Showing posts with label Eric Clapton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eric Clapton. Show all posts

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Clapton assessment

Image result for eric clapton sleepingI lost interest in Clapton's guitar work quite a while ago. Post-Cream, his solo work was pretty lazy, with outbreaks of inspiration , such as Layla or his wonderful blues disc From the Cradle. Others may feel differently,but he seems to have recycling old riffs for decades; I count from Wikipedia that he has released 16 live albums under his name over the years, a sign of  laziness, as no new material is coming forth, but also of arrogance, a conviction,if unspoken,that each of his long blues solos is a work of art, ready for prime time. 

This works worth Coltrane to large degree, in my view (and tastes) and much less satisfactorily for Keith Jarrett (who noodles as much as me combusts with inspiration). It's not so objectionable for a jazz musician to have numerous live albums over the course of a long career since a tenet of the jazz aesthetic is that no two improvisations on the same song are alike. 

Each performance is a unique work of art, and able jazz players are able to recast,re-imagine, re-brand their signature songs continually. Clapton,though, is not a jazz musician, but a blues player, with a far more limited vocabulary of ideas that simply repeat themselves. There is redundancy in his execution that becomes wearisome with all those elongated solos. These days, where he gets my attention is less the addition of new musical ideas or context, but rather by the quality of fire he brings to the old material, to the signature riffs and phrases. My favorite example is his reunion with fellow Blind Faith member Steve Winwood from 2009. Clapton's guitar work burns hot,fevered, intense, inspired throughout the two discs. This two disc set more than reclaimed Clapton's greatness from drifting, plodding and dispirited money grab that was the 2004 Cream reunion.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

stray notes:A treatise on some mostly white blues guitarists

The little I've read about Allen's memoir Apropos of Nothing gives further confirmation that brilliant artists are  often awful people, creeps in fact , and underscores the wisdom of having realistic expectations from such bright lights of talent when observing them behave in matters separate from the art they make for our distraction. Being an artist, whether poet, novelist, painter or musician, is not a priesthood by any means. Without diving into the weeds about the allegations that Allen had molested his daughter Dylan , I will step back and say that it’s a family feud with no jackpot, a large pile of reeking results of separate streams of bad faith. In any event, I will satisfy myself with reading a half dozen book reviews because other matters, more interesting and crucial, have bled the subject of Allen, his career, his successes and his sins dry of any allure. The matter is a dead, dry husk of wretched old flesh under a sun lamp of scrutiny.  The characterizations I've read, quoted with glee with reviewers anxious to soil his name a little more, does indeed cause the writer-director-comedian appear to be an unseemly prick. 

I will leave it at that and trust that he is yet another artist I admire who likewise suffered the indignity of being human, too human, despite an element of extraordinary talent and achievement. At 84, I suspect Allen doesn't care what others think about he thinks of everybody else and expects his reputation as a genius film maker to outlive the predator allegations. It's certainly the case with Frank Sinatra, who survived the storm over Kitty Kelly's fantastically damning biography HIS WAY in 1986. Sinatra sued to stop publication but later dropped the suit, and the contents of the book revealed an ambitious , insecure , raging man gifted with a beautiful voice and attendant charisma who was in actual fact a monster. 

Thirty three years later, the Kelley book and the deeds it recounts are safely back in the shadows and the general view of Sinatra, his reputation, is a glorification of a legend, an artist, a genius, a true romantic, a profound American success story. At this stage of the game, Allen believes the same will be his fate, that his many successes as a film maker and humorist will outpace that gamier aspects of his life. Americans prefer to believe their legends.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cream that does not rise

Royal Albert Hall May 2-3-5-6 2005 --Cream (Reprise)

