Nov 30, 2018

THE SEEDS - The Seeds (GNP Crescendo Records GNP 2023, 1966)

The debut album by The Seeds was indeed an audacious and brutal missive from a band of sneering reprobates with the merest of musical proficiencies but with unlimited punk attitude. At least, that’s how it must have seemed when The Seeds was released in June 1966. The world had already been introduced to Sky Saxon, Daryl Hooper, Jan Savage, and Rick Andridge on the group’s three singles, but this was an entire LP, and it didn’t let up from start to finish. The fact that they were actually nice, regular guys (generally speaking) was hard to tell amidst the demented clamor rising from the LP’s grooves. The music on "The Seeds" has its roots in the primitive garage sounds of bands like The Kinks but it’s further out there than anything else of the time. On this debut album, Sky Saxon and his gang tear through a collection of simple tunes at warp speed, doggedly recycling a limited repertoire of musical ideas and skills. What makes it hold up to repeated listens is the band’s sheer conviction. Every note is bursting with breathless emotion, technical proficiency be damned. In fact, the three instrumentalists, especially keyboardist Daryl Hooper, were quite adept at their instruments but the music of The Seeds did not call for clever tricks or complicated arrangements.

Resolutely sticking to its simplistic script, The Seeds commands attention. The music is simple: drums and electric guitar, with Hooper’s organ dominating. The intricacies of The Beatles aren’t to be found here. Much of the appeal is in Sky Saxon’s unusual voice, a nasal sneer to end all nasal sneers. Sky, aged 29, was so far ahead of his time that the world would take at least ten years to catch up. He spits out his boneheaded teen-angst lyrics, interspersing them with various grunts, howls and wails. The Seeds contains several engaging new ideas: ghostly proto-psych on "Can’t Seem To Make You Mine" and "Try To Understand"; fearsome voodoo punk on "Evil Hoodoo"; rambunctious defiance on "No Escape" and "Pushin’ Too Hard". The album suggests some of the avenues that the band would explore on its subsequent albums like "A Web Of Sound" and "Future". There is virtually no studio trickery or advanced musical theory applied to this album; while managing to avoid monotony, you can’t really say that it’s sophisticated. Which is kind of the point; there’s gold in the dirty ditches of the record’s dingy landscape. Aptly-named guitarist Jan Savage has few tricks up his sleeve; his short, simple guitar figures get their power from their economy, their magical and precise placement. Just a couple notes here and there add much to the structure of the music.

Similarly, Daryl Hooper sprinkles a few notes around when necessary, and it is his mid-60s sound that give many of the songs their soft, curious underbelly. Drummer Rick Andridge keeps the beat without a lot of clever fills. At times, different second guitarists would join The Seeds in the studio, including Russ Serpent; bass guitar (miscredited to Sky) was played by other guests, including Harvey Sharpe. ("Fallin' In Love" and "Evil Hoodoo" do not feature Andridge; an alternate drummer whose name is lost to history handles the duties on these two songs). All in all, with nothing but a couple pieces of warped lumber and a few ten-penny nails, The Seeds build a majestic garage-punk monstrosity of a skyscraper on their debut album. Sky Saxon’s lyrics on "The Seeds" are perhaps best left unmentioned. They seem as if they were written in about ten minutes, that’s for the whole album, and consist mostly of standard circa 1965 pop music clichés. 'Sky’s lyrics were infected by a wondrous charm', as a 2008 press release charitably worded it. Several of the songs include the phrase 'night and day'. Sky Saxon always needs your love both night and day and he’d never tire of urgently telling you. Of course, at the end of the day the lyrics really don’t matter on "The Seeds" anyway; it’s Sky’s glorious buzzsaw voice and the effusive wackiness of the music that spins your head around on each listen.

"Can’t Seem To Make You Mine" is slow and warbly, and this is the recording that the new band made at its very first session in April 1965 and which became their first single. Every member of The Seeds shines on this track, the musicians contributing admirably interlocking parts (especially Hooper’s groovy organ and Savage’s queasy answering guitar figures). Sky squawks and grunts and sighs through his aggrieved lyrics. This is "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction", played at half speed but no less frustrated. "No Escape" is a peppy two-chord party music, led by Daryl’s relentlessly chirping organ notes. Sky breathlessly cries for freedom, audaciously slipping frequently into something like a stoned, sandy southern drawl ("nowhere to RAWN, nowhere to HAD"). The band’s bellowed backing vocals are great, and give the song its unified gang feel. In "Lose Your Mind", Sky growls compellingly over a harsh Bo Diddley beat that’s punctuated on every beat by Daryl’s keyboard tones and a scuzzy harmonica solo. Nobody sounded more garage-y than this. ("Lose Your Mind" has been excised from some CD re-releases of "The Seeds", notably single discs that pair the band’s first two albums. If buying this album make sure it includes this track).

The following "Evil Hoodoo" might be arguably the most audacious song on "The Seeds". This repetitive, brutal five-minute slab of heavy metal garage mythmaking is great. Sky is wearing his most powerful rattlesnake necktie but remains vulnerable to a witchy woman and her wicked spells. Incessant 'whooooah' backing vocals, and the sustained insanity of the performance (edited down from fourteen minutes, as was the plan all along), contribute to the head-spinning atmosphere of this incandescent classic. Punk and psychedelia begin right here. "Girl I Want You", led by a fuzzy, electronically-enhanced keyboard and guitar figure, retains the sneering punk of the rest of the album but is one of its more melodic moments. Kind of like "Evil Hoodoo" after Sky has submitted to the woman and all seems well. Absolutely chaotic, but happy. Then comes "Pushin’ Too Hard". The big song, which would be The Seeds' only Top 40 hit and would help define the band for decades. Not unfairly, either: everything seems to come together on this magic performance, with its razor guitar, soft keyboards like a dark pillow, reliably exasperated Sky (who scribbled the words after an actual argument with a girlfriend), and just the right length and accessible production values for a wider appeal.

The following "Try To Understand": Released as an unsuccessful single in its own right before gaining legendary status as the B-side of "Pushin' Too Hard", this is like a fast version of "Can’t Seem To Make You Mine", with a to-die-for chorus and amazingly focused playing. That this song wasn’t a major hit in its own right is not an indictment of The Seeds nor of GNP Crescendo, but the record-buying public. This song is every inch the equal of "Pushin' Too Hard". Another statement of intent from Sky and The Seeds, full of raunchy guitar, queasy keyboard and guitar touches is the song "Nobody Spoil My Fun", and a scandalized Sky wondering why people always want to spoil your fun. Mid-tempo, echo'y bleariness to let you come down a little from the two sweaty classics that preceded it. "It’s A Hard Life" is a fast-paced, jittery punk with some inventive guitar weirdness and Sky calling for backup from the rest of the band who vocally support him with a throaty "Yeah!" in the song’s opening seconds. Jan hits his guitar strings with a physical ferociousness not heard in rock before on this track’s more manic sections.

"You Can’t Be Trusted": An adventurous structure finds the band soaring high and swooping low in between dramatic stops and gritty keyboard solos. Sky addresses yet another misbehaving woman, but this isn’t the warning of "Pushin' Too Hard", it’s a gleeful brush-off for good. The shortest song on The Seeds, which is saying something. A quick I-IV-V blues-style tune with some nice guitar touches and trilling keyboard part can be heard in "Excused Excused". Sky, who (guess what) "needs your love both night and day" objects to the fact that the girl only wants to be around him when things are good; when he’s down and really needs her, she just comes up with reasons that she can’t come around. He doesn’t even want her as a friend, not as hateful as "You Can’t Be Trusted" but close. The closing of the album marks the track "Fallin’ In Love". Recorded at the same session (without Rick Andridge) as "Evil Hoodoo", the album closer is a broad, good-timey performance that finds Sky, uncharacteristically, more subdued and conventional (despite his curious references to 'a purple cloud'). Hooper offers one of his more complex keyboard solos on the album, and "The Seeds" ends on a song that acts nicely as a cap to the madness that came before.


