Jazz With An Accent: CDs by The Dino Saluzzi Group, Carlos Franzetti and Ruben Blades

July 8, 2014

By Fernando Gonzalez

The Dino Saluzzi Group

El Valle de la Infancia (ECM)

The bandoneón, a button squeezebox, might have been born in Germany as a poor man’s harmonium for religious services, but found its calling, and reached global recognition, in tango, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, half a world away. But bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi was born in a dusty small town in Salta, in Argentina’s Northwest, not the big city; and he first heard the bandoneón in folk music not tango. Naturally, and especially early in his career, in the late 60s’early 70s, Saluzzi brought the instrument to his folk music projects. And even as he later earned his tango credentials playing in classic tango orchestras in Buenos Aires, his approach to the bandoneón has always had a distinct, personal accent.

In his own music, Saluzzi has long since developed a style in which he has blurred the lines between European classical music and jazz — with a tango and folk tinge.

Dino Saluzzi CD InfancyOn El Valle de la Infancia (The Valley of My Childhood), Saluzzi, 79, comes full circle, taking stock on his musical history through the filter of the styles that have since marked him.

As it probably couldn’t have been otherwise, El Valle de la Infancia is a family affair. His sextet includes his brother Félix on sax, his son José María on guitar and his nephew Matías on bass. (Nicolás “Colacho” Brizuela, guitar; and Quintino Cinalli, drums and percussion complete the group.)

Both as a composer and improviser, Saluzzi has a particular way of setting and telling his stories. He establishes the mood with a few bold strokes, and then, more often than not, lets the themes emerge, digressing unhurriedly, adding a point here, a change-of-pace detail there as the tale unfolds.

“La Polvareda” wanders off from a near religious mood into a festive folk tune and out again. “A Mi Padre y a Mi Hijo” turns unexpectedly into a modern tango that suggests a salute to Astor Piazzolla before dissolving and reappearing as an old-style milonga. The music is not necessarily thru-composed but, for the most part eschews the standard forms. In fact, except for four of the 16 tracks, Saluzzi sets the program as a collection of suites. The connecting thread might not always sound obvious at first listening. In “Pueblo” the three pieces are each from a different composer — and he is none of them. And Saluzzi not only invokes certain traditional folk rhythms (such as in “Charqui” which draws from the folk music of Argentina’s Northwest) but also includes songs by master folk composers such as Atahualpa Yupanqui and Ariel Ramirez.

El Valle de la Infancia suggests the work of a master in winter, still looking ahead as he glances back.

Carlos Franzetti

In The Key of Tango (Sunnyside)

Argentine-born pianist, composer and arranger Carlos Franzetti’s career defies easy labels. He has recorded jazz, tango and pop, has written chamber and symphonic music, operas and film scores, collaborated with jazz musicians, pop artists and rockers. Two recent projects, In The Key of Tango and Panamanian singer and songwriter Rubén Blades´Tangos, brings him back to his musical roots and the results are impressive.

Carlos Franzettk Key of TangoOn In The Key of Tango, a solo piano outing, Franzetti revisits a repertory of classics, including Carlos Gardel’s “Soledad,” Virgilio Expósito’s “Naranjo en Flor” and Astor Piazzolla’s “Adiós Nonino,” as well as his own “Tango Fatal,” the title piece form his 2000 ballet.

It might sound like a simple, even natural task. But being bilingual means, inevitably, to lose some of the turns, nuances and accents of the original language. That, remarkably, is not the case here.

Old school jazz players talk about the need to know the lyrics to properly play and improvise over a song. On In The Key of Tango one can almost hear Franzetti singing along, coming to the precise pause, adding a baroque touch of flair, playing on the drama of certain phrase, speeding up and slowing down like a good club dancer. And he brings to his interpretations not only his substantial technique as a player but an arranger´s ear — now staying simple and direct, now being melodramatic, now suggesting orchestral accents (Orquesta típica accents) as needed.

In The Key of Tango is not only a terrific addition to Franzetti´s discography but it makes for a smart entry point to the classic tango repertoire.

Ruben Blades

Tangos (Sunnyside)

Ruben Bades TangosRecorded in Buenos Aires and New Jersey and featuring the great bandoneón master Leopoldo Federico and his orchestra, a United States-based sextet and The City of Prague Symphony Orchestra, Rubén Blades´ Tangos is a very different tango project.

Here the repertoire is comprised  by Blades´s salsa classics such as “Paula C,” “Pablo Pueblo,” and “Pedro Najava,” and the challenge, for both, singer and arranger, was to re-create them as tangos.

