Saturday, April 22, 2017

Allan Holdsworth - 1992 "Wardenclyffe Tower"

Wardenclyffe Tower is the seventh studio album by guitarist Allan Holdsworth, released in 1992 through Restless Records (United States) and JMS–Cream Records (Europe), and in 1993 through Polydor Records (Japan); a remastered edition was reissued in 2007 through Eidolon Efformation, containing three bonus tracks (alternative versions of "Tokyo Dream" from 1983's Road Games and "The-Unmerry-Go-Round" from 1985's Metal Fatigue) which were previously only available on the Japanese release. The album's title is a reference to the real life Wardenclyffe Tower, or Tesla Tower, designed by inventor Nikola Tesla in 1901. "Zarabeth" is named after a character in the Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays". Wiki.

This 1992 release features Holdsworth in conversation with usual compatriots Jimmy Johnson, Chad Wackerman, and Gary Husband. Keyboards are provided not only by Steve Hunt, but also by both Wackerman and Husband. Husband in particular demonstrates that his facility on the keyboards is equal to his skill on the drums. Despite the all-star cast of characters, there are certain peculiarities to Wardenclyffe Tower that prevent it from being numbered among Holdsworth's best work. One very obvious oddity is the strange and ill-advised ending to the opener, "5 to 10," which concludes with a toilet flushing and an annoying voice-over. Mistakes in judgment aside, there is something formless about this album, something that blurs the tracks together in a meaningless way. Holdsworth has always been more of a distinctive than a strong composer, and the batch of tunes that he contributes here is not very compelling. The title track, with its power-chord verse, and his collaboration with singer Naomi Star, "Against the Clock," are his strongest moments. The presence of Hunt's "Dodgy Boat" helps but it is not enough to elevate this album to the level of Holdsworth's past successes. This is not to say that there is not meaningful music on Wardenclyffe Tower, because there is. "Against the Clock," which features not only Star's voice but also the drums of Vinnie Colaiuta, is one such success. Holdsworth makes use of the SynthAxe guitar synthesizer on several tracks on Wardenclyffe Tower, the most effective use of which is here, where his solo emerges from empty space in a constantly accelerating fashion, like a boulder rolling down a hill (although Holdsworth's ascending line sets forth the impossible scenario of falling upwards). All in all, however, there is a lack of dynamic movement in the soloists and the compositions in general. Of value to Holdsworth completists, but not of much interest to casual fans.  All Music.

This was the first AH album I ever listened to. I was 15 years old. I'm a guitar player. But at the time I was taking drumming lessons. My drum tutor recommended me AH, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eddie Van Halen. So I decided to give AH a try and this was the only album there. I popped the disc into my Discman and rode the London train.

Words cannot describe how awesome this album was. The solo on 5 to 10 nearly give me a teary eye. That's how affected I was with this album. Each and every song was amazing especially Zarabeth. There is no filler on Wardenclyffe Tower. Looking at the album cover and listening to the music took me to places where no spaceship could take me.

A few years down the line, I listened to the rest of his albums: Metal Fatigue, Secrets, Sand, Atavachron and None Too Soon. None of those albums seemed to equal Wardenclyffe. AH's guitar tone on Wardenclyffe was the best. Music-wise, it just gets right down to it. A lot of the songs on those albums are a bit meandering and I sort of questioned whether I wanted to become a collector of AH's albums. I decided not to. The only one I'll ever need or want is Wardenclyffe... and maybe None Too Soon.

It's been years since I've listened to this CD. I am literally brought to tears when I hear Allan's haunting solo on Sphere of Innocence. I cannot fathom where his creativity comes from. It's like trying to figure out where outer space ends and what lay on the other side. It is a complete mystery. His technique is perfect, and as always, NOBODY has better guitar tone than Allan. He is simply one of the Earths gifts. It's been years since I've listened to this CD. I am literally brought to tears when I hear Allan's haunting solo on Sphere of Innocence. I cannot fathom where his creativity comes from. It's like trying to figure out where outer space ends and what lay on the other side. It is a complete mystery. His technique is perfect, and as always, NOBODY has better guitar tone than Allan. He is simply one of the Earths gifts. .

You've been raised on super groups, avant garde, fusion and psychedelia; you are looking for the next group of guitar musicians to take you to the next waiting to guide you are Jeff Beck, John Mclaughlin, Terje Rypdal, John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, ....... and (sigh) the ultimate chopmeister, Allan Holdsworth. It has been said he is happier in his live outings, but in this 1992 studio album, everything he had developed to that point; the blistering solo runs, the immaculate chord progressions, as well as command of the guitar technology available at that time, ...... all are beautifully captured for you in a hi-fibre wholemeal diet. Regardless of classifications, (is this intelligent guitar-rock, jazz-fusion, progressive or cross-genre...... and who really cares?), ..... the musicians on this CD are waiting to assist in your musical evolution, and take you to that next ... or next ... and possibly even next level. .

My review focuses on one song - Zarabeth. I've been a devoted listener to all forms of guitar music for 40 years. I have no reservations in saying that Zarabeth is the greatest guitar improvisation I've ever heard, it's exquisite in all ways: song composition (fantastic chord progression for an improvisation), solo structure (just listen to AH build this art - as if it were laid out in his from head to tail, from the first note), melody (what AH does throughout against the structure is sublime), technical (utterly phenomenal playing skills and tone control, brilliant amp tone), rhythm (his phrasing and accenting control much of the emotion and impact of the solo), and lastly, emotion. I have no doubt that this solo leaves every "guitar god" out there thinking, "I know nothing about the guitar". AH is truly on another planet. .

Tracks Listing

1. 5 to 10 (5:36)
2. Sphere Of Innocence (5:58)
3. Wardenclyffe Tower (8:44)
4. Dodgy Boat (5:37)
5. Zarabeth (6:31)
6. Against The Clock (4:58)
7. Questions (4:07)
8. Oneiric Moor (1:41)

Total Time: 43:12

Line-up / Musicians

- Allan Holdsworth / guitar, SynthAxe (1,3,6), producer

- Joel Schnebelt / spoken vocals (1)
- Naomi Star / vocals (6)
- Steve Hunt / keyboards (1,2,4,5)
- Jimmy Johnson / bass
- Gary Husband / drums (2,4), keyboards (3)
- Chad Wackerman / drums (1,3,5,7), keyboards (7)
- Vinnie Colaiuta / drums (6) 

Larry Coryell - 1975 "Difference"

Larry Coryell is joined on this ‘78 French release by other pickers, Steve Kahn, Arthur Rhames and Glen Moore; along with Michael Brecker, Dave Sanborn Don Grolnick, Will Lee, Steve Gadd and Tony Williams.

An obscure recording that finds Coryell in solo, duo and group settings. The group performances range from free ("Octaves") to funk ("Memphis Underground"). Of the two solo guitar performances, "Improvisation," is the more cohesive as "Acoustic Solo" finds Coryell laboring for speed, a fault that has often hindered his playing. "Picean Moon" is a moody piece similar to the "ECM sound," with Michael Brecker sounding like a dead ringer for Jan Garbarek. "Serabond" is a fine acoustic duet with Steve Khan and even includes a quote from "Theme from Love Story."

Yet another outstanding Coryell album, and one of the most unashamed jazz-rock guitar albums, yet all to short IMHO in its duration. The usual guests are around, Tony Williams, Steve Khan, the Brecker brothers, etc. Although the album was recorded in 75, it didn't see the light of day until 78; indeed it is an assemblage of Electric Lady studio (the Hendrix facilities) recordings and the Montreux festival of the same year. The only things that would make this album a bit different is the label that issued it (Egg) and the unrelated sea photo artwork, as the rest makes it a typical Coryell album.
The opening Octaves is an excellent instrumental (the whole album is) where Brecker and Sanborn make remarkable sax interventions. Memphis Underground could easily sound as if it escaped an Eleventh House album, but the line-up is nowhere near the group's. Picean Moon is a rather chilling piece of jazz, sometimes nearing the dissonant.
As usual, there are acoustic guitar tracks, with the aptly titled Acoustic Solo (maybe a little lengthy, but we won't complain given the overall album duration), the short but nervous Improvisation (that's its name) and the duo flamenco-influenced Serabound, where Khan gets in act.

This album made me flying in the sky. Not kidding. Tony Williams is so great on Picean Moon and on Octaves ; his hi-hat on picean is like a shadow moving around the basic pulsation, the snare's shots aren't on the expected times, Michael Brecker is...divine. Octaves desserved more than this; it's like the Montagnes russes. 