I have to admit that I have had an unnatural attraction for Cream's busy, jittery and bombastic blues improvisations for decades, as they've been a source of pleasure since I saw them first and three-time total at Detroit's Grande Ballroom in the late Sixties. Euphoric recall? Maybe, but I still play the thirteen minutes of "Spoonful" from Wheels of Fire a couple of times a year, and the sheer mania of Goodbye's "I'm So Glad" gets played just as often. The riffs, interweaving, and interjections of the three musicians holding the stage was a busy sort of vibe that was somewhere between musical worlds--too fast and loud for blues, too repetitive and unmelodious for jazz, too arty for rock and roll. It was a sound from the nascent electronic wilderness that was a new kind improvisational sound, influenced by the three aforementioned styles (with occasional garnishes from Classical or English music all traditions), but coming in the end as a new sort of strident, crackling noise; metallic, assertive, all-conquering, sometimes searing when guitarist Eric Clapton was in the mood and made each of his blues intonations speak volumes of what his own voice could not manage.It is something that has less to do with sheer mastery of their respective instruments--in a heartbeat I could name a dozen musicians who are better guitarists, bassists and drummers than Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker--but with how the three of these guys gibed and gelled, how well their busy techniques meshed."Meshed" might not be the right word, but what it gets called, Cream's sound was a wonderful clash of distortion and blue notes, a feedback-laden trio of howling wolves. There is less of that shamanistic howl in the reunion double CD set Royal Albert Hall May 2-3-5-6 2005, which is understandable given that all three members--Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton on drums, bass and guitar respectively--are in their Sixties. It wouldn't be incorrect to say that there are enough rousing performances here of old Cream and blues standards to fill one excellent live disc. Still, this is better than any expectation I've had over the last four decades daydreaming in off hours about a make-believe- reunion; the performances are solid for the most part, and I'm glad that Cream's essential duty as performers is to stand there and play their instruments. Unlike the Rolling Stones, whose rebel youth glory days have given way to a routinely graceless stage presence that would make a newcomer to their music wonder what the big deal ever was about these guys, Cream has only to instrumentalize, extemporize, improvise. Again, you wish there was only one disc, as some of the material suffers from obvious nerves, miscues, a lack of direction. There are moments when Clapton's guitar work simply quits in the middle of an idea, with the rhythm section failing to pick it up again and fill the arena with the sort of muscular blues Cream made it's reputation. The best performances, in fact, are the blues number, especially Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign" and "Stormy Monday", wherein Clapton vexes self-anointed blues traditionalists yet again with some guitar work that transcends income, nationality, or skin color. It's not a conspiracy against the blues that B.B.King and Buddy Guy have no hesitation saying wonderful things about his playing. The muse is something that moves around and is not at all loyal to matters of class, race or political stance, and in this case the essence of what allows blues music to convince you, at least momentarily, of the universality of a nuanced sort of suffering has taken a home in the center of Clapton's best fretwork. His own solo work in the days since Cream's demise in the late Sixties has been largely wretched pop variations on roots music--please note that Layla is the very notable exception-- but however mediocre a songwriter he has become, his touch on the blues is the touch of a master."It's all in the wrist" said Frankie Machine, the junkie in Nelson Algren's masterpiece The Man With The Golden Arm as he tries to describe the sort of body finesse it takes to win at throwing dice. It's all in the wrist with Clapton as well, and the fingers as he awards us with one ghostly tremolo and one screaming ostinato after another, the approximation of the human voice emerging from the din of electronic straining. It's spellbinding work, and it is these moments that make the less animated performances on Royal Albert Hall...2005 worth the while.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Clapton: Used Up Before He Was Half Way Through

