Thursday, September 27, 2007

Trolling the Underground : Another Legend Passes.

It's been a rough couple of months in the jazz world. First, legendary drummer and be-bop originator Max Roach died in August, and then keyboardist and jazz fusion innovator Joe Zawinul passed on on September 11, 2007.

You may not know his name, but I'm sure you've heard of the famous band he co-founded with saxophonist Wayne Shorter - Weather Report. You may not have heard one of their albums, but if you've lived in the western hemisphere at any point since the late 70s, I'm sure you've heard the song he's most famous for - fusion classic Birdland.

So, upon his passing, a similar thing happened as I reported in the Max Roach post - his history started popping up for download at a rapid rate. Much more so, in fact, than Max, perhaps because Joe's jazz music was appreciated by rock fans to a far greater degree. There was so much that I still haven't given it all a listen. The ones I have listened to have amazed me, and captured my undivided attention in a way that few things have in the past year or so. I should, in fact, have paid a lot more attention to Joe while he was alive.

Hailing from Austria, Joe first recorded with Cannonball Adderley in the 60s. He wrote Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, as song that quickly became a staple in Adderley's live act. I find it interesting because in that band he was playing much more conventional jazz than he would soon be helping invent. Toward the end of the 60s and the end of his tenure with Adderley his style had grown toward that which he'd be more known for. I have to offer something from that era, a sweet and not too long rendition of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy from Graz, Austria on March 15, 1969. Joe's piano solo is as close to country as I've ever heard jazz get. It contrasts the free forms he'd be discovering very soon after this show.

After his stint with Cannonball, Joe worked with Miles Davis on two historic albums; In a Silent Way and Bitches' Brew. These albums gave birth to a new form - jazz fusion. It was this band that not only brought electric instruments into jazz, but also played with rhythms that were much more at home in the rock world while loosening up the melodies to improvisational heights like those that Coleman and Coltrane had previously reached for. They not only started a new branch of jazz which is still strong, but also heavily influenced the progressive rock movement of the 70s (not to mention the Grateful Dead). Since Joe played on both albums, I always assumed that he toured with Miles during those years.

I assumed wrong. While doing some research and looking for pictures, I learned that Joe never played live with Miles Davis until a star studded show ( I mean everyone was there) at La Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris on July 10, 1991. Joe played on two songs (the band changed members completely ten times throughout the show). Both songs are one one track, so I can share them both from the FM recording of the event. The track starts with Joe and Wayne Shorter (ss) playing Joe's In a Silent Way, followed by It's About That Time with Bill Evans (ss) joining Shorter and Davis (tp), Kenny Garrett (as), Richard Patterson (el-b) and Al Foster (d) rounding out the band. It's a great example of the style that fathered one new form and heavily influenced another.

After that, Joe got together with Davis cohort Wayne Shorter to form one of the most successful yet exploratory fusion bands, Weather Report. This band went through a lot of changes and did a lot of fantastic music that I am just discovering now. I've had two of there more popular albums, Heavy Weather and Black Market for many years, but only now, when concert recordings from 1970 to 1980 are literally falling onto my hard drive from afar am I realizing what a great groove every incarnation of this band had and how much interesting stuff they had to offer. So much so that I am nowhere near even the halfway point, and obviously will need to make a separate post of it. I've already heard a 24 minute version of Boogie Woogie Waltz that almost made me splat my spats. I can't go without doing some WP, though, so for now I'll go with the obvious.

Like I said above, you HAVE heard Birdland. Yes you have, if you've lived, as I said earlier, in the western hemisphere, especially if you have gone shopping. This is a really great song, despite being heard on AM radios and shopping mall PAs for the last 30 years. It's one of the rare, those oh, so rare times when good music and mass appeal actually meet and don't spit at each other.

Of course, I have to play a live version, and I'm not happy with the one that I have on audio, so it's very fortunate that YouTube has a far better one on video. You can not only check out Joe, but you'll also see brilliant, tragic bass legend Jaco Pastorius at work. Check it out. You recognize it, don't you?