Set with a jeweler’s touch by Franzetti’s arranging, Blades’ singing, for the most part, works. No, he doesn’t have a tango voice nor the phrasing. But, bringing to bear his experience as an actor, Blades sings with flair, trusts the words (and why not? He is one of the prime storytellers in Afro-Caribbean music) and doles out the drama judiciously.

For the most part, Franzetti sets the songs in a neo traditional tango orchestra style and it works — and his re-imagining “Pedro Navaja” and “Adán García” as sui-generi milongas works particularly well.
Probably not for tango purists, but a contribution to the genre nonetheless.

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To read more posts from Fernando Gonzalez and “Jazz With An Accent” click HERE.

 


CD Review of the Day: Royal Southern Brotherhood’s “heartsoulblood”

June 23, 2014

Royal Southern Brotherhood

heartsoulblood (Ruf Records)

By Brian Arsenault

What the so-called blues “purists” don’t understand is called out on critic John Sinclair’s liner notes to the superb heartsoulblood recently released by Royal Southern Brotherhood.

To wit: “Here Cyril Neville points out (on the album’s second track) that ‘rock & roll is the child of rhythm & blues’.” I would add that r&b is blues speeded up, horned up and electrified. SInclair goes on to say that “blues rock is in turn the child of rock & roll, born and bred in the nasty bars and roadhouses of the South and transplanted into the imaginations of a bunch of teen-age blues lovers in Great Britain who took their version to the top of the international pop music charts.”

Exactly right and the shitheads who think that listening to anything other than BB King and dead Delta bluesmen, great as they are, is some securlar sin against “da blues” have cut themselves off from some very great music for the past half century.

Royal Southern Brotherhood continue and enhance that march through rock and blues (and funk and soul and rockabilly) generations.

Royal Southern Brotherhood band

Royal Southern Brotherhood band

Generations are part of the picture here. The band includes Devon Allman, son of Gregg and nephew of Duane, as well as fourth Neville Brother, Cyril. Sterling guitarist and vocalist Mike Zito and keepin the beat rhythm section bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott round things out and deepen the sound.

I don’t always know who’s singing or playing guitar on each track and in some ways I don’t want to know. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a band where, as the cliche goes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

I feel rather like Red in The Shawshank Redemption who doesn’t want to know what “the two Italian ladies” singing opera on the record pumped through the prison speakers are saying; he just wants to continue the feeling he gets just to hear them.

“Rock And Roll” does just that just fine. “Groove On” brings memories of Duane and Clapton on maybe the best rock album ever, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. “Callous” (on my soul) may be an anthem for the dark side of our times or simply the hurt from lost love.

“She’s My Lady” would have been called Soul if sung by The Temptations or, dare I say it, one of the older Nevilles. It would be a summer hit if there were such things on AM radio, or any radio any more. “Let’s Ride” has echoes of the Allman Brothers understandably but also the Chambers Brothers, just as understandably. And on and on throughout the album. Quality.

South haters — says this far New England Yankee — who think everything in the South is racism and narrow mindedness should note that this is a mixed race band. Interesting isn’t it that such seems to happen more often with bands based in the south than in the north? Those advocates of voting rights laws — but only for southern states — should recall all those musical cross currents in that part of the country from blues to rockabilly, from Buddy Holly to New Orleans funk and yes, dammit, to Elvis before the star machine got ahold of him. Currents that enriched the musical life of the whole nation.

A final cultural note: The album closes with a hippie-like anthem, “Love and Peace.” Nice touch.

The only lyric: “Love and Peace will heal the world.” Of course the eternal question is how do we get there? Music? We used to think so. Dare we again? Maybe the young can take us where the old could not.

But forget such musings if you wish. This is music I can listen to every day like my old Stones’ albums and that’s the best I can say about any collection.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

 


Film Review: B.B. King “The Life Of Riley”

May 21, 2014

By Devon Wendell

There have been countless films made about the blues and about B.B. King. A large percentage of these films merely focus on how King (Born Riley B. King on September 16th, 1925, between Itta Bena and Indianola Mississippi) inspired a plethora of overdriven, unoriginal rock guitarists from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Very few have focused on the validity of the man’s music in its own right and the bleak conditions that helped to create the blues.

B.B. King and Lucille

B.B. King and Lucille

Director John Brewer has successfully captured the heart and soul of B.B. King the man and the musician in his new documentary The Life Of Riley (released in select theaters throughout the US on May 21st, VOD on June 1st, and on DVD and blue ray on June 17th.) The film is warmly narrated by fellow Mississippi native and blues lover Morgan Freeman.