Nov 29, 2018

ANDY ROBERTS - Urban Cowboy (Elektra Records K42139, 1973)

Born in Hatchend, London, in 1947, Andy Robert’s father was a devotee of Music Hall comedy and his mum an afficionado of classical music. Both involved Andy in their enthusiasms from a young age and consequently, from formative exposure to slapstick and symphony concerts, Andy took up the violin at nine (taking lessons for nine years) and simultaneously dived into the skiffle boom that was sweeping Britain in the late 50s, owning his first guitar circa 1959. He got a music scholarship to a public school in Essex, he explained, in an extensive interview with Ptolomaic Terrascope in 1992. When Roberts went there, there was already a band called Flash Sid Fanshawe & The Icebergs. This was in 1959. They’d got guitars which they’d made in the school workshops and played very simple stuff which he thought sounded fantastic. By the time Andy Roberts left the school there was half a dozen quite good bands there. You could plug in and just make as much racket as you wanted. Andy’s school band, foreshadowing his long involvement with the wacky and the surreal, was known to its friends as Monarch T. Bisk & The Cherry Pinwheel Shortcakes, or, at least, would have been but nobody could remember it all. The band went through several stages, from a Shadows sound to Chicago Rhythm'n'Blues, but he never thought of doing it for a living.

It was becoming embroiled in providing live music for a revue, written by a Shortcakes’ associate, at the 1965 Edinburgh Festival which led to the real beginnings of Andy’s path as a professional musician. The show ran for two weeks at the Traverse Theatre, and one of the acts following the play was Vivian Stanshall, who had recently formed the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, doing mime, playing the tuba and generally camping around. The theatre was also playing host to The Scaffold, a Liverpool comedy troupe comprising Roger McGough, John Gorman and Mike McGear (ne McCartney, Paul’s brother). Andy was really impressed with their show, and by a bunch of poets,  including Adrian Henri, playing the venue during afternoons. Many strands of Andy’s career over the next decade and beyond would be interwoven with all of the above, all focused on this one venue in August 1965. Andy returned to London and accepted an offer to study law at Liverpool University, almost immediately bumping into Roger McGough at a bookshop as soon as he got there. The ‘jazz and poetry’ movement was at its peak, and Roger invited Andy to dive in: "February 1966 was the first time I did a thing with him and Adrian Henri, at the Bluecoat Theatre in Liverpool. It just took off from there. Within a couple of months I was doing poetry events at The Cavern and playing with a band at the University. There was loads going on".

Soon, on the back of a 1967 poetry anthology entitled The Liverpool Scene, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Andy, along with jazz saxophonist Mike Evans and songwriter and guitarist Mike Hart, were taking bookings as ‘The Liverpool Scene Poets’ Andy was also recording with McGough’s music and comedy outfit The Scaffold, on a series of singles which included their breakthrough hits "Thank U Very Much" and "Lily The Pink". Roger consequently had to drop out of the poetry gigs, leaving Andy to suggest to the charismatic Adrian Henri that all they needed was a bassist and drummer to become a bona fide band. Percy Jones and Bryan Dodson (later replaced by Pete Clarke) filled those roles respectively and The Liverpool Scene was born. An album for CBS had already been recorded, prior to the band’s formation, called The Incredible New Liverpool Scene, basically Andy accompanying Adrian Henri and Roger McGough, recorded over a couple of hours in Denmark Street, London. BBC Radio’s champion of the underground John Peel took a shine to it and regularly booked the now fully-fledged band (or, as a duo, Roberts & Henri) for his show and for his own live engagements. He also nominally produced their first full-band album, "Amazing Adventures Of" (RCA, 1968), in a recording deal secured by their new manager Sandy Roberton, a key figure in the careers of many now legendary acts at the progressive ends of folk and rock music of the time.

In 1968 Andy graduated in Law, having somehow found a way through a degree course in between singles with The Scaffold, concerts with the Scene and helping out on the Scaffold spin-off LP "McGough & McGear", the other guitarist being Jimi Hendrix and the producer Paul McCartney. "I wasn’t professional at the time" says Andy, "but I was doing jobs that many professionals would have envied. I’d get calls to do a bit of recording in London, and I’d stay at Paul McCartney’s house, walk up and ring the doorbell and there’d be 85 girls hanging around outside. I didn’t even think twice about it. But 1968 was really when the working life started". The following year saw the Liverpool Scene at their peak, delivering their second album "Bread On The Night", touring the UK on a three act bill with Led Zeppelin and Blodwyn Pig, playing to 150'000 at the Isle of Wight Festival (on the day of Bob Dylan’s much-heralded comeback performance) and touring America for a gruelling, and revelatory three months. "Absolute disaster" is Andy’s verdict on the tour. "We suddenly came up against the utter reality of it. With a British audience, given this poetry and a band that were never rehearsed, we got away with it through being so different and through our verve and irreverence. None of which worked in America".

The American experience would nevertheless inspire the band’s best work, the lengthy "Made In USA" suite, one side of their last LP proper, "St Adrian Co, Broadway And 3rd" (1970) and which would filter into Andy’s own work for the next few years. It also forced him to re-examine his own direction: "Before America I was stupid enough to still think I could be Jimi Hendrix. I wanted to be a star. You do when you’re young, you don’t realise that everybody has their role, and that wasn’t mine". Andy still recalls some sage advice he received around this time from folk-baroque guitar hero Davy Graham: "You only person you should be in competition with today is yourself yesterday". The first Andy Roberts album, "Home Grown", was recorded in late 1969, and built upon the quirky solo tracks he had to date peppered among the jazz/poetry workouts on Liverpool Scene albums and radio sessions. "The Raven", featured on 1968’s "Bread On The Night" and heard here in a superior unreleased version from 1969, was one such; "Home Grown" itself was another. Those two tracks conveniently represent the poles of Andy’s writing: the profound and the purely comedic. Making these parameters sit well together on one piece of vinyl was the question which would quickly colour Andy’s own view of the album or, at least, in its original form, as released by RCA (under a production deal with Sandy Roberton) in March 1970.

Infinitely listenable and beautifully arranged, with excellent guitar work from Andy. A lovely, peaceful album. That was Disc’s judgement on this mesmerising and atmospheric rough-hewn debut, on which Andy was backed on some tracks by the rhythm section from Mighty Baby (another of Sandy Roberton’s charges), with brass arrangements from future Jethro Tull man David Palmer. An eclectic album, punctuated with brief bursts of violin and organ noodling, the key tracks included the ragtime/country flavoured comedic songs like "Home Grown" and "Gig Song", the impressionistically autobiographical "Moths And Lizards In Detroit" (first of the "American" songs) and "Queen Of The Moonlight World" (inspired by a visit to London Zoo), and the altogether gothic "Applecross", inspired by a weekend in a village of that name in north-west Scotland. The spooky vibe was continued on the traditional "John The Revelator" and a funky cover of Spider John Koerner’s "Creepy John". Andy performed several items from "Home Grown" on John Peel’s Top Gear radio show, plus the driving non-album track "You’re A Machine", on which he was again backed by Mighty Baby. A previously unreleased rehearsal of the track, recorded shortly before the BBC session.

The Liverpool Scene finally split, onstage at a London gig, in May 1970. In Andy’s recollection ("Adrian attacking Mike Evans with a mike stand") it had been building up for a while. Soon after, Andy crashed a motorcycle and was out of action for a couple of months, but recovered well enough by July to accompany Adrian, along with Dave Richards on bass, Alan Peters on trumpet and John Pearson on drums, to Norway for a couple of gigs booked as the Liverpool Scene. The trip would inspire Andy’s "Sitting On A Rock". Regrouping with Adrian had been Andy’s hope, but it wasn’t to be. Despite the Scene’s perceived success, as Andy explained to Record Mirror, "nobody really made any more than about £20 a week. I was going to form a band with Adrian after the Scene split, but he backed out. You’ve got to remember, he’s 39 and £20 with the Scene wasn’t much". As Adrian went on towards becoming, in tandem with his poetry, a well-regarded visual artist and college lecturer, Andy pressed ahead with his new band, now titled Everyone. Retaining Richards and Pearson from the Norway trip, he added John Porter, on guitar, and took Porter’s recommendation to bring in Bob Sargent on keyboards which, he now says, was probably the worst of several moves.