Finally, I have a slinky, funky tune from his most recent band, The Zawinul Syndicate. I'd never heard this band before, and I have to say I'll be hearing a lot more of them. I couldn't find anything about them on the web but I didn't have that much time to look, preparing as I am for a short road trip. This song, Scarlet Woman, comes from the Rose Theater in NYC on the 27th or 28th of October, 2006. It is so unlike the previous songs in this post it has to be heard to be believed.

That is the crux of what made Joe a treasure. He purposely pushed himself to change his style at all times. He didn't buy records because he didn't want to pick up anyone else's chops, and he hated repeating himself. While he was raised on more traditional jazz forms, once he latched on to fusion he constantly took the point and made sure the form didn't stagnate. There are too few like that in any genre.

This post took quite a while to get together due to my unfamiliarity with much of Joe's music, a weak spot soon to be strengthened by considerable listening. I've downloaded enough to keep this fresh for months. It's a shame that it took Joe's death to really get my attention past a few discs but I guess there will always be things I haven't gotten around to listening to yet. He won't be forgotten, and I have no doubt that there will be a dedicated Weather Report post once I wade through the 70s with Joe and Wayne.

Next: Barring any more jazz memorials, we'll be returning at long last to rock and roll.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gram Parsons rarity surfaces

This just in from Rolling Stone:
A long-lost recording of Gram Parsons playing with the Flying Burrito Brothers in 1969 will be released October 30th. The 27 track set, taped at San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom when the group was opening for the Grateful Dead, contains 10 unreleased covers including Hank Williams' "You Win Again" and George Jones' "She Once Lived Here." The recording - taped by Grateful Dead sound man (and LSD King) Owsley Stanley - was discovered two years ago by Amoeba Records founder David Prinz in the Dead's Marin County vault. Blown away by the recording, Prinz decided to try to release it - a two-year process which involved getting permission from the reclusive Stanley as well as surviving bandmates and Universal Records. "I was standing next to the speaker and it was like Gram was in the room with you," he says. "I have never heard his voice like that, ever." Prinz plans on releasing future Parsons archival albums, including more shows with the Burrito Brothers and a rare show from his brief tenure with the Byrds. "Making these shows available is my dream. " Prinz says. "To all Gram fans, this is for you."

Thanks for making my day, Mr. Prinz!

Last year I wrote this GP tribute.

UPDATE: Joe the Bit Torrent Troll was kind enough to dig up some MP3s of this.

From April 4, 5 or 6, 1969, here are a few samples available for download (hopefully until October 29):

Lucille, an uptempo ditty with a psychedelic flavah,

Get Ourselves Together, a firm tune with that hippie country resolve, and

You Win Again, the Hank Williams standard that the Dead added to their repetoire a few years later.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Manic Monday

New this week:
Deborah Coleman - Stop The Game
Magic Slim - Essential Magic Slim
A huge series called "Pure" is being released, featuring many classic country artists, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Lee Greenwood, etc.
Steve Earle - Washington Square Serenade
Billy Joe Shaver - Everybody's Brother
Erin McKeown - Lafayette
Holiday Music is being released by the boatload. 'Tis almost the season!
R & B:
*Bettye LaVette - Scene Of The Crime
- If the one song I heard is any indication, this cd is going to be smokin'! Her voice is in fine form, and her band on this record includes David and Patterson Hood and the rest of the Drive-By Truckers and Spooner Oldham.
Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
The Bird And The Bee - Please Clap Your Hands
Pieta Brown - Remember The Sun
Pat DiNinzio - Pat DiNinzio
Melissa Etheridge - Awakening
Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature
Iron & Wine - Shepherd's Dog - I'm not a huge fan, but I do love the song Boy With A Coin, which is included on the latest Paste Magazine sampler.
The Lemonheads - Best Of The Lemonheads: The Atlantic Years
Nellie McKay - Obligatory Villagers
Joni Mitchell - Shine - her first new release in 5 years.
Iggy Pop - 1977 - reissue
Brian Setzer Orchestra - Wolfgang's Big Night Out
Stars - In Our Bedroom After The War
Tegan And Sara - This Business Of Art
The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour
Winger - The Very Best Of Winger - Because we will settle for no less than the very best.
*Pick Of The Week

