  5. “Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe”

Side 2

  1. “You Need Love”
  2. “Heading for a Fall”
  3. “The Games We Play”
  4. “Lullaby to Tim”
  5. “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”

Personnel

 

“Butterfly” (retitled “Dear Eloise / King Midas in Reverse” in the US)  has its moments also such as the introduction to “Eloise”,  the upbeat, yet also partly annoyingly cloying “Wishyouawish” and “Away Away Away”, Nash’s  simple and direct “Butterfly” (similar to “Stop Right There” on “Evolution”), and “Leave Me”, which was on the original twelve track UK “Evolution” album but not on the US ten track release of “Evolution.” Another notable track, not on the UK version, but only on the US version of the “Butterfly” LP, is the quirky,  “King Midas with a Curse.”

US/Canada track listing of “Butterfly” released as “Dear Eloise / King Midas in Reverse”  [from Wikipedia]

Side 1

  1. “Dear Eloise”
  2. “Wishyouawish”
  3. “Charlie and Fred”
  4. “Butterfly”
  5. “Leave Me” (Clarke-Hicks-Nash)
  6. “Postcard”

Side 2

  1. King Midas in Reverse
  2. “Would You Believe?”
  3. “Away Away Away”
  4. “Maker”
  5. “Step Inside”

Personnel

 

At this point the reader probably sees where I am going with this post — covering the Byrds, which had David Crosby writing some of their best songs, the Hollies, with Graham Nash writing some of their best tunes, and next, Buffalo Springfield, with Neil Young and Stephen Stills — these four guitarists/singers/composers forming Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Buffalo Springfield’s first album. simply titled after the band, was released in December 1966, but it qualifies as one of the first solidly 1967-sounding albums.  In January 1967, the most impressive song of the first half of 1967 hit the airwaves, a rare objective view of the widening political divide in the U.S.. “For What It’s Worth”.  I was eleven when I heard this, and it was, for me, clearly the coolest song on AM radio of all time.  It is worth re-examaning the lyrics so relevant to 1967, but also applicable to today:

What it is ain’t exactly clear:
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware.
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
There’s battle lines being drawn:
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds —
Getting so much resistance from behind.
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
What a field-day for the heat:
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say hooray for our side!
It’s s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
Paranoia strikes deep:
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid:
You step out of line, the man come and take you away.
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
Stop, now, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
Stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
This is clearly Stephen Still’s masterpiece of his career and was of such impact that ATCO, the album’s label, re-released this first Buffalo Springfield album in March 1967, including this track. For this reason, its fair game to consider this album belonging to 1967.

Track listing of “Buffalo Springfield”  [from Wikipedia]

 

March 1967 pressing side one
No. Title Writer(s) Vocals Length
1. For What It’s Worth” (Dec. 5) Stephen Stills Steve with Richie & Dewey 2:40
2. “Go and Say Goodbye” (July 18) Stephen Stills Richie & Steve 2:20
3. “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” (August) Stephen Stills Richie and Steve 2:30
4. “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” (July 18) Neil Young Richie with Steve and Neil 3:24
5. “Hot Dusty Roads” (August) Stephen Stills Steve with Richie 2:47
6. “Everybody’s Wrong” (August) Stephen Stills Richie with Steve and Neil 2:25

 

 

March 1967 pressing side two
No. Title Writer(s) Vocals Length
1. “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong” (September 10) Neil Young Richie with Steve and Neil 2:40
2. “Burned” (August) Neil Young Neil with Richie and Steve 2:15
3. “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It” (August) Neil Young Richie with Steve and Neil 3:04
4. “Leave” (August) Stephen Stills Steve with Richie 2:42
5. “Out of My Mind” (August) Neil Young Neil with Richie and Steve 3:06
6. “Pay the Price” (August) Stephen Stills Steve with Richie 2:36

Personnel

Buffalo Springfield

 

 .
As distinct and noteworthy as the first Buffalo Springfield album was, the second one is even better.  Neil Young’s driving, anthem-like “Mr. Soul” opens the album and Young’s surreal “Broken Arrow” closes it.  In between are additional songs by Young and Stephen Stills with three pretty good tracks authored by Richie Furay —  one of these, “Good Time Boy”, arranged to include excellent horn-work by the Louisiana group, “the American Soul Train”   This album is distinctly American, or more accurately, Canadian-American (Dewey Martin, Bruce Palmer and Neil Young being Canadian-born musicians), combining rock, folk, country and psychedelic-rock elements.  One should also note David Crosby’s involvement in the Stephen Stills song, “Rock and Roll Woman”, which is predictive of Still’s later “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

