Friday, March 30, 2007
Snapshots from my record collection---
The Pious Bird of Good Omen- Fleetwood Mac
With Peter Green on vocals and guitar, and Jermey Spencer, slide guitar and vocals. Green is the attraction here, with a voice that sounds as if it's bubbling from the bottom of a river of black water, and a guitar style that remains a model of economy and emotion, an uncommon virtue in an era given over to conspicuous displays of chops. Particularly beautiful is his version of Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad", a gorgeous blues pleading for love, unadorned. Green's singing is transforming.
Whatever Turns You On-- West Bruce and Laing
This is another cassette that's going to hit my trashcan soon. This is an grandiose, cluttered, sloppy,utterly phony release from good musicians who can't scratch up a good song between the three of them.Leslie West has his ringingly sweet guitar tone, Jack Bruce's bass work and keyboarding are busy as bees jacked on pollen, and Corky Laing, bless him, is one hell of a good rock drummer. An exception is the song "Token", which manages to be both arty and rocking all at once--power chords against a mystery time signature, nicely tensioned harmonies and verses from West and Bruce, a rousing riff out at the end. Power trios needn't be brain dead, as this track shows, but "Token" is also an aberration, for the genre and this band. It comes back to songwriting, as it always does; chops, vision, attitude, looks get you only so much credibility if the tunes are , say, underachieved.
This Land-- Bill Frisell
Frisell's twangy eclecticism works better here than on a good deal of his unfocused solo work; having Don Byron on reeds helps tremendously, suggesting that mystry session when Duane Eddy might have sessioned with Aaron Copeland in a Klezmer band.
Live In New York-- Jaco Pastorious
Some say Pastorious was the greatest bassist who ever drank themselves to death, and who am I to argue?What's obvious here is that he was especially thrilling when his band was gelling to the degree that the middle of long improvisations had a tight weaving that sounded like spontaneous composition, and too busy on the downside when matters were rote, overlong, lacking a center. This disc is gut busting in large part, though the ever-speedy Mike Stern riffs busily , armed with phase-shifters, phlangers and additional effects, not letting one measure to go unfilled with a dozen or so rote notes. Steve Slagle does some sweet and swift work on saxophone. Pastorious is a god, of course.
Their first album, Moby Grape, is on generally considered one of the best albums done by a Sixties American band, and with good reason, but I've a soft spot for their sophomore effort, the much maligned Wow. It certainly deserved some of the critical slamming it received when it was released in 1968, as the band and producer had a batch of solid songs they wanted to gussy up, festoon and otherwise psychedisize in the trend of over-produced pop wrought by Pet Sounds and Sgt.Pepper. Large parts are made literally unlistenable--at the time of release, the band killed the "newstolgia" fad of the period that not only had one song written and performed in the 20's style, but which also required the poor stoner to get up and change the album speed from 33 and 1/3 to 78 rpm. The results were not amusing. Some songs come out unscathed, though, as with "Motorcycle Irene", "Murder in My Heart for the "Judge","Can't Be So Bad" . At heart a good bad fucked by drugs, ego, and mental illness, but what they had, briefly, was terrific talent. Jerry Miller was one of the best blues guitarist of the period, bittersweet and fluid in ways Mike Bloomfield never quite realized, Bob Mosely was a natural blues belter, and Skip Spence was an American Syd Barrett, fried before his time. Needless to say, I'm burning a disc of the best tracks and jettisoning the artsy remainders which are unlistenable and hopelessly junked up with effects.
The Idiot--Iggy Pop
Confirmed. I didn't like this set of Bowie-produced mood music when it came out in the Seventies, and I like it less even now. Iggy isn't especially interesting when he's given to reflection, confession, or other poetic indulgences. Avenue A is a more recent example of the side of him that sends you running. Iggy talking about his feelings may be an occasional compulsion he gives into, but it's not something he's turned into art. Our boy is a reactor, an angry cuss, a fast wit, an in-the-moment realist, and he rocks.
Port of Call-- Cecil Taylor
Repackaged sessions from 1960-1961 released in the States on an economy label called Past Perfect, this is a bit more comprehensible and, say, conservative than what Taylor and his bands are known for. An abstract heat still burns away , though, and there's great moments here; the ten minute piano deconstruction of "This Nearly Was Mine" keeps you guessing and anticipating where Taylor and his trio would take the Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut, and "Things Ain't What They Used to Be"is rethought a dozen different ways by Archie Shep and Steve Lacy.
Flowers of Evil--Mountain
I play this once a year, and this morning was the time to do it; the studio sides have a repetitive pomposity you can get behind after a couple of stiff drinks, but but the combination of Felix Papalardi's whiny voice singing his wife's bullshit lyrics can ruin any buzz you have going for you. It's the live material that kicks it, with lots of fat, snarling Leslie West guitar work getting twisted around a punchy set of slow, grinding , distorted hard rock. Yes, arrangements do count, even in rock and roll."Roll Over Beethoven" and "Dreams of Milk and Honey" are on my best live rock tracks ever. I might be the only one who likes this, but fuck it, it makes me happy.
Live at Bradley's --Kevin Eubanks
If you can forget the fact that guitarist Eubanks is Jay Leno's band leader and default second-banana, you gather that he's a classy jazz player; rhythmic, melodic, swift on the solos, but with emphasis on phrasing , pauses between passages. This is a pleasant respite from the copious amounts of the ever-busy Mike Stern I've listened to lately. Stern seems unable to leave a quite moment alone and fills it with frantic riffing, not so much as technique gone beserk, a jazz version of wank guitar, but rather an accelerated directionlessness. An agile Jerry Garcia would be a better comparison. Eubanks, meantime, swings powerfully, with a light touch, a spry tone. James Williams (P) and Robert Hurst (b) do lithe work here. Good stuff for a drummerless trio.
Stepping Stone:Live at the Village Vanguard--Woody Shaw
Oh man, can this guy play the trumpet. I first came across Shaw on a couple of early Chick Corea sessions (or at least credited to him, part of the Laserlight budget series), and was floored by the range, ferocity and sense of development his playing had. Shaw was easily best of show. The wonders of Google led me to a series of albums he recorded as a leader, and this is the one I picked to start with.The only thing wrong with it is that Shaw died in 1989, obviously with a lot of great music in him still to play. Wild, blowing session, and next I am going to reacquaint myself with Eric Dolphy's Iron Man, with a 19 year old show matching the leader.
Earth Walk--Jack DeJohnette and Special Edition
A 1991 session on ECM, it's an engaging if conceptually diffuse collection; DeJohnette as a composer/arranger can be irritating at times with his habit of inserting style changes with hardly a thought of a natural sounding segue. The charts tend to drift into the kind of "space chords" vamping where there's nothing to suggest a melodic underpinning, a lack of an idea, leaving worthy soloists like reedmen Greg Osby and Gary Thompson to play more frantically than otherwise would be called for. It gets the customary ECM Afro/Euro groove going about a third of the way through, which leads us to much rhythm interplay, spiraling, head-whacking flights from Osby and Thompson and, to be sure, DeJohnette's sure stick work