Although we hear from dozens of King’s famous admirers and colleagues such as Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, John Lennon, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Rodgers, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bill Cosby, John Mayall, and Robert “Jr.” Lockwood, it’s the true and often harrowing tales of surviving life as a young black share cropper in the deep South that resonate as strongly as the sound of King digging deep into the strings of his guitar Lucille.

Brewer lets King, as well as his siblings, cousins, and distant relatives, tell a story of a life of a young man surrounded by constant labor and the reality of the most inhumane violence, hatred, cruel conditions, terror, and hell behind the forces of that labor.

There is a look of pain on King’s face as he recalls having started picking cotton from “can to can’t” (“from when you can see to when you can’t”) at the early age of seven and witnessing the Ku Klux Klan brutally castrating and torturing a young black boy to death after being accused of talking to a white woman, An image that has haunted the king of the blues his entire life.

As King recently makes his way to his original home, a tape is played of King’s late father Albert, giving directions and reminiscing about the small rural plantation in Mississippi. This is one of the most touching moments in the film. The love and sorrow is in every expression on King’s face as he looks outside of his tour bus at the familiar sites as he hears his dad guiding him back home.

King visits his late mother’s grave site. She passed away of diabetes while King was barely a teen. After that, King was forced to move from one relative’s home to another.

King talks about feeling “abandoned” after his mother’s death. It was around this time that he discovered the guitar and it’s been the driving force of his life ever since.

As each tale unfolds, we hear the music of field hollers, and Mississippi “country” blues icons Charlie Patton, Bukka White (King’s cousin) and Blind Lemon Jefferson, not to mention fantastic footage of King performing throughout his illustrious career.

Brewer takes us on the long journey from Mississippi to Memphis, where King cut his very first sides at the legendary Sun Records studio for the Bullet and Modern labels.

There’s still nothing like that very first recording of “Three O’ Clock Blues” recorded in the early ‘50s for The Bihari Brothers. At this time, King became a disc jockey for Memphis’ radio station WDIA with Rufus Thomas.

From Memphis we’re taken on the “chitlin circuit” in the ‘60s where segregation is ever present. King recalls almost being killed in Memphis the night Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered when every room in the hotel King and his band were staying in was burned down.

In the midst of broken marriages, hit records, and long tours, King never stopped working on his music. Friends and band members praise the work ethic of this great man and how he loses himself in every single note of a performance. B.B. King becomes one with the music that comes from pain but is made out of love.

What makes The Life Of Riley better than most documentaries about the blues is that it serves as a poignant and powerful reminder of the true pain and dreadful conditions that gave birth to the real blues B.B. King plays that has almost been forgotten by younger generations of blues/rock musicians.   Today, hard times for a “blues” musician are when the balance on his/her Starbucks card gets too low for a refill.

Thank God these conditions have changed but it is clear that there are no more musicians alive today who play the honest, unfettered blues the way B.B. King still plays them.

All of the music industry stuff and talk by self- indulgent English blues plagiarists are mere fluff compared to the simple honesty of the story about love and survival portrayed in this film.

Music lovers do not miss this film.

This is the real deal.

 


CD Review: Harvey Mason “Chameleon” (Concord Records)

May 1, 2014

By Devon Wendell

For those curious as to what Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters would sound like in 2014 sans Herbie; legendary drummer Harvey Mason’s latest album Chameleon would be the best example of that one of a kind jazz-funk style in a slightly more contemporary setting.

Mason played drums on the original Head Hunters album in 1973 as well as their follow up album in 1975, Survival Of The Fittest. Chameleon sounds more like the latter with its more subdued R&B-Jazz funk feel.

Mason has recruited some of the finest session players in jazz on the album, which was also co-produced by Concord Music Group’s Sr. Director of A&R, Chris Dunn. The opening track, “Black Frost,” features some incredible and daring tenor sax work by Kamasi Washington. “Montara” displays the fluid guitar virtuosity of Mathew Stevens, who also arranged this composition.

Vocalist Chris Turner guests on “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” adding a soulful and contemporary R&B ambiance that blends beautifully with Jimmy Haslip’s melodic bass playing and the muted guitar lines played by Mathew Stevens. The horn arrangements performed by Corey “CK” King on trombone, and Christian Scott on trumpet are subtle and tight.

“Looking Back” is a highlight of the album, with original Headhunters bassist Paul Jackson laying down his one of a kind style which initially helped create and define this brand of fusion over 40 years ago.

“Before Dawn” and “Places And Spaces” feature tasty, fusion horn hooks by Christian Scott, Corey “CK” King, and Kamasi Washington. King’s vocals on “Places And Spaces” glide nicely atop of the laid back ballad arrangement. Kris Bowers offers up some spacey, acid jazz keys to these pieces and on the composition “Ether Way.”