Tracks Listing

1. Octaves (3:49)
2. Acoustic Solo (5:35)
3. Memphis Underground (3:38)
4. Improv (2:32)
5. Picean Moon (5:58)
6. Serabond (4:45)
7. Aquarian Mode (5:07)

Total time 31:24

Line-up / Musicians

- Larry Coryell / acoustic & electric guitars

- Steve Khan / guitar (3)
- Arthur Rhames / guitar (1,5,7)
- Glen Moore / acoustic guitar (1,5,7)
- Michael Brecker / saxophone (1,3,5,7)
- David Sanborn / alto saxophone (3)
- Don Grolnick / keyboards (3)
- Will Lee / bass
- Tony Williams / drums
- Steve Gadd / drums (3)

Allan Holdsworth - 1989 "Secrets"

Secrets is the sixth studio album by guitarist Allan Holdsworth, released in 1989 through Intima Records; a remastered edition was reissued in 2008 through Eidolon Efformation. The album features drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, rather than regular collaborator Chad Wackerman; Wackerman did, however, write and supply drums for the song "Peril Premonition".

A true masterpiece, Secrets is the massive culmination of Allan Holdsworth's years-long legato technique and SynthAxe development. Conceptually inspired by but significantly different from the electric guitar, the SynthAxe is not a guitar-controlled synthesizer; it's a completely unique instrument of its own, making the guitarist's gripping performances all the more impressive. Holdsworth actually plays both instruments at a world-class level, setting an almost unreachable technical standard for aspiring rock, jazz, and fusion players. In addition to Secrets' technical accomplishments, Holdsworth contributes some of the most inspired songwriting of his career. The instrumental choruses are subtle and fluid, and the vocal lines on "Secrets" (performed by Rowanne Mark) and "Endomorph" (Craig Copeland) surpass earlier Holdsworth-penned efforts with their touching lyrics and melodies. Simply put, this 1989 Enigma release is a triumph, the final contribution to the artist's seminal '80s collection that includes Metal Fatigue and Atavachron. Fans of progressive music (no matter the genre) are recommended to search out the furtive Secrets, and unearth the sadly hidden knowledge of a musician's sublime transcendence of form, through passion and genius. 

This CD just slams from note 1. Vinnie Coaliuta does a fantastic job on drums. I remember talking to Vinnie a few yewars before this and asking him who he would like to play with that he hadn't had the oppurtunity to yet. His reply was very quick. . . Holdsworth. He was a bit connected in that Holdsworth liked Vinnies playing and Vinnie was doing a band with Holdsworth's then bassist Jimmy Johnson. Great as Vinnie's performance is (by far the best drum performance of that year) it isn't what carries the CD. Holdsworth sounds amazingly fresh on this CD. He is ripping, of course, but there is more to it. He was backing off of the Synthaxe at this point. Not that he was done with it, just backing off. I am always moved by the two compositions 'Joshua' and '54 Duncan Terrace.' This is just a fantastic CD. One of those that you just think somehow this CD absolutely HAD to be recorded.

City Lights, the first track, is jaw-dropping - Holdsworth seems possessed by the spirit of Coltrane and just lets loose. City Lights takes off like a rocket plane, soars into space, then comes back to earth again, depositing the listener safely - leaving him/her to wonder what happened and where they were taken to. As with many of Holdsworth's tunes, especially his faster, complex ones, they beg to be heard again and again. Vinnie Coliauta's drumming is in lock-step with Allan, creating a hard-driving, fiery paced tune fueled with intensity.
Like fractal geometry, the more you follow Holdsworth's musical lines as they smoothly spiral around, getting more and more reflective on an overall theme/picture, the more you realize their incredible detail and intricate structure. Holdsworth has truly tapped into something beautiful - something that makes him stand out as incredibly unique among a sea of other good and even great guitarists.

Of all the Fusion records I've heard, this is the best one. It showcases not only Mr H's superhuman ability on the fretboard, but at the same time, his ability as composer. What's amazing is that he is able to create highly melodic steams of notes at any speed. Sometimes fusion tends to get somewhat mechanical and metallic, but not on Secrets. Here the music is fresh, lyrical and fluid, filled with imagery and movement. Vocals on two songs contribute to the atmosphere, and keyboards add a lush symphonic backgrop to some of the songs. Recommended for anyone who likes fusion an contemporary jazz. 

Tracks Listing

1. City Nights (2:33)
2. Secrets (4:21)
3. 54 Duncan Terrace (Dedicated To Pat Smythe) (4:35)
4. Joshua (5:59)
5. Spokes (3:32)
6. Maid Marion (7:17)
7. Peril Premonition (4:44)
8. Endomorph (Dedicated To My Parents) (4:19)

Total Time: 37:20

Line-up / Musicians

- Allan Holdsworth / guitar, Synthaxe (2,5,8), spoken voice (7), producer & mixing

- Rowanne Mark / vocals (2)
- Craig Copeland / vocals (8)
- Gary Husband / keyboards (1)
- Alan Pasqua / piano (3)
- Steve Hunt / keyboards (4,6)
- Jimmy Johnson / bass (1-6,8)
- Bob Wackerman / bass (7)
- Vinnie Colaiuta / drums (1-6,8)
- Chad Wackerman / drums & keyboards (7)
- Claire Holdsworth / spoken voice, in French (7)
- Jeffrey Ocheltree / "hammer" (7) 

Larry Coryell - 1978 "European Impressions"

This record, half of which was recorded live at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival, remains one of the finest documents in the genre of steel-string acoustic jazz guitar. Along with John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, and a small handful of others, Larry Coryell was a major figure in the field, which saw its heyday throughout much of the '70s and '80s. Here was a new sort of guitar hero, not wailing in front of a wall of Marshall amps, but sitting alone with an acoustic guitar (often a round-backed Ovation), playing music rooted in the improvisational aesthetics of jazz but which often veered all over the stylistic map -- classical, flamenco, 12-tone, rock, and just about anything else. Coryell's opening statement, "Toronto Under the Sign of Capricorn," fits the bill to a T: Beginning with cryptic, atonal lines and rhythmically off-kilter phrases, the piece then segues into a slow, romantic melody before it erupts into a rousing vamp punctuated with flurries of speed-picked, 16th-note fills. The performance is replete with showmanship, but that's not all there is to it; indeed, Coryell's technique is too rough-hewn to be thrilling all on its own. What makes the piece so interesting is its melodic integrity, rhythmic energy, and three-tiered structure. One hears similar qualities on the other two live tracks, "For Philip and Django" and "Rodrigo Reflections," and on three of the four studio cuts, "April Seventh," "Variations on a Theme," and the wonderfully dreamy "Copenhagen Impressions." While one may expect a reversion to straight-ahead jazz on the Horace Silver medley "Song for My Father/Sister Sadie," Coryell doggedly remolds these hard bop standards into his own kind of acoustic guitar music. Essential for guitar buffs, although one has to dig around to locate a copy.

This album is yet another acoustic guitar album that LC has gotten us used to in the late 70's, and here half the record is a recording of his third appearance at the Montreux festival in the summer of 78. The first time around (71), he had come with a rock group, the second time around (74), he was with his Eleventh House group, and this time around, he came as a solo acoustic guitarist, again reflecting well what he was up to at the time. With an alpine artwork and a long-haired Larry hunched over his Ovation guitar on the back cover, this album is an unaccompanied straight acoustic guitar album, the typical stuff LC was into in the late 70's, somewhere between Reinhardt and acoustic blues-jazz. Better investigate Lion & Ram album, to see if you could be into this one.

An all acoustic/instrumental album, the first three tracks of which were recorded live at Montreux.  The last 4 are studio tracks, later included on Coryell's "Tributaries" album.
A very scary album in that this man is definitely a virtuoso and pulls all the stops on his acoustic guitar.  This most underrated guitar player can surely do it all.
I wouldn't call the studio tracks very memorable unlike the live ones that are memorable, so this is more of an album that has you appreciating the acoustic guitar more than appreciating the songwriting.
Everything from fiery quickness to funky subtleness.

Tracks 1 to 3 recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland on July 23, 1978;
Tracks 4 to 7 recorded at Soundmixers, NYC on August 17, 1978.

