quarta-feira, 28 de março de 2012

Poco - Pickin` Up The Pieces 1969

Poco dealt with a lot during the recording of their debut album -- the sudden departure of bassist Randy Meisner, the frustration of working with an engineer who didn't quite get what they were trying for, and a lot of pressure to deliver a solid collection of country-rock songs -- and came up with this startlingly great record, as accomplished as any of Buffalo Springfield's releases, and also reminiscent of the Beatles and the Byrds. Pickin' Up the Pieces is all the more amazing when one considers that Jim Messina and George Grantham were both covering for the departed Meisner in hastily learned capacities on bass and vocals, respectively. The title track is practically an anthem for the virtues of country-rock, with the kind of sweet harmonizing and tight interplay between the guitars that the Byrds, the Burritos, and others had to work awhile to achieve. The mix of good-time songs ("Consequently So Long," "Calico Lady"), fast-paced instrumentals ("Grand Junction"), and overall rosy feelings makes this a great introduction to the band, as well as a landmark in country-rock only slightly less important (but arguably more enjoyable than) Sweetheart of the Rodeo. AMG.

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Chet Baker - She Was Too Good To Me 1974

Baker began his comeback after five years of musical inactivity with this excellent CTI date. Highlights include "Autumn Leaves," "Tangerine," and "With a Song in My Heart." Altoist Paul Desmond is a major asset on two songs and the occasional strings give variety to this fine session. AMG.

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Joe Jackson - Look Sharp! 1979

A brilliant, accomplished debut, Look Sharp! established Joe Jackson as part of that camp of angry, intelligent young new wavers (i.e., Elvis Costello, Graham Parker) who approached pop music with the sardonic attitude and tense, aggressive energy of punk. Not as indebted to pub rock as Parker and Costello, and much more lyrically straightforward than the latter, Jackson delivers a set of bristling, insanely catchy pop songs that seethe with energy and frustration. Several deal with the lack of thoughtful reflection in everyday life ("Sunday Papers," "Got the Time"), but many more concern the injuries and follies of romance. In the caustic yet charming witticisms of songs like the hit "Is She Really Going Out With Him?," "Happy Loving Couples," "Fools in Love," and "Pretty Girls," Jackson presents himself on the one hand as a man of integrity seeking genuine depth in love (and elsewhere), but leavens his stance with a wry, self-effacing humor, revealing his own vulnerability to loneliness and to purely physical attraction. Look Sharp! is the sound of a young man searching for substance in a superficial world -- and it also happens to rock like hell. AMG.

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Cass Elliot - Cass Elliot 1972

Cass Elliot's departure from ABC Dunhill Records and their bubblegum marketing of her was probably the greatest career move that this awesome vocalist ever made. RCA obviously had better things in mind for her, treating her with the same sort of care that they bestowed on Harry Nilsson. The company let this pair of world-class vocalists choose their own material and brought them together with great musicians and arrangers. The end result was possibly Elliot's finest solo album. She was certainly more comfortable with the material. One of the best performances is Judee Sill's "Jesus Was a Crossmaker," which is vaguely reminiscent of Laura Nyro's fine work of the period. Elliot's version of Randy Newman's "I'll Be Home" is also a standout. Elliot's sister, Leah Kunkel emerges as a sensitive songwriter on this record, and Elliot's reading of "When It Doesn't Work Out" is absolutely graceful. Arranger/conductor Benny Golson's work perfectly frames one of the voices of a generation. AMG.

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Mott The Hoople - Mott The Hoople 1969

Enough works on Mott the Hoople's eponymous debut album, and enough is so imaginatively freewheeling, that it's easier to think of the record as a bit more successful than it actually is. After all, their combination of Stonesy swagger, Kinks-ian crunch, and Dylanesque cynicism is one of the great blueprints for hard rock, and its potential is apparent the moment their monumental instrumental "You Really Got Me" kicks off the record. This is followed by two covers, Doug Sahm's "At the Crossroads" and Sonny Bono's "Laugh at Me," that demonstrate their musicality more than their depth, since all three of these songs sound like they derive from the same vantage point. Then, to cap it off, Ian Hunter turns in "Backsliding Fearlessly" and Mick Ralphs gives Mott their first anthem with the pile-driving "Rock and Roll Queen." Up to this point, Mott the Hoople is wildly imaginative and invigorating, and that's enough to make this a fine debut, even if it falls off the tracks during the second side. The first side and those two originals reveal a band whose rowdy power is matched by sly humor, clever twists, and fierce intelligence -- all qualities they built a career on, and this blueprint still stands the test of time. AMG.

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Merry Clayton - Merry Clayton 1971

Best known for her background vocal work on the Rolling Stones' legendary single "Gimme Shelter," Merry Clayton had a long and successful career as backup singer, solo artist, and actress. Born December 25, 1948 (hence the rather "holiday" feel of her first name), in New Orleans, LA, Clayton recorded tracks with Elvis Presley, the Supremes, Ray Charles, and Joe Cocker, as well as being a member of Ray Charles' Raelettes in the early '60s. Her solo debut, "The Doorbell Rings," was released in 1963, and she eventually found success as a session singer for the aforementioned artists. She followed up her best-known work -- the appearance on "Gimme Shelter" -- with a solo album of the same name, and during the '70s managed some minor R&B hits with tracks like "After All This Time" in 1971 and "Oh No Not My Baby" in 1973. After a brief hiatus from the music business, Clayton did minor acting work, appearing in the film Maid to Order and Cagney & Lacey. Clayton returned to the music side of things in 1994, albeit as a gospel singer, with the album Miracles. In 1996, Clayton performed with Marianne Faithfull and Darlene Love in the show 20th Century Pop, a performance of "20 rock-era standards." AMG.

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Lynyrd Skynyrd - Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd 1973

The Allman Brothers came first, but Lynyrd Skynyrd epitomized Southern rock. The Allmans were exceptionally gifted musicians, as much bluesmen as rockers. Skynyrd was nothing but rockers, and they were Southern rockers to the bone. This didn't just mean that they were rednecks, but that they brought it all together -- the blues, country, garage rock, Southern poetry -- in a way that sounded more like the South than even the Allmans. And a large portion of that derives from their hard, lean edge, which was nowhere more apparent than on their debut album, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd. Produced by Al Kooper, there are few records that sound this raw and uncompromising, especially records by debut bands. Then again, few bands sound this confident and fully formed with their first record. Perhaps the record is stronger because it's only eight songs, so there isn't a wasted moment, but that doesn't discount the sheer strength of each song. Consider the opening juxtaposition of the rollicking "I Ain't the One" with the heartbreaking "Tuesday's Gone." Two songs couldn't be more opposed, yet Skynyrd sounds equally convincing on both. If that's all the record did, it would still be fondly regarded, but it wouldn't have been influential. The genius of Skynyrd is that they un-self-consciously blended album-oriented hard rock, blues, country, and garage rock, turning it all into a distinctive sound that sounds familiar but thoroughly unique. On top of that, there's the highly individual voice of Ronnie Van Zant, a songwriter who isn't afraid to be nakedly sentimental, spin tales of the South, or to twist macho conventions with humor. And, lest we forget, while he does this, the band rocks like a motherf*cker. It's the birth of a great band that birthed an entire genre with this album. AMG.

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RE-POST: Jefferson Airplane - Bark Sessions 1971

By the time of Bark, personnel changes had gutted much of the original version of Jefferson Airplane, especially with the departure of Marty Balin. Paul Kantner and Grace Slick remained, but their compositions were growing increasingly ill-focused, and Jorma Kaukonen and new drummer Joey Covington were ill-equipped to pick up the songwriting slack. The result was an album that bore hallmarks of the classic Airplane sound, but lacked any classic Airplane songs. That said, the record isn't as bad as many reviewers have made it out to be. It's just mediocre, with little that sticks in the memory, despite occasional nice moments in cuts like Covington's "Pretty as You Feel" and Kaukonen's delicate "Third Week in the Chelsea." AMG.

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Blind Faith - Studio Outtakes 1969

Blind Faith was either one of the great successes of the late '60s, a culmination of the decade's efforts by three legendary musicians -- or it was a disaster of monumental proportions, and a symbol of everything that had gone wrong with the business of rock at the close of the decade. In actual fact, Blind Faith was probably both. By any ordinary reckoning, the quartet compiled an enviable record. They generated some great songs, two of them ("Sea of Joy," "Presence of the Lord") still regarded as classics 30-plus years later; they sold hundreds of thousands of concert tickets and perhaps a million more albums at the time; and they were so powerful a force in the music industry that they were indirectly responsible for helping facilitate the merger of two major record companies that evolved into Time Warner, before they'd released a note of music on record. And they did it all in under seven months together.

