terça-feira, 30 de novembro de 2021

Mother Hen - Mother Hen 1971

Mother Hen aka Jane Getz made a strong but brief impression while playing in New York in the mid- to late '60s, and then seemed to disappear until she emerged in Los Angeles in the mid-'90s. The truth is that she never left music, but took a long hiatus from jazz. Considered a prodigy as a child, Getz switched from classical music to jazz when she was nine. She lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco and then at the age of 15, dropped out of high school and traveled to New York City, where within hours she was playing with Pony PoindexterGetz worked with a who's who of jazz during her eight years in New York, most notably with Charles MingusStan Getz (unrelated), Rahsaan Roland KirkCharles Lloyd, and Pharoah Sanders (with whom she recorded for ESP). In the early '70s, Getz moved back to L.A. and became a studio musician. She was signed to RCA under the name Mother Hen and played country music, in addition to appearing on many rock and pop albums (including with Ringo StarrHarry Nilsson, and John Lennon). After 20 years outside of jazz, Getz started playing jazz gigs in Los Angeles, often teaming up with Dale Fielder, where it was obvious that her improvising skills were still very much intact. In 1996, she finally recorded her first jazz album as a leader, No Relation (Clarion Jazz). AMG.

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Louis Moholo Octet - Spirits Rejoice! 1978

In 1978, South African expatriate drummer Louis Moholo convened an octet including two countrymen and five Europeans and produced one of the great under-recognized recordings in modern jazz, arguably the single most successful melding of township music and the avant-garde. Using the gorgeous themes composed by himself and other South African musicians as launching pads for unfettered solos, Moholo struck a perfect balance, neither "side" overly deferential to the other, both proudly proclaiming their ability to co-exist and prosper. Loading the deep range of the band with two bassists and two trombonists, there's a full-bodied warmth and richness to each piece; rejoicing indeed. The pieces seesaw between up-tempo, wickedly dancing burners and heartbreakingly beautiful anthems. The former include Johnny Dyani's "Ithi-gqi," a jauntily striding affair featuring scorching tenor work from Evan Parker, and the bulk of "Amaxesha Osizi," the closest thing to a "regular" jazz number wherein Keith Tippett has some very fine moments. But the real killers are the slow, surging anthems. Mongezi Feza, a South African trumpeter who died too young several years before this session, is remembered in his "You Ain't Gonna Know Me 'Cos You Think You Know Me," whose achingly lovely line, replete with obbligato sighs from the trombones, is repeated and repeated, each iteration generating new and stronger intensity. It's a sublime performance, transcending genre. One can hear a source of some of the melodic areas later investigated by Barry Guy with his London Jazz Composers Orchestra (which included several members of this ensemble) in pieces like this. And if the Feza work wasn't enough, the closing "Wedding Hymn" shakes the foundations. Beginning with bird songs and a horn-played chorale (showing the African origins of gospel hymns), it leads into marvelous flights by Kenny Wheeler and Tippett before, with a hush, the hymn's theme is whispered again. Although Ogun had, as of 2002, released several of their '70s catalog onto disc, Spirits Rejoice! still languished as a very rare vinyl treasure. Until this near-criminal situation is rectified, grab this gem if you can. A great, great recording. AMG.

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Elton John - Honky Chateau 1972

Considerably lighter than Madman Across the WaterHonky Chateau is a rollicking collection of ballads, rockers, blues, country-rock, and soul songs. On paper, it reads like an eclectic mess, but it plays as the most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote. The skittering boogie of "Honky Cat" and the light psychedelic pop of "Rocket Man" helped send Honky Chateau to the top of the charts, but what is truly impressive about the album is the depth of its material. From the surprisingly cynical and nasty "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" to the moving ballad "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," John is at the top of his form, crafting immaculate pop songs with memorable melodies and powerful hooks. While Taupin's lyrics aren't much more comprehensible than before, John delivers them with skill and passion, making them feel more substantial than they are. But what makes Honky Chateau a classic is the songcraft, and the way John ties disparate strands of roots music into distinctive and idiosyncratic pop -- it's one of the finest collections of mainstream singer/songwriter pop of the early '70s. AMG.

