Fifty Year Friday: June 1970 Part Two
Soft Machine: Third
On June 6, Soft Machine released their third album, a two-LP set recorded in April and June of that year — one of the best early progressive rock albums — with each side containing a single selection, and each selection distinct in approach and content. This is not music for the casual listener — it requires attentive listening to fully reveal the variety of musical wealth contained on each side. Though heavily influenced by jazz, free-jazz, and contemporary electronic classical music, its foundation is solidly Canterbury-scene progressive rock, even if that scene was still being defined at that time, with a large contribution of that definition from this album.
The first side is a mix of mostly live material and some studio content with some creative mixing and overlaying, particularly at the end of the track, which effectively brings the colorful musical narrative to a close. Side two is more along the lines of Frank Zappa’s style of progressive jazz-rock and though less introspective and intriguing then side one, is very accessible and animated, providing that cathartic surge when gets from an invigorating progressive rock instrumental.
Side three is a typical Robert Wyatt brimming over with his atypical songwriting. The work is filled with an assortment of Wyatt melodies artfully reduced to a unified whole that narrates what may be real-life-based reflections on a recent “convenient” relationship while conveniently staying in New York state. Side four is another adventurous instrumental with a dramatic synthesizer introduction that perhaps had an influence on the introduction to Yes’s Close to The Edge.
Alice Coltrane: Ptah, the El Daoud
Alice Coltrane provides a brilliant album of post-bop modern structured jazz that includes some free jazz elements, leaning overall towards a more traditional post-bop experience, with each track having a distinct character and style.
The title track, “Ptah, the El Daoud” (Ptah, the beloved) is named after the Egyptian god that existed at the very beginning of existence (way before the internet) and created the universe, also, it seems, on the hook to ensure that universe’s ongoing maintenance. Ptah was particularly associated with craftsmen, architects, and other creative types. As Alice states in the liner notes, her intent with this track was to express the concept of spiritual purification. Ron Carter opens up the work, followed by Alice on piano and drummer Ben Riley, immediately joined by a pair of saxophones: Joe Henderson playing on the left side of the stereo field and Pharoah Sanders on the right. The music is march-like, representing the quest for purification — in the words of Alice Coltrane, “the march on to purgatory, rather than a series of changes a person might go through.” Henderson and Sanders provide somewhat free, exploratory soloing, but the music is kept on its given path primarily through Coltrane’s piano work supported by allied bass and drums.
“Turiya and Ramakrishna”, is a soulful bluesy piano-led work accompanied by bass and drums. The Turiya in the title is a Sanskrit word that in Hindu philosophy represents pure consciousness — the consciousness that occurs whether sleeping soundly, dreaming or waking. Ramakrishna was a nineteenth-century Hindu mystic revered for his spiritual ecstasies, and his message of love and individual religious devotion. Though the inspiration for the work originates from India, the music is solidly American jazz, intimate in nature and scope as if spontaneously created during the last set inside a dark, intimate nightclub with just a few devoted and spellbound listeners left to enjoy the final music of the last hour of the extended evening.
On the third track, Alice switches to harp, and Henderson and Sanders are on flutes for an evocative work titled “Blue Nile”, a magical seven minutes of ethereal, impressionistic jazz. The final track, “Mantra” at sixteen and a half minutes ends side two providing an uplifting and exploratory listening experience that comes closer to free jazz than the first track, but yet with a strong sense of structure and purpose culminating in a rich musical encounter true to the overall spiritual tone of the entire album.
Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead
Grateful Dead releases the classic Workingman’s Dead, an album more representative of Kentucky than northern California, with the music being a mostly acoustic mix of bluegrass, country-ragtime, blues, and country-rock, performed lovingly and with sparkling energy.
Bob Dylan: Self Portrait
Bob Dylan released Self Portrait, a two-LP album, an album I noticed over and over in people’s record collections at the various parties I attended. It sold pretty well, reaching number 4 on the Billboard album chart at going gold. I, myself, was tempted to buy it on a number of occasions, as I really liked the cover. For whatever reason, I never did, and to this day, have not yet heard it in its entirety. I guess it’s clear I am not a big Dylan fan. To each their own, I suppose.
Rare Earth: Ecology
The same might be said about the Rare Earth laudably-titled Ecology album, also released in June 1970. Although I don’t think I ever saw this album in anyone’s record collection (as the case with the Dylan Self Portrait album), there was a high likelihood that I probably would have never ever listened to it — and from 1970 to a few days ago, never did. The difference in me making the extra effort to stream it and listen carefully to it was that I got to see Rare Earth live. They were the opening act for the 1974 California Jam, but their performance was disregarded by many in the audience and those still arriving — if there were any still arriving — my friend and I were so close to the front we paid little attention to what was behind us. For my own part, I sat and attentively listened to and watched Rare Earth, contently enjoying the performance despite distractions. So, I thought it appropriate to make the effort to stream the Ecology album and see what I thought of it fifty years after it had been released. And just as I was pleasantly surprised with Rare Earth’s performance at the California Jam, I find Ecology to be better than expected. Though rated only three stars by allmusic.com, it is a well-produced album by a talented group of musicians. Highlights are mostly the Tom Baird songs plus the interesting lyrics to John Persh’s “Nice Place to Visit” (“but you wouldn’t want to live here”) — a lament about the narrator’s habit of visiting brothels — the lyrics available here: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rareearth/niceplacetovisit.html.
Rod Stewart: Gasoline Alley
If you are Rod Stewart fan, you may wish to celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of Gasoline Alley, released today, June 12, 1970. Despite Rod’s limited vocal range, and rough voice, and his habit or limitation of usually singing with limited tonal variety, there is something appealing about his song delivery. In this album, he is supported by most of the Faces band members and some additional musicians. This is mostly an acoustic album, and the playing and production are top-notch.
In part three for June 1970 (hopefully, next Friday) I will cover some additional albums, including some fine folk-rock albums, and any others I might have missed. Who knows, maybe I will take the time to stream the Bob Dylan album!