Blind Faith's beginnings dated from 1968 and the breakup of Cream. That band had sold millions of records and eventually achieved a status akin to that of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Cream's internal structure was as stressful as it was musically potent, however, as a result of the genuine personal dislike between bassist/singer Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, which occasionally overwhelmed the respect they had for each other as musicians, leaving guitarist/singer Eric Clapton to serve as mediator. After two years of service as a referee, spent all the while in an unremitting spotlight, the public seemingly hanging on every note he played, Clapton was only too happy to leave that situation behind.

The initial spark for Blind Faith came from Clapton and Steve Winwood, whose band Traffic had split up in January of 1969, amid acrimonious disputes over songwriting and direction. Winwood at age 20 was some three years younger than Clapton, and had emerged as a rock star at 17 as a member of the Spencer Davis Group, spending three years as the lead singer on a string of enviable R&B-based hits. His concerns were musical -- he wanted to work with the best musicians, and wanted to experiment with jazz, which led him to leave the Spencer Davis Group and form Traffic, which proved riven by egos nearly as strong as the members' musical impulses. The January 1969 breakup would be the first of several temporary splits in the band's lineup.

The two musicians had long admired and respected each other -- they shared an enthusiasm for and dedication to the blues, and complemented each other in the sense that Clapton's work was more oriented toward Mississippi Delta blues and its urban descendants, while Winwood came out of more of an R&B sound and had the voice to make that work, and both were interested in experimenting in a group situation without any pressure. It had even occurred to Clapton during the months of Cream's disintegration that the addition of a fourth member on keyboards might have stabilized the band, in terms of both its music and its internal dynamics.

As it turned out, nothing could have saved Cream, but he looked up Winwood anyway after the band's demise, in late December of 1968, and the two found that they genuinely liked working together. The notion of forming a band took shape as an eventual goal during jams between the two that lasted for hours. At one point, Clapton even considered forming another trio, between himself and Winwood and a third member as drummer. These ideas took a sharp, new, more immediate turn when Ginger Baker turned up to sit in with them in January of 1969. The results were impressive to all concerned, and the drummer was eager to be let into the group they were planning.

Clapton found himself in a personal bind, having promised Baker on Cream's demise that they would work together on their next project, but he was not looking forward to reuniting with him just nine weeks after the old group's final show, with all of the expectations that their linkup would engender from outsiders. Apart from his resentment at being the buffer between Baker and Bruce, Clapton had felt straightjacketed in Cream, required by the demands of fans and, by extension, the record company, to write, play, and sing blues-based rock in a certain way, and he'd also felt trapped in the band's experimental departures from blues. Winwood, who failed to appreciate the dangers that Clapton saw or the seriousness of the guitarist's resistance, finally persuaded him, largely on the basis of the fact that Baker's presence only strengthened them musically, and that they would be hard put upon to find anyone his equal.

They began working out songs early in 1969, and in February and March the trio was in London at Morgan Studios, preparing the beginnings of basic tracks for an album, which began seriously taking shape as songs at Olympic Studios in April and May under the direction of producer Jimmy Miller. The music community was already aware of the linkup, despite Clapton's claim that he was cutting an album of his own on which Winwood would play. The rock press wasn't buying any of it, knowing that Baker was involved as well, and then the promoters and record companies got involved, pushing those concerned for an album and a tour.

What's more, they were offering more money than ever, for what seemed, from a business standpoint, a very good reason. Beginning with the Disraeli Gears album in 1967 and running through Wheels of Fire in late 1968, Cream had been virtually a money machine for its record labels, music publishers, and concert promoters alike. Their breakup had been a blow to the music business akin to the death of a top performer; it was hard for their record labels (Atlantic in America and Polydor in Europe), or the promoters prepared to book their tours, to envision who or what could replace them on the ledger books. (It was true that Atlantic had at least one other major blues-rock iron in the fire at the time, in the guise of a new band called Led Zeppelin, but in early 1969 no one yet had an inkling of precisely how big that quartet was going to become). Thus, the idea, coming along just three months later, of Eric Clapton reuniting with Ginger Baker and performing with Steve Winwood, himself a major star in England, was like a resurrection. And given a new bite at the apple, the record labels were salivating as they opened their checkbooks to write out big advances, and every concert promoter who could tried to get in on the money to be made, offering huge sums for the chance to profit from a tour by such a band.

It was all impossible to resist. In May, the final version of the band came together with the addition of Rick Grech, a talented musician but hardly a star, on bass. A member of the band Family (which he abandoned in the middle of their U.S. tour), Grech took the bassist's spot in the new group in preparation for going out on the road. By then the group was known as Blind Faith, a slyly cynical reference that reflected Clapton's outlook on the new group. His doubts might've been taken more seriously if anyone had stopped to dwell on the fact that they'd hardly had time to work out any songs beyond those that were going onto the album -- at least, none that were not associated with other bands.

Tours were booked, first of northern Europe and then America, with millions of dollars promised for the latter, contracts signed, and advances paid. The band made its debut at a concert in London's Hyde Park on June 7, 1969, in front of 100,000 fans who'd been primed by weeks of press reports heralding Blind Faith as "super Cream" and its tour as an event akin to the Second Coming.

From that first show, there was trouble over the split between the adulation accorded the band and Clapton's misgivings over the quality of the group's work. A perfectionist by nature, he reportedly left the stage at Hyde Park shaken over the ragged quality of the show they'd given, while 100,000 people roared with approval over their performance. He could already see the same pattern that had made his stay with Cream utterly enervating as a musical experience re-emerging with Blind Faith -- the fans could cheer all they wanted, but he had musicianship to care about and worry over, and it was a lousy show. The tour had already been booked, however, and there was more involved than Clapton's musical sensibilities to consider. And, in a sense, maybe the promoters knew more than Clapton did -- it turned out that all the quartet had to do was show up to please the crowds that they found.

Unbeknownst to Clapton as he pondered going out on the road with an unprepared, under-rehearsed band -- and it would have boggled his mind had he known -- on the other side of the Atlantic, the hype surrounding Blind Faith had already affected a much bigger part of the record industry than any aspect of the group's impending tour ever would. In early 1969, Warner-Seven Arts, previously known as the Kinney Corporation (a company that made millions in the parking garage business), was in the process of acquiring record companies. Under the guidance of their president, Steve Ross, they'd already bought the Warner Bros. studios, which included Warner-Reprise Records, and had arranged to purchase Atlantic Records late in 1968.

Ross knew, however, that Atlantic was worth acquiring only if its president, founder, and chief guiding personality, Ahmet Ertegun, stayed with the company -- but Ertegun, a true music enthusiast as well as a superb businessman, wasn't convinced that he wanted to work for a corporate owner. He'd founded Atlantic with his brother and a partner, and liked being his own boss and calling the musical shots as he'd seen them, rather than reporting to anyone else.

Ross saw his investment in jeopardy and scheduled a meeting with Ertegun to try convincing the man to stay on. The problem for Ross was that Atlantic was practically a part of Ertegun, and Ertegun was almost as much an artist as a businessman, all of which was part of the secret of his success in holding together a team of creative production and engineering geniuses like Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd, not to mention the stable of artists they worked with.

A few nights before the meeting, he'd been at home when his teenage son passed through with a friend, who'd heard that Ross was in the process of buying Atlantic Records. The friend had started telling Ross about how hot Atlantic Records looked to be, and about the breakup of Cream; he enthused over Clapton's hookup with Winwood and Baker, and the notion being floated in the press of the Blind Faith tour and album, the latter to be released by Atlantic, and how every rock listener in America was just waiting to grab up that album and pay to see the group.

Ross, who was of an age that made him part of Vaughn Monroe's or Patti Page's audience, hadn't a clue what the teenager was talking about, and knew nothing about Cream, Clapton, or Blind Faith. As he later recounted it, however, when he met with Ertegun, the matter of Blind Faith came up in the conversation, as Ertegun was trying to explain what Atlantic was involved in musically. Ross saw his opening and tried his best to run with it, desperately attempting to recall, as he stood there talking, everything that his son's friend had told him about Cream, Clapton, Baker, and Winwood, even though he knew nothing of the music involved. Ertegun, who was at least impressed with Ross' attempt to communicate with him about music, agreed to remain with the new management of Atlantic, which prospered in the 1970s and 1980s under his guidance even more than it had in the 1950s and 1960s. Thus marked the beginning of what soon became Warner-Elektra-Atlantic.

The brief Blind Faith tour of northern Europe in June of 1969 went well. These were out-of-the-spotlight events in small clubs, before serious audiences that were there to listen to music -- northern Europe had (and has) a long tradition for offering this kind of audience, which allowed bluesmen of lesser stature than Clapton et al. to earn decent livings playing in that part of the world.