Monday, September 17, 2007

Manic Monday

Do you think 50 will keep his promise to stop recording???
Hey kids, summer's over and it's time for the serious music to come out, so open the wallets and start bleeding money (or the RIAA will hunt you down!)
Doyle Bramhall - Is It News
Johnny "Guitar" Watston - Untouchable! The Classic 1959 - 1966 Recordings
Bessie Smith - Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out
Mary Gauthier - Between Daylight And Dark
Emmylou Harris - Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems
Reba McEntire - Reba Duets
Iain Matthews - some reissues
Kingston Trio - Lost 1967 Album: Rarities, Vol. 1
A boatload of holiday music gets released this week. Oh, the joy.
R & B:
I hardly mention R & B, but the new Babyface, Playlist, seems like it could appeal to me. There are acoustic covers of James Taylor and Jim Croce and Eric Clapton included. How do I know about this? They are hawking it all over the TV!
Alice In Chains - MTV Unplugged [CD/DVD]
Badfinger - two reissues
Cindy Lee Berryhill - Beloved Stranger - with guest artists John Doe, Peter Case, and Dave Alvin
James Blunt - All The Lost Souls - Because he sold his?
Canned Heat - Live At The Topanga Corral - Reportedly not recorded at the Topanga Corral, but at LA's Kaleidoscope club in 1968.
Chesterfield Kings - Psychedelic Sunrise (new) and The Mindbending Sounds Of The Chesterfield Kings (reissue)
Jamie Cullum - In The Mind Of Jamie Cullum
The Dream Academy - Dream Academy - reissue - Here's your chance to grab Life In A Northern Town, since you didn't hear it enough in 1986!
The Fabulous Thunderbirds - reissues
Peter Hammill - reissues
H.I.M. - Venus Doom - for the gothies out there
Danny Kirwan - Second Chapter [Limited Edition]
Alvin Lee - Saguitar
Ben Lee - Ripe
The Legendary Shack Shakers - Swampblood
Barry Manilow - Greatest Songs Of The Seventies - Um. Right. Maybe the greatest shmaltz of the seventies. And he includes a couple of his own hits!
The Monkees - a couple of compilations
Motion City Soundtrack - Even If It Kills Me
The Polyphonic Spree - Live From Austin, TX - Ok, now I know that series has gone too far. This group sounds like an adult version of The Brady Bunch to me.
Seals & Crofts - A ton of reissues. Speaking of seventies hits, these guys had a few!
Sonny & Cher - Classics
Those Darn Accordians - Squeeze Machine - Has me intrigued.
3 Doors Down - Better Life [Deluxe Edition]
K.T. Tunstall - Drastic Fantastic
Wishbone Ash - First Light
Link Wray - Pathway Sessions
Eddie Vedder
does the Into The Wild soundtrack.
UPDATE: And who is ahead in the 50 Cent vs. Kanye battle of last week's releases?
Billboard reported Friday that Kanye West's Graduation leads with 781,000 copies sold over the 603,000 moved by 50 Cent's Curtis.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Manic Monday

New releases for tomorrow, Sept. 11, 2007.
Homesick James - Shake Your Money Maker - reissue
Eric Bibb - Evening With Eric Bibb
Various Artists - Best Of Mississippi Blues
(includes Otis Spann, Son House, and Memphis Slim)
Kenny Chesney - Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates
Patsy Cline - Country Biography
Willie Nelson - Country Biography
Joan Baez - Carry It On
Ian Matthews - Journeys From Gospel Oak [with bonus tracks] - Reissue.
The 50 Cent vs. Kanye West releases will happen. 50 says he will quit if Kanye's debuts higher. I'm all for that. Maybe Kanye could quit if Kenny Chesney debuts at #1?? And that's all I'm ever saying about rap.
Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
Frank Black - Bluefinger
Collective Soul - Afterwords -here is one band I never thought would last this long.
Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True [Deluxe Edition] - This is one of my favorite debut albums ever and I've already got a 2 -cd release from Rhino. How many editions of one release do I need?
Ani DiFranco - Canon
The Dollyrots - Because I'm Awesome
Fleetwood Mac - English Rose - reissue
Peter Green Splinter Group - Time Traders/Reaching The Cold 100 - double album reissue
Joe Henry - Civilians
Nazareth - Complete Singles Collection
Pink Floyd - Piper At The Gates Of Dawn [3-cd deluxe] - the one mentioned last week, with a bonus disc of extras
Emma Pollack - Watch The Fireworks
Johnathan Rice - Further North
Shout Out Louds - Our Ill Wills
Ann Wilson - Hope & Glory - she does duets with all sorts of people, including Elton John and Alison Krauss
Wishbone Ash - Live in Hamburg