This rip comes from my own personal lp. Crimhead420

Tracks Listing

1. Toronto Under The Sign Of Capricorn (8:38)
2. For Philip And Django (4:31)
3. Rodrigo Reflections (7:21)
4. April Seventh (5:50)
5. Silver Medley: Song For My Father / Sister Sadie (5:22)
6. Copenhagen Impressions (4:00)
7. Variations On A Theme (2:47)

Total Time 38:29

Line-up / Musicians

- Larry Coryell / solo acoustic guitar

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'Igginbottom's Wrench - 1969 "Igginbottom's Wrench"

'Igginbottom's Wrench is a studio album by the band 'Igginbottom, released in 1969 through Deram Records originally on vinyl only. It has been reissued a number of times (sometimes under the group title of "Allan Holdworth & Friends"), most notably on CD for the first time on 5 March 1989, as well as a remastered edition in 2000 through Angel Air Records with extensive liner notes detailing the band's history. It is one of the first recordings to feature guitarist Allan Holdsworth.

Not so much a footnote as a toenail clipping in the annals of forgotten Deram label worthies, ’Igginbottom are known only to the privileged few as the Ronnie Scott-endorsed quartet which provided the first sighting of Allan Holdsworth in 1969. Their name may have led audiences to expect a brutalist meat-and-two- veg combo in the Stackwaddy vein; nothing could have prepared them for the preoccupied, jazzy insularity and pin-drop quietude of ’Igginbottom’s Wrench.

In an era of Marshall stacks and Big Muffs, Holdsworth and fellow ’Igginbottom guitarist Steven Robinson favoured intelligently-arranged tone clusters performed with no amp distortion and the treble rolled off. At times, as in Sweet Dry Biscuits, they sound like The Magic Band if Sun Ra had been cracking the whip instead of Beefheart.

The first revelation from this reissue is that Holdsworth patently emerged from the womb with his unreasonable talent fully formed. A mere 21 in 1969, he was already capable of unleashing those dazzling note flurries of dancing fluency that still make fellow guitarists lob their Les Pauls into the Thames. The second revelation is that he had a wonderfully appealing singing voice: check the sighing ennui of Golden Lakes and Not So Sweet Dreams. Who knew?

This is one weird-ass album, and one that will probably become better known as time goes on and more people discover that it's a very early musical document of Allan Holdsworth -- he was part of 'Igginbottom's Wrench along with David Freeman on drums, Steve Robinson on the other guitar, and Mick Skelly on bass. 'Igginbottom's Wrench, their one and only album, bears about the same relationship to Holdsworth's later work that The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp does to Robert Fripp's work, and it's curious that both albums are on the same label. 'Igginbottom's Wrench also sounds a lot like GG&F, kind of arty, theatrical psychedelia with some prominent jazz influences weaving in and out, but none of it taken seriously enough to be played or sung especially well, and it's easy to see how this recording got overlooked in 1969. It's mostly notable for the presence of "Golden Lakes," which evolved into "Velvet Darkness" and loomed ever larger in the decades to come. This shows Holdsworth at his least precise and pretentious, not in great form instrumentally or vocally (but not bad, either), noodling around in a less-than-formal setting and calling it an album. It's great fun and it will probably delight Holdsworth's fans, and anyone into late-'60s progressive rock or jazz/rock fusion.

Released on Deram Records in 1969, ‘Igginbottom’s Wrench’ was the first and only album from Barnsley’s ‘Igginbottom. The group consisted of Dave Freeman on drums, Mick Skelly on bass, Steven Robinson on guitar and guitarist extrodinaire, singer and main writer Allan Holdsworth.
Igginbottom were young lads (no older than 21) and had only formed as a band a few months before recording this album. Despite this ‘Igginbottom’s Wrench was, and is a brilliantly complex and highly sophisticated Jazz-Psych-Prog-Rock gem.
The album has heavy Jazz influences but could also happily sit in the Progressive or Psychedelic Rock sections. There is a lot to take in, song arrangements are ambitious and complex and the album really warrants several listens. In the Liner notes, Ronnie Scott writes: ‘Igginbottom are unique and completely original and although they love Jazz music and Coltrane in particular I can’t detect allegiance to any particular jazz musician in their work. They may well be the first group that has, completely naturally and unselfconsciously, evolved out of the ever converging directions of good Pop and Jazz. Their compositions (mainly by Allan Holdsworth) are fantastic and strangely moving – full of unexpected harmonic twists and difficult intervals, sung, again mostly by Holdsworth, with amazing precise intonation“
igginbottom front

Allan Holdsworth is best known for his work in the Jazz/Fusion world. He is a virtuoso guitar player and has been cited as a major influence by other guitarists such as Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen, Richie Kotzen, Alex Lifeson, and Greg Howe to name but a few. This album however, captures Holdsworth in a less formal than normal state, his playing is less precise and much ‘cooler sounding’ than his later stuff, in my opinion.
While many other guitarists of the day were embracing new amplification technology and heavily overdriven sounds, Holdsworth and fellow guitarist Steven Robinson used cleaner, dryer and much Jazzier sounds.

Holdsworth’s voice too is soft, soulful and in places not too dissimilar from a young Chet Baker but it’s really his guitar playing that stands out. The solos are blisteringly fast but somehow still remain laid back and groovy. Interestingly, ‘Igginbottom’s Wrench was later re-issued as being recorded by ‘Allan Holdsworth & Friends’.

The popular stand-out track is the last on side 1 – ‘Golden Lakes’ as this went on to become the influence for Holdsworth’s first solo album – ‘Velvet Darkness’, released in 1976. He went on to release a further 12 solo albums plus a range of live and collaborative records.

Track listing:

1. The Castle (Holdsworth) - 2:55
2. Out Of Confusion (Freeman, Robinson, Holdsworth, Skelly) - 2:09
3. The Witch (Holdsworth) - 3:03
4. Sweet Dry Biscuits (Holdsworth) - 2:54
5. California Dreamin' (Phillips) - 4:00
6. Golden Lakes (Holdsworth) - 5:12
7. Not So Sweet Dreams (Holdsworth) - 5:00
8. Is She Just A Dream? (Holdsworth, Kelly) - 4:33
9. Blind Girl (Robinson) - 3:46
10.The Donkey (Robinson) - 10:42


    Allan Holdsworth – vocals, guitar
    Steven Robinson – vocals, guitar
    Dave Freeman – drums
    Mick Skelly – bass

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Larry Coryell - 1972 [2001] "Offering"

Offering is Larry Coryell's seventh album as a leader. The album was released 1972 on the Vanguard label featuring Steve Marcus soprano sax, Mervin Bronson on bass, Mike Mandel playing electric piano with fuzz-wah and Harry Wilkinson on drums. The album was produced by Daniel Weiss and engineered by Jeff Zaraya. The album reached number 20 on the Jazz Albums chart.

 Recorded in 1972, guitarist Larry Coryell's Offering has often been overlooked because it was the album that was released just before the debut of his legendary fusion band the Eleventh House. It's too bad, too, since Coryell's playing here is so inspired and free of the intellectual trappings of some of his later work. The band on Offering is a crack jazz-rock outfit made up of drummer Harry Wilkinson, bassist Melvyn Bronson, soprano saxophonist Steve Marcus, and electric pianist Mike Mandel (also a founding member of the Eleventh House). The vibe on this set is akin to the rugged jazz-rock forging of Soft Machine beginning on Fourth. And while it's tempting to lump this set in with the rest of the fused-out fare of the time, Offering is a distinctly -- and consciously -- more melodic record than those issued by Coryell's contemporaries at the time. Compositions such as "Foreplay," with its loping soprano and keyboard lines, stand apart from most of the Miles Davis-inspired crowd (Hancock, Corea, et. al), and "Ruminations" with its knotty, striated bop lines, comes on strong from the middle of three entwining harmonic figures to reach out and create a melodic framer from the pathos; Coryell's solo, which is equal parts Jimi Hendrix and Sonny Sharrock, is a wonderfully scorching and elusive sprite. Beginning with "Scotland I," which closes out side one, the jams get a bit more abstract and a bit more involved with the primacy of improvisation without losing their lyrical sensibilities. Offering is, in its own way, every bit as strong as the Eleventh House's debut and deserves to be considered hand in hand with it.