Nevertheless, the picture that emerged from the band’s debut music press feature, in Disc, September 19, 1970, was one of a bunch of happy campers, ready to take on the world. Having played one gig, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, no less, and on the cusp of their debut album, Andy declared, "We’ve reached the stage now where we’re over-rehearsed and under-performed". In retrospect, he prefers to sum up the period with a rejoinder worthy of Spinal Tap: "Rented a house near Stonehenge; took lots of drugs; didn’t rehearse enough". The resulting album, Everyone, released in January 1971, while well-recorded was, in Andy’s view, "frankly, a bit of a mess, there was Bob’s stuff and my stuff and it didn’t really meet in the middle". The album included four songs fronted by Andy: another Koerner cover, "Midnight Shift", and a beautiful trio of originals in "Don’t Get Me Wrong" (a reflection on recent US student uprisings against the Vietnam war), "Sitting On A Rock" and "Radio Lady", the latter being another memoir of the Scene’s US tour. All three originals are included here, with "Radio Lady" appearing in the form of a superior mix first released in October 1971 on an US Roberts compilation, on the Ampex label, confusingly called "Home Grown".

Whether Everyone could have found the common musical ground to continue is academic, for the band were effectively destroyed by a tragic accident involving their two road crew and a friend on the A33 in November 1970. The group’s van and gear were written off and Paul Scard, Andy‘s loyal roadie, lost his life. Andy saw out some contractual obligation gigs as a three-piece with Richards and Pearson but ‘come December 1970 that was it. "I didn’t want to do anything". By the time the group’s first (and last) album appeared, on B&C, there was no wind in its sails. Shortly after the crash, Andy and Dave Richards had rented a house for a month on the outskirts of Northampton. This brief period would yield the material that found its way onto Andy’s next solo album proper, "Nina And The Dream Tree", a year later. As Andy explains, "We played a lot of Bezique, and played Neil Young and Grateful Dead records. I was visited by Polly James, actress in the popular TV sitcom The Liver Birds, with whom I was seriously involved, and who is the subject of the whole of the first side of Nina . Polly and I spent New Year’s eve at Tommy Steele’s house". Andy was back in London by January ‘71, living with his folks and wondering what to do, when he got a call out from Paul Samwell-Smith, ex-Yardbirds bassist and now a record producer. He was looking for a guitarist to work on a debut solo album by former Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort vocalist Ian Matthews, hot property after MSC’s September 1970 No.1 hit single with "Woodstock". Andy and Iain hit it off together, and the new association with himself and Samwell-Smith put him into seven months intense studio work Iain and Cat Stevens and so on. Then Sandy Roberton was saying I hadn’t done a solo album for a year and should do something.

Work on the Ian Matthews album "If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes" spanned January to March 1971 (April to May ‘71 would see further studio work with Ian Matthews, which became his next album, "Tigers Will Survive"); during March he also worked on the Mike McGear LP "Woman"; and he was also, as a Melody Maker feature of March 27 put it, experimenting on a solo album, using vocal backing from three West Indians (but no flash guitar). Those backing singers, who played a crucial part in the magical sound of "Nina And The Dream Tree" (recorded sporadically during the next few months and released on Pegasus Records in October 1971), were Mike London and Mac and Kathy Kissoon. Three pieces of Nina’s jigsaw had been debuted on a BBC session for Bob Harris earlier that month,"Keep My Children Warm", "I’ve Seen The Movie" and "Welcome Home", although the listing of musicians involved, essentially a reunion of Everyone, as given in Ken Garner’s In Session Tonight (BBC Books, 1993) strikes Andy in retrospect as hugely unlikely. During the early summer of 1971 Andy was certainly enjoying himself playing shows with a proto-Grimms outfit billed as the Bonzo Dog Freaks. If this was a blast of the future, Sandy Roberton had engineered a blast from the past: a new lease of life for "Home Grown". The "Home Grown" re-release provided an excuse for Andy to perform, supporting Procul Harum, at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, backed by Dave Richards and Mighty Baby’s Ian Whiteman and Roger Powell. It would be the stage debut of the Nina material, and led directly to Andy getting the support slot on a Steeleye Span UK tour later that year.

During July ‘71 Andy was able to tell Melody Maker’s Karl Dallas that: "For the first time I’ve got a coherent direction. Now I have personal statements I wish to make, though I don’t want to knock them in with a sledgehammer". Dallas was given a preview of the new recordings and was rightly impressed: "There is a great deal of warmth in his work" he wrote, "a fellowship for his kin which brims over. His singing voice has matured incredibly and his use of the electric guitar is haunting, reminiscent sometimes of Richard Thompson on top form". Andy was often telling the press that it was only during the McGear and Matthews sessions earlier in the year that he found his voice on the instrument, and the quality of his electric playing, a master of texture and atmosphere, was one of Nina’s revelations. Then again, spending August-September 1971 on an Ian Matthews tour of the States as a trio with Richard Thompson himself can’t have done any harm.

As before, Andy’s US tour experiences would be a rich seam for his song writing. Time spent with one Karen Goskowski at the Poison Apple in Boston would yield three songs, first heard on his country flavoured "Urban Cowboy" LP in 1973: "Poison Apple Lady", "Urban Cowboy" and "New Karenski". The first of these is heard here in a demo version recorded in November 1971. "Urban Cowboy" was recorded piecemeal during sporadic 1972 sessions, yet emerges as a true gem of an album. Working with his Plainsong colleagues Ian Matthews, Dave Ronga and Dave Richards and guest musicians like Richard Thompson, BJ Cole, Martin Carthy, Neil Innes and Dick Parry, Andy Roberts explored a series of beautiful original songs and a powerful cover of Jim Hall's barroom classic, "Elaine".


Nov 28, 2018

ANTHONY PHILLIPS - The Geese And The Ghost 
(Hit & Run Music HIT 001, 1977)

"The Geese And The Ghost" was the first studio album by English musician and songwriter Anthony Phillips, released in March 1977 on Hit & Run Music in the United Kingdom and Passport Records in the United States. It was originally intended to be an album by Phillips and his former Genesis band mate Mike Rutherford, but Rutherford's difficulty in devoting time to the project ended the idea. The album reached number 191 on the Billboard 200. In July 1970, Phillips left Genesis after three years citing illness with glandular fever and worsening stage fright. He began to write new material at a considerable pace, completing the arrangements to "Which Way the Wind Blows", "God if I Saw Her Now", and "Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times" on the 12-string guitar within ten days of leaving the group. He put demos of these songs to tape at the studio set up in his parents' home between late July and early August 1970, receiving assistance from friends Harry Williamson and former Genesis roadie David Rootes. Having put down these early ideas Phillips began to take a greater interest in classical music. At one point, he listened to a piece by Jean Sibelius and had "one of those strange revelations" and realised he was "terribly limited" and "narrow" as a musician, and declared to himself that his guitar playing lacked enough technique. Phillips tackled this by halting development on his songs and taking lessons in piano and classical guitar, and studied orchestration and harmony over the course of the following four years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He also gave music lessons to pupils at two schools in Surrey, and later called it his "student period".

Phillips remained in close contact with his friend and Genesis guitarist and bassist Mike Rutherford and in the spring of 1972, the two agreed work towards a potential joint album using Phillips's demos and other 12-string guitar pieces they had written before and during Phillips's time in Genesis. Development continued in August 1973 when Phillips and Rutherford met in their spare time before latter returned to Genesis commitments, after which Phillips took charge over the album's direction and expanded its foundation of 12-string guitar based pieces towards folk and progressive rock using techniques he had learned from his orchestration tuition. Among the demos they developed during this time was their hymn tune "Take This Heart", later released by Charisma Records in 1975, and the prospective 1974 release of the single "Silver Song" with "Only Your Love" on the B-side, that included Genesis drummer Phil Collins on lead vocals and drums. Demos of the latter two were recorded at Island Studios in November 1973 with producer Rhett Davies, the former dating back to 1969 as a parting farewell to Genesis drummer John Silver. In late 1973, Phillips and Rutherford had completed writing the album during a short break in Ireland, the "Misty Battlements" of the Henry suite being the last section worked out.