 

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Vocals Length
1. Mr. Soul Neil Young Neil with Richie and Steve 2:49
2. “A Child’s Claim to Fame” Richie Furay Richie with Steve and Neil 2:09
3. “Everydays” Stephen Stills Steve with Richie 2:40
4. Expecting to Fly Neil Young Neil 3:43
5. “Bluebird” Stephen Stills Steve and Richie 4:28

 

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Vocals Length
1. “Hung Upside Down” Stephen Stills Richie and Steve with Neil and Richie 3:27
2. “Sad Memory” Richie Furay Richie 3:01
3. “Good Time Boy” Richie Furay Dewey 2:14
4. “Rock and Roll Woman” Stephen Stills Steve with Richie and Neil 2:46
5. Broken Arrow Neil Young Neil and Richie 6:14

Personnel

Buffalo Springfield
Additional personnel
  • James Burton — dobro on “A Child’s Claim to Fame”
  • Chris Sarns — guitar on “Broken Arrow”
  • Charlie Chin — banjo on “Bluebird”
  • Jack Nitzsche — electric piano on “Expecting to Fly”
  • Don Randi — piano on “Expecting to Fly” and “Broken Arrow”
  • Jim Fielder — bass on “Everydays”
  • Bobby West — bass on “Bluebird”
  • The American Soul Train — horn section on “Good Time Boy”

Fifty Year Friday: Love “Forever Changes”

This is an album that was pretty much ignored in November of 1967 when released on the Elektra label.  This is the third and final album of a Los Angeles based group called “Love”, though this really is mostly the work of Arthur Lee, singer/songwriter/guitarist, with a couple of songs contributed by Bryan MacLean, another member of the group, the rhythm guitarist, who provides leads vocals on compositions.

From the start, with it’s acoustic opening, there is an intimacy to the album with its well-crafted and fresh-sounding arrangements.  There are elements of the west-coast rock sound of 1967, folk-rock, and interestingly, English rock:  it shares some characteristics found in the 1967 Moody Blue’s “Days of Future Passed”, Genesis’ 1969 album “Genesis to Revelation” as well as sharing some stylistic traits with The Who and The Kinks.  That said, this is an original, very much non-derivative album that holds up well under repeated playings.

Hailed by some as one of the great masterpieces of 1967, this is an album that anyone that loves late sixties rock or loves what is often called “proto-prog” should check out, even if it doesn’t end up being one of your top 10 or even top 40 albums of 1967.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Arthur Lee, except “Alone Again Or” and “Old Man”, by Bryan MacLean.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. Alone Again Or 3:15
2. “A House Is Not a Motel” 3:25
3. “Andmoreagain” 3:15
4. “The Daily Planet” 3:25
5. “Old Man” 2:57
6. “The Red Telephone” 4:45

 

Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” 3:30
2. “Live and Let Live” 5:24
3. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” 3:00
4. “Bummer in the Summer” 2:20
5. “You Set the Scene” 6:49
Total length: 42:05

Personnel

Additional musicians

  • David Angel: arranger, orchestrations
  • Strings: Robert Barene, Arnold Belnick, James Getzoff, Marshall Sosson, Darrel Terwilliger (violins); Norman Botnick (viola); Jesse Ehrlich (cello); Chuck Berghofer(string bass)
  • Horns: Bud Brisbois, Roy Caton, Ollie Mitchell (trumpets); Richard Leith (trombone)

 

Fifty Year Friday: Thelonious Monk “Straight, No Chaser”; McCoy Tyner “The Real McCoy”

 

2evhqIn launching a Google search for lists of Jazz albums of 1967, one finds lists like this that include many fine albums:

1967

  1. Sun Ra: Atlantis (1967)
  2. Gary Burton: A Genuine Tong Funeral (1967)
  3. Sam Rivers: Dimensions And Extensions (1967)
  4. Roscoe Mitchell: Old Quartet (1967)
  5. Bill Dixon: Intents And Purposes (1967)
  6. George Russell: Othello Ballet Suite (1967)
  7. Muhal Richard Abrams: Levels and Degrees of Light (1967)
  8. Archie Shepp: The Magic of Ju-Ju (1967)
  9. Jackie McLean: New and Old Gospel (1967)
  10. Roland Kirk: The Inflated Tear (1967)
  11. Don Ellis: Electric Bath (1967)
  12. John Coltrane: Interstellar Space (1967)
  13. Frank Wright: Your Prayer (1967)
  14. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Withdrawal (1967)
  15. Peter Broetzmann: For Adolph Sax (1967)
  16. Chick Corea: Now He Sings Now He Sobs (1967)
  17. Miles Davis: Nefertiti (1967)
  18. Don Ellis: Live in 3 2/3/4 Time (1967)
  19. Jackie McLean: Demon’s Dance (1967)
  20. Miles Davis: Sorcerer (1967)
  21. Gary Burton: Duster (1967)
  22. John Coltrane: Expression (1967)
  23. McCoyTyner: The Real McCoy (1967)
  24. Wayne Shorter: Schizophrenia (1967)
  25. Lee Konitz: Duets (1967)
  26. Paul Bley: Virtuosi (1967)
  27. Lester Bowie: Numbers 1 & 2 (1967)
  28. Paul Bley: Ballads (1967)

(from http://www.scaruffi.com/jazz/60.html#1967)

However, notably missing from all such lists (I have seen) is one of the best jazz albums of 1967, Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser.”

Why is this? Why do fairly knowledgeable jazz listeners fail to include an album of such exceptional music?

The clear-cut answer is that Monk is competing against himself.

By 1947, when Monk first started recording for Blue Note, five days after his thirtieth birthday, his style, approach and individual voice were already established, making those Blue Note recordings exceptional statements by a fully mature artist. From 1947 to 1951, many of the most celebrated Monk compositions were captured forever for all of us: “Ruby, My Dear”,  “Well, You Needn’t”, “Round Midnight”, “Evidence”, “Misterioso”, “Epistrophy”, “Criss Cross” and “Straight, No Chaser.”

Over the next two and half decades, as jazz in general continued to expand beyond Bebop with Hard Bop, Cool, West Coast Jazz, Third Stream, Post Bop, Soul Jazz and Fusion, Monk’s approach and stylistic traits remained relatively stable.  In the sixties, Monk was no longer viewed by some as a unique innovator, but rather, just simply unique. The innovation was there — not stylistic, but in playing freshly, honestly, and incisively, continuing to balance silence against sound and expressing himself naturally, logically and directly.  His music still evolved, but slowly. and more in terms of refinement than in alignment with the other changes happening in jazz.

By this album, “Straight, No Chaser”, Monk has established a continued level of excellence — connecting directly and succinctly. That this was one of the best albums of the year could only be overlooked by those comparing this music to Monk’s work from the late 1940’s on the Blue Note label, recognizing the historical influence of that music and finding no such historical significance in this 1967 Columbia album.

The personnel for this album:

Clearly, the quality of the only non-rhythm section soloist (Monk goes way beyond being part of a rhythm section, of course) is going to have a considerable impact on the overall merit and quality of this recording, and Charlie Rouse, at this point, after working with Monk since 1959, has become the ideal tenor sax partner.  In one sense, he is an extension of Monk’s brilliance, and yet he still has his own voice and ideas.

The album I am using for this trek back through time is the LP version without the bonus tracks available on the CD version.

  1. “Locomotive” (Thelonious Monk)
  2. “I Didn’t Know About You” (Duke Ellington)
  3. “Straight, No Chaser” (Thelonious Monk)
  4. “Japanese Folk Song (Kōjō no Tsuki)” (Rentarō Taki)
  5. “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (Harold Arlen)
  6. “We See” (Thelonious Monk)

“Locomotive”, opens the album, slow and steady, initially creating a sound picture of a locomotive chugging out of the station and then giving way to one of those “every note counts” Monk solos, a solo that is cognizant of, and at points includes fragments of, the original melody.  Rouse solos follows with Monk accompanying and the piece ends in typical bebop fashion, repeating the opening section.