Harvey Mason

Harvey Mason

But by this point, the album gets a little too steeped in a repetitive and overly mellow ‘70s retro fusion bag, demanding something more up-tempo and original sounding. This is certainly the case on “Mase’s Theme,” which sounds too much like a mix between The Headhunters, Roy Ayers, and George Duke. And that’s fine, but there really isn’t anything new and innovative at this point.

Even the title track “Chameleon,” which is a cover of a classic from the original Headhunters’ 1973 debut album, is far too relaxed and safe in comparison to the original or the 1975 live version from Herbie Hancock’s album The Flood. But it’s nice to hear original Headhunters percussionist Bill Summers adding some thoughtful and melodic flourishes and returning to the hinda hu whistle that helped make the original version so unique.

The most exciting composition is the album’s closer, “Looking Forward (Breaking Bad),” arranged by and featuring some powerful tenor sax work by Guilluame Perret.

John Beasely’s keyboard work is stellar and inventive and Paul Jackson’s bass playing sounds just as funky, tight, and bold as it did in 1973. The piece is filled with tons of fun funky hooks, twists, and turns.

Although Harvey Mason isn’t reinventing the wheel on Chameleon, he once again proves to be one the foremost groove masters in any genre of music. The band performances are slick and funky. Chameleon is a perfect tribute to The Headhunters style and all of the music inspired by the innovative group. Most of all, this is a party album, even during the extremely laid back moments. It’s apparent that all involved were having fun doing what they love.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


CD Review of the Day: Teka’s “So Many Stars”

April 16, 2014

Teka

So Many Stars (Blue in Green Productions)

By Brian Arsenault

I think my biggest miss of 2013 may have been not hearing Teka’s marvelous bossa nova infused album So Many Stars. If you missed it too, here’s another chance. Especially for those of us in northern climes in this cold, cold endless winter.

Teka

Teka

Bossa nova almost always warms with its calls to romance and dance. In a harsh world it shows that the finer tender emotions are still possible. So there really is some place other than LA it’s warm this March. Really. And it may be the heart.

Good example, Teka and her teen daughter Luana Psaros provide two slightly different shades of sunlight on water in Aguas de Marco (Waters of March). Luana sounds like a younger skylark, not a lesser one, on this achingly alluring duet.

The album’s title song is also its message. So many stars, so many dreams. Taken as a whole, the album is rather dreamlike and it is a sweet dream.

For one reason, a different band member is featured in combination with Teka’s voice on nearly every song:
Randy Tico’s bass on “So Many Stars,” Doug Webb’s sax on “You Stepped Out of Dream” and “April Child”, Ruben Martinez bass flute on “April Child,” Ian Bernard’s piano on “Skylark.” More. All first rate.

Teka is a fine guitarist in her own right as amply demonstrated on “Bluesette.”

Teka

Teka

“Skylark” is one of the highlights of the album and one of the few non-bossa nova styled songs. Rather it is a wonderful slow jazz arrangement of the great Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael tune.

The Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” closes the album with Teka teaming again with Luana for a light hearted take. Smiles all around. Chuckles at the end.   For most of the time, though, we are in the world of Mendes and Jobim and, as noted, it is a warm world of dancing in the dark and counting stars.

Teka has a summer evening breeze quality to her voice always. She is as smoooooooooooth as bossa nova can be and that is very smooth indeed.

Surprises on the album? Maybe one. Her choice to include Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” lyrics by Ogden Nash. The central lyric of the song, though, fits the mold: “Speak low when you speak of love” for fear it might disappear.

There is a longing in bossa nova as well as a sweetness.  Teka sings in both English and Portuguese on the album but it is the Portuguese that best brings us the poetry of the music. Even if you don’t speak the language.

The pacing is where American audiences have their biggest problem. Bossa nova after a burst of popularity in the States in the 60s has been largely relegated to secondary status except among aficionados and Brazilian and other Latin communities.

Part of its charm is a pace that is never fast, never hurried and Norteamericanos sometimes need things hot and fast, not warm and romantic.

Still, we are open to “so many dreams,” aren’t we?

Teka and her New Bossa Trio perform at The Gardenia in Hollywood on Wednesday Ap[ril 30.  The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Blvd.  The phone number is (323) 467-7444.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Reviews: Whisky of the Damned’s “Monsters Are Real” and Jimmer’s “The Would Be Plans”

March 22, 2014

MONSTERS OVER PLANS

Whiskey of the Damned: Monsters Are Real (Avid Agency)

and

Jimmer: The Would Be Plans (The Chief Injustice)

By Brian Arsenault

About the time I wanted to abuse that humorless bastard Nietsche by saying the god of my generation — Rock Music — is dead, damned if new life isn’t breathed into it.

