Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers and Billy Cobb, So What

This is jazz, recorded live in 1960 in Sweden. So What is a classic jazz cut, the first track on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. It is the kind of music that even if you think you haven’t heard it, you’ve heard it.

This live performance from Sweden is a classic demonstration of jazz and why. Fantastic performers, all five of them, take the tune and turn it into something huger. Yeah, that’s the best word I can come up with. Huger. A better word than amazing, but that, too.

If you want to check out the original album cut, which is great, too, here it is.

Wikipedia note: The actor Dennis Hopper at some point claimed that the name of the song came from a philosophical conversation Hopper had with Davis, during which Davis would say something and Hopper would say, So what?

Song of the Week – Golden Rough, The Bamboos

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The Bamboos are a contemporary, (mostly) white, 8-piece funk band from Australia — kind of a modern day Average White Band.

I stumbled upon their 2006 debut release, Step It Up, and immediately fell in love with the James Brown inspired grooves that they lay down.

Today’s SotW is “Golden Rough” from that album.

It opens with a drum pattern. After four bars bass and a funky rhythm guitar join in; then come the horns – those glorious horns! Once the groove is fully established, the band makes room for a trumpet solo before returning to the main groove. This is a track The Meters could dig.

“Get on the good foot.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Painbirds, Sparklehorse

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In the late ‘90s/early ‘00s I often listened to a band called Sparklehorse. The “band” was the creative outlet for Mark Linkous, a southerner that wrote very beautiful and emotionally charged songs. He also died twice before he was 50. Yes, two times.

The first was when he was on tour with Radiohead in the UK. He took too much of something (no one knows if it was alcohol, drugs or both) and somehow blacked out with his legs pinned underneath the weight of his body. When the paramedics arrived and straightened him out for treatment, his heart stopped for some time – apparently from the potassium build up. Initially the doctors thought he might not come back, but if he did, he would surely lose his legs. He survived both ordeals, though he had to endure six months in hospital, confined to a wheelchair, while he completed his physical therapy.

His next Sparklehorse album, Good Morning Spider (1998), contains today’s SotW – “Painbirds.”

I’m not sure how I would classify this music. Nor am I clear about why I (we) need to try. In a 1997 interview with Joss Hutton for Bucket of Brains, Linkous says of “Painbirds”:

“I think the recording is really good – kinda getting into low-down style – like a military beat. I dunno – it’s kinda hard to describe – I think it sounds very interesting to me. I judge a lotta things like; is it gonna sound cool in five years.”

Well, twenty years later it still sounds pretty cool to me. The synths, tremolo guitar, and trumpet solo in the break render the song unclassifiable. It’s almost Tom Waitsian, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since they actually collaborated at one time. (Could “Painbirds” be a play on Waits’ “Rainbirds” from Swordfishtrombones?)

All that aside, some would refer to this cut as Americana. I get that too. It may have to do with Linkous’ rural Virginian roots. His soul is steeped in ghosts of Civil War Dixie, much like The Band’s. In fact, “Painbirds” was included on cover mount CD that came with an issue of Uncut magazine called Across the Great Divide – Music Inspired by The Band.

Lyrically, I’m not sure what this song is about. But I appreciate the simple beauty of lines like “Spiral down those hateful dears / Between our skins and burning spheres” regardless of what they mean.

In 2010, Linkous died for the second and final time. He went the “tortured artist” route and took his own life with a rifle. Although his commercial impact was limited, his creative impact was widely recognized by fellow musicians including Waits, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips.

Enjoy… until next week.

Cecil Taylor Died Today.

I’m a rockist, but I have some jazz leanings. And when I heard today that Cecil Taylor died, I thought about all of his music that moves through me.

One thing I can say is that the two times I saw Cecil Taylor live I felt my life change. Both times. I would play the records and get caught up in the thoughts of what he and his combos were doing, but seeing Cecil Taylor and his band live was living a musical experience that pushed you to places you could not possibly have known about. Some of this was referential, Taylor freely sampled, he loved other music, but a lot of it was structural. He loved breaking down the usual form.

His was music that demanded great playing, and even greater creativity in the improvisation. Watching/hearing Cecil Taylor and his combo create was like becoming privvy to great minds operating at maximum capacity, and letting you see how the magic is made.

I can’t think of another musician who operated on both the sensual ground level and engaged the absolutely intellectual spheres so directly.
And maybe I should mention that these shows I saw pulsed, were full of musical exuberance and passion.

I happened to be out walking today and stumbled into a great used bookstore in Prospect Heights I rarely get to. The music playing was frenetic and sort of atonal but clearly not, and my guess was that it was Cecil Taylor. I didn’t know he had died, at that point, but I also admired the bookstore for its amazing hipness (in the good sense) and love of great writing.

This clip gets at how percussive, melodic, energetic and disciplined Cecil Taylor’s music was. As with any musician, there are many more shades. But the point is, even if you don’t know about him, he was a giant.

Song of the Week – Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo), Taj Mahal

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Today’s SotW is the fourth time Taj Mahal has been featured in this communiqué – twice before under his own name and once as a member of the Rising Sons.

The song is “Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo)” which was originally a very short instrumental that served as an intro to the album Giant Step (1969). But the version that’s today’s SotW is an extended jam from the 1971 album recorded live at the Fillmore East, The Real Thing.

Can you believe that Taj Mahal went on the road with a 9-piece band that included four tubas? Well he did. And it works!

Beside the tubas, the band also included the great Jesse Ed Davis and John Hall (Orleans) on guitars, and John Simon (producer of the first two Band albums and the first BS&T disc) on piano.