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Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes - Black & Blue 1973

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' second album found the group continuing to ride its early peak, featuring the hit "The Love I Lost" (in a six-minute version longer than the one that made the pop Top Ten) and an additional Top Ten R&B hit in "Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)." The album and its "The Love I Lost" single also became milestones for Gamble & Huff productions and Philadelphia soul in general for introducing the dance groove that became so integral to disco. But while the two hits and "Is There a Place for Me" were forceful uptempo tracks, they were balanced by a good number of effective ballads, the only misstep (and a most curious one) being the decision to lead off the album with a cover of "Cabaret." The 2010 CD reissue adds the "Pt. 1" single versions of "The Love I Lost" and "I'm Weak for You" as bonus tracks, and, more importantly, very interesting liner notes spotlighting detailed recollections by MFSB guitarist Bobby Eli. AMG.

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The Alan Bown - The Alan Bown! 1969

Alan Bown made an improbable rock star -- though it could be argued that he was never really a "star." With the trumpet as his instrument, he wasn't even a terribly likely rock & roll bandleader, but he definitely was that, and for a lot of years. And if his bands' recordings had been as successful as their live shows, he'd likely have been a star and then some. Any musical aspirations that he harbored were invisible until he completed a stint in the Royal Air Force at the outset of the 1960s. He found a music scene that was booming throughout England with an important extension to Germany, and which encompassed not only rock & roll but also blues, R&B, and jazz. The latter two areas were where Bown's interest lay, and he was soon a member of a group called the Embers that was booked into the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, working on the same bills as such Liverpool-based artists as Tony Sheridanthe Beatlesthe Undertakers, et al. He returned to England after the extended engagement and joined the John Barry Seven, led by the trumpeter/arranger John Barry. He was actually more involved with the group than Barry, whose burgeoning careers as a record producer and film music composer were taking off in a big way and keeping him busy outside of performing. When Barry disbanded the group in 1964, Bown picked up the pieces and formed an outfit of his own -- his proposed name was ABC, standing for Alan Bown Community, but at the behest of his manager he chose the Alan Bown Set instead. The sextet was an immediate success as a live act, and it became an audience and critical favorite in London.

Oddly enough, Bown and company never even thought about a recording contract, intending the band as a vehicle for steady work for themselves, doing what they enjoyed. It wasn't until a couple of years into their history that Tony Reeves (the future member of Colosseum), an A&R man for Pye Records, spotted the Alan Bown Set and got them under contract, which resulted in a string of 45s and half of an LP called London Swings that included part of their live show, in tandem with Jimmy James & the Vagabonds. The Pye contract ended in late 1967, and the group was then signed to the British division of MGM Records, to an imprint called Music Factory. By this time, they'd modified their image and sound -- the interest in R&B and soul was fading somewhat in the London clubs, even as psychedelic music was starting to become all the rage. And so, for its MGM/Music Factory releases, a somewhat longer-haired and more flamboyant version of Bown's band was seen, and in lieu of the Alan Bown Set, the group was simply known as the Alan Bown!, complete with exclamation point. They cut a song called "We Can Help You," which had originated with the British band Nirvana -- and the Alan Bown version started to make a splash in England in terms of exposure. But on the week of the record's actual release, disaster struck on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously. A strike at the plant where the record was pressed and due to ship from prevented its release, at precisely the moment when it had to be in stores. And MGM Records chose to abandon the Music Factory label -- though the Alan Bown! would remain with the company on the MGM label proper, this also meant that the company abandoned all promotional and distribution efforts involving the Music Factory releases. "We Can Help You," despite a string of promotional appearances by the band on its behalf (including the television show Top of the Pops), was left to die and rot on the vine, and the accompanying LP, called Outward Bown, was ignored. A pair of singles that followed, "Toyland" b/w "Technicolour Dream" and "Story Book" b/w "Little Lesley," both failed to chart. The album included the group's psychedelic pop version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," which the Alan Bown! had been doing in their live shows as well -- the record label would never consider it for a single release, but Jimi Hendrix (who apparently knew their version) was more successful with his own Track Records label and got a hit single out of the same song.

A contract with Deram Records, the progressive rock imprint of English Decca, followed, along with a pair of singles and a self-titled LP, and there was also a lineup shift that, for a time, brought Robert Palmer into the group as its lead singer. But despite a lot of touring and television exposure, and the reconstituting of its sound and image in a much more progressive rock vein, the group's moment had clearly passed by the start of the new decade. Even a signing to the Island label failed to re-ignite their commercial prospects, though Bown did keep a version of the band -- including Mel Collins on saxophone -- together for touring purposes as late as 1972. After that last tour, Bown himself -- following a short stay in a band called Jonesy -- moved on to a producer's spot with British CBS Records, where he was one of those involved with the signing of Mott the Hoople and Sailor. By the 1980s, he had long since abandoned performing in favor of the business side of the music business and started his own production and publishing company. Thanks to the continued reissue of his '60s-era recordings, however, he remains a much-loved and fondly remembered figure as a performer, from the British beat era into the psychedelic period. AMG.