In the spring of 1974, Phillips began to select the material that would be used for the album. This included the titles: "Which Way the Wind Blows", "God if I Saw Her Now", "Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times", "D Instrumental", "Master of Time", "Collections", "I Saw You Today", and "Autumnal". The latter song was an orchestral piece that Phillips had recorded with the orchestra at Guildhall School, but it was later removed from the final track listing due to the dissatisfaction from Charisma management. "Master of Time" was then left off as Phillips and Rutherford had run out of recording time. The first recording sessions took place in 1974 when Rutherford had spare time surrounding the recording of the Genesis album "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway". After choosing the final track running order, the two agreed to begin recording the basic guitar parts at Send Barns, the home of Phillips's parents in Woking, Surrey. To finance the project, Rutherford had pitched the album to Charisma and the label agreed to an advance of £3,000 which they used to purchase two reel-to-reel Teac 4-track tape machines, a mixing desk, and outboard equipment.

After Rutherford left the project for upcoming touring commitments, matters changed in October 1974 after Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett had injured his hand which pushed the opening dates back one month. With a narrow space of time to work, Rutherford rejoined Phillips in the studio and continued recording which began with "Which Way the Wind Blows", the first track recorded which features an electric guitar made to sound like a classical acoustic guitar. The pair soon ran into technical difficulties as the Teac machines were creating static clicks that were heard upon playback, causing visits from numerous people who were able to fix the problem. Upon fixing, they put down tracks for all seven sections of "D Instrumental", four parts to the Henry suite, an outline of "Silver Song", and an untitled improvised guitar instrumental. The late 1974 sessions included the first overdubs recorded which featured the first of several additional musicians on the album. Phillips had his younger brother Robin play the oboe for "The Geese and the Ghost" and Hackett's brother John playing the flute. The latter had completed his education and was invited by Rutherford to play on the album at a time when he considered pursuing music as a career, taking it "as a welcome sign that I had made the right decision!" Upon Rutherford's return to Genesis, Phillips continued working by himself which involved the basic tracks put down for "God if I Saw Her Now" on 26 November, and working on additional parts for the songs already put down until Christmas.

In 1975, recording relocated to a canal boat in London's Little Venice. Phillips resumed with recording on 7 April 1975, bringing in Rootes to assist in technical duties while further overdubs and other final arrangements were put down. After Genesis wrapped up touring in May Rutherford reunited with Phillips and the pair decided to place the finished overdubs onto 16-track tape to facilitate the parts yet to be recorded. Having learned Tom Newman's facility was available on The Argonaut, his canal boat studio in Little Venice, London, sessions began there in July. Recording soon ran into problems as the studio still in its infancy and suffered from numerous malfunctions, plus incidents of the boat being hit by another during recording, causing restarts. Phillips's longtime producer Simon Heyworth joined the project at this time, providing assistance and encouragement. Many of the session musicians on the album were students at Guildhall who had also played on the orchestra session for "Autumnal". One of them was Martin Westlake, who arrived at the boat to record the timpani parts but found the instrument was too large to fit through the door. The problem was solved after the owners of the neighbouring barge agreed to have the timpani recorded on their boat with extended microphone leads run through to the studio. John Hackett recorded his second flute session on the Argonaut. He was the subject of a prank from Phillips who initially handed him a flute part that he described as "Stravinsky on speed" with notes too difficult for him to play, leaving him "quake inside" for several moments before he received the real arrangement. The final session on the boat was for the vocals on "Triumphant Return", formed of several of Phillips's friends who were invited to celebrate the end of recording. They are collectively named the Barge Rabble on the album's liner notes.

The majority of the mixing duties were completed by Phillips with assistance from Heyworth after Rutherford resumed working with Genesis. The second half of "Collections" and "Sleepfall: The Geese Fly West" still required further work, yet as the album neared completion in early 1976 it was presented to Charisma and the label chose not to release it, leaving the album unfinished. A meeting with Virgin Records A&R man Simon Draper in April also came to nothing. It remained shelved due to the difficulty Phillips had in getting it released elsewhere, recalling others had deemed it "'pleasant and euphoric, but not instant'". Meanwhile, Phillips secured work in various projects and recorded his first library music compositions and in late 1976, submitted his application to study for a music degree. He then received unexpected news that Marty Scott of the US-based independent label Passport Records expressed an interested to release The Geese & the Ghost, and brought in Robin, John Hackett, and Jack Lancaster to record the incomplete woodwind sections at Send Barns in October. This was followed by a final overdubbing session at Olympic Studios in London with engineer Anton Matthews in the following month, and the album was mastered by Greg Calbi at Trident Studios. A search to find a willing UK distributor proved to be too difficult, so his manager Tony Smith, who also managed Genesis, established the Hit & Run label to secure a home release. A deal with Vertigo Records ensured its distribution to other territories, including New Zealand, Japan, and Argentina. "The Geese And The Ghost" was released in March 1977.

The album was first released on CD by Virgin Records in 1990 and contains the demo of "Master of Time" as a bonus track. On 20 July 2007, the album was reissued in Japan as a 2-CD edition by Arcangelo Records, presented in a limited edition mini-vinyl sleeve. The first disc features a new remaster of the album with the 52-second "Lute's Chorus Reprise" section added to "Henry: Portrait of Tudor Times", and the second disc contains 14 tracks of previously unreleased demos, out-takes, and bonus tracks. This edition was released in the UK in a standard jewel case by Voiceprint Records on 14 April 2008. On 7 April 2015, Esoteric Recordings released a 3-disc Definitive Edition of the album. Disc one contains a new stereo remaster completed in 2015; disc two contains the bonus material as previously released in the 2007 and 2008 reissues with the previously unreleased track "Only Your Love" from 1973, originally intended to be the B-side of "Silver Song"; and disc three is a DVD containing the album mixed in 5.1 surround sound. Included is a poster and a 24-page booklet with photos and extensive liner notes.

Nov 27, 2018

PORCUPINE TREE - Coma Divine / Recorded Live In Rome
(KScope Records KSCOPE130, 2007, 1st Release 1997)

Porcupine Tree are incredibly hard to describe because their music doesn't fit into any one genre. I like the description on the back of the album "Signify" (one of my all time favorites). It says Porcupine Tree have managed to defy genres and blend together numerous ambient, rock and avant-garde styles to create a musical landscape that is both refreshing and compulsively seductive. "Coma Divine" is one of those live albums that I loved since the very first listen, one of those live albums which have caught my full attention, one of those concerts that I would have loved to attend, when all the music is almost perfect (or perfect) and you think to yourself "God, lucky people who attended to that concert, they had a wonderful night". I am pretty sure that sometimes the concerts that the band choose to record and then release as a live album or the DVD, are not necessary their best shows ever, but I am sure that they have to be something special as well, this time, the "Coma Divine" concert in Rome reflects the quality as musicians and composers of the band, linked as well with their excellent communication with the audience, you can notice it while listening to the album.

The band started as a solo project of singer-songwriter-guitarist Steven Wilson who, back in the early 90s, released a series of increasingly spaced-out ambient excursions. Porcupine Tree is one of the most innovative bands in prog today combining intense musicianship, unconventional composition and superb studio production. They are unquestionably one of the UK's most inspired and inventive rock groups. The bands 4th studio album called "Signify" saw Porcupine Tree truly gell as a studio band producing a blend of psychedelia, heavy rock, melancholic pop, kraut rock, and wild experimentation that brought the best out of each band member. Their latest two albums ("Stupid Dream" and "Lightbulb Sun") move the band further away from their influences and into their own catagory, by which other bands eventually will be compared. But if you are a fan of progressive, thoughtful, briliantly executed and flawlessly produced music, you will do no better than Porcupine Tree.