Years before the term jazz-rock fusion existed, American guitarist Larry Coryell was playing a pioneering role. As early as 1966, Coryell co-founded Free Spirits, an early jazz-rock band, before recording three seminal progressive jazz albums with Gary Burton. In 1969, prior to recording the first album under his own name, Coryell toured with Cream bassist Jack Bruce, Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell, as well as keyboardist Mike Mandel, combining the influences of rock into a jazz framework. By the early 1970's, Coryell put together a remarkable band of his own including Harry Wilkinson on drums, Mervin Bronson on bass, Steve Marcus on soprano sax, and Mike Mandel on electric piano. During the next several years, these musicians developed a hybrid of jazz and rock, free of preconceptions. The results displayed plenty of virtuosity, but were also interspersed with enough of the fiery playing style of rock musicians to attract a younger audience not as comfortable with the overly intellectualized forms of jazz. Coryell's group, known collectively as Foreplay, recorded several groundbreaking albums in the early 1970s, proving that these musicians had a gift for invention, some of it quirky, but nonetheless impressive from both a technical and musical standpoint. By 1973, a peak year of creativity in the jazz-rock fusion movement, thanks in no small part to the innovations of Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, Coryell continued blazing his own path, free of formulaic limitations. Recording the final album with the Foreplay lineup, 1973's "The Real Great Escape," Coryell embraced jazz, rock, pop, electronics and he was even taking the questionable plunge of singing, a bold move to say the least. By the end of 1973, Coryell would revamp the band, only retaining the services of keyboardist Mike Mandel. Future legendary trumpet player Randy Brecker and the powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Danny Triffin and drummer Alphonse Mouzon fleshed out his next band, The Eleventh House, which would become Coryell's most recognized and commercially successful venture. Their debut album, 1974's "Introducing The Eleventh House," contained some of the most adventurous and technically hypercharged playing of Coryell's career.
Which brings us to this performance, recorded at The State University of New York, when Coryell and Foreplay opened for the Mahavishnu Orchestra. This recording captures Coryell at a crossroads, performing some of the finest material from both "Offering" and "The Real Great Escape," as well as developing material that would feature on the first Eleventh House album the following year. This recording serves as a musical bridge between two of the most memorable stages of Coryell's career.
They kick things off with Coryell's composition, "Yin" a song that would become a highlight of his next album with Eleventh House. Comparisons to the original Mahavishnu Orchestra are inevitable and Coryell's intensity and compositional framework are elaborate and just as melodically sophisticated. However, the comparisons end on "All My Loves Laughter," a Jim Webb song that not only features Coryell on vocals, but also clearly veers off in a smooth bluesy direction less interested in acrobatic solos than group improvisation. The next three pieces, all of them Coryell compositions, display the exceptional improvisational skills of the group, beginning with "Foreplay," a signature track from 1972's "Offering," and the title track from "The Real Great Escape." Dipping back to 1969 material, they deliver an exceptional reading of "Lady Coryell." Here, Coryell's unerring sense of swing, finesse and brilliant, blues-inspired style are undeniable. These performances all display what an impressive band this was. In both tone and execution, Marcus' solos are exceptional, Mandel's processed keyboard playing is humorous and original and the rhythm section of Bronson and Wilkinson are relentlessly inventive.
Also featuring a vocal from Coryell is "Makes Me Wanna Shout," one of the most overtly non-jazz based pieces on "The Real Great Escape, but incomplete due to tape stock running out. When the recording resumes, the group is blazing into a continuous sequence that begins with a second high velocity reading of "Yin," which then segues directly into an unidentified number, serving as a showcase for Mandel's fresh imaginative keyboard playing. This continuous sequence (nearly 25 minutes altogether) culminates with the Harry Wilkinson composition and title track from "Offering." Wilkinson's crackling and pummeling make for an engaging call-and-response counterpoint to Coryell's solos and at nearly twice the length of the studio recording, contains some of the most free-form performances of the night.
After introducing the band members, Coryell announces that they will conclude the set with another Mike Mandel composition, "Joyride." Considerably different from the version that would surface on the Eleventh House album the following year, the compositional framework is elaborate and melodically sophisticated, with Coryell and Mandel's dynamic interaction and intricate playing at the fore. If one listens closely, hints of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From The Sun" can almost be discerned amidst the fiery fretwork. This is a blazing conclusion to the set, leaving the audience clamoring for more.
For many, Coryell has never sounded better than during his tenure with these particular musicians. They are all inspired and inventive but Coryell is clearly the front man here. Although his next band, The Eleventh House would become one of the most famous fusion bands of the 1970s, here Coryell still stands independent from the standard jazz-rock approach many musicians were embracing. Although he does emulate certain elements of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Coryell had long been working in an idiom that pre-dated McLaughlin's innovations. Though Coryell remains one of the most creative and accomplished electric guitarists, he would never achieve the popularity of many less capable but better promoted musicians. Other groups would attain much greater commercial success, but there's no mistaking the fact that Coryell was very much a visionary in his own right. Some of Coryell's most entrancing melodies, lightning fast phrases and spectacular solos can be found right here, in addition to a band capable of playing with guts and urgency. This live recording captures the tail end of an era when Coryell's music was most free of preconceptions and ripe with creativity.

A bit overlooked,this recording. In my opinion the best Coryell Jazz-album.
Here is a fierce and strong enthusiastic playing to be heard.
No boundaries and this band was clearly going to storm and change the world with their music!
Good recording, great sound. Listened to it a thousand times!!
The real thing for jazz-rock lovers and it was deary, new and fresh in it's time of coming out. Maybe too good!? . After this LP (Now replaced for a CD, because the LP became more cracking than sound after all the parties it had to turn trough..) I always tracked and listened everything coming out from Coryell.. In the hope that he would revisit this great music of course.. Well,he did a lot and became well known, but this particular energy-giving level never returned. The sax of Marcus was an ideal equal partner and Larry a great leader.. The only time he really came very close to a breakthrough towards Influential New Jazz and step-up of his clearly rich-gifted personal musicianship was on this recording. Very sad for us that they didn't challenge it out. On the nice but then strongly Miles-influenced(although re-issued on CD, very hard to find) "Barefoot Boy", the force comes back.. Next came "The Eleventh House". I personally think Coryell became a bit explored and over winged by the other members of that band. Good but not original like this one. Later on in his musical search he made recordings with Indian Masters that came out real nice and contemplative. 

Back in the early 70's, Coryell put together a strange little band that, in addition to himself, included Harry Wilkinson on drums, Mervin Bronson on bass, Steve Marcus on soprano sax, and Mike Mandel on, of all things, electric piano with fuzz-wah. Those were the heady days before fusion became a formulaic and boring refuge for technically hypercharged cokeheads, the days when people who wanted to play both jazz and rock didn't really have preconceptions about what the hybrid should sound like. The result was at times a kind of virtuosic grandiosity, as in Tony Williams' Lifetime's early sessions, with their bad-poetry raps interspersed with fiery playing by Williams, Larry Young, and John McLaughlin. At other times, in the quirkiest way, players hit the mark. Offering is one of those records. Wilkinson is no virtuoso, but his snapping and pounding make quite an interesting call-and-response counterpoint to Coryell's solos; each had an exceptional ear for the other. In tone as well as execution, Marcus is exceptional, so much so that I wonder what he's doing now; Bronson is quite good(listen to his bent-note but solid backing on "Begger's Chant"), and Mandel's playing is humorous and bizarre in a kind of Don Preston-Zappa way. Coryell has never been better. His playing is relentlessly inventive. Listening to the astounding accumulation of ideas and the beautiful architectonics of his solos on "Beggar's Chant," "Foreplay," and the title track, I'm taken back to those days when Coryell was jazz-rock music's hidden treasure. The current crop of guitarists of any stripe would benefit from an attentive listen. Some of Coryell's most innovative playing on record.
Tracks Listing

1. Foreplay (8:10)
2. Ruminations (4:17)
3. Scotland I (6:41)
4. Offering (6:46)
5. The Meditation Of November 8th (5:12)
6. Beggar`s Chant (8:03)

Total time 39:09

Line-up / Musicians

- Larry Coryell / guitar
- Mike Mandel / electric piano with fuzz-wah
- Steve Marcus / soprano saxophone
- Mervin Bronson / bass
- Harry Wilkinson / drums

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Herbie Hancock - 1977 [1988] V.S.O.P. "The Quintet"

The Quintet is an album by V.S.O.P. It was compiled from two concert performances: one at the Greek Theatre, University of California, Berkeley, on July 16, 1977; the other at the San Diego Civic Theatre on July 18, 1977. The musicians were Herbie Hancock on keyboards, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tony Williams on drums, Ron Carter on bass, and Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophones. The recording was originally released in October 1977 as a 2-disc LP by Columbia Records.

