Saturday, 9 June 2018

Jazz - This time it's personal

So far on the Jazz journey I have suggested some labels to start with, and talked about the current state of things. What I haven't done is tell you what's on my iPod. Of 1200 odd albums 267 are jazz, with Jazz Rock, Jazz Funk and other variations on top of that. Here's this weeks top picks, but ask me tomorrow and it will all be different.

Sonny Clark - Cool Struttin'
Clark. like Hank Mobley below was "forgotten" for a long time, but has been found again and is getting his due of praise. This is what Soul Jazz should sound like. Great band with Clark and Jackie McLean particularly bluesey. One of Miles best rhythm sections, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums and Art Farmer on trumpet. 
Duke Ellington - At Newport
Ellington was truly the greatest american composer of the 20th Century, and also the best band leader. Paul Gonsalves performance on Diminuendo In Blue And Crescendo In Blue is rightly highlighted as one of the outstanding Jazz solos

Kamasi Washington - The Epic
When a Jazz artist gets a write up in Mojo you know he's made it. Ok there's really nothing that Miles or Coltrane didn't originate but the dense arrangements, including voices, strings and stream of consciousness soloing mean you get swept up in it and suddenly 3 hours have gone by. Epic oh yes. Get it you won't regret it

Weather Report - Mr Gone
Notoriously got a 1 star review in Downbeat, don't know why it has always been my favourite Weather report album. Anything with Jaco on it is ok by me. The Legendary Live tapes album includes material recorded at the same time, and is the best bet for live WR.

Herbie Hancock - Manchild
Better more developed ideas than Headhunters for me. Jazz you can dance to.

Sun Ra - Somewhere Else
Jazz from Saturn. You have to work at "getting" the Arkestra but once you do avoid the "easy" compilations and go for this or Space Is The Place and blast off from there

Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey and John Coltrane all get regular play across lots of albums, and if you want to try them you are on safe ground with most of there albums. Maybe try Blue Train or Giant Steps as a route into Coltrane.

And that's Jazz. I promise not to mention it for a bit now so it's safe to come out...

Friday, 1 June 2018

Jazz Again - Where are we now?.

Jazz has evolved over the last century or so. When it stopped being a "popular" music in the early sixties it turned to blending itself with other genres and has pretty much stayed that way.

The best known blends are with Rock, Soul and Funk which created Jazz-Rock, Jazz-Funk, and the dreaded Fusion. If you can get it Stuart Nicholson's book on the evolution of these styles is excellent. I pointed you towards the Miles Davis end of Jazz Rock last time. Jazz Funk begins and almost ends with Herbie Hancock's "Headhunters" album. So much of the rest of this and the easy listening that often calls itself Fusion is bland and featureless. For me you can pretty much discard anything on the GRP label, but feel free to disagree! The best Jazz-Funk grew out of  the Hard Bop and Soul Jazz of the sixties. There are a lot of really good Jazz-Funk compilations about, pick a couple and see if it works for you.

Adding world music elements has been happening since before we knew it was called world music. If I'm honest it's an area that I don't do very well. One artist I do like is Susheela Raman who has mixed Indian music with Western styles more successfully than most others, try her.

Western classical music has been added to Jazz right from the beginning, Ravel and Stravinsky were early supporters. The Modern Jazz Quartet have been as described as Chamber Jazz and that style has evolved into much of ECM record's output. You see what I mean about "house styles" for record labels.

With the current generation of artists the blending of styles and genres has been absorbed as they learnt their instruments so there isn't the rather obvious stapling together of different musics. Electric doesn't mean fusion so much anymore and so on. Portico Quartet use ambient electronic styles. Snarky Puppy bring the attitude of that peculiarly American concept the Jam Band to Jazz with a cast of thousands. Live they are a totally different prospect than their albums. Try this.

My new favourites are a London band The Lydian Collective, they can even sound like the calmer bits of Discipline era King Crimson at times. Try their album on Bandcamp, and look at a couple of their videos. Jazz Mandolin anyone?

This post has become quite long enough already so next time I will talk about the Jazz that is actually on my iPod.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Jazz - Don't say I didn't warn you

What is Jazz? The dictionary definition is as rooted in the past as John Thompson's Fast Show character. "Jazz is a music of black American origin characterised by improvisation, syncopation, and usually a regular or forceful rhythm". Perhaps in 1928 it was, since then it has grown up a bit.

I discovered jazz during a brief, ill advised attempt to play the trumpet at school. It was a short step to Louis Armstrong and then on to Miles Davis. The trumpet disappeared but the Jazz remained. For some time I stuck with Miles, almost a genre on his own, but later on discovered all sorts of other stuff. Jazz has drifted in and out for me over the years. Currently it's in.

Jazz is as plagued by category-itis as any other music. I could go on about Hard Bop vs Mainstream vs Fusion and bore myself, and you, stupid. In the past record companies tended to have house styles, often dictated by the label owner producer or engineer.

Blue Note: The obvious place to start as it is the one label that non fans may have heard of.  Reid Miles' artwork has been influencing graphic design since the 1950s, and the music, rooted in "Hard Bop", (a mix of BeBop with R&B, soul, and blues) has been a dominant style for much of that time. This list from Apple Music covers 10 of the really essential bits of Blue Note to get you started.

Blue Note's sound was inspired by founders Alfred Lion & Francis Wolff. They allowed artists paid rehearsal time to develop ideas, which competing labels like Prestige didn't, so their records sounded better and bursting with ideas - because they were.