Porcupine Tree's eighth studio album, "Deadwing", was released in March 2005 by Lava Records / Warner Music. Less rock-oriented than the previous album "In Absentia", "Deadwing" is partially based on a "surreal ghost story" screenplay written by Steven and sometime Porcupine Tree / No-Man art collaborator Mike Bennion. The 60-minute, nine-track album contains material varying from short airplay-friendly songs such as "Shallow" to lengthier pieces like the 10-minute-plus "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here". Most of the music was written by Steven but the album features the largest amount of full-band compositions since "Signify" in 1997. The album also features guest appearances by Adrian Belew (King Crimson) and Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth). In 2007 the band scored it's biggest chart success to date with "Fear Of A Blank Planet". Featuring contributions from Alex Lifeson and Robert Fripp it made the album charts in both the UK and USA and saw them play to larger and larger crowds on the subsequent world tour. This uplift in fortunes was due in part to the band signing to Roadrunner Records who really got behind the band. In 2009 the band released "The Incident" their most ambitious work to date and also their most successful, charting highly in the UK, USA and across Europe.

But let's now get back to the incredible "Coma Divine" live adventure. The album is opened by a noisy, uplifting, and high energy instrumental with lead guitar as the main instrument backed up by spacey keyboard sound. It's really nice opening. When the CD reaches track 3 and 4 "Waiting Phase One and Two" this is where I first came to my orgasm about the music of the band. It's so simple, melody-wise. But it creates strong musical nuances that bring you an experience of another life that you never imagined before. True, this is not an exaggeration, it's a reality. All musicians play excellently in these two tracks. The guitar playing and vocal of Steven Wilson are both marvelous. The other noticeable thing in "Waiting" series is the very nice percussion, both . the play and the sound. Top class! Bass playing is also dominant. I have a habit of playing this two tracks as loudly as possible and getting louder at the interlude when guitar sound and bass backed by very dynamic drum playing come together harmoniously. This piece of music is really wonderful.

"The Sky Moves Sideways" opened with a very mellow intro and flows naturally to another piece of more upbeat music. It requires patience in listening to this intro. Yeah, patience and patience! But it's okay as you have just done with relatively energetic music of "Waiting" series. Then enters the guitar part and the music starts to uplift a little bit. Steven Wilson voice enters nicely here at around minutes 3:35 "We lost the skyline" backed by spacey keyboard. Nice entrance. Having finished with the firs vocals then the guitar enters nicely again. What a terrific segment here. And then at around minutes 7:45 the dynamic bass guitar comes into play followed by nice percussion and backed by spacey keyboard. Here we go, you don't need patience anymore as the music goes uplifting now. It's so energetic with solo keyboard. The ending part of this track closed nicely with guitar as lead combined with other instruments altogether. Top notch music.

"Dislocated Day" is an upbeat music with dominant bass playing. I don't need to elaborate any further as this track is really excellent. "The Sleep Of No Dreaming" is another nice track starts mellow and continues into more energetic music. Observe how Wilson sings this part "The Sleep Of No Dreaming", followed by his lead guitar. Very nice. Observe also the drumming style of this track. Cool. By the way, almost in every track there must be strange sounds produced either by guitar or keyboard. The sounds create great nuances of Porcupine Tree and I guess that this has become their musical identity. The rest of three tracks "Moonloop", "Radioactive Toy" and "Not Beautiful Anymore" are all excellent tracks that don't require further review. Marvellous. The only thing that I wanna mention is the piece at the opening of "Radioactive Toy" when Steven starts communicating with the audience and followed by clapping from the audience. It's great. This album is a perfect synthesis of the first phase of Porcupine Tree music, combining tracks of "The Sky Moves Sideways", "Up The Downstair" and "On The Sunday Of Life", beside incorporating some of the album "Signify". Well, my words won't be enough to show how great the album is, a magnificent work.

Nov 26, 2018

JASON ISBELL AND THE 400 UNIT - The Nashville Sound
(Southeastern Records SER99881, 2017)

2012 Jason Isbell left Alabama and moved to Nashville, still reeling from the wilder, wetter days that had nearly derailed his solo career. Clean and clear-eyed for the first time in years, he moved into a townhouse with Amanda Shires. There, not far from the north shore of Percy Priest Lake, he wrote "Southeastern", an album that would mark his official transformation from bar-band cult hero to Americana kingpin. Half a decade later, "The Nashville Sound" finds a recharged Isbell waving the flag for his adopted hometown’s left-of-center roots musicians. The city has changed markedly since his arrival, with exports like Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price challenging the public’s perception of what Nashville – a town whose very name remains synonymous with mainstream country music – actually sounds like. His roots sunk deep into Tennessee ground, Isbell digs in for his biggest, boldest album to date, one that skirts the tired trends of Top 40 twang and, instead, sets a new watermark for accessible, articulate Americana.

Once again, the songs were written at home, this time in a modest place somewhere south of the city limits, with Shires pulling triple duty as muse, editor and bandmate. Also contributing to the album’s pointed punch are the 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden, Chad Gamble, Derry DeBorja and Jimbo Hart, all of them whittled into sharp shape after touring in support of "Southeastern" and its chart-topping follow-up, "Something More Than Free". For the first time since 2011’s "Here We Rest", Isbell’s backing band receives co-billing on the album, a move that’s well-deserved. Influenced by everything from America’s cultural divide to Isbell’s toddler-aged daughter, "The Nashville Sound" isn’t just the story of a city. It’s the story of a country and the characters within it, from the homesick southerner who haunts the city streets in "The Last Of My Kind" to the level-headed peacekeeper who urges tolerance in "Hope The High Road". Some of those characters sound an awful lot like Isbell himself. Many of them don’t. They’re all compelling, though, breathing humanity and honesty into the 10 songs on "The Nashville Sound".

With "The Nashville Sound" hitting stores on June 16th, 2017, I've broken down the album song-by-song, all of them written by Isbell, with Shires co-wrriting "Anxiety", explaining the inner gears, guts and grit of Americana’s most-anticipated album of the year. Opening the album on a mellow note, "The Last Of My Kind" spins the sad story of an Arkansas native who loses himself, geographically, emotionally, mentally, within the big city. "Nobody here can dance like me, Everybody clapping on the one and three", Isbell laments during the initial 30 seconds, delivering the album’s first of many killer lines. Behind him, the 400 Unit fades in and out, waiting until the song’s second half to make a proper entrance. File the pissed-off rocker "Cumberland Gap" beside "Decoration Day" and "Go It Alone". Recasting himself as a boozehound in an Appalachian coal-mining town, Isbell feels angry and spiteful, his horizons filled with mountains whose peaks have been blasted away in search of cheapening coal. He funnels that fury through distorted guitars and an epic chorus, nodding to his days with the Drive-By Truckers along the way.

Isbell is on the move once again. This time, he’s driving back home, reeling from a bad breakup and a hard fall off the wagon. His plan ? Finish the last of his plastic cup of real good wine, sober up and relocate to northern Mississippi, where the summer is blistering, so there ain’t no one from here that’ll follow me there. Punctuated by some swooning slide guitar, the track "Tupelo" is equal parts Southern soul and sad-eyed folk, the soundtrack for slow Sunday afternoons. "White Man’s World" is taking a hard look at his place in Trump’s America. Jason Isbell tackles social privilege, gender politics and the desire to shield his daughter from the harsh realities of a country that remains divided along cultural lines. The anger is pointed and palpable here, hitting a high mark during the song’s solo section, where Isbell’s electric guitar and Amanda Shires’ fiddle chase each other in fuming circles.