Such is the case with the raging Celtic rock interspersed with melodic ramblings from Whiskey of the Damned’s Monsters Are Real.

Right out of the gate the seeming IRA sensibility of the opening ballad bars of “Batons and Guns” explodes into a frantic pace. Dance till you lose your breath. “Oh yeah,” your rock ‘n’ roll soul goes, there’s life yet.

Here you get your first taste of Gina Romantini’s blazing violin. She must be Irish by osmosis with Italian-American passion underlying all. This may be the best rock violin ever.

Eoin (pronounced Owen for us Yanks) McCarthy’s singing here and elsewhere is oddly comforting and welcoming while screaming out on the edge. McCarthy is, though Dublin born, a Yank himself. I mean Wisconsin-,raised for heaven’s sake. The band met up in Milwaukee.

The two are just as fine together on a much softer number, “The Unknown,” two tracks later. In true Celtic style, this band can touch what aches as well as what’s angry.

“. . . just kids, mistakes is what we did.”

Romantini’s violin trades leads with McCarthy’s singing as the band moves comfortably from electric to acoustic.

Earlier it was listening to Jimmer’s The Would-Be Plans that had me in sort of a funk about the state of rock.

Oh, it wasn’t that the musicianship wasn’t strong. Or that Jimmer’s singing wasn’t ok. It just seemed that the former Rave-Ups front man hadn’t had a new idea in the two decades plus since his last album.

He reached way back. Surprised he didn’t run into Mr. Peabody. Not back to the days when the Rave-Ups were the psychic and sometimes the real house band for the Brat Pack. No, no much further back.

Much of this album seems musically to be Beatles as filtered through the Monkees filtered through the Birds or some sequence thereof, Bob Dylan harmonica as filtered through Neil Young. Not tribute so much as imitative except when trying to go country. Well, Dwight “pants too tight” Yoakam’s producer oversaw production.

A number of old rockers have gone country in an attempt to pander or stay relevant. It’s not a pretty sight.

But back to The Damned. More mad Irish passion on “Thumpkeg” where I continued to worry that Andrew David Weber might be one of those crazed drummers not long for this world. Started worrying around “Good Rat.”

Take a deep breath, Weber, yoga or something. Therapy won’t help. Probably make things worse so “Burn Your Suicide Notes.”

Late in the album, on “Maria” and “When It All Comes Down” we get back to sensitivity and ballad pacing and Gina gets to sing lead a little on the latter.

We get closed out with an invitation to drink all night. All sing on the way out the door.

But hey, don’t get me wrong. There’s some good stuff on Jimmer’s album.

The title song is a winner and the album’s first real rocker. Unfortunately it’s virtually the last rocker as well. “[She Has] Good Records” is light, pop-like enjoyable fare followed by the pleasing country rock style on “Satellite.” I just couldn’t help thinking at this point that the album was all “B” sides for those of you who remember what that meant. The rest can guess.

A neat Eagles-like song (if you’re gonna go country that’s the way to go) “With This Ring” comes too late. Neat, though, with even a small touch of Roy Orbison.

“Fall” closes.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


DVD Review: “Sensation: The Story of The Who’s Tommy”

March 13, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

As a coming-of-age 14 year old, I finally procured a small stereo system (with separate speakers!) in the Spring. This was a major development for me. I was ready to receive all the records I could handle! What could be better? One of the very first purchases I made was of a friend’s copy of Tommy. Though the album had been out a couple of years, and I knew of it through songs like “Pinball Wizard,” I also knew that there were two platters’ worth of music to discover just waiting for me. And it was the Who, so of course it was going to rock and be a blast to get into! That summer, it was all I really wanted to listen to, my go to album. I took a trip to South America and several points in between, and I heard pieces of Tommy in my head constantly. To this day when I hear music from the original album I’m simply transported, mesmerized.

The package of Tommy was so enveloping and artful, set in a different time but drawing me in elegantly. The music really did take me on an amazing journey with every listening. The artwork was cool, conceptual, and devoid of the usual posed band promos and sweaty live action shots. Though the Who were already legendary for their fantastic performances, this album didn’t even touch on that! What a chance to take! There were only a couple of small, shadowy, almost minor images of the actual guys in the band reaching to break through the black facets of a broken sky. Powerful stuff, this was. The rest was this impressionistic art that evoked profound sensual isolation and the urgency of breaking out of it with haunting beauty. Something different was definitely going on here and the music would explain it with further and deeper listening.