With the cheers and huzzahs from their 1976 one-off reunion still resounding, the reconstituted Miles Davis Quintet minus Miles went on the road in 1977, spreading their 1965-vintage gospel according to the Prince of Darkness to audiences in Berkeley and San Diego, CA. In doing so, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, plus interloper Freddie Hubbard seem to pick up where they left off, with a repertoire mostly new to the five collectively and developed from there. It isn't exactly the same — you miss Miles' brooding presence and sense of space in Hubbard's busy, fiery playing, and Hancock is a more harmonically daring, assertive player than he was with Miles — but the interlocking telepathy and individual virtuosity of the musicians is pretty amazing. This also isn't the best tape from the tour; they were even tighter and more volatile in Japan five days later on Sony's Tempest in the Colosseum. The V.S.O.P. tours amount to a pit stop in the general shape of Hancock's evolution, but their influence upon the direction of jazz as a whole in the '80s and '90s would be staggering 

This has been a desert island disc for me for as long as I can remember. Can you call this jazz? Can you even call it music? It's something that feels like a whole lot more. This music teems with life, people, thought, emotion, creativity, joy, and insane energy like no jazz I've ever heard before or since. And Ron Carter flat out rocks the bottom out of it on acoustic bass. Give these guys a nobel.

The two selections that always kill me are "Jessica" and the hard rocking "Lawra". Jessica features a beautiful arrangement: the bass plays the lovely and poignant melody solo, accompanied by rich, dissonant, single note arpeggios from Hancock which lay out the complex terrain the soloists will then negotiate. Later, the bass is doubled by the trumpet which refines the texture even more.

The same group did a poignant and deeply beautiful version of Maiden Voyage on another live album called "VSOP" but that recording exists only on vinyl. Still the live version of Maiden Voyage is available on some compilation CD. Get it and live well!

This jazz is not a set of solos with other instrumentalists passively watching. Hancock, the Socrates of this group, pushes the band into a state of musical aporia: he doesn't accompany solos, he questions them, challenging each musician with his absurdly inventive figures; and he's coming with both jazz and modern western musical arguments. And when it's his solo he dives deeply into the darkest part of the woods and then, when you think he's lost, he's emerged out into the bright light.

Tony Williams seems to be playing in a state of ecstasy: he pounds new worlds into being and the horns have to dance in his garden or die. Ron Carter rocks out on acoustic bass - he keeps the pulse and he untethers Williams and Hancock to play with the rhythm and meter.

Hubbard plays superb and complex music on his solos; Wayne Shorter then steps beyond music and shows us that a horn can be as expressive as natural language.

Some of the best live jazz I've ever heard. For one, let's get a look at our band, shall we? Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax; Herbie Hancock on piano; Ron Carter on bass; Tony Williams on drums. Not only is that Miles Davis' old '60s band (minus the leader, who was in retirement at the time - Hubbard takes his place), that's also the same basic group - other than Shorter - that brought us Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage. Is that prestigious, or what? This is nowhere near fusion even though Shorter, Hancock and Williams are legends of the subgenre. And that might surprise the Headhunters crowd, but we must remember that before Hancock moved fusion forward he was a post-bop pioneer. And that's pretty much what the group's doing here. Not innovating post bop exactly, but playing it very well, with Hubbard channeling Miles circa 1965 on "Darts". It also contains what may Tony William's best composition: the mutlipart "Laura", with a lengthy drum solo inserted in the middle; and the eerie "Little Waltz", a moving duet dialog Shorter and Hubbard, with Hancock himself playing sweeping arpeggios and eventually a spooky, minor-key solo - followed by an awesome Carter solo spot that often gets so complex it sounds like there are two different basses playing. Meanwhile, there are a few slightly more offbeat compositions, like Ron Carter's odd "Third Plane", where he plays some excellent bass; and "One of a Kind", which has a pretty unique melody. Another good reason to listen to this album is because of the way the group handles soloing. Whenever a member is soloing, the other members play very complex backing to the solos. The last track, "Byrdlike", is about the furthest into hard bop Herbie ever explored, even sounding like Art Blakey, and it's worthwhile - especially for Tony Williams' drumming. The one loser track is "Dolores", which wanders far from the main point and totally loses me. In spite of that little quibble, everyone who has any interest in Herbie Hancock should add this to their shelf as soon as possible and play it as often as they can - it easily ranks with Empyrean Isles, Head Hunters, Maiden Voyage and The Prisoner as one of Herbie's very best

The musicians in the VSOP quintet, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams all played on numerous records with each other in the 60's, sometimes all together, sometimes one or two or three with other musicians. In any form, their albums were always exceptional. In the late 70's, after nearly a decade of experimentation with jazz fusion (Shorter's Weather Report, Hancock's Headhunters, William's Lifetime Band, etc.) the five reunited for several albums and tours. The music they made was nothing short of incredible.

If the group had remained as a solid, tight "band" for a long period of time, like Miles Davis' quintets of the late 50's and middle 60's, or Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, VSOP would have undoubtedly be recognized as one of the most influential and finest working bands in jazz history. On this album, the group combines freebop with a bit of what they had picked up in fusion...more erratic drums, a heavier sound, etc. It all comes together beautifully to create an album that really builds off the aesthetic of 1960's Miles Davis. Everyone is top notch here, with no one stealing the show, and no one lagging behind. Each band member contributes at least one tune. My personal favorite is One of a Kind by Freddie Hubbard (which features a luminous soprano solo by Shorter) Third Plane by Ron Carter (excellent solos all around) Dolores by Shorter (Hubbard's finest moment here, IMO, and the churning group improvisation of Darts.

What's really fantastic about this band, and this album, is the LISTENING. They are all picking up on what each other is doing, and thus are constantly building, slowing down, picking things back up, burning, cooling off, all as one. Hearing Hubbard and Hancock interact, Shorter and Williams duel, and Ron Carter at like the unbreakable tree in the storm is just inspiring. This really is freebop (or however you term it) at it's best, and for anyone well versed in the jazz language, and who has heard the music of these players, this is quite simply a stunning, and immensely enjoyable listening experience. I find myself invigorated when I listen to this album, and I think you will too. My only sadness is the days of this band are gone, and will never return, as Hubbard can no longer play, Ron Carter is in semi-retirement, Williams has passed on, and Shorter and Hancock are involved in other activities. Thus, it's imperative people listen to albums like these, so we can always treasure the moments of glory created when these five exquisite musicians were in the same band, working together to create one of the highest forms of aural art: jazz.

Tracks Listing

1. One of a Kind (9:27)
2. Third Plane (7:19)
3. Jessica (7:02)
4. Lawra (9:43)
5. Darts (8:54)
6. Dolores (11:31)
7. Little Waltz (9:33)
8. Byrdlike (8:05)

Total Time 70:13

Line-up / Musicians

- Herbie Hancock / keyboards
- Freddie Hubbard / trumpet
- Tony Williams / drums
- Ron Carter / bass
- Wayne Shorter / tenor and soprano saxophones 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Eleventh House Feat. Larry Coryell - 1975 [2012] "Level One"

Level One is The Eleventh House's second album released 1975 for the Arista label. The album reached 1975 number 23 on Billboard magazine's Jazz album chart and number 163 on the Billboard 200 chart.

This was the follow-up to the legendary Introducing the Eleventh House recording. While it never achieved the classic status of its predecessor, it is an excellent follow-up that captures the band at their creative and technical peak. From the whimsical "Diedra" to the intense "Nyctophobia," Coryell leads his group with an understated refrain. He has always been at his best when acting as an equal within a group's space rather than as the centerpiece. His one indulgence here is the pretty, acoustic guitar solo "Eyes of Love." Of particular interest on this recording is the ferocious drumming of Alponse Mouzon, who displays a style of speed and power that rivals that of Billy Cobham. This is a forgotten gem from the fusion era.