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John Entwistle's Ox - Mad Dog 1975

John Entwistle's greatest failings as a solo artist are generally a matter of not being the best judge of his own work. He can't seem to tell his good jokes from the ones that sink without a trace, he sets his best songs right beside numbers that would have been best left in the rehearsal space, and for a guy who was one-third of England's greatest power trio (plus vocalist), he doesn't always know what to do with a large band. All of these flaws are certainly evident on Mad DogEntwistle's third solo set, but it's actually one of his better albums, one where the good songs really do work. "I Fall to Pieces" is not the Patsy Cline chestnut, but a snappy horn-fortified number, "Who in the Hell?" is a C&W parody that's both funny and tuneful, "Mad Dog" gets the Spector-esque girl group sound down cold (appropriately enough, Entwistle hands the lead vocal over to his female backing singers), and "I'm So Scared" is a charging rocker that could have passed muster with the Who. But "You Can Be So Mean" and "Drowning" are novelty numbers that wear out their welcome fast, the instrumental "Jungle Bunny" is just taking up space, and only Who fans interested in tales of woe on the road will be interested in "Cell Number Seven" (about the band's arrest in Montreal in 1974). Mad Dog is enjoyable in short bursts, but it also makes a good case for the conventional wisdom that even the best bass players are only so-so as band leaders. AMG.

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Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers - Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers 1965

If Cliff Bennett's debut album could've come out a year sooner than it did, it just might've pushed Bennett and his band the Rebel Rousers to the front rank of British Invasion acts, and maybe just a few steps from the top rank of British beat artists at home -- it's that good. Even listening to it decades after it was recorded, it holds up almost as well as the Beatles' second album, and a lot better than the best albums by any of their Liverpool contemporaries Gerry & the Pacemakers or Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas. In a way, it's not a surprise that the record should be this good, as Bennett was one of the most prodigiously talented singers on the British beat scene, and the album was a long time coming -- almost six years into his professional career. Lots of British beat acts tried to sound authentic, or at least comfortable doing American-style R&B. Some, like the Rolling Stonesthe Whothe Small Faces, and the Pretty Things, made their stuff (or, at least, the vocals) sound almost more authentic than the real article; others, like the Beatles in their early days, did it on their own terms and made it sound as natural as if they'd spent years working clubs in New Orleans, Memphis, or wherever. On their self-titled first album, Bennett & the Rebel Rousers fit into the latter category. Supported more than ably by Howard Wendells' lead guitar and Mick Burt's highly underrated drumming, plus a pair of saxmen (Maurice Groves, Sid Phillips) and an organist (Roy Young) who were sympathetic to the materials, Bennett rose to the occasion of this debut long-player. His vocal range was phenomenal, and for sheer power he rivaled Paul McCartney -- in his lower register on "Make Yourself at Home" and his mid-range on "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," and then plunging into harder blues on "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby"; and the near-falsetto singing on "Steal Your Heart Away" is spellbinding. One can even forgive the cover of "Beautiful Dreamer," the kind of standard that was usual for the beat band to cover in those days, and they do a better job with it than one would expect. Producer John Burgess, who also worked with Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, evidently had learned by this time that it was best with one of these R&B-based acts to just get the band and the engineer on the same page and stand out of the way and let them do their stuff. However it was done, this is a piece of essential listening, and perhaps as quintessentially representative of the best of the British beat boom as any record this side of the Beatles' first two British LPs. And the only reason it doesn't get rated higher is that Bennett did even better work the next time out. AMG.

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Dollar Brand, Don Cherry & Carlos Ward - The Third World-Underground 1972

A live recording made in Denmark of the encounter of three top jazz/free jazz musicians. Give it a listen.