From there, however, they moved on to the United States, making their debut at Madison Square Garden on July 12 in front of more than 20,000 people. A riot developed when fans charged the stage, only to be repulsed by the police; in the half-hour melee that ensued, Ginger Baker was clubbed on the head by a policeman who thought he was an interloper, and Winwood's piano was destroyed. The environment and that sort of passion placed the bandmembers in a ridiculous situation -- in truth, they didn't sound that good and they knew it. The nature of sound systems in 1969 destroyed whatever panache they might've brought to their performance and they were under-rehearsed; yet audiences roared, demanded more music, and rioted at their shows.

It was that way along the entire tour, seven weeks across the United States and Canada ending in Hawaii, marred by particularly angry confrontations between fans and police in Los Angeles. Even as they made their way across the country, the band was questioned about why Clapton seemed to be placing himself on the periphery and giving center stage to Winwood, who was far less well known in America at that time. The band's repertoire also seemed very light, the new material -- even allowing for the inevitable Ginger Baker drum solo on "Do What You Like" -- amounting to barely an hour's worth of music. The way the band had been marketed, the requests for performances of earlier hits directed at each of the star members, especially Clapton and Baker's work with Cream, were inevitable, and the group obliged them.

Clapton was now trapped in a kind of "mega-Cream" situation, only worse -- there hadn't been any riots at the trio's shows -- and seemed as though he'd rather have been somewhere else. To him, it must have seemed as though he'd sold his soul to the Devil; there was no backing out on the tour, just enduring it, and hoping that when the smoke cleared the monetary reward would mitigate the miseries he'd suffered. Where the music they were playing should have been the highlight, it was a chore and an obligation. He did find a haven in music along the tour, but not Blind Faith's -- one of the opening acts was a country- and blues-based rock act called Delaney & Bonnie, who had a fun, freewheeling approach to performing and a surprisingly soulful sound. He began spending more time hanging out with them than with the members of Blind Faith, listening to what they were doing and enjoying it, and comparing notes on the blues with Delaney Bramlett.

Blind Faith's tour ended on August 24, 1969. By that time, the self-titled album -- which ran into controversy over its cover, of a topless pre-pubescent girl, and was repackaged in America with a photo of the group -- had been out for almost a month, and had already sold more than half a million copies in America alone, hitting number one on the charts in England and America. The money was rolling in to all concerned even as they realized that the album showcased one of the fundamental flaws in the band's conception. There was very good music on Blind Faith, but there wasn't a lot of it -- barely 40 minutes' worth, which was hardly a body of music worthy of a international-class act. It was a good album, but those six songs didn't constitute a repertoire, much less a defined sound.

In a more logical sequence of events, the group would've spent more weeks rehearsing, and played some more small gigs in England or northern Europe, perfecting its sound and working out material. They would've had time to become a group, with the debut album issued in the midst of that, and then prepared a second LP, recorded and ready to go when their international bookings began, shows for which they would've had at least a dozen songs that they could claim as their own. Instead, the logic collapsed like a row of dominoes falling: Baker joining, which got the press excited about a reconstituted Cream, which raised the stakes and the pressure for an immediate tour and an even more immediate album. In the end, Blind Faith was like a baby removed too soon from the womb and asked to grow and thrive.

The group returned to England amid alternate rumors of a U.K. tour or a breakup. By October, what was already a forgone conclusion to the members became official -- there would be no second Blind Faith album, not from the studio or even a live album (though a couple of live tracks surfaced on the 1995 Steve Winwood retrospective set The Finer Things), nor any release of the film they'd made of the Hyde Park show.

Blind Faith ultimately proved too little and too much all at once. The band had left its members a bit shell-shocked, Clapton most of all, but even he had lots of money to show for it (and more coming in, the Blind Faith tour and album helping stimulate sales of Cream's old albums as well). He retreated to the safety of Delaney & Bonnie, where he began playing some of the best blues of his entire career; no longer in a leadership position, or expected to step into the spotlight at every turn, he got his wish for anonymity on tour with the group from December of 1969 until early 1970, in the course of which he also met the sidemen -- Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, and Bobby Whitlock -- who would finally give him the kind of safe, anonymous showcase for his work that he'd hoped Blind Faith would be, in Derek & the Dominoes, who did exactly what he'd hoped Blind Faith would do, play small clubs very quietly and work out their music out of the spotlight.

Ginger Baker, however, found the Blind Faith experience to be no worse than a mixed blessing. There'd been little new musical discovery, but the money had been very good, and it had proved that audiences would turn out for an offshoot of Cream. Additionally, he'd liked working with Winwood and Grech, and decided to try keeping them together. This led to the formation, in late November of 1969, of Ginger Baker's Air Force, a big-band ensemble whose sound embraced rock, jazz, R&B, folk, African music, and blues. Winwood and Grech would only remain with that group long enough to play at a pair of shows debuting the band in England during January of 1970. It was understood that, at the behest of Chris Blackwell, the head of Island Records (to which Winwood was signed), Winwood was to begin work on a projected solo album and was taking Rick Grech with him, into what would become the Traffic reunion album John Barleycorn Must Die.

Meanwhile, the memory of Blind Faith lingered with the group's sole album, which became a perennial favorite in Clapton's, Winwood's, and Baker's catalogs. Clapton and Winwood later came to appreciate the record. For all of their musical merits, which were considerable, Blind Faith's short lifespan made the band virtually a symbol of the tail end of the 1960s and what those years were about: too much too soon in that overheated cultural, psychic, and business environment, even for the prodigious talents and personalities involved, resulting in a quick burnout. AMG.

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sexta-feira, 23 de março de 2012

Seldon Powell - Messin' With 1973

A veteran tenor saxophonist and flutist, Seldon Powell adjusted and honed his style over the years, being flexible enough to play anything from swing to hard bop and in between. He wasn't the greatest soloist, most ambitious composer, or most spectacular arranger; he was simply a good, consistent player who survived many changes and trends to remain active from the late '40s until the '90s. Powell was classically trained in New York, then worked briefly with Tab Smith in 1949 before joining Lucky Millinder and recording with him in 1950. Powell was in the military in 1950 and 1951, then became a studio musician in New York. He worked and recorded with Louis Bellson, Neal Hefti, Friedrich Gulda, Johnny Richards, and Billy Ver Planck in the mid- and late '50s. Powell also played with Sy Oliver and Erskine Hawkins, and studied at Juilliard. He traveled to Europe with Benny Goodman's band in 1958, and worked briefly with Woody Herman. Powell was a staff player for ABC television in the '60s, and also played and recorded with Buddy Rich, Bellson, Clark Terry, and Ahmed Abdul-Malik. He did a number of soul-jazz and pop dates in the late '60s and early '70s, among them a session with Groove Holmes and big-band dates backing Gato Barbieri and Dizzy Gillespie. Powell was principal soloist in Gerry Mulligan's 16-piece band at the JVC Jazz Festival in New York in 1987. He recorded as a leader for Roost and Epic.

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sexta-feira, 16 de março de 2012

Manfred Mann Chapter Three - Volume 1 1969

It's light years from the airy pop of "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," recorded by the hit-making first group formed by South African Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg in 1963. This is as much jazz as rock. There's hardly any guitar, but a swaggering horn section compensates. Imagine a darker, moodier Traffic with Mann manning the organ instead of Steve Winwood. Hugg's raspy vocals are featured on the first album recorded with the new band. The standout tracks are the album-opening "Travelling Lady" and "Time," but they are hardly the only strong ones. AMG.

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Bernard Pretty Purdie - Lialeh 1974

The movie Lialeh may be filthy, but the movie soundtrack is just funky. Well, that's not completely true, and it's possible you could get in a bit of trouble playing this soundtrack for unsuspecting listeners. But for the most part, what was trumpeted as the first black porn film mixed the right portion of grit with its sensuality. Purdie, former and future collaborator with everybody from Louis Armstrong to Duane Allman to the Last Poets to the Insect Trust, never struts self-indulgently even on the two spots where his drums get the foreground; everyone sticks together on the one and the other three beats besides. "Don't make me the family way," warns Sandi Hewitt in the first line of "Touch Me Again," but it slithers out of her mouth like her subsequent encouragements to touch, a female serpent nudging the fallen fruit toward your foot; the band backs off, she simmers down, and a flute flitters. She never quite climaxes, but at least breathes heavily, more naturally, than the grunts at the end of the otherwise flirty "All Pink on the Inside," which recalls Frank Zappa's heavy-handed put-ons or even the "Love Rollercoaster" intro. "Pass Me Not" passes for New Orleans funeral march music, albeit with piano, organ, and electric guitar joining the plungered trombone and other horns. Out of print since shortly after its 1974 release, Light in the Attic restored the sizzling set to print in 2003 on CD and 180-gram vinyl. The latter edition includes a movie poster. AMG.