You really have to hand it to reissue labels like Wounded Bird, who do a fantastic job of unearthing gems from the vaults as well as getting vintage in-demand, previously out of print releases by popular artists back in circulation. Jazz-fusion fanatics have long been clamoring for Level One from The Eleventh House to be reissued on CD, and now here it is. For anyone who is unfamiliar with this band, it featured guitarist Larry Coryell, drummer Alphonse Mouzon, Mike Mandel on keyboards, bassist John Lee, and horn player Michael Lawrence (Randy Brecker and Danny Trifan were in an earlier incarnation of the band). Level One was originally released in 1975, and is a seminal recording from the fusion era that also spawned such acts as Return to Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, The Brecker Brothers, The Tony Williams Lifetime, Brand X, and so many other groundbreaking bands.
Level One was the bands third release, and last before they disbanded for the first time (The Eleventh House would reunite several times with various line-up over the next few decades), but it is an extremely solid effort that rivals their debut Introducing the Eleventh House from 1973. Led by the sizzling guitar of Coryell and Mouzon's dynamic drum work, Level One contains many standout tracks of scorching fusion, like the killer opening title cut and "Some Greasy Stuff". Coryell's licks and solos have a certain John McLaughlin feel to them, as he also favored distorted, rapid fire passages that mixed rock and funk styles, zig-zagging through arrangements also colored with trumpet, flugelhorn, and keyboards. "Nyclaphobia" is an aggressive fusion monster, with Mouzon's acrobatic drum fills blazing underneath furious riffs from Mandel & Coryell, easily a song that will appeal to fans of Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. If you love the sound of the Fender Rhodes, Mandel puts on a show here. The majestic 3-part "Suite" is simply lovely, as the band combines jazz and progressive rock, while "Eyes of Love" shows Coryell's deft touch on the acoustic guitar. Another highlight on Level One is the surging funk rocker "Struttin' With Sunshine", a real barnburner with fat bass riffs from Lee and a wealth of horns, ethereal keyboards, and Coryell's nasty licks. Closer "That the Joint" is a bombastic, rockin' slice of fusion, with all the players delivering scorching passages within the catchy, can't miss melody.
Top to bottom, Level One is scorching, mandatory listening for any fan of '70s jazz-fusion. It's a shame this band basically burned out so quickly,as they had just as much to offer the scene back in the day as any of the groups mentioned above. Kudos once again to Wounded Bird for unleashing this beast on CD.

Someone finally had the decency to release this music on CD. Larry Coryell and company were at the top of their game when they put this title out. As several reviewers have already said; this ranks right up there at the top of so-called classic fusion recordings. I'm talking about being in the same league as Billy Cobham's Spectrum, any one of Return To Forever's recordings, Tony Williams Lifetime and other such dearly beloved fusion classics. I was fortunate enough to see Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House when they played at the University of Florida not long after this recording was made. Let me tell you, at the time, Larry was considered the shredmeister of the day. He was so revered (not just because of his technical ability and pure speed but also his musicality) that he was given a regular column in Guitar Player magazine. Do yourself a great favor; purchase this CD now while it's available. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) who currently cherishes their copy of this title in it's original vinyl form will be purchasing this CD! Buy this CD and while you are at it, buy his book "Improvising". Listen to this recording while reading his book. Then do a Google search on his name and read every article you can find. Believe me, there are plenty of stories and information not included in his book because there was not enough room, he forgot or he was trying to be modest and not come off as a braggart.

I was glad to see this fusion classic finally released on cd. this really is one of the fusion classics from the '70s and has always been a favorite eleventh house album for me. without a doubt, it is coryell's best album for hot, rocking electric guitar. coryell, who has always been a jazz guitar god, is one of the pioneers in fusion, with the first eleventh house album making its debut in '68, when fusion was still practically unheard of. as you can tell by the geeky cover photos (not the brightest move), level one was released in '75 during the funk-jazz era just before the dawn of disco popularity. and some of the music reflects the updated funk-jazz-pre-disco trends of the time, although this music is so much more palatable than disco for a number of reasons: it's very powerful instrumental fusion driven by coryell's hot and very rocking electric guitar work. although some tunes aim their powerful melodies in a funk-jazz-pre-disco era direction, they are well-delivered and memorable songs (even for people like me who never liked disco). and there are a good number of tunes with a stronger sense of jazz fusion composition that are quite impressive for people who want to see inventive jazz/rock fusion composition on an album like this. the mix of tunes with haunting melodies and tunes with intricate compositions was well chosen and executed. although EH's original trumpet man (randy brecker) had been replaced by michael lawrence by the time they did this album, music quality did not suffer. although he doesn't look like much, lawrence did a wonderful job belting out his trumpet parts.....whether in hard-driving melodies or smoking jams, lawrence delivers on the horn! and EH standard personnel alphonse mouzon (drums) and mike mandel (keyboards) deliver in fine style, as expected. the other newcomer on this album, john lee is also a very worthy and respectable man on bass. the main reason i'm only giving this album 4 stars is because the album and all the songs in it are a little shorter than they should be (with the exception of coryell's acoustic solo piece, which is perfectly fine even in its brevity). if the jams were all longer on all tunes, the songs and the overall album would have been a more respectable length. still, despite being shorter than it should have been, this is a very pleasing album for fans of jazz fusion, and i'm glad i finally get to have it on cd! it's about time! 

 I had this album in vinyl when it first came out...This is my favorite fusion album from the jazz side...HANDS DOWN! This
album rocks! This goes very well with Jeff Beck's Wired album that is fusion from the rock side. The sum of the two are
synergistic in nature, and will fuse your mind with an energy field that does not wear off when the last track is played!
Level One is one of my greatest albums I've ever owned. Kudos to the bright individual who brought this great work back
to life without changing the mix! Just like the vinyl........................IT'S ALIVE!!!

Tracks Listing

1. Level One (3:21)
2. The Other Side (4:35)
3. Diedra (3:56)
4. Some Greasy Stuff (3:30)
5. Nyctaphobia (4:03)
6. Suite (5:32) :
- a) Entrance
- b) Repose
- c) Exit
7. Eyes Of Love (2:35)
8. Struttin' With Sunshine (3:20)
9. That's The Joint (4:03)

Total Time: 34:40

Line-up / Musicians

- Larry Coryell / guitar
- Mike Lawrence / trumpet, flugelhorn
- Mike Mandel / keyboards
- John Lee / bass
- Alphonse Mouzon / percussion

- Steve Khan / 12-string guitar (1)

Victor Wooten - 1999 "Yin Yang"

Yin-Yang is the third album released by Victor Wooten.
The track "Pretty Little Lady" has a vocal line that was recorded backwards and then played in reverse, so that it appears to sound normal. This is an example of phonetic reversal.
There is video of the recording of "Zenergy" and "Resolution" found on Victor Wooten and Carter Beauford "Making Music".

There's little question that Victor Wooten is an ambitious musician. That was evident from his first two records, but Yin-Yang easily reaches farther than any album he has yet made. Spanning two discs, one instrumental and one vocal, Yin-Yang tries a little bit of everything, all underneath a smooth fusion umbrella. There's a bass showcases, worldbeat fusions, bluegrass jazz, smooth soulful jazz with banjos, full-fledged urban soul, songs based around baby gibberish -- a little bit of everything, all given immaculate, glossy production. That clean production not only makes the record sound accessible, but it makes the eclecticism and unpredictable stylistic fusions sound familiar. Depending on your point of view, that's either a good or a bad thing -- it either means Wooten is welcoming more listeners, or it means that it's not challenging. And that's the strange thing about Yin-Yang -- it's not particularly challenging, yet it is complex and difficult to digest in one sitting. That's largely because there's so much music on the record, but it's also because Wooten's ideas sound better when heard a few cuts at a time. He's a very talented musician and has some great ideas, but a little discipline and editing would make his records more convincing and compelling. 

Admittedly, what Victor Wooten can do goes well beyond conventional limits of the bass. In fact, in some cases, it has nothing to do with the bass at all. In his eagerness to “sing” melodies on his 4-string electric bass, the extraordinary bassman from Bela Fleck & The Flecktones becomes a saxophonist, a pianist, a guitarist. Stanley Clarke, Alphonso Johnson and Jaco Pastorius pioneered this territory and John Patitucci took it a step further by developing uncannily fluid chops on the 6-string electric bass.

Wooten is a chops monster himself and he certainly gets to strut his stuff on this two-CD set (one instrumental, one vocal). But while he can play the hell out of the bass (check the sheer burn on “Hip Bop” and the ultra-funky “What Crime Is It?” featuring special guest vocalist Bootsy Collins) he seems to have a bigger agenda that transcends his instrument. Wooten is in love with melodies, and it shows. He gushes shamelessly on smooth numbers like “Urban Turban,” “Resolution” and “Joe’s Journey,” a paean to a fallen friend. He revisits Flecktones country on “Zenergy,” featuring a guest spot by Bela on banjo, and ‘sings’ lyrically on “Sacred Place.”

The natural progression of Wooten’s vocal approach to the bass is to actually sing himself, which he does in convincing fashion on the pop-flavored second CD, revealing a particular fondness for Roger Troutman & Zapp (“Hormones in the Headphones”), Prince (“Yinin’ & Yangin’,” “Singing My Song”) and Morris Day & The Time (“Pretty Little Lady”).