"The Nashville Sound"s stunning standout, "If We Were Vampires" shatters the love song’s familiar mold, focusing not on the never-ending power of Isbell’s affection for Shires, but the pair’s limited time together. "This can’t go on forever, likely one of us will have to spend some days alone", the two sing during the song’s chorus, acknowledging their own mortality. The real gut punch arrives during the second verse, though, where Isbell’s voice briefly falters, a sign of an emotional recording session. A mid-tempo pop rock song at its core, "Anxiety" is bookended by two sections of dramatic, guitar-driven crunch, like the musical manifestations of the unease that gives the song its name. On a track dominated by first-rate lyrics, it’s those instrumental breaks, particularly Sadler Vaden’s chromatic guitar riffs, which could’ve found a home on Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s "Mojo", that steal the show. Caught halfway between Tom Petty’s poppy punch, Bruce Springsteen’s anthemic nostalgia and R.E.M.’s ringing guitars, the song "Molotov" takes a look backward, setting its scene in the year of the tiger, 19something. "I hope you still see fire inside of me", Isbell sings to a former flame, seconds after rhyming three wishes with being facetious. Well played.

"Chaos and Clothes" roots itself in the double-tracked vocals and fragile beauty of Elliott Smith’s bedroom recordings. It’s like nothing Isbell has ever made before, with soft, woozy textures replacing the bombast of the two songs that flank it. "You’re in the fight to the death, my friend", he sings to the song’s narrator, a heartbroken single man struggling to forget the woman who’s left a trail of memories in his mind and the occasional garment in his apartment. With a disappointing election behind them and an uncertain future on the horizon, Isbell and the 400 Unit are mixing in the song "Hope The High Road" politics with benevolence on this optimistic heartland rocker. "Wherever you are, I hope the high road leads you home again to a world you want to live in", goes the final chorus, addressing the marginalized, the left out and the pissed-off. A close cousin to "Something More Than Free" opener "If It Takes A Lifetime", "Something To Love" unfolds like a front-porch folk song, mixing coed harmonies with brushed percussion and understated guitar. Here, Isbell sings to his toddler daughter, willing her the resolve, patience and curiosity needed to survive in modern times. "I don’t quite recognize the world you’ll call home", he admits, urging her to "find what makes you happy, girl, and do it ’til you’re gone". That’s good advice.

Nov 22, 2018

Howdy Folks!
It's been nearly three years now since I started this Blog,
presenting you some of my favourite records.
In the meantime I crack the 1000 mark.
I've still got a lot of records
not only from many different styles of music
but also from a lot of countries
waiting in the pipeline.
So let's go
for the next 
Rockin' Regards

SANTANA - Santana III (Columbia Records KC 30595, 1971)

Best known the world over for the group that bears his name, Carlos Santana has been reinventing and reshaping the landscape of the known universe's musical culture for close to four decades. A visionary artist with no regards for genre boundaries, Carlos' fluid sound long ago laid claim to the concept of world music before the term ever surfaced on pop culture radar. Having evolved and expanded for over four decades, the Carlos sound could well be on its way to becoming interplanetary music. Born in Autlan de Navarro where there's now a street and public square in his name--to the son of a virtuoso Mariachi violinist, Carlos followed in his father's musical footsteps, taking up the violin at the age of five. It was when his family moved to Tijuana several years later, however, that Santana began his lifelong relationship with the instrument that would make him a musical icon, the guitar. In 1961, Carlos made the border crossing moving from his native Mexico to San Francisco. A few years later, he formed the Santana Blues Band there, and the cool, soulful riffs and rhythms of his Latin-blues based sound found an audience eager for his innovative musical ideas. Carlos and company emerged as giants of the era-defining Bay Area music scene of the late '60s, and their fame grew far beyond its parameters while their artistry remained true to its free-flying spirit. 

Massive success quickly followed. By the end of the decade, Carlos had played to packed houses on a cross-country tour, performed on the venerable Ed Sullivan Show, and made an indelible global mark with Santana's legendary, crowd-detonating performance at the original Woodstock festival in 1969. He has not slowed down since: On a roll from his Woodstock performance his debut album shot up the chart bringing in a high-power fusion of rock and Latin beats. The next two albums duplicate the formula every time increasing his profile and winning over fans. With Caravanserai, the group changed directions developing a stunning jazz-rock and the album remains one of the textbook case of fusion music. This prompted Carlos Santana to start a solo career with collaborations with Buddy Miles, John Mc Laughlin (the superb "Love, Devotion, Surrender") and Alice Coltrane (the no-less superb "Illuminations"), while his group was still releasing strong albums like "Welcome" or "Borboletta". By the Mid-70's Santana was cruising effortlessly with a string of albums that were easily identified by the public: "Moonflower", "Amigos" each provided huge hits while developing sophisticated fusion music. By the end of the decade however, and the numerous personnel changes, the group started losing a bit of focus. 

Commercial success came back with singer Alex Ligertwood (ex-Brian Auger's Oblivion Express) being hired for the "Marathon" album. The 80's provided Santana many successful moments, but by the end of the decades his fortunes were again decreasing. Through certain collaborations, he remained in the spotlight and became a hero when appearing on John Lee Hooker's "The Healer" album. Carlos and his group cruised the 90's without much worries and his latest albums have been selling millions worldwide. But by this time, his music is much less interesting to progheads. Less publicized, but equally as profound as his artistic legacy, is Santana's long history of social activism and contributions time and funds to humanitarian causes. As a culmination of his decades of support for countless charities and non-profit agencies the world over, he and his wife of 30+ years, Deborah Santana, founded their Milagro Foundation in 1998. With over $1.8million in grants to date, Milagro supports organizations promoting the welfare of underserved children in the areas of health, education, and the arts. More recently Santana has become deeply involved in the fight against the AIDS pandemic in South Africa through a partnership with ANSA - Artists for New South Africa. Other organizations he has championed include Hispanic Education and Media Group, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, Childreach, Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, American Indian College Fund, Amnesty International, and the Los Angeles-based Museum of Tolerance.

On Santana's third studio album in as many years since they wowed the Woodstock nation, I get the impression that they were a fairly happy, uncommonly stable and reasonably satisfied band comfortable in their own skin. They were so universally accepted by the masses and so genuinely well-liked by millions that I honestly can't blame them for taking an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' attitude when it came time to laying down the tracks for this release. In most cases a safe, unadventurous and conservative approach results in an album that's far too predictable and sorely lacking in passion but I can't argue with what my ears confirm to my heart when listening to "Santana III". They still had fire in their bellies. They were surfing atop the crest of immense popularity in '71 and, whereas other successful groups running around in their loafers were exhausted, imho burned out by the demands of near-constant touring, these hardy gauchos were still basking in their primeness, generating enough energy night after night to electrify a metropolis and playing with verve as if their lives depended on it.

What made Santana so special ? They possessed the rare commodity of owning a sound so unique yet so accessible that they created a singular niche they didn't have to share with any other band. They were a one-of-a-kind musical hybrid that had a whole genre of music all to themselves. That's why their first trio of albums comprise such a consistent set. They stuck to their pistoleros, not due to their record label coercing them to churn out more of the same profitable shtick (although I have little doubt the suits at Columbia were thrilled about everything they produced turning to platinum), but because Santana knew who they were and what they were all about. They had a sort of 'I know what I like and I like what I know' kinda thing going on that managed to please both the Top 40- addicted general populace and the more critical progressive rock mob that refused to settle for plain vanilla flowing through their headphones. Not an easy mountain to climb for even one album, much less three in a row. Yet as much as I admire this collection of songs I'm extremely glad (as the whole prog world should be) that they took off in a revolutionary and fearlessly exploratory direction on the next one. But let's concentrate the focus on "Santana III".

