Showing posts with label guitar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guitar. Show all posts

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, December 12, 2016

TED NUGENT: death rattle and roll

Ted Nugent is a conservative asshole who's politics are more head line hungry than thought provoking; he's been emphasizing his gun toting , quasi-libertarian survivalist side for so long that virtually everyone has forgotten what a good and unique rock and roll guitarist he is. This video, from an Amboy Dukes reunion of a kind, demonstrates that he can still play that angular,needle point style of his with the same back stabbing swagger that he had in the Sixties and the 70s, when he shut his mouth long enough to remind people that he used to be taken seriously as a musician. Here, the hatted one, still smirking like someone who just came back to the party after schlonging your girl friend behind the garage in the dank tool shed discretely wedged between the trash cans and the aromatic compost heap unleashes some major E chord damage and continues with a ridiculous flurry and fury of notes that it is like nothing else other than a blood lusting intersection when the traffic lights fail and every piece of metal gets twisted and every driver gets a headache, if they're lucky. That image news well with Nugent’s zeitgeist of preference, social Darwinism, the spirit of the strong and the armed taking what they need by force and the will to do so, attaining provisions and pleasures from the weak, the downtrodden, the unlucky and the losers who cannot defend their patch of the earth against invaders, marauders, hunters and rascals of nastier inclination.
Survival of the Fittest Live.jpg

This is the culture of bullying laid bare and blatant, a world view that  has absorbed the worst aspect of the warrior ethos and has used the habit of mind as a rationale sanity that goes to the marrow , that each and every act of belligerence, aggression, corrosively applied vulgarity and punch in the face is a matter of course, each an act of bravery, honor, of maintaining a natural order of things. Poet and essayist Robert Bly tried to humanize this mythology with his book Iron John, wherein he argued that men, as part of the species, need to reconnect with a fuller philosophy of their masculinity, not merely more the warrior, but also embracing and accepting and internalizing the responsibilities of being the father, the teacher, the leader who recognizes his obligations to the greater community of families his family is privileged to live in. Nugent’s cannibal-spirited libertarianism has none of that inconvenient consideration in its desires to make the world and the people in it cower in front of more than his guitar skills.

  Being weak, sick, not of the war mentality was your own  tough shit and no one was obliged to give you aid. A telling title in Nugent’s time as Amboy Dukes leader was an album called Survival of the Fittest .  While generally a kick-ass session of Nugent’s distinct guitar work—ambivilence creeps in hear because even I , an enemy of bullies and the like, have to admit this blathering sociopath can play that guitar pretty damned well— the title of the record, and the cover image of Nugent with arrow and bow, answers the question as to why we should be glad that artists are not the ones in charge of making social policy.The only social agreement for this grubby school  yard punk is that if you give him your lunch money , he will let you live long enough for you get more lunch money.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A dream album from Peter Sprague and Leonard Patton

Dream Walkin--Peter Sprague and Leonard Patton

peter sprague_leonard pattonGuitarist Peter Sprague is a musician I’ve been listening to since my undergraduate days at UCSD. Sprague caught my ear because, though a young man, he found his inspiration in the old school jazz and his playing revealed the influence of fine, older guitarists like Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd, and Kenny Burrell. Sprague (who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award this month by the San Diego Music Foundation) is his own person on the guitar, being a fleet fingered, vibrant stylist. This was a time when much of what was called jazz was, in fact, directionless riffing over static rhythms. Peter Sprague’s music, to cite a classic line, was the sound of surprise.

Dream Walkin’, his most recent release with vocalist and percussionist Leonard Patton, brings an intriguing variety of influences .A revelation is just how fine a vocalist Leonard Patton is. He has a rich voice, soulful with clear sense of dynamics. A jazzed-up take on the Beatles pop hit “Can’t Find Me Love” showcases him charging the lyrics with a trumpet player’s spirit, popping at the high notes and revealing a wonderful singing unison lines with Sprague’s agile chord work. Patton, as well, is an adept and responsive percussionist, preferring a minimal set up, in perfect sync with Sprague through the gorgeously modulated melodies and keenly swift improvisations.

The album has a diverse selection of songs that might suggest that the album would become too diffuse and seem likewise directionless in intent, but Sprague and Patton achieve a tight yet flexible sound, allowing music to flow without harsh contrasts. Sprague performs a heart breaking version of the classic “Shenandoah,” his guitar, reverberating and chiming on the aching build of tension and release, and Patton follows with a chorus that makes the song ache even more with the longing for missed people, places, and things. This segues, unexpectedly, with a galloping version of James Taylor’s song “Your Smiling Face,” the perfect resolution to the yearning of the song before it. Patton’s voice perks up, Sprague’s guitar picks up the tempo, and what seemed like a sad moment of reflection becomes joyful.

Dream Walkin’ is joyful in total. The arrangements are tight but not constricted, loose in the sense of musicians who know the structure, the subtle tones, and the unexpected detours of song and are able to anticipate each other’s next move. Also remarkable is the full sound the two create; one admires Sprague not just for his speed and technique, but also for the dexterity of his finger picking and the finesse he allows when he uses a pick. And you come to appreciate, with each listen, the sure, discreet work Patton brings to the percussion tasks.