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Elvin Jones Trio - Puttin' It Together 1968

Elvin Jones will always be best-known for his association with the classic John Coltrane Quartet (1960-1965) but he also had a notable career as a bandleader and continued to be a major influence in music. One of the all-time great drummers (bridging the gap between advanced hard bop and the avant-garde), Jones is the younger brother of a remarkable musical family that also includes Hank and Thad Jones. After spending time in the Army (1946-1949), he was a part of the very fertile Detroit jazz scene of the early '50s. He moved to New York in 1955, worked with Teddy Charles and the Bud Powell Trio, and recorded with Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins (the latter at his famous Village Vanguard session). After stints with J.J. Johnson (1956-1957), Donald Byrd (1958), Tyree Glenn, and Harry "Sweets" Edison, Jones became an important member of John Coltrane's Quartet, pushing the innovative saxophonist to remarkable heights and appearing on most of his best recordings. When Coltrane added Rashied Ali to his band in late 1965 as second drummer, Jones was reportedly not pleased and soon departed. He went on a European tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and then started leading his own groups, which in the '90s became known as Elvin Jones' Jazz Machine. He remained active well into the 2000s and continued to push himself musically with the Jazz Machine, inviting young lions into the fold and touring regularly. Among his sidemen were saxophonists Frank Foster, Joe Farrell, George Coleman, Pepper Adams, Dave Liebman, Pat LaBarbera, Steve Grossman, Andrew White, Ravi Coltrane, and Sonny Fortune, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianists Dollar Brand and Willie Pickens, keyboardist Jan Hammer, and bassists Richard Davis, Jimmy Garrison, Wilbur Little, and Gene Perla among others. Jones recorded as a leader for many labels including Atlantic, Riverside, Impulse, Blue Note, Enja, PM, Vanguard, Honey Dew, Denon, Storyville, Evidence, and Landmark.

His dedication to and love of the drums were such that even in the face of health problems he continued to mount the drum stand, occasionally accompanied by an oxygen tank. On May 18, 2004, drum legend Elvin Jones suffered heart failure and passed away.

Joe Farrell (heard on this CD reissue on tenor, soprano and flute) did some of his finest playing while with drummer Elvin Jones' trio during 1968-69. Joined by bassist Jimmy Garrison (in one of his first post-Coltrane recordings), Farrell really digs into group originals, obscurities, "For Heaven's Sake," and Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy." With Jones pushing him and Garrison sounding quite advanced, Farrell was consistently inspired to play at the peak of his creativity. AMG.

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Manfred Mann Chapter Three - Volume 2 1970

An R&B band that only played pop to get on the charts, Manfred Mann ranked among the most adept British Invasion acts in both styles. The fact that their range encompassed jazz as well as rhythm & blues, coupled with some elements of their appearance and presentation -- co-founder/keyboardist Manfred Mann's bearded, bespectacled presence -- also made the Manfreds more of a thinking person's band than a cute, cuddly, outfit like the Beatles, or sexual provocateurs in the manner of the Rolling Stones. Yet, their approach to R&B was as valid as that of the Stones, equally compelling and often more sophisticated. They charted an impressive number of singles from 1964 through 1969, and developed a large, loyal international fandom that lingers to this day.

South African-born keyboardist Manfred Mann, born Manfred Lubowitz in Johannesburg in 1940, was originally an aspiring jazz player. He performed at dances and local coffee bars in Johannesburg as a teenager, and studied classical music at Witwatersrand University, also playing with Hugh Masekela in a local band. His influences included John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, and Dave Brubeck. He felt that his musical growth would be stymied by further work in South Africa, however, and decided to move to England in 1961, making his living as a jazz pianist and teacher, and writing articles under the name Manfred Manne, the surname derived from drummer Shelly Manne -- he later dropped the "e" and used "Manfred Mann" as his performing name.

Mann's preference for jazz quickly ran headlong into the growing public taste for rhythm and blues that began sweeping through younger audiences in England during the early '60s. In the course of his playing at the Butlins resort in Clacton during 1962, Mann met percussionist Mike Hugg, and the two soon began playing together in a band that included Graham Bond. Hugg and Mann eventually formed their own band, the Mann Hugg Blues Brothers, which grew into a septet, including two saxmen and a trumpet player. They were successful on the London club scene, playing venues such as the Marquee and other top music spots. The band's membership also grew to include guitarist, flautist, and saxman Mike Vickers.

The group was still lacking a lead singer, but this deficiency was rectified in late 1962 when they added Paul Jones, who had previously worked with guitarist Tom McGuinness, to their lineup. By early 1963, the Mann Hugg Blues Brothers had shrunk back to five members -- Manfred Mann (keyboards), Mike Hugg (percussion), Mike Vickers (guitar, sax, flute), Paul Jones (vocals), and Dave Richmond (bass) -- and also picked up a manager, Kenneth Pitt, who arranged auditions for the group with Pye, Decca, and EMI Records.

The EMI audition in May of 1963 was the one that worked, and they were signed to the latter company's HMV label. The band was assigned producer John Burgess, who was intrigued by the mix of jazz and R&B in their style. It was also Burgess who decided that the group needed a shorter, punchier name and -- against the wishes of the keyboardist himself -- chose Manfred Mann as the band's name.

Paul Jones was one of the best British Invasion singers, and his resonant vocals were the best feature of Manfred Mann's early R&B sides, which had a slightly jazzier and smoother touch than the early work of the Rolling Stones and the Animals. The group's debut single, "Why Should We Not" b/w "Brother Jack," were drawn from their first EMI commercial recording audition, and showed a bit of what the band could do instrumentally -- the A-side was a moody, bluesy original that alternately featured Vickers' sax, Jones' harmonica, and Mann's organ, while the flip was a bouncy jazz variant on "Frere Jacques." If the group's debut showed the Manfreds' virtuosity and cleverness, then the blues-rock follow-up "Cock-A Hoop" heralded the arrival of a major and charismatic singing talent in Paul Jones. Despite a lot of radio play, "Cock-A Hoop" failed to chart. The group's luck changed late in 1963, however, when they were asked to write a new theme song for the British television rock & roll showcase Ready, Steady, Go. The result was "5-4-3-2-1," a catchy, pulsing piece of rock & roll that got to number five on the British charts and became the permanent signature tune for the television series. Shortly after the single was recorded, Dave Richmond exited Manfred Mann's lineup and was replaced by Tom McGuinness, who switched from guitar to bass to join the group.

The chart success of "5-4-3-2-1" and its use on Ready! Steady! Go! gave the band a secure commercial berth in England, and their two follow-up singles charted easily. It was a couple covers of obscure girl group songs, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" (the Exciters) and "Sha La La" (the Shirelles), that broke the group internationally -- "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" reached number one in the States, and "Sha La La" just missed the Top Ten. The Paul Jones lineup never duplicated this success, although "Come Tomorrow" and "Pretty Flamingo" were smaller hits. From 1964 to 1966, they took the approach of playing gutsy pop/rock on their singles (including the original version of "My Little Red Book") and soul and R&B on their albums, with occasional detours into jazz, Dylan (their cover of his then-unreleased "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" was a big British hit), and competent original material. This sharp difference in the content of their singles and albums resulted in a split in their audience, and occasional confusion on the part of fans, who bought Manfred Mann's albums expecting to hear songs like "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," and, instead, found blues and jazz numbers represented much more than pop-rock. Listeners who paid close attention to "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" might've recognized unusual touches such as the kettle drums over the choruses, and anyone who flipped it over might've gotten the hint from its B-side, a jazz-blues jam called "What You Gonna Do?" An organ and harmonica-driven piece, it was as hard and threatening as "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" was upbeat and cheerful.

Where "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and the later "Sha La La La" were covers of girl group songs, Manfred Mann's debut long-player, cut in early 1964, had a very different orientation, comprised of songs associated with Cannonball Adderley, Ike & Tina Turner, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Howlin' Wolf, among others, and hard, bluesy originals such as the Mann-Jones authored "What Are You Gonna Do."

Still, driven by their reputation and some superb R&B singing by Paul Jones -- who was a genuine rival to Mick Jagger in those days -- the group's debut LP, The Five Faces of Manfred Mann made it all the way to number three on the British album chart. The group did seem to make the leap from a single to and album act -- their EMI LPs and EPs all sold well, charting high despite the fact that the sound on them wasn't quite like any other British Invasion act.