The three solos are contributed by session pro Howard Johnson (sax), Hall, and Simon. Taj Mahal adds fife, and true to the song’s title, he whistles his way through this lazy river, instrumental jam.

This is perfect music for a beautiful, Spring day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Bass Players Who Could Sing

You don’t find much Beatles on youtube, much less good Beatles. As the concept of intellectual property continues to lose hold, it’s nice to see that someone is still ripping them off.

The greatest singing bass player is McCartney of course. I think this an underrated Beatles song, indeed I played it as much as She Loves You because it was the flipside. This is live at the BBC and it’s better than the record. A simple ditty but damn it’s good.

Song of the Week – One Fine Morning, Lighthouse

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In December 1968, Blood Sweat & Tears released their eponymous 2nd album. In 1969, three singles – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “And When I Die” and “Spinning Wheel” – each reached #2 on the Billboard singles chart and made the album ubiquitous. Eventually, this popular, horn-based disc won the Grammy for Album of the Year (1970).

That recording eclipsed the first BS&T album (Child Is Father to the Man), the Al Kooper brainchild that I discovered after BS&T, that I have come to decide is the much better record.

Around the same time, Chicago was breaking out. Chicago Transit Authority (1969), Chicago (1970) and Chicago III (1971) were all excellent albums that took Al Kooper’s idea to merge rock music with a horn section to another level… and “horn rock” became a thing.

Now let’s not argue about it. I’m well aware that horns have been used in popular music before BS&T or Chicago. But it was more common in the genres dominated by black artists. The early R&B hits of the ‘50s almost always had a sax, if not a complete horn section. The soul music on Atlantic, Stax/Volt, and Motown all relied heavily on horn arrangements. But this was less so in Rock, at least if you consider acts with the horn players as permanent members of the band.

Other horn rock acts include The Electric Flag (with the great blues guitarist, Mike Bloomfield), The Ides of March (remember “Vehicle”), The Sons of Champlin (popular here in the Bay area) and Chase (featuring the screaming high note trumpet of Bill Chase).

Another band, Lighthouse, recorded today’s SotW – “One Fine Morning.”

I’ll bet when a few of you hear this you remember the song but say to yourself “I always thought that song was by Chicago!” No surprise since the Canada based Lighthouse often makes lists of “one hit wonders.”

But you have to admit, this cut rocks. The vocals, the guitar and (of course) the horns are a rocket shot to the moon! And you have to love the way the band builds tension through to the ending.

If you have any interest in digging a little deeper into the history of horn rock, check out this article at the Music Aficionado website:

Horn Rock Bands: Quaint… or Killer

Also worthwhile are both of the recent Chicago documentaries that you can catch on NetFlix or on demand:

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago (2016)
Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience (2017)

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – C’mon & Medley: Hard Luck / Child’s Claim to Fame / Pickin’ up the Pieces, Poco

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Before Eagles. Before New Riders of the Purple Sage. Before Pure Prairie League. Before Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,,, there was Poco.

OK, it might be going a little too far to claim Poco invented country rock – but it’s not too far off. Gram Parsons and the Byrds released Sweetheart of the Rodeo about 6 months before Poco’s first album. Dylan and The Band were in Americana territory earlier too. But rock and roll was a combination of R&B and country, so you can go back to the Everly Brothers if you want to go back to the roots — or, perhaps, even farther back to Hank Williams.

But that’s all theoretical BS. Today’s post is about Poco.

I was introduced to Poco by my big brother. At the time, Crosby, Stills & Nash were a top act and led my young mind to carefully read liner notes to learn more about group ancestry.

Poco rose out of the ashes of Buffalo Springfield. Richie Furay and Jim Messina formed the group after the Springfield fell apart due to creative differences between the main creative team of Stephen Stills and Neil Young.

My favorite Poco album was their third – the live DeLIVErin’ (1971). Deliverin’ is not only one of my favorite Poco albums, it’s also one of my favorite live albums – and that’s not hyperbole.

“C’mon” is a country rocker!

The disc also has a couple of great medleys, one of the band’s live show trademarks. I love to sing along to “Medley: Hard Luck / Child’s Claim to Fame / Pickin’ up the Pieces.”

One of the things that always grabbed me about Poco, and Deliverin’ in particular, is the positive attitude of this music. It is optimistic. It is simply joyous!

Poco was one of the first bands I ever saw in concert. It was at SUNY New Paltz, but sadly, after both Furay and Messina had left. But it was still a great show.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Total Entertainment Forever, Father John Misty

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Each December I take the time to do an exhaustive review of the new music I listened to throughout the year – I compile my own, private “best of the year” list. I also read as many other lists as I can to discover more critically acclaimed albums that I may have missed.

By the time I get to this point in the New Year, I’ve fully processed my favorite recordings from the prior year.

One album that I missed upon release but turned out to be one that floated up to the top for me was Father John Misty’s third release, Pure Comedy. Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, was the drummer/backing vocalist in Fleet Foxes from 2008 until early 2012. By May 2012, Tillman had released his first solo album under the Father John Misty pseudonym.

The SotW is “Total Entertainment Forever.”

The song opens with the provocative lyric:

Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the Oculus Rift
After mister and the missus, finish dinner and the dishes

To Tillman, this is a commentary on “progress.” He was quoted in an interview with Exclaim! as saying “…if you don’t think that this virtual reality thing isn’t going to turn into sex with celebrities, then you’re kidding yourself.” This is indie rock for thinking people… and one of the best albums of 2017.

Enjoy… until next week.