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Trolling the Studio: Talking Heads 1975

I mentioned in my previous Trolling the Studio that the unreleased album is one of the rarer finds. I have only four or five of those. Once an album is invested in, it's usually released eventually.

Much more common is the demo recording. This is an initial recording that a band will do to pitch the music to the record company. The quality will vary; sometimes, it's a rough recording with just the bare bones of a song, other times it can be almost identical to the finished product. They can illuminate a song or album in a few ways, though.

First, it can show you how much the basic musical idea was developed in the studio or onstage, when the entire band was working on it. Many times, the song is written by one member, and the demo is a solo piece not only for the record companies, but also for the rest of the band. Pete Townshend's demos for Who albums are a great example of that. Many were released on the Scoop collections, others will appear here soon. Other times, the band is involved from the beginning, but the song itself evolved, as you'll be hearing in this post.

Secondly, they can show you the tragic, horrible mistakes that were avoided by the above mentioned evolutionary process. It can be as subtle as changing a hook or as major as omitting a song altogether (demos frequently include songs that don't make the cut). You wouldn't believe the original lyrics to Comfortably Numb. You'd thank sweet baby Jesus that Roger Waters re-wrote them.

In this case, they provide a very early glimpse at what would become a great band.

Talking Heads formed in Providence, RI in 1974 and moved to New York the next year, for obvious reasons. The original trio consisted of David Byrne, Chris Franz, and Tina Weymouth. This is the lineup that recorded the demos I present here. Jerry Harrison was added to the fold in 1976 and the first album was cut in 1977.

In the liner notes for Sand in the Vaseline, Tina Weymouth recounts how one record company guy had taken an interest in them, occasionally seeing them perform. He suggested that they could polish their sound if they recorded themselves and listened to the tapes objectively. They got two hours in a studio and ran through two versions each of 15 songs. These were songs that appeared on their first two albums, and a few that got dropped from the repertoire. They didn't have anything to play the tapes on, though, so the exercise was fairly fruitless. A couple of the cuts made it onto the Sand collection, and I have a set of 15. I'm not sure if the ones on Sand are ones I have, though.... even if they're different, I doubt they'd be very much so.

While demos often show a completely different or undeveloped idea of a song, these show that Talking Heads usually have an idea of where they want a song to go from the outset, but may have to do a few tweaks on the way there. I'll start with the first song recorded, Psycho Killer. While most of you may know the electronic version with the whole band and the live acoustic version that Byrne did solo, you'll now hear how the song started... as a combination of those two ideas.

Next I have one of the songs that disappeared. It's a great companion piece to Psycho Killer, since it also comes from the point of view of someone who's about to go over the edge. That similarity is probably why they dropped it, but I think it's a cool song. It's called I Wish You Wouldn't Say That.

Rounding it out is the first version of their first single Love Goes to a Building on Fire, but they hadn't quite settled on that title yet. This version is called Love is Like a Building on Fire.

Talking Heads is one of those bands that I'm very sorry to say I missed in concert. It was their concert film Stop Making Sense that really got me into the band, but that unfortunately chronicled the last tour they would do. Like so many great bands, success and ego tore them apart.

How wonderful that they can still be rediscovered via the Underground.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Manic Tuesday, because Monday Was A Holiday

I have no excuse other than "it was a holiday and I didn't even get to the computer." Is that lame enough?

I also have no time this morning to give a good list, so here are the highlights of the new releases this week:

Some Townes Van Zandt reissues.
Etta James - Blues From The Big Apple
Taj Mahal - World Blues
Crosby & Nash - Bittersweet
Pink Floyd - Piper At The Gates Of Dawn [40th anniversary 2-cd edition]
Patty Scialfa - Play It As It Lays
Ted Nugent - Love Grenade