Manfred Mann played blues-based rock, but in contrast to most of the other British bands of the era, the guitar didn't always figure prominently in their sound. Mike Vickers was as likely to be playing a sax (and he really played, rather than just honking along in the manner of rock saxmen of the period such as Dennis Payton of the Dave Clark Five), or even a flute as an electric guitar; and Mike Hugg also played the vibraphone, an instrument usually far removed from rock & roll. Yet despite the fact that these guys had obviously all studied music, they made a hard and heavy R&B sound, and flexed their musical muscles accordingly -- check out Vickers' guitar break on their version of Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man," or Mann's pounding piano on Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Working." What's more, they could write credibly -- not hits in the manner of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but album tracks like "I'm Your Kingpin," "Without You," and "Don't Ask Me What I Say" held up very nicely alongside the Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley repertory on the album.

One quirk in the group's history was their virtual absence from America, apart from a three-week tour late in 1964, despite their charting four singles (including the number one "Do Wah Diddy Diddy") in the U.S. during 1964-66. The band found America, with its vast distances as well as its distance from England, too wearying a market to deal with for the money being offered, and concentrated instead on Europe. They opened several important doors by touring such Eastern Bloc countries as Czechoslovakia, in a time when American and western European rock & roll was usually considered a prime manifestation of capitalist decadence.

Despite their popularity and a steady stream of successful singles, EPs, and LPs, all wasn't well within the quintet. Each member of the group got to express himself, at least on their EP and album tracks, but by 1965 there was a sense that Vickers, Jones, McGuinness, and Hugg were all becoming known simply as "Manfred Mann," especially on their singles. None of that would have been so bad if the sound on those singles had represented anything other than the group's most commercial manifestation, and Manfred Mann hadn't also been the name of a walking, breathing bandmate -- though Mann himself had never wanted the group to use his name.

Mike Vickers, who'd always desired to expand his talents into work as a composer and arranger, exited in late 1965 -- his later credits, in addition to work on soundtracks and other instrumental material, also included producing and arranging songs for the Zombies and Gentle Giant, among other bands. His announcement was the crack in the wall that allowed Paul Jones -- who had been getting a vast amount of attention anyway (if awkwardly) as the lead singer of Manfred Mann -- to announce his departure in pursuit of careers as a solo performer and actor, although he stayed with the group well into 1966.

The core of the band, consisting of Mann, McGuinness, and Hugg, soon picked up Jack Bruce, then in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, on bass, which allowed Tom McGuinness to return to playing guitar. A saxman and trumpet player also came into the lineup around this time. A car accident early in 1966 left Jones sidelined for an extended period, which resulted in the group recording a large number of instrumental numbers, several of which -- including jazzy covers of "Satisfaction," "I Got You Babe," and "Still I'm Sad" -- appeared on the EP Instrumental Asylum. Despite all of its internal problems, the band generated yet another worldwide hit single in "Pretty Flamingo," which reached the number one spot in England and made the Top 30 in America, despite the group's not touring there to promote it. Even this record, and a number one charting EP in England (Machines) failed to stabilize the band's situation -- in the wake of "Pretty Flamingo" in the spring of 1966, Jack Bruce exited the group to join a new kind of rock-blues trio with Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton, to be called Cream. To top matters off, May of 1966 marked the end of the contract that the band had signed with EMI. The label evidently had sufficient doubts about the group's ability to continue, that it hedged its bets by signing Paul Jones as a solo act and, despite a pair of chart-toppers to their credit that year, let Manfred Mann go. Mann and Hugg, as the original co-founders of the band, weren't going to let it disappear, however -- with McGuinness, they still comprised the core of a group, and they surprised a lot of onlookers (and, no doubt, their former label) by forming a new lineup around singer Mike D'Abo. Beatles' friend Klaus Voormann, late of Paddy, Klaus & Gibson also joined in this aggregation on bass. As a backdrop to all of this maneuvering, Mike Hugg suddenly emerged as a successful songwriter in his own right when the Yardbirds, with whom the Manfreds had previously toured, covered "You're a Better Man Than I," a song he'd written in collaboration with his brother Brian Hugg. Ironically, the Manfreds of this period didn't get around to covering the song themselves, which was probably just as well, as the Yardbirds' version, cut at Sun Records in Memphis with legendary producer Sam Philips running the session, became an instant classic and remained in the group's repertory for years. It wouldn't be the last song that members of the Manfreds would provide to the Yardbirds, but it was the best. Manfred Mann signed with Fontana Records, an English off-shoot of the Holland-based Philips label (best known as the home of the Merseybeats and Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders), in June of 1966. At various times over the next year, EMI would release EPs and LPs of older material by the original band that competed with their new recordings. The advent of a new contract with a new Manfred Mann lineup essentially opened a new, separate phase ("Chapter Two") in the band's career, similar to the post-blues era of Fleetwood Mac. Mike D'Abo, though a good singer, lacked Paul Jones' depth and power, and the group compensated with an approach that was more pop than blues oriented, although at first the differences were very subtle.

The new lineup's first single, a cover of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman," became a Top Ten hit in England during the summer of the 1966, establishing the new lineup's commercial credibility. The big change came with their next single, "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James," a song written by Geoff Stevens of the New Vaudeville Band -- a novelty song that marked a major departure for the group, it made number two in England and began the reshaping the band's sound and image. A new album, As Is, followed in October of 1966. It had a cut or two that harked back to their R&B days, as well as the two hit singles, but As Is also contained a fair amount of psychedelic and experimental conceptual music, including the prominent use of an instrument new to their sound -- a Mellotron -- and a solo acoustic guitar piece by Voorman, as well as one track, "Another Kind of Music," that mixed pop and operatic-style choruses.

The group returned to its jazz roots momentarily for an EP, Instrumental Assassination, consisting of instrumental tracks, similar to the earlier Instrumental Asylum on EMI. The group also hit in the spring of 1967 with "Ha! Ha! Said the Clown," a Tony Hazzard song that also got picked up by the Yardbirds in the final phase of their history. During this same period, Mann and Hugg linked up as songwriters and emerged as successful in the field of commercials and, to a lesser degree, soundtracks. Their pop-oriented approach to their singles, with occasional forays into psychedelic and progressive rock, yielded a string of Top Ten hits in England through 1969, although the only one to hit the jackpot in the U.S. was their cover of a then-unreleased Dylan song, "The Mighty Quinn." Mann dissolved the D'Abo lineup in 1969 to form Manfred Mann Chapter Three -- drummer Mike Hugg, who had been in the band since the beginning, took over on piano and vocals, and as principal songwriter, while Mann played the organ and arranged the music. The outfit's early jazz-rock efforts were interesting, but not very popular, and Manfred steered the ship back toward mainstream rock by forming yet another incarnation, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, with Mick Rogers on vocals and guitar. The heavier, more synthesizer-oriented outfit made quite a few albums in the 1970s. Mann also found time for various outside projects, including producing Lo and Behold, an album of Dylan songs that the songwriter had never recorded officially -- and, in that regard, something of an off-shoot of one element of Manfred Mann's history -- cut by Tom McGuinness' then current group, McGuinness Flint, which also included instrumental contributions by Mike Hugg.

The 1976 Earth Band album The Roaring Silence, featuring singer/guitarist Chris Thompson on lead vocals, made the Top Ten, and included the number one hit "Blinded by the Light," a milestone of sorts for Bruce Springsteen as a songwriter, whose work Mann had discovered three years earlier. Mann also made the Top 40 with another Springsteen cover, "Spirit in the Night." The Earth Band, in various configurations and working on different styles, with interruptions (especially by Mann's efforts at solo music), has endured for more than two decades since their last chart hit, finding success in the concert arena when their studio work ceased to catch the public's imagination.

Ironically, despite Mann's oft-proclaimed preferences for serious explorations of jazz, blues, and progressive music, it's his pop/rock recordings that hold up best, and for which he'll be remembered most. The continuing power of that music was illustrated in 1992, when the release of a television-marketed compilation of EMI and Fontana tracks called The Ages of Mann precipitated a reunion of Mike D'Abo and Paul Jones with McGuinness, Hugg, and Vickers, for a tour under the guise of "the Manfreds". Manfred Mann himself, although still heavily involved with his own current projects and never a part of "the Manfreds," participated in some radio appearances by the re-formed group. The Manfreds reunited twice more over the next two years, for tours or Europe and a brief foray into America. AMG,

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Sam Cooke - Night Beat 1963

Saddled with soaring strings and vocal choruses for maximum crossover potential, Sam Cooke's solo material often masked the most important part of his genius -- his glorious voice -- so the odd small-group date earns a special recommendation in his discography. Thankfully, Cooke's voice took center stage on this admirably low-key session from February 1963, recorded in Los Angeles with a quartet of studio veterans. Unlike so many session crews and producers of the time, these musicians gave him plenty of space and often simply framed Cooke's breathtaking vocals. (On one of the best tracks here, "Lost and Lookin'," he's barely accompanied at all; only bass and cymbals can be heard far in the background.) The results are wonderful -- except for his early Soul Stirrers sides, Night Beat is the best place to marvel at one of the two or three best voices of the century. The songs are intimate blues, most taken at the pace of a late-night stroll, but despite the dark shading and heart-rending tempos, Cooke's voice is so transcendent it's difficult to become depressed while listening. Cooke also wrote three of the songs, including the excellent "Mean Old World," and rendered the traditional "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" practically unfamiliar with his own re-arrangement. Cooke also stretches out on a pair of jump blues classics, "Little Red Rooster" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll," summoning some honest grit for the former and putting the uptown swing into the latter. He also allows some solo space, from Barney Kessel's simple, unadorned solo on "Get Yourself Another Fool" to Billy Preston's playful organ vocalizing on "Little Red Rooster." If Sam Cooke had lived longer, there would've been several more sessions like this, but Night Beat is an even richer treasure for its rarity. AMG.