Now, nearly 45 years since the album’s release, Eagle Rock Entertainment has just released Sensation-The Story of Tommy, an entertaining examination of what went into the development of the Who’s defining studio album and how it kicked open the doors for so many bands to follow them in pursuing their music on their own terms. The entire process of conceiving, recording, presenting, and playing Tommy is covered in detail, as are the film and theatrical versions of it.

Going into 1968, the Who were a successful but challenged pop band. In those days bands were really only riding as high as the last single’s success left them. Albums were not yet looked upon as entire entities. The Who did have a parade of hit singles to their credit. And these songs were often interesting, somewhat oddball little ditties about everything from cross dressing, to masturbation, and hoping to “die before I get old.”

Their image was not of a trip clean, well-scrubbed, safe bunch of English pop stars. They were an odd looking bunch of dudes, who looked like they could and would kick your ass if that’s the way it had to be. And this toughness powered their development into a legendary live act in which it never actually seemed much of a stretch to watch them destroy their instruments onstage nightly. There is footage included of those days, filmed at very intimate camera angles, which catches the insane trance-like state Townsend could reach. We see it in his eyes, driven by the power in the music and the spectacle of it all. Just brilliant. Now, PT glibly recalls that the band were “rather profligate” in those days. Yes, a lot of classic equipment was sacrificed regularly. But the band would soon take a new turn.

In 1968, they had released “I can See For Miles,” a record that many consider one of the best singles ever by them or anyone else. It failed to get above #10. This left them frustrated and dumbfounded. What happened?

At the time the great wild card in young artists’ creativity was often LSD. While many used acid as a way to get an angle to an insight on life, its downside was that it could lead one straight out of their mind. As it happened, that year Pete Townshend had a life changing acid trip on a flight back to England from the US. He nearly did lose his mind. After an out of body acid experience he realized he was not necessarily connected to his body. He became strongly anti-psychedelic drugs and a man on a mission to find depth and meaning in his own life and that of his band. This led him, through his close friend/confidente and Tommy’s cover artist, Michael McInnery, to Meher Baba and onto a deep self-exploratory path.

As he learned more about himself, his creativity flourished. Townshend looked back at his life and wrote songs about all the sordid, dysfunctional facets of it. Brilliant, inspired, sophisticated music and incisive words flowed out of him. As the saying goes, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Of course, it is a treacherous path to take.  But Townsend was strong and determined, as well as hugely sensitive and creative. The fact that he actually pulled Tommy out of the process without losing his mind still looms as remarkable so many years later. Tommy put the Who into a different stratum of bands, into the realm of making real pop art.

The Who

The Who

Indirectly or directly, Tommy also changed Roger Daltrey’s life for the larger. He basically became the Tommy character in a totally non-contrived manner. He simply sang the parts with empathy for the Tommy character. There is a very telling clip where we hear an isolated vocal track of Daltrey singing “See Me, Feel Me.” It’s classic, angelic, and I’ve always thought it was right next door to perfect. Townsend explains that he was originally set to sing the track himself, but when he heard Daltrey’s take it was decided right there. It was a perfect fit and it changed RD’s life and career, putting it onto the next level. He also reveals that it was around this time that he stopped straightening his hair, letting it grow in naturally curly golden locks. And thus was a rock God born.

As beautiful a musical experience as Tommy is, the songs are about some of the sickest, most scrutinized, and now politically incorrect human dysfunctions around. The real story behind Tommy is the same dysfunction that Townsend experienced as a boy. Ugly truths of English youth are held up like dissected frogs. Nothing was off limits and everyone in and surrounding the band believed in getting it all out and recorded. They were on a fantastic creative roll. We get songs of bullying, murder, wickedness, cruelty, sexual abuse, and trauma. The plot is chock full of sick and twisted characters.

Townsend reveals the nasty truth that many English boys he knew endured a great deal of abuse during the evacuations of London during WW2. This was a much more common thing than most were willing to speak about until recently. Townsend was not even able to write about the wicked Uncle Ernie in “Fiddle About,” and gave it to John Entwistle who assured Pete it wouldn’t be a problem for him to write the song. This is why we hear Pete wonder confidently if Entwistle, too, hadn’t endured some of this abuse. And there are tales of the “weird shit” Townsend went through with his grandmother and mother. While it approaches too much at times, it’s also fascinating and revealing to hear PT talk about these issues so candidly. And, for any fan, it sets things straight.

Pinball is the ongoing visual theme of Sensation. We see old school pinball machines throughout in black and white…beautiful old bumper machines with stylized detailing. Not so surprisingly, Townsend had Tommy Walker set to be some sort of rock ‘n roller, but in this documentary the road to Tommy’s prowess at pinball is revealed. Many thanks go to Rick Cohn for that and it makes a very interesting story. Ah, what is the price of a top-notch review…a revision or two? Somebody who’s deaf, dumb, and blind could actually do something miraculous.