The fourth track, “Japanese Folk Song” is particularly of note. On the LP the length is around 11 minutes.  On the CD reissue, the length is listed at 16:42, indicating that the LP version has been edited.  The folk song melody that opens the piece is Rentarō Taki’s “Kojo No Tsuki” (The Moon Over the Desolate Castle), originally written in 1901 as a school-book lesson in “Songs for High School Students”, and later recorded in the 1920’s becoming a well-known tune throughout Japan that was so associated with Japanese nationalism that the tune was banned by the Allies during their post WWII occupation of Japan.

Monk takes the original tune and twists it with syncopation, runs and Monk’s own distinct dynamic approach to striking the keys. Rouse comes in playing the melody eerily evenly on the beat before journeying more distantly away. At the 4 1/2 minute mark on the LP we have the start of an extended, mesmerizing solo by Monk.  (I am guessing this is where the edit is, dropping out a solo by Rouse to accommodate the time limitations of the LP.)  The last 3 minutes Rouse and Monk wind their way to the finish with interwoven, intertwined, Monk-trademark counterpoint before a brief and satisfying coda.

“The Real McCoy” is McCoy Tyner’s seventh album, but please notice that the label is no longer Impulse but Blue Note.  Blue Note Records, founded in 1939, historically seems to be the label that takes artists to their next level and so it is here with Tyner, who had recorded his last album with John Coltrane in 1965 and was not aligned with the direction Coltrane was pursuing.  Tyner: ” All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn’t have any feeling for the music, and when I don’t have feelings, I don’t play.”

Well, there’s not any dispute about Tyner playing on this album. From the opening upbeat, contemporary “Passion Dance” to the more traditional “Blues on the Corner” spiced with Tyner’s harmonics and his energetic, almost frenetic solo, this is an excellent album.

With Tyner are three world-class jazz artists:

I am often disinterested in the obligatory bass solo (whether that is once each track or even, as in this case, once on an album), but Ron Carter, is always exceptional as he shows here on his solo, in the introspective second track, “Contemplation.”

Elvin Jones was the ideal drummer for the many Coltane albums he is on, and an excellent fit for Tyner’s compositions and Tyner’s playing.

Joe Henderson made important contributions on Blue Note albums starting in 1963, appearing on important albums for Grant Green, Andrew Hill, Horace Silver and Lee Morgan as well as Larry Young’s incomparable “Unity” album. He shimmers and sparkles on this album with inventive, engaging and compelling soloing and ensemble work.

If one compares the quality of Tyner’s piano work to Monk’s, which, of course, really isn’t fair to either artist, Tyner does come in second place in terms of overall musical intensity and economy of expression. This is evident in the exceptional track “Contemplation.” From almost the beginning Tyner includes these short repeated scalar phrases (some would call this “noodling”) which, unfortunately, remind me a little too much of some of the soloing filler of the guitarists in the 1980’s hair bands, and is not so distant to some of the unnecessary busy-ness that one can even find in earlier pianists like Art Tatum.  This is only a slight distraction, and less annoying on repeated listenings of this track; particularly as Tyner treats this as an integral part of the composition and so once one has heard the composition, these quick spurts of adjacent notes become part of the performance’s fabric.

Putting such a minor quibble aside, Tyner has put together a diverse set of compositions. The modal “Passion Dance” is exceptionally vibrant and vital. “Contemplation” is an introspective ballad.  “Four by Five” is an aggressive, wild work starting with a 4 against 5 theme and highlighted by amazing soloing by Joe Henderson. From the Blue Note Liner Notes: “McCoy explains … ‘Four By Five receives its title because the melody is constructed as if there’s a middle -it’s in 4/4 on the outside and 5/4 on the inside. But we improvise as if there weren’t a middle; we improvise only in 4/4’.”

“Search for Peace” is a soothing statement about the value of peacefulness and tranquility.  The album ends with a casual, relaxed blues-based tune, “Blues on the Corner”, nicely wrapping up an album that covers a range of emotions and attitudes, accessible and yet solidly fresh, modern music for 1967 that is as engaging today as ever.

Track listing 

All compositions by McCoy Tyner

  1. “Passion Dance” – 8:45
  2. “Contemplation” – 9:10
  3. “Four by Five” – 6:35
  4. “Search for Peace” – 6:25
  5. “Blues on the Corner” – 6:05

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