One clever track is “Kaila Speaks,” in which Wooten records the musical warblings of his 13-month-old daughter, then transcribes the natural pitches of her rap and scores music behind it. It’s a neat trick, one that guitarist Steve Vai also pulled off with his infant son on a tune he called “Goo-Goo-Gak.” But Wooten’s tender rendition is especially poignant. Kaila reprises her star turn as a seasoned 16-month-old on “Kaila Raps.”

Victor is reunited on this project with his talented brothers Regi on guitar, Joseph on keyboards and Rudy on sax, who along with drummer brother Roy (a.k.a. Future Man) made up the pre-Flecktones band, The Wootens. They all contribute mightily on this homecoming that traverses world music, funk, smooth jazz, bebop, pop, bluegrass and beyond.

Jazz bassist Victor Wooten has become a living legend in the modern jazz scene. As a member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, he has been astounding audiences for years. As a solo artist he makes records that are deeply musical and technically breathtaking. His latest effort, Wooten's latest release, Yin Yang is a 2-CD set: Yin is devoted to instrumental tracks and Yang is devoted to vocal-oriented tracks. Featuring special guest artists Bela Fleck, Bootsy Collins, Peter Rowan, Carter Beau ford, Stuart Duncan, Jeff Coffin, Rod McGaha, Jonell Mosser, JD Blair, Kirk Whalum and the Wooten Brothers. 

Victor Wooten is one of those rare electric bass technocrats who learned all the right lessons from Jaco Pastorius. While sounding not at all like him, Wooten exhibits the same ability to retain the groove and a warm midrange tone while demonstrating considerable prowess. On this ambitious two-CD project, Wooten runs the gamut from "wave" type instrumentals like "Imagine This," where overdubbed basses function as both foundation and melody instruments, to sampled spoken-word pieces. Yin-Yang is definitely a family affair, including three other Wootens--Joseph (keys), Regi (guitar), and Rudy (sax)--as well as extended family members like Victor's fellow Flecktone Béla Fleck and Dave Matthews Band drummer Carter Beauford. Even with all these guests, one would've preferred perhaps a more tightly edited single CD that featured more of Wooten's instrumental individuality (on the order of "Singing My Song" with its stripped-down bass, drum, and vocal approach, or "Tali Lama" with its bluegrass tinges courtesy of Peter Rowan, and less generic "happy jazz" like "The Urban Turban"). Nevertheless, Yin-Yang should be required listening for any player or fan of electric bass.

Track listing
Disc one - instrumental

    "Imagine This" (V. Wooten) – 5:08
    "Yinin' & Yangin'" instrumental (V. Wooten) – 4:36
    "Hip Bop" (V. Wooten) – 4:03
    "Joe's Journey" (V. Wooten) – 5:20
    "The Urban Turban" (V. Wooten) – 2:42
    "Tali Lama" (V. Wooten) – 5:17
    "Zenergy" (Béla Fleck, Carter Beauford, V. Wooten) – 6:46
    "Kaila Speaks" (Future Man, V. Wooten) – 3:00
    "Sacred Place" (V. Wooten) – 3:46
    "Resolution" (Carter Beauford, V. Wooten) – 4:57

Disc two - instrumental and vocal

    "Hormones in the Headphones" (Michael Kott) – 4:06
    "Yinin' & Yangin'" vocal version (J.D. Blair, Dwight Farrell, Jonathan Morse, V. Wooten) – 4:12
    "Kaila Raps" (V. Wooten) - 4:42
    "One" (V. Wooten) – 4:54
    "What Crime Is It?" (J.D. Blair, Bootsy Collins, William Collins II, V. Wooten) – 4:55
    "Go Girl Go" (Michael Kott) – 3:18
    "Pretty Little Lady" (V. Wooten) – 3:34
    "Hero" (Future Man) – 4:42
    "Singing My Song" (V. Wooten) – 4:43
    "Think About That" (V. Wooten) – 4:09


    Victor Wooten - bass guitar, cello, programming, background vocals, acoustic bass, electric upright bass
    Steve Bailey - bass
    Carter Beauford - drums
    J.D. Blair - drums, vocals, drum programming
    David Blazer - cello
    Kathy Chiavola - vocals
    Jeff Coffin - tenor saxophone
    Bootsy Collins - vocals
    Billy Contreras - violin
    Count Bass D - rap
    Stuart Duncan - fiddle
    Tabitha Fair - vocals
    Béla Fleck - banjo
    Joseph Wooten - organ, piano, keyboards, theremin, background vocals
    Aseem Hetep - vocals
    Michael Kott - cello, background vocals
    Park Law - vocals
    Rod McGaha - trumpet
    Jonathan Morse - background vocals
    Jonell Mosser - vocals
    Jim Roberts - djembe, shaker
    Peter Rowan - vocals
    Buddy Spicher - violin, viola
    Kurt Storey - violin
    Allyson Taylor - vocals
    Kirk Whalum - soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
    Roger "Rock" Williams - soprano saxophone
    Dorothy G. Wooten - vocals
    Holly Wooten - background vocals
    Kaila Wooten - vocals
    Regi Wooten - acoustic guitar, guitar, wah-wah guitar
    Rudy Wooten - saxophone

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Larry Coryell - 1997 "Spaces Revisited"

This album brings together Larry Coryell and legendary drummer Billy Cobham from the original Spaces album, together with bassist Richard Bona and guitarist Bireli LaGrene for another innovative, inspired blowing session of a unique brand of fusion jazz.

 What started as a project to reunite Coryell with Billy Cobham on drums in order to take a second look at the sound and style of the Coryell's Spaces ended up creating a whole new chapter instead. With Richard Bona on bass and Bireli Lagrene on guitar, these nine songs capture the spirit of that 30-year-old session with new, adventuresome playing and vigor. Coryell takes great pride in the spontaneity of this project -- one day rehearsal, two days recording -- and well he should, since it contains musicians interacting with each other in a loose yet totally on-top-of-their-game manner. Bireli shines on the 9/8 section "Variations on Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," while Bona solos beautifully on "Blues for Django and Stephane." Yet it's ultimately Coryell's and Cobham's show, and their playing throughout is sublime with the on-the-spot recording of "Hong Kong Breeze" -- an off the cuff head arrangement done in one take -- showcasing their two players/one mind interplay. Maybe you can't go home again, but this album clearly proves you can always take your luggage with you and build a whole new house.

 Tracks Listing

1. The Dragon Gate (6:30)
2. Hong Kong Breeze (8:25)
3. Spaces Revisited (7:05)
4. Variations On Good-Bye Pork Pie Hat (8:03)
5. Blues For Django And Stephane (5:24)
6. Morning Of The Carnival (7:31)
7. Oleo (5:04)
8. Introduction To 'Ruby' (1:33)
9. Ruby My Dear (4:24)

Total time 53:59

Line-up / Musicians

- Larry Coryell / acoustic & electric guitars, producer
- Biréli Lagrène / guitars
- Richard Bona / bass
- Billy Cobham / drums

Bireli Lagrene appears courtesy of Dreyfus Jazz, France.
Larry Coryell plays Cort LCS-1 Electric and SJ-5 Acoustic guitars.
Billy Cobham plays Mapex drums.
Bireli solos first (1 to 3,6,7,9), Larry solos first (4,5), Larry plays melody (9)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Chick Corea & Gary Burton - 2008 "The New Crystal Silence"

The New Crystal Silence is a 2008 live Jazz album by Chick Corea and Gary Burton. It was released in a 2-disc set. The first disc was recorded May 10 & 12, 2007 at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. The second disc was recorded on July 7, 2007 at Bjornsonhuset in Molde, Norway, except for the track "Señor Mouse", which was recorded July 13, 2007 at the Auditorio de Tenerife in Canary Island, Spain.

The album peaked number eleven in the Billboard Top Jazz album charts and also won the Grammy awards for the Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group.