Impulse!: Starting in 1960 Impulse! was Jazz without stabilisers, it could get a bit wobbly on some of the wilder bits of the avant garde. John Coltrane was it's headline act and was followed by a raft of angry tenor sax players. There are also some real gems on Impulse the Duke Ellington/John Coltrane album has some of 'Trane's finest ballads, and there are classic albums from Gil Evans, Oliver Nelson and others that don't require a high tolerance for squalling horn solos. Set up by producer Creed Taylor the label was shepherded through the sixties by Bob Thiele. Impulse! was another label with a strong visual presence, it's orange and black spines translating well to the CD age.

CBS/Columbia:  Home to Miles Davis from 1955 until the eighties Columbia came into its own with Electric Jazz in the seventies. Many of Miles' sidemen found a home here. Tony William's Lifetime, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report. While not always made from the best quality tapes, the Contemporary Jazz Masters series is worth keeping an eye out for as it is pretty much the best of 1970s Jazz Rock Fusion. Tell them by the red borders and this stamp. Columbia had many great Jazz artists before they plugged in, Erroll Garner, Ellington and Brubeck amongst others. Avoid like the plague the corresponding blue border Jazz Masterpieces series, they couldn't even get the covers right. It's a good reference list of what to buy elsewhere though.

If you are new to Jazz then checking out these labels will give you a fair range of Jazz to explore. One name to keep an eye out for is Rudy Van Gelder recording engineer extrordinaire for Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse! and CTI (Creed Taylor's 70s label). His records have a distinct feel and sound and his RVG remasters for CD are amongst the best transfers to digital. 

With some very cheap downloads available, and Fopp and secondhand shops selling Jazz CDs for £3 or £4 you can afford to experiment. There are also some great books on Jazz, Richard Cook's Biography of Blue Note, any of Ashley Kahn's books and David Rosenthal's "Hard Bop" are good places to explore. Less well served than rock for magazines, Jazzwise is the news magazine and while Jazz Journal has it's good points the semi pro feel is off putting. There were a couple of tries in the nineties at a Mojo style legacy magazine perhaps time to try again?

You may have noticed that I haven't talked about current jazz artists much. They are coming up in part two and also what Jazz is actually on my iPod.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Z Records

Z Records, home to some fine classic and hard rock acts are offering a free compilation download. Just search @zrecordsrocks on Facebook, like the page and send them a message.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Yes - Flight Delayed

I said last time that I had ordered the rejigged Fly From Here album - Return Trip, and that review would follow. Pledge Music managed to upload faulty files (twice at least). The mp3 files I have show at least one loud "pop" on track 3, and faults on another track that was uploaded to Soundcloud for free download. I managed to reduce the pop to manageable levels with Audacity and am happy enough. Replacements for all files have been promised and were allegedly on line on 2nd May (if so can't find them).

The music? Oh yes! Compared to the 2011 version it is a richer sound, more keyboards, and Squires bass higher in the mix. Horn says he took singing lessons before embarking on the vocals, and while he is still not the strongest singer the Buggles vibe (and these were Buggles songs first) works for me. It's more evident than ever that Benoit David (singer of 2011 album) was following a guide vocal from Horn. The main let down remains Steve Howe's guitar. On the early parts he appears to be using a Stratocaster giving a very thin reedy sound, where his ES175 or something like that would have given a much more "Yes" sound. They could have worked that over as well surely and turned this into the last great Yes album.

In the end having now heard the most recent studio album Heaven & Earth I won't be back for more. Archival live albums certainly. Repeating the 7 shows from '72 box set with possibly the Union Tour or the "Ten True Summers" tour from 1979 where plenty of high quality bootlegs exist.

Pledge Music have taken responsibility for the whole download mess, and Geoff Downes has tweeted the bands apology. But given that it takes about 5 minutes to rip a CD to a FLAC or mp3 file why all the problems?

One question has to be why did Yes go the Pledge Music route, are they not marketable enough to make the release of the new album attractive to a label? Or is it as I would suspect the usual with Yes, shooting themselves in the foot by simply being bad at business.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The march of time

Which line up of a band is the "right" one? A question of vital importance in some fans minds, especially so when it comes to Yes.

This week there are two bands calling themselves Yes. The "official" one with two long standing members, one who was there for a bit and came back, and two who came from tribute bands. Then there is Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman now also calling themselves Yes. Anderson & Wakeman have form here as they were in an off shoot in the 80s with Steve Howe and Bill Bruford called ABWH. Keeping up? Thought not, nor am I.

The legitimacy of line ups is an odd question, particularly as many of the heroes of the seventies are getting on a bit and may not always be up for too much touring. In an effort to top up the pension the few remaining "real" members recruit some new talent as band mates retire and hit the road. AC/DC lost their singer, and recruited Axl Rose to complete a tour. For me the picture to the right is all the reason you need why this shouldn't have happened.

In the end you pay your money (or not) and take your choice of continuing to follow these artists. Personally I have been to see Procol Harum (great), Robin Trower (struggling), and others over the last few years because the chance clearly won't be there soon. Others however, like Yes, Renaissance, and Steely Dan I passed on because it feels like time for them to finish as performances don't seem up to scratch or politics has got in the way.

To return to Yes there is still another version of the band that has justput out an album. This one has Downes, White and Howe from "official" Yes, the late Chris Squire on bass and Trevor Horn rubbing out the original singer on "Fly From Here", their 2011 album, and adding his own voice.  Now this one I am interested in. This lineup made my favourite Yes album "Drama" in 1980, which was at least partly written by Horn & Downes in Buggles mode. The 2011 version always sounded like the singer (called Benoit David should you care) was following a guide vocal by Horn, and I gather he was. So my order is in and we will see what the difference is. Watch this space...

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Who said print was dead?

It’s Record Store Day 2018 so I’m going to talk about music magazines.Find it on my Linkedin feed HERE