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Ray Barretto - Acid 1968

Ray Barretto's Latin/soul crossover record of 1968, Acid includes a few tracks of his ebullient, instrumental salsa, but also plays off the boogaloo craze of the past few years with a few Latin soul numbers. The crossovers "A Deeper Shade of Soul," "Soul Drummers," and "Teacher of Love" (all written by Barretto himself) are a lot of fun, but the (relatively) straight-ahead salsa of "El Nuevo Barretto" and the title track easily edge out the competition. It's nowhere near as psychedelic as the title would indicate, but Acid holds up nevertheless as a great document of the late-'60s confluence of Latin, funk, and soul. AMG.

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terça-feira, 13 de março de 2012

Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come - Galactic Zoo Dossier 1971

After Arthur Brown briefly ascended to stardom via the Crazy World of Arthur Brown's only album, it was a long three-year gap until the release of the next LP bearing his lead vocals, Kingdom Come's Galactic Zoo Dossier. (Although the material on Brown's Strangelands had been recorded in the interim, that record wasn't released until the late '80s.) And if not for Brown's immediately recognizable vocal histrionics, it could be the work of an entirely different artist. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown's exhilaratingly jazzy, madcap psychedelia had been jettisoned for far darker excursions into mordant early progressive rock. While there was still a carnivalesque classical-jazz-rock organ base to the arrangements, guitar also took a prominent role, and the melodies were far gloomier and more obtuse. No more obtuse, however, than the lyrics, with maddeningly obscure journeys into both inner and outer philosophical space (as titles like "Internal Messenger," "Brains," "Galactic Zoo," and "Space Plucks" made evident). Rather like a creeped-out hangover bridging the late psychedelic era with the early progressive one, it's impressive in its uncompromising ambition. But its lack of melodic bluesy riffs and unrelentingly demanding themes (and sometimes downright dissonant tunes) must have alienated a good chunk of Crazy World of Arthur Brown fans. Speaking of maddening, by the way, there's no information in the nicely illustrated booklet about the bonus tracks, which include alternate versions of "Metal Monster," "Sunrise," and "Space Plucks." The last of these, retitled "Space Plucks Dem Bones," is an uncharacteristically (in this company, anyway) soothing cosmic meditation with a comic busked interlude leading into a manic R&B-organ jazz jam, and might be the best thing on the disc. AMG.

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Manu Dibango - Soul Makossa 1972

Dibango is Cameroon's, and perhaps Africa's, best-known jazz saxophonist. Starting in the 1950s, he became a globe-trotting musician, living and performing in France, Belgium, Jamaica, Zaire, and Cote d'Ivoire, as well as in Cameroon. In 1960, Dibango was one of the founding members of the Zairean band African Jazz, with whom he spent five years. World attention came to Dibango with the release in 1972 of Soul Makossa, a work that actually had precious little of the makossa sound in it, and scored later hits with Seventies and Ibida. Dibango's output has been prodigious and multi-faceted. He has worked with musicians as diverse as Fela Kuti, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Don Cherry, and the Fania All-Stars. In addition to being one of the leading jazz saxophonists of his generation, Dibango has also run nightclubs, directed orchestras, and started one of the first African musical journals. A later release, Polysonik -- featuring English rapper MC Mello, Cameroonian singer Charlotte M'Bango leading a choral section, and sampled pygmy flutes -- shows that Dibango is continuing to flourish and expand in challenging new directions. AMG.

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Max Roach - Drums Unlimited 1966

Other than a trio set with the legendary pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali, this set was Max Roach's only recording as a leader during 1963-67. Three of the six numbers ("Nommo," "St. Louis Blues" and "In the Red") find Roach heading a group that includes trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, altoist James Spaulding, pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Jymie Merritt and, on "St. Louis Blues," Roland Alexander on soprano. Their music is essentially advanced hard-bop with a generous amount of space taken up by Roach's drum solos. The other three selections ("The Drum Also Waltzes," "Drums Unlimited" and "For Big Sid") are unaccompanied features for Max Roach and because of the melodic and logically-planned nature of his improvisations, they continually hold on to one's attention. AMG.

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domingo, 11 de março de 2012

RE-POST: Big John Patton - Accent on the Blues 1970

Most John Patton albums are hard-driving, edgy soul-jazz and funk, and the title of Accent on the Blues makes the record seem like it would be no different than his other sessions. Of course, that isn't the case. Accent on the Blues is among the most atmospheric music Patton has ever made. While it stops short of being free, it's hardly funky soul-jazz, and that may disappoint some fans of his rip-roaring style. Nevertheless, the album is a rewarding listen, primarliy because it displays a more reflective side of his talent, demonstrating that he can hold his own among the likes of guitarist James Blood Ulmer and saxophonist Marvin Cabell. AMG.

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Ray Mantilla - Mantilla 1978

Inspired by his South Bronx Afro-Cuban roots, percussionist Ray Mantilla rose to prominence in the early '70s, performing with a host of prestigious bands, and eventually led his own band in the '80s, the Ray Mantilla Space Station. All this time Mantilla remained active and continued his prolific streak into the 2000s.

Born in 1934, in the South Bronx, Mantilla's musical career began early. By the time he was in his 20s, he was already performing in New York, blending his Afro-Cuban roots with the contemporary jazz idiom of the time. The culmination of Mantilla's upward climb came when he began touring the States, Europe, and Japan with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He remained with Blakey for several years in the '70s, yet he still managed to work with countless others, including Charles Mingus and Max Roach.

His solo debut, Mantilla, surfaced in 1978 on the Inner City label; however, it wasn't until his next album, Hands of Fire (1984, Red), that his solo recording career gained momentum. His group, the Ray Mantilla Space Station, returned two years later with another album for Red, Synergy (1986), and then again shortly after with Dark Powers. In 1991, he returned with a new band, the Jazz Tribe, and then didn't return with another album until 2000, The Next Step. AMG.

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Joe Chambers - The Almoravid 1974

Joe Chambers is an extremely versatile and tasteful master of all post-bop idioms. Chambers drives an ensemble with a light hand; his time is excellent and his grasp of dynamics superb. He's not a flashy drummer by any means, but he's a generous collaborator who makes any group of which he's a part as good as it can possibly be. Chambers worked around Washington, D.C., in his late teens. After moving to New York in 1963, he played with Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Giuffre, and Andrew Hill. In the mid-'60s, Chambers played with a number of the more progressively inclined musicians associated with the Blue Note label, such as vibist Bobby Hutcherson and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and Sam Rivers. In 1970, Chambers joined Max Roach's percussion ensemble, M'Boom, as an original member. During the '70s, Chambers played with a great many of jazz's most prominent elder statesmen, including Sonny Rollins, Tommy Flanagan, Charles Mingus, and Art Farmer. With Flanagan and bassist Reggie Workman, Chambers formed the Super Jazz Trio. In the late '70s, he co-led a band with organist Larry Young. Chambers recorded with bands led by trumpeter Chet Baker and percussionist Ray Mantilla in the early '80s. He's maintained his association with Roach into the '90s. Chambers has recorded infrequently as a leader; his output as a sideman, however, continues to be sizable.

Drummer Joe Chambers' first album as a leader (cut for Muse and reissued on this 1998 CD by 32 Jazz) actually contains two selections apiece from three different sessions. Two cuts are from 1971 and match Chambers with trumpeter Woody Shaw, trombonist Garnett Brown, Harold Vick on tenor and flute, keyboardist George Cables, and bassist Cecil McBee. On October 8, 1973 Chambers, Cedar Walton, and bassist Richard Davis were joined by three percussionists, while the November 1, 1973 session has Chambers and electric bassist Walter Booker recording with the same trio of percussion players. Overall, four of the pieces are Chambers' originals while there is one song apiece from Joe Zawinul and Andrew Hill. In most cases, the leader's drums and the percussionists are in the forefront, the individual selections have weak themes and, although the complex rhythms are intriguing, the music is not all that memorable. Perhaps if the selections had been programmed as a suite or if there was some logical development from tune to tune, then this well-intentioned effort would have been more successful.