When Crystal Silence first appeared in 1972 on the ECM label, its cover photograph depicted a stellar shot of the sun, which appeared to be setting. That duet album featured two already-seasoned jazz veterans who were in their thirties, and had been part of many of the developments in the music for a decade. Corea's credits included Miles Davis, his own Return to Forever, the "Is" sessions, Circle, and many others; Burton's included tenures with George Shearing and Stan Getz as well as Larry Coryell. But the duet album they recorded for ECM was so utterly striking and arresting because it highlighted not only an entirely new way of playing duets between piano and vibes -- which had been done previously and well by others -- but a new way of hearing them as well.
After 35 years, five duet records, and countless tours together, the pair revisit the notion of the duet in two different contexts on this delightful, compelling double-disc package from Concord. The first disc finds the pair playing live in Sydney with that city's symphony orchestra conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer and arranged by Tim Garland. The program includes five tunes, all of them composed by Corea. While it is disconcerting on first thought as to how an orchestra could add to the special intuitive communication this duo has developed since its first accidental performance at a festival in 1971, those fears disappear quickly after the orchestra's intro, when Corea's piano makes its entrance and Burton responds. It's striking there was so little rehearsal time, and that Garland's arrangements are so spot-on and attuned to the intricacy of what happens harmonically between these two. "Duende" opens the set with an enormous introductory sweep that feels more like a crescendo, but it gives way within two minutes to the exploration of extrapolated minors when Corea plays a single note that initiates his speaking voice on the piano. Burton answers and moves them into another direction, painting from the inside and pulling on certain notes as he quotes a melody that feels strangely like "The Shadow of Your Smile." Then the pair are off, the orchestra brooding and shimmering behind them, opening up spaces where there would be tension in such a focused space of minor keys that sweep this way and that way, and then they engage fully with the orchestra. This continues through "Love Castle" and the speculative intro to "Brasilia," which feels like a question. The rhythmic interplay is built layer upon layer, however sparely by the harmonic striations of vibes and piano as strings hover and cautiously seem to follow into a much more romantic and exotic flight of fancy. Of course, the title track, while seemingly an entirely new piece when played with this symphony, is no less limpid than its predecessor. The compositional notion is simply eased into more tentatively, but the interpolations between Burton and Corea are even cannier than one might expect. Everything begins in shade and shadow and is revealed in the full light of day. The set ends with a driving rendition of "La Fiesta," begun with an intensely intricate series of counterpoint exchanges between the pair.
Disc two contains a live performance from the Molde Festival in Norway, with one cut, "Señor Mouse" (also from the Crystal Silence debut), recorded in the Canary Islands. Far more breezy but perhaps more taut and far less tentative, the set starts off with Corea's "Bud Powell," and Burton shines with his solo, moving through the lyric phrases as Corea punches in spaces with tough, jaunty chord masses. It swings like crazy before giving way to a stellar reading of Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby." The melody, instantly recognizable in Corea's hands, is nonetheless a bit heavier in touch, but that's what makes it sound new as well. The solo he opens with carries the basic lyric frame in his two-handed chords and runs before Burton slides the melody in solo, as expressive and intimate as one could ever hope for before it opens wide and sings. This happens on the other standards here as well, the deeply emotive reading of "I Loves You, Porgy," with Burton's solo as tender as a singer emoting the words, and "Sweet and Lovely," where the pair just dig in and let the tune guide them on a wonderfully engaging, swinging ride through its harmonic possibilities. The other four Corea tunes here include a very different version of "La Fiesta" as a set closer; "No Mystery," which is more mysterious in some ways because of its use of arpeggios, space, and counterpoint; and the all-too-brief rhythmic invention of "Alegria." The bottom line, of course, is that this set, as different as its two mirroring discs are, is nearly magical in both its intensity and creativity, and in its wonderfully relaxed manner of walking through the deep passageways of improvisation. Anyone who is a fan of the duet recordings between these two should own this. Anyone not familiar should check out the ECM disc first, and then move straight here, filling in the gaps later. They are wonderful counterparts to one another and immensely satisfying listens.

The circumstances that led to pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton collaborating on Crystal Silence (ECM, 1973) are the definition of serendipitous happenstance. Neither thought the record would have wide appeal, yet it's gone on to become not only a classic for the label, but for both artists, who have since built large discographies with plenty of individual milestones. Recording infrequently as a duo, they've played together every year since that first meeting, with some significant globe-trotting in 2007 to commemorate their thirty-fifth anniversary together. The double-disc The New Crystal Silence documents that celebration with performances culled from dates in Australia, Norway and the Canary Islands.

The duo revisits material from Crystal Silence through to their most recent and fifth recording, Native Sense (Stretch, 1997), in addition to a new Corea tune and three standards. The second disc, from the Norway and Canary Island shows, finds the duet on their own and in top form. Anyone who caught a 2007 show knows—as their Portland Jazz Festival performance amply demonstrated—that amidst the stunning virtuosity, empathic interaction and subtle nuances is an almost mischievous playfulness. Some of this may be serious music, but Corea and Burton are clearly having fun.

The "new" comes with the first disc, where Corea and Burton have a silent third partner in British woodwind multi-instrumentalist/composer/bandleader Tim Garland. Garland doesn't perform, but was recruited by Corea to arrange five tunes from the duo's repertoire for the pianist, Burton and symphony orchestra—in this case, the Australian Sydney Symphony. This isn't the first time Garland has scored Corea material for orchestra—his "Fantasy on Crystal Silence" was a highlight of his own The Mystery (Audio-B, 2007), and also featured Corea as a guest. Here, his orchestration of "Crystal Silence" is more reverential, although there are moments of unexpected power during a tune that has always been more of a tranquil tone poem.

It's to Garland's credit that he finds the perfect blend of orchestration and improvisation. While there are open-ended sections that allow Burton and Corea to go where they will, Garland has turned Corea's compositions into miniature concertos, where the symphony weaves in and around solo and duet sections. Just how different the approach can be is clear with the two versions of Corea's Spanish-tinged "La Fiesta" included—a more form-based version with the orchestra on disc one and a looser, more fully extemporaneous duet version on disc two.

That Corea and Burton are in-tandem improvisers capable of taking great risks while consistently delivering near-perfect performances is what made their first recording a classic. It's hard to live up to Crystal Silence's iconic stature. Still, The New Crystal Silence proves that, as with any committed relationship, these two are never at a loss for fresh and relevant dialogue. The addition of Garland's orchestral arrangements only provides an even more expansive context around which Corea and Burton can continue to build and strengthen a pairing that's destined to last a lifetime.

When they teamed up in 1972 to play in a piano-vibraphone setting, little did Chick Corea and Gary Burton realize that 35 years later their duo would continue to expand its modern chamber music approach to jazz with full introspection and exhilaration. Even though their serendipitous debut, Crystal Silence, was released on Germany-based ECM Records, which at the time did not have a distribution deal in the U.S., the album not only forged the alchemic partnership, but also brought to renown the deep and insightful collaboration of the two virtuosic improvisers. After their premiere outing, they recorded four more albums and have never skipped a year performing together.
In celebration of the Corea-Burton duo’s 35th anniversary, they released The New Crystal Silence, a double CD featuring the pair performing with the Sydney Symphony and as a duet captured in a sublime performance at the Molde Jazz Festival in Molde, Norway. The orchestral concert bears the fruit of an invitation from two symphonies in Australia, in Perth and Sydney, which offered the twosome the opportunity to perform and record their repertoire in an orchestral setting. As for the duo disc, Corea and Burton marked their long relationship onstage of anticipating each other’s musical ideas by embarking on a worldwide tour and then chose one of their best performances to document.
Writing in The New Crystal Silence liner notes, Burton reflects:
I’ve always held the theory that all musical collaborations, particularly among jazz musicians, eventually run their course as players evolve and everyone moves on to new ventures. But, I’ve come to believe that what Chick and I have together is going to break that rule. The performing we have done over the past year has been our best in 35 years, and we are very pleased to make it available on these CDs.” He adds, “We both feel that our music has evolved in the last 10 years more than it did before. We play the tunes very differently, with fresh concepts and new inspiration.Gary Burton
Corea agrees:
The way we were approaching the music during our 35th anniversary concert tour was so different that I thought it warranted documentation. Gary’s playing continues to amaze and inspire me. The tours we’ve done over this past year are my favorites of all that we’ve done. There’s more to come, but here is a slice of what we’re into these days.Chick Corea.
 Track listing

Disc one

    "Duende" (Corea) – 10:54
    "Love Castle" (Corea) – 12:41
    "Brasilia" (Corea) – 9:38
    "Crystal Silence" (Corea) – 14:09
    "La Fiesta" (Corea) – 13:35

Disc two

    "Bud Powell" (Corea) – 7:55
    "Waltz for Debby" (Bill Evans) – 8:03
    "Alegria" (Corea) – 5:49
    "No Mystery" (Corea) – 9:12
    "Señor Mouse" (Corea) – 9:10
    "Sweet and Lovely" (Gus Arnheim, Charles Daniels, Harry Tobias) – 6:56
    "I Love Porgy" (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin & DuBose Heyward) – 4:09
    "La Fiesta" (Corea) – 10:41


    Chick Corea – piano
    Gary Burton – vibraphone
    Sydney Symphony Orchestra
    Jonathan Stockhammer – conductor