A rhythmic blend of percussion and drums sets the spicy tone for the instrumental opener, "Batuka", and Carlos' aggressive guitar riff announces without apology that they haven't lost their edge. His solo is ferocious and Gregg Rolie's screaming Hammond organ snarls like an agitated pit bull and then they abruptly shut it down as if the police had arrived in response to a disturbing the peace complaint from the neighbors. No harm done, though, as the classic "No One To Depend On" follows right on its heels. It has one of their great slight-of-hand intros that keeps you guessing where they're going to go right up until the moment Michael Carabello's congas and Jose Chepito Areas' timbales grab you by the collarbone and pull you into the tune's irresistible groove. Carabello and newcomer Coke Escovedo co-wrote this catchy number featuring ensemble vocals that make it impossible to resist singing right along. It includes clever rests and accents to delight in as you make your way through the verses and the inspired middle section erects an unexpectedly proggy platform for the band's then 17-year-old newbie Neal Schon to introduce himself to their fans via a fierce, ripping guitar ride that still threatens to crackle your speakers to this day. Once that major revelation concludes their exemplary posse of percussionists guides the song back to its original feel with nary a glitch, paving the way for one of my favorite one-second-in-duration guitar licks (the one right after the last 'I ain't got nobody') and an unforgettable, band-in-a-canyon ending. I still crank the volume when this one comes on the radio even after all these years of hearing it.

Rolie and Areas teamed up to pen "Taboo" but, despite a grandiose onset, it promises more than it can deliver because the tune is too anemic and weak to stand on its own. It marks the low point of the album. Its saving grace, however, is what the group does with the arrangement when the vocal ceases to bore and the instruments take over, especially Mr. Santana's sublime guitar. "Toussaint L'Overture" comes galloping in like the cavalry to rescue the proceedings. Though it's hardly more than an organized jam based on a frequently-borrowed descending chord progression, in this group's hands such fare sizzles like fatty bacon on a spit. Gregg knocks out another hot Hammond solo and Carlos' guitar lead doesn't disappoint but it's the fiery percussion roiling underneath the Latino chanting that really gets my heart a pumpin'. The second half of this cut has Schon, Santana and Rolie duking it out like they're caught up in a last-hombre-standing street fight all the way to the stop-on-a-dime ending.

I've always been fond of songs that help encourage and motivate me to get off my duff and take on the planet, especially in the morning, and few can do that as efficiently as "Everybody's Everything." (Another is the blistering live version of "Can't Turn You Loose" by Edgar Winter's White Trash from their '72 album, "Roadwork." Better than caffeine.) Wisely employing the prestigious Tower of Power horns to accentuate the positive, this tune streaks by like an express train on a downhill slope. Okay, it ain't real complicated but it's a terrific way to spend three and a half minutes while getting dressed. Gregg's roaring Hammond and Neal's flaming guitar lines shine brightly but it's the triad of Carabello, Areas and Escovedo that fuel this furnace all the way to the fade out. "Guajira" is next and it's a south of the border rock & roll samba that'll make even the palest Caucasian want to dance (think "Smooth" 28 years before its time). The cool break that precedes guest Mario Ochoa's playful piano solo gets me every time, Jose's trumpet spasm paints a fine change of aural scenery and both guitarists perform magnificently.

They then hit the road in an all-out sprint again with "Jungle Strut," a fast-paced jam peppered with hot licks emanating from most everyone in the group. This one's an ideal example of Santana doing what comes naturally to them and I can't help but notice the Allman Brothers-ish dual harmony guitar lines that provide the melody. (Those Dixie roosters influenced everybody in their heyday, it would seem.) Carlos' amateurish "Everything's Coming Our Way" retards the momentum slightly but, as usual, the boys behind him make the most of what they have to work with and Rolie's room-filling Hammond organ in particular keeps it from becoming a yawn-inducer. They serve up Tito Puente's "Para Los Rumberos" for the finale and it's another smokin' track generously ladled over a Spanish en masse chorale that takes no prisoners. Another talented guest, Luis Gasca, wields a sharp Trompeta in the middle that's suitably wild and arresting. And there you have it.

The only virtuoso that doesn't get an opportunity to show off on this album is their phenomenal young drummer Michael Shrieve but that's the only oversight on Santana 3 I can find (other than the two aforementioned puny compositions). This was also the last go- round for founding members Carabello and bassist David Brown (rumor has it they were overindulging in Peruvian marching powder) and if they'd broken up at this juncture their legacy would still live on forever courtesy of classic rock radio. However, they not only survived but, after delivering three chart-topping and highly commercial LPs (in terms of sales, at least), they were courageous enough to completely abandon their comfort zone and give birth to a jazz/rock fusion landmark, "Caravanserai," thus securing for their ensemble a sacred place in the progressive rock hall of fame for all time to come. The material found on Santana III ranks well above the average, no doubt, but what they were about to accomplish with their upcoming masterpiece still staggers my senses. It's my belief that every progger worth his/her salt should have all four of this group's initial studio albums in their collection because high-quality, progressive-minded music never goes out of style.

Nov 21, 2018

FLYING COLORS - Flying Colors (Music Theories Recordings 7363 1, 2012)

Here we had yet another super group and another band that Mike Portnoy was in ? Well, yes that is a fact and those of you that enjoy great rock music of all sorts should be rejoicing right now because a classic album is waiting to hit those starved ear drums and to relieve you of all the garbage that is out there on the internet and radio. This relief comes in the form of the new band Flying Colors. The members are Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals), Steve Morse (guitar), Dave LaRue (bass) and Casey McPherson (lead vocals). For those of you that are not familiar with the members in this band, everyone has impressive resumes. Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Avenged Sevenfold), Neal Morse (Spock's Beard, Transatlantic, Solo), Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple, Solo) and Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band) have a lot in common and are no strangers when it comes to their music and who they have played with. Casey McPherson seems to be the odd man out, but wait: It sounds like he has been with this group of players for quite some time after you listen to the album and he was indeed the perfect fit for this project.

Now you are probably thinking who is Casey McPherson ? I have a feeling once this album catches on, and it will mind you and very quickly, you will be hearing that name more often. One listen to "Kayla" and the range this guy has will serve as a welcome mat to any listener. His sweet yet powerful vocals set the tone for their music. He had an album out for Disney in 2010 titled New Morning that debuted in the Top 5 on two Billboard Charts. He is also from a band called Alpha Rev, and he was recommended by who else but Mike Portnoy. I think Mike should start his own label and hand pick talent, groom them, produce them, and then distribute their albums worldwide. He certainly has a knack for it. He did a lot of that when he was running the Progressive Nation Tours, and very successfully.

This self-titled release has a little bit of everyone in the music which means that stylistically you will hear just about everything. Now think about that for a moment. All the influences and talents of each band member colliding in the studio to bang out 11 tracks of glorious rock' or should I say they are flying their colors. That sounds exciting and it is, every second of it is charged with energy, outstanding musicianship and finely crafted songs ranging from over 3 to 12 minutes. So what you end up hearing is a steaming cauldron of rock, pop, progressive, funk, etc. over the course of this recording. All eleven tracks are excellent. With a lineup such as this that is what you expect but super groups do not always work out very well. I think what you have here is a bunch of ultra-talented guys having fun and allowing the magic to happen without personality or ego issue getting in the way.

You get that kicked back relaxed atmosphere feeling right from the start with "Blue Ocean" when it kicks off with some comfortable studio banter that leads you into the track. LaRue begins it with a 'walk across the floor' bass line that sets the stage. After that song runs its course the realization that you are in for something special takes hold and fortunately never lets go. This is a made for radio hit if I ever heard one but we all know that will never happen because corporate radio has blinders on. "Shoulda Coulda Woulda" is an all out rocker with fat power chords sparking from Morse's guitar then Portnoy and LaRue lay down the juggernaut bottom end that takes it all for a musical rollercoaster ride. What I found a real treat was hearing McPherson sing (he reminded me of Sixx: A.M.'s James Michael) and Neal Morse offering his signature vocals to the mix as well. It turns out to be a very successful partnership and appealing sound that holds firm throughout the run of the CD.