One of the things I always enjoyed about Tommy is how clear the vocals were and how trippy the music was. One was not sacrificed for the other. Sure enough, it’s revealed that the plan was indeed to mix the vocals prominently out in front of the mix so that the words wouldn’t be lost. But oh, how, those harmonically weezing guitars continue to haunt.

Tommy was recorded in 1969 on an eight-track machine. This was at a time in which eight tracks was a quantum leap up from four. Amazingly, it’s revealed that the band didn’t really have much use for all the tracks, and they ignored a few. Their focus was to be able to play Tommy live and so they meant to keep things simple and reproducible on stage. It’s agreed upon that the Who’s live shows in 1969 after the release of Tommy are/were on a level that no one in rock music has ever surpassed.

Sensation gives us a trove of information about the persona of the band going into their Tommy stage as well as the perspectives of many of the key players in the project. Many viewers will be keen to hear all of it as Tommy was a watershed album for the rock genre as much as it was for the Who. The story behind Tommy is involved and Sensation goes the distance to explain the whole thing. For anyone even remotely interested in the story this disc makes for very welcome viewing.  In fact it’s a must see.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Bye Bye Bird From Hollywood: The 59th Anniversary of the Death Of Charlie Parker

March 11, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When listening to “Dizzy Atmosphere” recorded live on September 29th, 1947, with Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall, it’s hard to believe that tomorrow, March 12th, Bird will have been dead 59 years. In that solo alone, Bird captured the future, present, and the entire history of jazz in a frenetically beautiful but blatantly violent and brutal manner.

It’s those kinds of contrasts that made Bird so great. And it can be found at any point of his career.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

On recordings like “Koko” and the famous alto break on “A Night In Tunisia,” Bird launched us into the stratosphere like a rocket on fire. And on ballads like “Embraceable You” and “Meandering,” he took us plunging down deep into frozen arctic waters like a falling meteor from space. At times he defied nature and at other moments he altered it with a supernatural ease and dexterity.

Charlie “Bird” Parker died almost 20 years before I was born and before I go any further, I’d like to state that I don’t care how much junk he shot, or how much booze he drank. None of that is my business and Bird’s music is larger than all of that. I can only fixate on the sound and the unfettered energy that it gives me. Every accented phrase, crescendo, substitute chord, passing tone, and “altered” melody line or “head” follows me throughout every nuance of my life.

I first heard Bird’s music in grade school on a compilation cassette from Japan, featuring a mix of Bird’s Verve, Dial, and Savoy recordings. “Leap Frog” was the first track on the tape and the sound of his alto sax was like a laser beam. I saw thousands of colors not yet named by man, dancing in my head. I heard the blues from deep inside the dank, all-night bars in Kansas City with its patrons of prostitutes, pimps, and people trying hard to avoid the nightmares of all night, home bound isolation. Bird painted so many pictures, so fast. It’s hard to keep up with the imagery and sometimes wonderfully overwhelming. The boundless history of music is all there too, from Bartak, Stravinsky, and Shoenberg to Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, and Johnny Hodges.

Bird’s ghost is on the move too. Not in Kansas City and certainly not in Los Angeles. It’s in New York City. Bird owned the spirit of New York when he lived there like no other artist in history. I’ve felt his sinister duplicitous charm while walking through Alphabet City.

Charlie Parker with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach

One time in a tepid state of depression, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment sipping chamomile tea and reading Ibsen’s The Wild Duck Rosmersholm, unable to pry myself out of my beat up old arm chair. Suddenly I heard “Yardbird Suite” in my head and I felt invigorated for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I was able to get up and at least make myself a good dinner. I grabbed a copy of Bird’s Dial recordings and played “Yardbird Suite” over and over as I made a plate of spaghetti and a tossed salad for one. It may be the anniversary of Bird’s death, but all I can feel is the sheer vitality in that composition as well as on pieces like “Scrapple From The Apple,” “Donna Lee” and “Relaxin’ At Camarillo.”

After being baptized by Bird’s music I soon discovered Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Billy Eckstine, Tadd Dameron, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane to name just a few. For a while, I was dismissive of post-Parker jazz (I hate the word “be-bop”) because I felt that he and many of his disciples had taken the music as far as it could go, especially around the time of his death. I still often wonder if that is the case as I still hear Bird’s influence all around me on every instrument.