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Dewey Redman - Tarik 1969

This is tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman's second recording as a leader cut for the French Byg label. Redman has long been one of the most accessible of the avant-garde players due to his large tone, his willingness to swing hard, and his logical if emotional ideas. At the time of this album, he was working regularly with Ornette Coleman, and the altoist's free-bop approach definitely had a permanent influence on Redman. Joined by bassist Malachi Favors (from the Art Ensemble of Chicago) and the colorful drummer Ed Blackwell, Redman mostly cooks on five originals; in addition, he plays his atmospheric and often droning musette on the title track. This album is well worth searching for. AMG.

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Archie Shepp - Fire Music 1965

This particular early Archie Shepp recording has its strong moments, although it is a bit erratic. Four selections utilize an advanced sextet. Of these songs, "Hambone" has overly repetitive and rather monotonous riffing by the horns behind the soloists, and Shepp's bizarre exploration of "The Girl From Ipanema" gets tedious, but the episodic "Los Olvidaos" is quite colorful, and the tenorman sounds fine on a spacy rendition of "Prelude to a Kiss." "Malcolm, Malcolm-Semper Malcolm" has Shepp reading a brief poem for the fallen Malcolm X before he jams effectively on tenor in a trio with bassist David Izenzon and drummer J.C. Moses. Overall, this set, even with its faults, is recommended. [The CD is rounded out by a "bonus" cut not on the original LP -- a live version of "Hambone" that is much more interesting than the earlier rendition.] AMG.

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Jan Garbarek - Afric Pepperbird 1970

Long ago, before he achieved relative stardom with his Nordic, somewhat new-agey recreations of medieval music, Jan Garbarek produced a handful of spectacular, robust albums for ECM where the influence of free jazz, particularly Albert Ayler, was paramount. Afric Pepperbird was his first recording for the then fledgling label and it features his quartet at the height of their powers, embellishing his muscular and imaginative compositions with outstanding, individualistic playing. From the eerie keening of the opening "Scarabee," framed by Jon Christensen's pinpoint delicate drums, to the hard-driving "Beast of Kommodo" with the leaders wailing bass sax to Rypdal's manic explorations on Blow Away Zone, this is one stellar effort. Add to that three drop-dead gorgeous miniatures by the great and undersung bassist Arild Andersen and the title track, one of the most deliriously infectious melodies you'll ever hear. Together with Sart, Tryptikon, and Witchi-Tai-To (as well as a prior recording on Flying Dutchman), this album represents the strongest, most aggressive portion of Garbarek's career, before he succumbed to what became known as the ECM aesthetic. Very highly recommended. AMG.

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Armando Peraza - Wild Thing 1968

Armando Peraza has long been considered one of popular music's top percussionists -- a master of both the conga and bongos. In addition to being a long-standing member of Santana, Peraza has guested on numerous recordings by other popular recording artists. Born in Havana, Cuba, on May 30, 1924, Peraza lost both parents at an early age, and by the age of 12, was living on his own, supporting himself around this time as a vegetable vendor, semi-pro baseball player, boxing trainer, and a loan shark. It wasn't until Peraza was 17 years old that he got his start with music; One day at a baseball park, Peraza overhead local bandleader Alberto Ruiz (a brother of one of Peraza's teammates) say that he was in dire need of a conga player for a performance that night, as part of one of Havana's most popular bands at the time, Conjunto Kubavana. Although Peraza had no musical experience, he was able to convince Ruiz to give him a shot, and after practicing for just several hours that afternoon, pulled off the performance with flying colors. After relocating to the U.S. (first New York City, and then San Francisco), Peraza became an instantly sought-after musician, playing over the years with such renowned artists as Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock, Eartha Kitt, Wes Montgomery, Peggy Lee, John McLaughlin, and Harvey Mandel, among others. But it is his work with Santana that he is best known for, playing on most of the group's recordings from the early '70s through the late '80s. AMG.

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quinta-feira, 8 de março de 2012

Allen Toussaint - Life, Love And Faith 1972

When Allen Toussaint restarted his solo career in 1970 with Toussaint (aka From a Whisper to a Scream), he leaned heavily on songs he had written for other artists, as well as a couple of covers. It was a good way to jump-start his career, and with its elastic, elegant arrangements, it set the groundwork for 1972's Life, Love and Faith, his first album for Reprise/Warner. Toussaint seized the opportunity as a way to stretch out his sound, refining it and expanding it so it was grounded in New Orleans R&B but also encompassed hard funk and smooth soul. Though it was a soul album through and through, it also had the feeling of being part of Reprise's considerable singer/songwriter stable -- such artists as Randy Newman, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat, and Joni Mitchell -- and if anything, Life, Love and Faith feels more of a piece with this group than it does with most music coming out of New Orleans in the early '70s because it also captures an eccentric genius pursuing his idiosyncratic vision. Here, it seems as if Toussaint has found every permutation of his signature sound, which is pretty much the sound of New Orleans R&B. He revives the classic, easy-rolling groove on "Soul Sister"; turns it seriously, deeply funky on "Goin' Down" and "Victims of the Darkness"; gets trippy on "Out of the City (Into Country Life)"; treads nimbly with a Philly soul variation on "She Once Belonged to Me"; and crafts a tremendous, dramatic ballad with "On Your Way Down," one of the finest songs he ever wrote. It's a textured, multi-layered record that may not be the purest dose of Toussaint, but is the one album that truly exhibits how deep and wide his talents ran. AMG.

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Lou Reed - Berlin 1973

Transformer and "Walk on the Wild Side" were both major hits in 1972, to the surprise of both Lou Reed and the music industry, and with Reed suddenly a hot commodity, he used his newly won clout to make the most ambitious album of his career, Berlin. Berlin was the musical equivalent of a drug-addled kid set loose in a candy store; the album's songs, which form a loose story line about a doomed romance between two chemically fueled bohemians, were fleshed out with a huge, boomy production (Bob Ezrin at his most grandiose) and arrangements overloaded with guitars, keyboards, horns, strings, and any other kitchen sink that was handy (the session band included Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Aynsley Dunbar, and Tony Levin). And while Reed had often been accused of focusing on the dark side of life, he and Ezrin approached Berlin as their opportunity to make The Most Depressing Album of All Time, and they hardly missed a trick. This all seemed a bit much for an artist who made such superb use of the two-guitars/bass/drums lineup with the Velvet Underground, especially since Reed doesn't even play electric guitar on the album; the sheer size of Berlin ultimately overpowers both Reed and his material. But if Berlin is largely a failure of ambition, that sets it apart from the vast majority of Reed's lesser works; Lou's vocals are both precise and impassioned, and though a few of the songs are little more than sketches, the best -- "How Do You Think It Feels," "Oh, Jim," "The Kids," and "Sad Song" -- are powerful, bitter stuff. It's hard not to be impressed by Berlin, given the sheer scope of the project, but while it earns an A for effort, the actual execution merits more of a B-. AMG.

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Allen Toussaint - Southern Nights 1975

Allen Toussaint produced a kind of masterpiece with his first Reprise album, Life, Love and Faith, finding previously unimagined variations on his signature New Orleans R&B sound. For its 1975 sequel, Southern Nights, he went even further out, working with producer Marshall Sehorn to create a hazy vague concept album that flirted with neo-psychedelia while dishing out his deepest funk and sweetest soul. It's a bit of an unfocused album, but that's largely due to the repeated instrumental "filler," usually based on the theme of the title song, that pops up between every two or so songs, undercutting whatever momentum the album is building. That, along with a song or two that are merely average Toussaint, prevents Southern Nights from being a full-fledged masterpiece, but it comes close enough to that level of distinction anyway due to the brilliance of its best songs. There is, of course, "Southern Nights," which Glen Campbell later took to the top of the charts, but it's nearly unrecognizable here, given a swirling, trippy arrangement that plays like a heat mirage. It's rivalled by the exquisite "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?," later covered by both Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, neither of which equal the beautiful, sighing resignation of Toussaint's impeccable vocal performance. Then, there are the songs that weren't covered, but should have been, like the nearly anthemic "Back in Baby's Arm," the rolling, catchy "Basic Lady," the stately "You Will Not Lose," or the steady-grooving end-of-the-night "When the Party's Over." Then, there are the songs that perhaps only Toussaint could sing, given their complex yet nimble grooves: witness how "Country John" seems like a simple, straight-ahead New Orleans raver but really switches tempo and rhythm over the course of the song, or how the monumental "Last Train" builds from its spare, funky opening to a multi-layered conclusion boasting one of Toussaint's best horn arrangements and vocal hooks. These disparate sounds may not be tied together by the interludes, as they were intended, but they nevertheless hold together because they're strong songs all bearing Toussaint's unmistakable imprint. They're so good that they nearly knock the "near" of off the near-masterpiece status for Southern Nights, and they're the reason why the album should be a part of any serious soul collection. AMG.