One of the pleasant surprises of the album is Portnoy taking over the lead vocals on "Fool In My Heart". This is a very good track and although Portnoy is no McPherson and never will be, he does a fine job with the song. It actually seems like a perfect fit. Is this a song about himself or someone he knows possibly ? One never knows about these things but in any case it really is an enjoyable track. Fittingly the band ends with the prog rock monster track "Infinite Ride" which takes 12:02 minutes. It leaves you feeling that the more you listen to this music the more it feels like the title of the track. I really hope this is not going to be a one off recording. I mean this is one of the best albums for variety and talent I have heard in quite some time. Yes the self-titled "Flying Colors" is destined to be hailed as a classic right out the gate. It was the great beginning of this exciting band and worth to have in your collection.

Nov 20, 2018

PETE LA ROCA - Basra (Blue Note Records 4205, 1965)

1965 was a stellar year for Blue Note records. The label had been consistently releasing great jazz albums since 1939, and in the 60s found a new breed  of musicians who blended the bebop and hard bop styles that identified the label during the 50s with new freedom and outward looking perspectives. Alongside albums by the established Lee Morgan, Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver and Jackie McLean, 1965 saw the releases of classic albums that pointed a way forward such as Herbie Hancock’s "Maiden Voyage", Bobby Hutcherson’s "Components", Sam Rivers’ "Contours", Tony Williams’ "Spring", Andrew Hill’s "Compulsion" and Don Cherry’s "Complete Communion". Among them one release is the often forgotten but no less brilliant, the sole album as a leader of Pete La Roca on the label, entitled "Basra".

Pete La Roca was born Pete Sims in 1938 and in his early years as a professional musician played timbales in Latin bands, a period that gave him the name La Roca (the Rock) and a distinctive style that manifested itself in his drum set accompaniment and solos in later years. His first major gig was with Sonny Rollins to who he was introduced by Max Roach, playing live with the master saxophonist between 1957 and 1959. A sole album with La Roca survives from that period, the 1958 Blue Note album "A Night at the Village Vanguard". From the afternoon set, "A Night In Tunisia" is a good example of La Roca’s driving style and soloing in a piano-less trio. Elvin Jones, who also played that gig in the evening set, remembers: "And we came out there on Greenwich Street by the Village Vanguard and Wilbur Ware was standing outside under the marquis, and when he spotted me he said, "Jonesy! Sonny’s looking for you". And I said, "Sonny who ?" I didn’t know Sonny. So Wilbur said, "Come on downstairs, he wants you to play with him". I figured we could go down here and get a drink here just as well as anywhere else. So we went down the steps. And Pete La Roca and Donald Bailey were playing, that was his regular trio. And I thought, "How am I going to play ? Pete La Roca’s playing. What am I supposed to do ?" So at any rate, as it turned out, Sonny wanted me to play that set with him. And I did. And that’s how that album came about. So those were Pete La Roca’s drums".

In 1959 La Roca played on Jackie McLean’s album "New Soil". The album might be considered a typical fare of well-played hard bop music but is significant for Minor Apprehension, a fast swinging tune written by McLean that was first recorded in 1955 as part of the Prestige album "Quintet/Sextet" by Miles Davis under the name Minor March. While the tune itself is still not distinctive, it features an outstanding drum solo by La Roca that predates some of the finest drummers of free jazz music in the 60s like Ed Blackwell, Tony Williams and Paul Motian. The solo is surprising, as it emerges out of nowhere after 5:00 minutes of fast swinging rhythm. The drums are suddenly left alone, and La Roca is not keeping time on his Hi Hat or Bass Drums like many swing or bop drummers do. The accents and fills drop seemingly in a time pattern known only to him. Maybe this was the first 'free time' drum solo captured on vinyl. Ironically, La Roca was not a big fan of free jazz: "Free music is in a constant state of surprise and, consequently, presents no surprise at all. So, I’m not really a fan of Free music. Having said that, Jazz is based on individual expression and I’m compelled to respect the Free player’s option to express himself as he chooses".

La Roca’s big chance came early in 1960 when John Coltrane formed his first quartet after leaving Miles Davis’ band, and due to the unavailability of the musicians he wanted (McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones), started a group with Steve Kuhn on Piano, Steve Davis on Bass and Pete La Roca (recommended by Miles Davis) on drums. The band played for 10 weeks at the Jazz Gallery in New York. A low quality recording of La Roca from June 10 1960 survived, including "Every Time We Say Goodbye". La Roca fondly remembered those times: "It was the perfect time for me to play with John. He had recently recorded the album "Giant Steps". The title tune was difficult for me. It has a hard-wired harmonic rhythm (i.e., the pattern established by the points at which a new chord is played). Drummers use those points as accents or anchors. When they dominate, as in "Giant Steps", most drummers will do essentially the same thing and sound essentially the same. I never want to sound like every other drummer and, at the same time, I can’t ignore the character of the material. So, "Giant Steps" was difficult". Within a year Coltrane replaced all band members, formed his classic quartet and the rest is history.

For a number of years in the early 60s La Roca was the house drummer as the Jazz Workshop in Boston. Keith Jarrett, a student at the time, recalls playing with him: "While I was still at Berklee, I was working upstairs at the Jazz Workshop at the bar, accompanying singers, which I liked. We had a break, and I went downstairs and didn’t hear any music, and I thought what’s going on ? Herb knew me from Berklee big band class, and John said, so you want to play ? I said, "Yeah!" John said, "Ray’s late, we want to get started. Pete La Roca’s on drums". I said, "OK!" meaning, hey, OK, of all the drummers I had heard up until then, Pete was one of the guys I considered as one of the best examples of how you could play without sounding like anybody else. And his time concept was unusual and I realized this is not amateur night anymore! That was a wonderful few tunes".

In the early part of the 60s La Roca continued to record with some of the best names in Jazz. He was a frequent session drummer on various Blue Note records, including "Page One" and "Our Thing" by Joe Henderson, both released in 1963, and the live album "The Night of the Cookers" by Freddie Hubbard from 1965. La Roca established a lasting relationship with Pianist Steve Kuhn during the 60s. After the gigs with John Coltrane they recorded as a trio with Scott LaFaro in 1960, leading to Stan Getz using that trio in 1961, a short stint for La Roca who was replaced by Roy Haynes after a few weeks. Kuhn and La Roca played together again in Art Farmer’s band in 1964, after Steve Kuhn replaced guitarist Jim Hall. A nice video survived of La Roca with the original Art Farmer quartet, playing "Sometime Ago". The album "Sing Me Softly of the Blues" was released in 1965 on the Atlantic jazz label. The title track is a favorite Carla Bley composition that appeared years later on her "Dinner Music" album. In 1966 Steve Kuhn released the album "Three Waves" with Pete La Roca and Steve Swallow on upright bass. The album included another Carla Bley composition, "Ida Lupino" and a lovely ballad, "Ah Moore".

That same trio was the basis for Pete La Roca’s album "Basra" on Blue Note records, recorded on May 19 1965 with Joe Henderson on tenor sax. A gem among many wonderful albums the label released in the 60s, it starts with a song La Roca likely played during his Latin bands period, "Malagueña" by Ernesto Lecuona. The band’s take on the composition by the legendary Cuban composer, who escaped Fidel Castro’s regime in 1960 and moved to Florida, is an inspired group ensemble vamp propelled by La Roca’s cymbal work. Scott LaFaro used to complain during their gigs with Stan Getz that all he hears from La Roca is cymbals and he wanted more drums. I have no problem with that cymbal work on "Malagueña". La Roca had a knack for ethnic music, and when asked about this he said: "among the tunes I’ve recorded are "Basra" (Middle Eastern),  "Malagueña" (Spanish), "Drum Town" (African), "Nihon Bashi" (Japanese) and Turkish "Women at the Bath" (a set of six tunes based upon themes from various Middle Eastern countries and Turkey, intended to 'illuminate' the Ingres painting that is so named). One of my tunes, "Raga", is based upon a definition I once read of how an Indian raga is constructed, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet to record it". The highlight on the album is another example of using the essence of ethnic music in the context of jazz, the title track "Basra", a rhythmic 10 minute meditation based on a single chord. 6 minutes into the song La Roca plays another great solo. I love not only what he plays, but the tasteful gaps between his phrases. A key to great music is often the silence between the notes, and La Roca is a master of that.