Well, Bye Bye Bird from Hollywood. I’m glad you made it home, far away from this place. Maybe we’ll meet up someday on the old Avenue B.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


CD Review of the Day: Carlene Carter’s “Carter Girl”

March 3, 2014

CARLENE CARTER

Carter Girl (Rounder Records)

By Brian Arsenault

The connection between blues and rock has long been established and celebrated, bemoaned and argued about. Even the connection between blues and jazz has been recognized.

Seemingly less considered has been the close relationship of country and blues.

There are differences to overcome: white – black, rural – urban, poor poorer - poorest. Yet the sterling, true roots country represented by the Carters over three generations aligns with the blues in so many ways:

- Sad songs about sad situations to make you happy or at least help you cope.

Songs stripped down to the basics in melody and tempo.

- Guitar based instrumentation, originally acoustic and later electric.

- The plain language of plain spoken people.

Roots that run to gospel and other church music.

That connection struck me as Carlene Carter’s first solo album in a decade, Carter Girl, kicked off with a jumpy, bluesy version of “Little Black Train,” first recorded by the Carter Family in 1935. 1935!

The little black train of judgment or death or both may arrive tonight but that’s no reason not to dance to Carlene and the nifty little band assembled for the album. A. P. Carter wrote the tune and his compositions are all over the album, which will be released the first week in April.

Carlene Carter

This daughter of June Carter Cash and granddaughter of Mother Maybelle Carter has a voice that’s come down the generations. She sings and fits right in (artistically) with some of the departed on the family’s classic “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.” Step dad Johnny Cash can be heard there as well.

The heartstrings get pulled on “Troublesome Waters,” where Willie Nelson sings the opening bars of this wondrous duet with Carlene. Sounds like Willie’s acoustic guitar work in there too. The dark turbulent water the symbol for “life’s stormy seas.”

The strings get pulled again on the following song “Lonesome Valley 2003,” Carlene’s reworking of A.P.’s song of loss, in Carlene’s case her mom and sister and Cash.

Carlene Carter and Kris Kristofferson

Carlene Carter and Kris Kristofferson

The mood is lightened on Carlene’s duet with Kris Kristofferson, “Blackjack David,” where a pretty little girl who’ll “be 16 next Sunday” hooks up with a rascal. Might be illegal today but just like in Chuck Berry’s “Teenage Wedding” darned if they don’t last together. “Goes to show you never can tell.”

Carlene herself will be 59 next September but that just means she controls her considerable talent with dignity and stylish tribute, not imitation. Plus there’s a youthfulness to this album because good songs, and good singers, stay fresh.

Oh yeah, I mentioned the fine band but didn’t know till I read some publicity after listening that one of my favorite drummers of all time, Jim Keltner, is pounding just great on songs like “Blackie’s Gunman.”

Give Carlene the roses while she lives — a paraphrase of my favorite song on the album. “Give me the Roses while I live . . . “Don’t wait to death to speak kind words.” I’ve tried to provide a few. As the song says, they’re “useless after the soul has gone.”

I know, I know. I’m supposed to mention Americana music, roots music. All the rage in some circles right now. Suffice to say that this album is the real thing amidst so much that is good and so much more that is just slowed down pop songs played with acoustic instruments.

This would be a fine album even if Travolta was still dressing funny (not funny dresses) and cavorting to Bee Gees’ disco tunes.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Checking Out Charmaine Clamor’s New CD

February 23, 2014

By Brick Wahl

Heard several tracks in progress from Charmaine Clamor’s new recording recently. Quite a selection of tunes – none of the usual jazz standards at all.

Charmaine Clamor

Charmaine Clamor

Instead there’s a remarkable take on “Imagine” (a tune that rarely survives covering) propelled by some really striking rhythmic piano by Laurence Hobgood. There’s a surprising ”O Shenandoah,” a George Harrison tune, a Carole King, a take (in Spanish) on a Mercedes Sosa tune, which she nails, and at long last she’s recorded her knock out interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Very passionate vocals even by Charmaine’s standard – that’s always been her thing, the passion – and she’s showing subtleties untapped till now. The sound is full and warm and rich. This thing has crossover potential I think (KCRW and that end of the dial definitely) without selling out to commercialism even one iota.

Ernie Watts by the way, sits in and kills it, and drummer Abe Lagrimas picks up the ukulele in about as uncliched way as you can imagine. One of my favorite pianists around town, Andy Langham, even takes the bench for a couple numbers. And while I can’t say enough about Hobgood’s presence here, it’s Charmaine’s record through and through, it’s her feel, even on the instrumental passages it never gets away from her.  Anyway, I totally dug it.

This is major label stuff if I ever heard it.

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The album, which will be titled “The Better Angels,” will be released soon.

Photo by Faith Frenz

To read more fascinating essays from Brick Wahl, check out his personal web by clicking HERE.


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