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Beau - Creation 1971

Beau's debut album (Beau) had suffered from some monotony in its arrangements, which used nothing other than the singer/songwriter's 12-string guitar. For his second album, Creation, fellow Dandelion artists the Way We Live provided full-band backing on some of the cuts, which made for a substantial improvement. At its heart, though, it remained average-at-best folk-rock troubadouring fare, the work of a sensitive observation-oriented composer without much vocal distinction or force. The chugging "Nine Minutes" was one of Beau's best efforts, but his more subdued numbers were hindered by unmemorable standard folk melodies (though these at least had a darker hue than those on his debut) and reserved, colorless singing. On "Creation," the music did take an unpredictable turn into quasi-psychedelia, with whispered spoken narration on top of swirling discordant organ, in a manner not too far removed from some of early Pink Floyd's spacier interludes. "Silence Returns," too, goes in an unexpected direction when its basic doomy riff is joined by scorching distorted hard rock guitar some ways into the track, and these two songs alone make Creation a more interesting effort than its predecessor. AMG.

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B. W. Stevenson - B. W. Stevenson 1972

Best remembered for his 1973 smash "My Maria," singer/songwriter B.W. Stevenson (the "B.W." reportedly stood for "Buckwheat" -- his real first name was Lewis) was born October 5, 1949, in Dallas, TX. As a teen he played in a variety of local rock bands before attending college, eventually joining the U.S. Air Force; upon returning from duty Stevenson settled in the Austin area, where he became a frequent attraction on the city's thriving club circuit. Upon signing to RCA he was marketed primarily to country listeners, enjoying little success with either his 1972 self-titled debut or its follow-up, Lead Free; the title track of 1973's My Maria, however, became a Top Ten pop favorite, although ironically it missed the country charts altogether. Stevenson never again recaptured the single's success, and after 1974's Calabasas he landed at Warner Bros. to issue We Be Sailin' a year later. "Down to the Station," from 1977's Lost Feeling, was his last chart hit, and after 1980's Lifeline his recording career was over. Sadly, Stevenson died on April 28, 1988, shortly after undergoing heart surgery; he was just 38 years old. AMG.

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segunda-feira, 29 de novembro de 2021

Jefferson Airplane - Bless Its Pointed Little Head 1969

Jefferson Airplane's first live album demonstrated the group's development as concert performers, taking a number of songs that had been performed in concise, pop-oriented versions on their early albums -- "3/5's of a Mile in 10 Seconds," "Somebody to Love," "It's No Secret," "Plastic Fantastic Lover" -- and rendering them in arrangements that were longer, harder rocking, and more densely textured, especially in terms of the guitar and basslines constructed by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. The group's three-part vocal harmonizing and dueling was on display during such songs as a nearly seven-minute version of Fred Neil's folk-blues standard "The Other Side of This Life," here transformed into a swirling rocker. The album emphasized the talents of Kaukonen and singer Marty Balin over the team of Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, who had tended to dominate recent records: the blues song "Rock Me Baby" was a dry run for Hot Tuna, the band Kaukonen and Casady would form in two years, and Balin turned in powerful vocal performances on several of his own compositions, notably "It's No Secret." Jefferson Airplane was still at its best in concise, driving numbers, rather than in the jams on Donovan's "Fat Angel" (running 7:35) or the group improv "Bear Melt" (11:21); they were just too intense to stretch out comfortably. But Bless Its Pointed Little Head served an important function in the group's discography, demonstrating that their live work had a distinctly different focus and flavor from their studio recordings. AMG.

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Frank Zappa & The Mothers - Roxy & Elsewhere 1974

After his affair with jazz fusion (Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo, both released in 1972), Frank Zappa came back in late 1973 with an album of simple rock songs, Over-Nite Sensation. But the temptation for more challenging material was not long to resurface and, after a transitional LP (Apostrophe, early 1974), he unleashed a double LP (reissued on one CD) of his most complex music, creating a bridge between his comedy rock stylings and Canterbury-style progressive rock. Three-quarters of the album was recorded live at the Roxy in Hollywood and extensively overdubbed in the studio later. Only three tracks ("Dummy Up," "Son of Orange County," and "More Trouble Every Day"), taken from other concerts, are 100 percent live. The band is comprised of George Duke (keyboards), Tom Fowler (bass), Ruth Underwood (percussion), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Walt Fowler (trumpet), Napoleon Murphy Brock (vocals), and Chester Thompson (drums) -- drummer Ralph Humphrey, keyboardist Don Preston, and guitarist Jeff Simmons appear on the non-Roxy material. The sequence "Echidna's Arf (Of You)"/"Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?" stands as Zappa's most difficult rock music and provides quite a showcase for Underwood. Other highlights include "Penguin in Bondage" and "Cheepnis," a horror movie tribute. All the pieces were premiere recordings, except for "More Trouble Every Day" and "Son of Orange County," a revamped, slowed down "Orange County Lumber Truck"/"Oh No." Compared to the man's previous live recordings (Fillmore East: June 1971Just Another Band from L.A.), this one sounds fantastic, finally providing an accurate image of the musicians' virtuosity. For fans of Zappa's intricate material like "RDNZL," "The Black Page," or "Inca Roads," this album is a must-have. AMG.