(Originally published in the San Diego Troubadour, reprinted with kind permission.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Alvin Lee

Alvin Lee, pioneer rock guitar hero and leader of the British blues band Ten Years After, died the other day at age 68 from a complication following what's been described as a routine surgery. Lee was not one of my favorites at the time, the late Sixties through the Seventies, mainly because despite his obvious skills--he played the blues clean and speedy and was the first man in rock and roll who's instrumental reputation was based largely on how fast he could negotiate relatively simple blues changes--I thought his guitar work and songwriting were strictly ordinary. Any number of bands were writing better blues-rock songs and riffs--Hendrix, Cream, Fleetwood Mac--and any number of other upcoming white blues guitarists,  British or American, were more interesting as stylists. Clapton had the phrasing , Peter Green had the tone and soul, Johnny Winter had the speed, fluidity and variety of approaches to make the basic structures of blues new and invigorating.

I would swear that nothing Lee ever put on record equaled the elegance of Mike Bloomfield's blues playing at his best; Lee, as Lester Bangs suggested, was more an IBM punch card: insert and listen to the machine crank it out , dependably fast and nerve wracking, as all efficient machines do.I would wager that Lee is the guy where the whole who--is-faster guitar theatrics came from.It began with Lee, back in the days when young males were starved for heros who weren't comic book characters or lead singers and older jazz critics  who should have known better than praise what they cannot hear correctly, when too many people were surprised that rock musicians could have technique and chops , and continued to absurd extremes through the glorious music of Johnny Winter through the galvanic jazz-fusion convulsions presented by John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell and onward, through the Sixties, Seventies , Nineties to this current time, when there is technique and speed to spare, but little that is soulful, moving.
Save for the off-center improvisations of Allan Holdsworth, a guitarist who combines speed with a sound that seems to replicate the subtle cues of a voice wordlessly indicating a mood with a sigh, a scream, a nuanced moan, there is not a  John Coltrane in the batch of fretsters. Instead of passion, there is only rage born of  computer game shoot-em-ups and a history of film violence; the guitars are less expressions of human emotion than they are musical wrecking balls, heavy , stupid things connected to severe chains of severely retarded belligerence. Coltrane's serpentine , register leaping solos were a high velocity response to  equivalent streams of emotion. Raging, arguing, laughing, crying, singing to praise to God and damning the Devil in his hole, JC's improvisations limned an inner terrain of spiritual conflict with an epoch changing technique; the rapidity of bebop modernism, with its breakneck time signatures and scalar improvisations, had found an emotional basis .

 This was not a replication of the human voice when the persona that owned it felt merely joyous or had the blues, this was the river of emotion where the emotions were multiform and simultaneous. That was the miracle of Coltrane's extemporaneous poetry. What Coltrane had introduce, rapid improvisation as a virtue in service to confirming a personal humanity, is lost in large measure among the guitarists who've followed Alivin Lee. By design or  by accident, their thinking is in line with Italian Futurism , a school of artists obsessed with machinery and the speed of production they made possible. Destroy the present and the past at  once, crash headlong into the future with the biggest steam shovel and wrecking ball you have and rid Humanity of it's faux notions of beauty and truth that only constrict us . There is not much room here to be happy or sensible, only busy and constantly, warily angry.The emphasis on fire power has infected the core fan base for this sort of stuff; it is not friendly from the reconnaissance I've been willing to do.   Go to YouTube for performances by Joe Satriani, Buckethead, Malmsteen and other rock technicians and then scroll down to the viewer commentaries. Sooner or later the discussions devolve to hateful flame wars regarding who is the most fleet fret monger is. I thought it had been settled in the Seventies when Johnny Winter came on the scene and showed how you could play accelerated blues and still be inventive and soulful. The topic, though, merely mutated and remains, to this day, one of the most absurd of obsessive niches in music fandom. 

Likewise, this emphasis on firepower has infected the core fan base for this sort of stuff; it is not friendly from the reconnaissance I've been willing to do.   Go to YouTube for performances by Joe Satriani, Buckethead, Malmsteen and other rock technicians and then scroll down to the viewer commentaries. Sooner or later the discussions devolve to hateful flame wars regarding who is the most fleet fret monger is. I thought it had been settled in the Seventies when Johnny Winter came on the scene and showed how you could play accelerated blues and still be inventive and soulful. The topic, though, merely mutated and remains, to this day, one of the most absurd of obsessive niches in music fandom. 

Here is as perfect demonstration of Lee's technique and style as you're likely to find. He was a solid musician and had good command . He was limited , though, and recorded several albums in a role where he offered substantially the same solo over and over. I stopped paying attention years ago. Still, the good stuff I still listen to; there is a first rate up tempo blues called "Me and My Baby" that I can't find at the moment where Lee and Co. just get into a swinging groove and play the blues naturally. His guitar work on that is bitter sweet, melodic , spare and right, in the best tradition of BB King. Would that he had done more of that kind of stuff. Meanwhile, here's his version of "Help Me". It's  as perfect demonstration of Lee's technique and style as you'll find. Even though I lost interest in his music overall decades ago, Mr. Lee deserves respect for helping to change the perception as to what a rock guitarist should be. The on going results of his innovation has given us results are both glorious and grating, but , I would argue, that is the aim of every artist who wants to be an influence, to change the way their craft is conducted. In that respect, Alvin Lee hit it out of the park.