I'll never say that guitarist Eric Clapton can't play the blues; it's because of this particular brilliance he has in his wrists, where he gets that ghostly vibrato and stinging, bittersweet bend just right, that keeps me listening to him since seeing him with Cream at one of those ballroom dances in the late sixties. The man can play; he has, though, made the sad decision of pop stardom over integrity, not a thing he can be blamed for, since who among us can easily declare they'd do otherwise if such fortune were ours? The fact remains, though, that one wishes Clapton made better choices. This is an old review I wrote in 1990 of a Clapton box set, Crossroads, and herein we find me opining in what seems like the reading equivalent of monotone that Slow Hand was sucking in the Nineties.
I would have to say that I have relished the idea of having the works of many favorite rock musicians gathered in grandiose, multiple-disc packages, complete with exhaustive biographies, obscure photos and important dates, for no better reason than to affirm my vanity that rock and roll is art, after all, and that we’d better take notes and cram for the final. Reality settles in fast after initial enthusiasm over this notion, leaving two leveling considerations: one, how many of us want to get mundanely scholastic about music that free us from mendacity and two, how many rock artists have there been whose life’s’ work merits obsessive inspection and a fifty-dollar vocabulary? On the second point, one of those artists isn’t Eric Clapton, whom the six-record (four CD) box set, Crossroads (Polydor), manages the opposite of what its compilers intended. A generous overview of the British guitarists’ twenty-plus year career, ranging from well-known songs, classic performances and out takes from past sessions, this collection, over all, confirms my suspicion that Clapton is an artist with obvious and appealing attributes who have been over-promoted to solo-artist status, placed in a league where he’s plainly out of his depth. Consider the sequence. From his early work with The Yardbirds, with their roaring blues experiments and off-kilter riff rock that gave us some of the more angular pop tunes of the era,  and more significantly, with John Mayall's Blue Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes, we saw the progress of a gifted instrumentalist evolving in sympathetic contexts. With Mayall, he’d taken on the mantle of Chicago blues tradition head-on and personalized it, soloing with such vengeance, confidence and depth of feeling that matters of race, nationality or accent ceased to be issues. With Cream, he fused his traditionalism with the experimental impulse of Sixties British Rock and, along with Hendrix, re-invented the mode and method of rock guitaring. Through his work with Steve Winwood in Blind Faith (a regrettably under-rated band that was never given half a chance by either critics or listeners) and with late American guitarist Duane Allman in Derek and the Dominoes on the seminal Layla two-record set, Clapton was on a continual upward spiral. In each case, He situated himself among mentors and collaborators clearly his equal who could provide a means for the guitarist to continually lay out his best efforts. These efforts have stood the withering and eroding test of lime, and we have here some tare examples of music that still cuts a fresh path even by today’s’ jaded, audio-glutted sensibilities, The upward momentum stops, though, by the time Crossroads racks pass these hallmarks and proceeds through the remains of Clapton's’ later work. Seemingly embarrassed by the adulation and financial windfalls his early work gave him, the later work decidedly lost its’ aggression, affecting a laid-back manner that was an anathema by his previous standards. Country blues, rhythm and blues, reggae and country western were the touch stones of the new approach, and indistinct olio under which his playing was subsumed and de-fanged. Save for and occasional foray into straight blues, where the essence of his brilliance shone through with no regrets—the mournfully sustained notes, the slicing. Taciturn runs, the embroidered phrasing that spoke volumes about pain, joy and growth, with scarcely a lick issued for its own dubious sake. Clapton seemed all but anonymous through these tracks, It was as though he were flying for a zero-degree of responsibility for the work, as though the previous Clapton hadn’t existed at all and therefore, there was nothing for him to live up to.

Not that there hadn’t been hits along the way, such as “I Shot the Sheriff’, cocaine”. “After Midnight”, “Lay Down Sally”, but even these gems underscore the difficulty. His later career is best remembered more by songs rather than albums. For an artist who’s the subject of a retrospective as exhaustive as Crossroads, with its claim of documenting legend and legacy, the fact that none of my friends (rock and roll zealots all) have been unable to name just three from the scads of his post-Layla releases tells me there’s something wrung with this picture. Boxed sets by their nature imply memorable music... But if a major portion of the musicians work draws either a blank or sketchy impressions on a collective level, we might assume that we’re operating under the wrong set of assumptions. The real problem with Crossroads, is that it doesn’t add clarity to Clapton’s’ work, but tells rather where his bad choices have been over and over, but which also gives an idea of what he might do about his situation. My advice, made simple, is for Clapton to get a little more honest with himself and admit that he needs a band of equals to move beyond this particular rut. It’d be a simple admission that the unchanging core of his talent is as a side man, collaborator and band member not as a band leader. Clapton needs to be a member of a team that plays rock and roll whose whole is greater than its individual parts.