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Embryo - Opal 1970

One of the most original, eclectic, and innovative Krautrock bands, Embryo fuse traditional ethnic music with their own jazzy space rock style. Over an existence spanning decades, the group have traveled the world, playing with hundreds of different musicians and releasing dozens of records. Debuting with the hard psychedelia of 1970's Opal, the band incorporated Moroccan tonal scales and traditional instrumentation on subsequent releases like 1973's We Keep On, and a lengthy bus tour of India shaped the sound of the 1979 double album Embryo's ReiseEmbryo collaborated with Nigeria's Yoruba Dun Dun Orchester during the 1980s, and travels to Asia influenced 1996's Ni Hau. A collaboration with New York improv ensemble No-Neck Blues Band produced 2006's EmbryoNNCK, introducing Embryo to a new audience. Following the death of group founder Christian BurchardEmbryo continued under the leadership of his daughter, Marja Burchard, and released Auf Auf in 2021. 

Originally a jazzy space rock band, Embryo were formed in 1969 in Munich, Germany, by former R&B and jazz organist Christian Burchard (vibraphone, hammer dulcimer, percussion, marimba), Edgar Hofmann (saxophone), Lothar Meid (bass), Jimmy Jackson (organ), Dieter Serfas (drums, percussion), Wolfgang Paap (drums), Ingo Schmidt (saxophone), and John Kelly (guitar). However, the lineup was already different by the time sessions for their debut album began. The resulting record, Opal (1970), is considered Embryo's masterpiece of their early, more psychedelic sound. By the time of Embryo's Rache (1971), the group were already adding ethnic touches to their music.

In 1972, the same year they played at the Olympic Games in Munich, Embryo were invited by the Goethe Institute to tour Northern Africa and Portugal. In Morocco, the band were fascinated by the different tonal scales used by Moroccan musicians, profoundly shaping the group's music to come. In 1973, they were joined by saxophonist Charlie Mariano and guitarist Roman Bunka, who were both influential in moving Embryo toward their genre-blending mixture of space rock and ethnic sounds. We Keep On, released in 1973, was the most successful album in the group's career. However, after Surfin' (1974) and Bad Heads & Bad Cats (1975), Burchard decided Embryo were moving in too commercial a direction and led them on an eight-month excursion to India, where they met local musicians. Shobha Gurtu, an Indian singer the bandmembers met during their travels, would later record an album with them, 1979's Apo CalypsoEmbryo also set up their own record label, Schneeball, with the rock band Checkpoint Charlie during this time, releasing such albums as 1979's Embryo's Reise and 1982's La Blama Sparozzi - Zwischenzonen on the imprint. Embryo also took off on a two-year journey through the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, during which the band's bus broke down in Tehran near the end of the Iranian Revolution in 1981; this musical expedition was captured by the documentary film Vagabunden-Karawane. Two longtime members, Uwe Müllrich and Michael Wehmeyer, left the group in 1981 and formed Embryo's Dissidenten, later known as just Dissidenten. After touring Asia, the Middle East, and Egypt during the early '80s, Embryo released the studio album Zack Gluck in 1984. The band then toured Africa and became involved with Nigeria's Yoruba Dun Dun Orchester, producing a 1985 studio album and the live release Jazzbühne Berlin '89 (aka Live in Berlin). 1994's Middle Eastern-influenced Ibn Battuta was recorded over the course of three years and released as a CD and a video. 1996's Ni Hau incorporated throat singing as well as Chinese and Indian instrumentation. Embryo continued to release both new and archival recordings into the 21st century, including 2006's EmbryoNNCK, a collaboration with the No-Neck Blues BandBurchard suffered a stroke in 2016, which effectively ended his career as a musician, and his daughter Marja took over leadership of the group. Christian's final album with EmbryoIt Do, was released by Trikont in October 2016. Christian Burchard died in January 2018 at the age of 71. Marja recorded sessions with musicians such as Roman Bunka and Jan Weissenfeldt, and completed the album Auf Auf in 2020. She approached fervent Embryo fan Madlib, whom the band had jammed with several years prior, about releasing the album, and Auf Auf was issued by Madlib Invazion in November 2021. AMG.

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