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Charles Mingus - East Coasting 1957

One of Charles Mingus' lesser-known band sessions, this lyrical set of five originals (plus the standard "Memories of You") features his usual sidemen of the period (trombonist Jimmy Knepper, trumpeter Clarence Shaw, Shafi Hadi on tenor and alto, and drummer Dannie Richmond), along with pianist Bill Evans. The music stretches the boundaries of bop, is never predictable and, even if this is not one of Mingus' more acclaimed dates, it is well worth acquiring for the playing is quite stimulating. AMG.

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Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation - Dr. Dunbar's Prescription 1969

The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation's second album was much the same as their first, offering competent late-'60s British blues, given a slightly darker cast than was usual for the style via Victor Brox's somber vocals. Like their debut, it was dominated by original material, and as on its predecessor, the compositions were rather routine blues-rock numbers, though they benefited from arrangements by highly skilled players. The best of these tracks were the ones that utilized Brox's gloomy, almost gothic organ, if only because it made them stand out more among the company of the many similar bands recording in the prime of the British blues boom. Otherwise the main fare was straightforward blues-rock that was well played, but rather average and forgettable, the most distinguished ingredient being Dunbar's hard-hitting, swinging drums. If only because it has some original songs that were better than anything on the first album ("Fugitive," "Till Your Lovin' Makes Me Blue," and "Tuesday's Blues," the last of which has some songwriting and guitar work quite similar to Peter Green's late-'60s style in those departments), it's a slightly better listen, though not up to the standards of somewhat similar groups like Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. AMG.

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terça-feira, 6 de março de 2012

Flo & Eddie - The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie 1972

Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan opened for the Alice Cooper Group on the Billion Dollar Babies tour, and the insanity they put on display while performing this album live was controlled insanity, perhaps the best kind. On the back of The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie is a Frank Zappa 200 Motels film poster, the usual mess one would expect from Flo & Eddie, but no Turtles memorabilia. With the solid drumming of Aynsley Dunbar and their incredible harmonies, Flo & Eddie are truly a mixture of the Turtles' pop and the Mothers of Invention's unpredictability. What was so striking about this debut album before Bob Ezrin got ahold of them for the sequel (maybe that's how they got the Cooper tour) is that it is delicious pop music played to perfection -- as melodic as Petula Clark -- just more difficult to grasp. When the boys get to a good hook they let go of it, maybe a mental trigger from all their Turtles hits, a subconscious effort to keep this in the underground, just on the cusp of being commercially viable. What is also striking is that the production work is impeccable. These two guys absolutely ruined whatever chance Mono Mann and his DMZ might've had for stardom when as producers they stripped the essence of that Boston band away from their Sire Records debut. Had they recorded DMZ as perfectly as this album was tracked, who knows how the earth might've shook. "It Never Happened" sounds like Graham Nash's "Chicago" turned upside down, while "Strange Girl" has nothing of the commercial slant that they poured onto the Marc Bolan tunes they performed on. Then there's "Strange Girl," which strangely sounds like the Mothers of Invention going for a hit. The tragedy of it all is that this stuff is so sincerely off the wall while simultaneously being serious that radio should have embraced much of it. The production values here are immense, a thick and deep sound beyond the vocal work we expect from these choir boys. The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie is a glow-in-the-dark album rich with strong compositions, skillful musicianship, and extraordinary vocal work. It is a classic by two true rock & roll geniuses. "Who but I" is a summer song that the Turtles would have killed for. This album is a treasure chest of ideas by journeymen that had a clue; a grasp of what the rock & roll game is really all about. As stated above, it is deliciously brilliant. AMG.

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The Fourth Way - Werwolf 1970

Experimental at the time, this is a difficult listen years later. Recorded live at the 1970 Montreux Jazz Festival, this album features some challenging compositions by pianist Mike Nock. Violinist Michael White shows why he was a potential star, but this heavily electrified jazz is too abstract for most. AMG. Thanks to B.!

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Frank Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti 1979

In order to finance his artier excursions, which increasingly required more expensive technology, Frank Zappa recorded several collections of guitar- and song-oriented material in the late '70s and early '80s, which generally concentrated on the bawdy lyrical themes many fans had come to expect and enjoy in concert. Sheik Yerbouti (two LPs, one CD) was one of the first and most successful of these albums, garnering attention for such tracks as the Grammy-nominated disco satire "Dancin' Fool," the controversial "Jewish Princess," and the equally controversial "Bobby Brown Goes Down," a song about gay S&M that became a substantial hit in European clubs. While Zappa's attitude on the latter two tracks was even more politically incorrect than usual for him, it didn't stop the album from becoming his second-highest charting ever. Social satire, leering sexual preoccupations, and tight, melodic songs dominated the rest of the record as well, as Zappa stuck to what had been commercially successful for him in the past. The "dumb entertainment" (as Zappa liked to describe this style) on Sheik Yerbouti was some of his dumbest, for better or worse, and the music was undeniably good -- easily some of his best since Apostrophe, and certainly the most accessible. Even if it sometimes drifts a bit, fans of Zappa's '70s work will find Sheik Yerbouti on nearly an equal level with Apostrophe and Over-Nite Sensation, both in terms of humor and musical quality. AMG.

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Essra Mohawk - Primordial Lovers & Essra Mohawk 1970-1975

Primordial Lovers is assured of its status as an unsung classic. All who hear it, and there aren't enough, are bewitched by its esoteric poetry, unguarded passion, and great tunes. No longer buried in the dreadful production of her Sandy Hurvitz disc, Mohawk is a wondrous creature of contrasts: simultaneously urbane and nature-loving, knowing and naïve, all-powerful yet unabashedly vulnerable at the same time. Her voice is a remarkable instrument -- not the shrill piccolo of Joni Mitchell, nor the darker, mesmerising recorder of Laura Nyro, but more a multi-range brass and woodwind hybrid yet to be invented. The songs on Primordial Lovers do not adhere rigidly to conventional ideas of song structure, which is not to say that they aren't catchy -- far from it; they worm their way into the subconscious very quickly. But, in the manner of early Laura Nyro, many of the compositions undergo sudden changes in time signature and are subject to surprising chord progressions that catch the listener unaware. Whether identifying with the elements ("I Am the Breeze"), declaring love ("Lion on the Wing"), or cheering up a depressed friend ("Thunder in the Morning," written for Stephen Stills), Mohawk, armed only with a piano, a few players, and her own vast imagination, finds something worthwhile to say, and says it beautifully. "Thunder in the morning sky reminds me of you/I don't know the reason why but it just does/it just does" might mean nothing in the hands of another artist, but when Mohawk wails the lines with potent sincerity, it's impossible not to believe every word. "I Have Been Here Before," the album's centerpiece, is also its most astonishing moment -- a swirling, narcotic, psychedelic jazz creation powered by a fuller horn section. The song's subject matter -- reincarnation -- is reflected by its own circular structure. Again, only Mohawk could bring conviction to lines like "Green trees/with orange middles/are passing by/the watching eye." Primordial Lovers deserves a place in the record collection of every free-thinking soul.

Essra Mohawk has never recorded for the same record label more than once, but it's rarely affected the consistency of her songwriting. Here, she left behind the free-form, rambling qualities of her earlier work, and, working within slightly more conventional rock confines, rocked 'n' rasped her own inimitable way through ten finely crafted psych-pop gems, as well as one frenetic take on Gershwin's "Summertime." "New Skins for Old" starts as the album means to go on: "Can we doubt when we don an old animal skin/that it's really a previous state we were in"; birth, death, reincarnation and the universe are the album's recurrent themes. Despite its muscled-up rock power, the set also captures Mohawk solo at the piano for "You're Finally Here" and "I Cannot Forget," two warm, candid love ballads. Porgy and Bess fans may balk at her unusual treatment of "Summertime," but approached without prejudice, it's a fine tribute. As usual, though, it is the romantic, spiritual and sensual imagery that never fails to impress. "Openin' My Love Doors" is a case in point -- Mohawk describes a post-coital moment of bliss ("We made love while the clouds cried/Now the birds sing as we lie side by side") and runs with it throughout the song. A great achievement from start to end, and Mohawk at her vivid and insightful best. AMG.

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